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Friday, August 03, 2018

On Sacred Secret Traditions

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On Sacred Secret Traditions


Rabboisai,
I would like to start this week's Drasha by sharing a true story. This past Shabboskoidesh I was engaged in a fundraising trip to a small Shtetyl in Eastern Europe. After Davening, where there was not a complete Minyan, I sat down with three members of the small Kehilla for Kiddush and Moitzee. Discussion spread from comparing Jewish life in the vibrant communities of the United States to the struggles to maintain and sustain a form of Jewish life in a community with only remnants of the robust Jewish life that horrifically disappeared in the Shoah.
At one point, a senior member of the Kehilla asserted that there are many rabbis who believe that Israel's ongoing struggles with the Palestinians, HAMAS and Hezbollah were in fact the cosmic result of the many Jews in Israel who do not observe the Mitzvois. I retorted that what my new friend stated was a philosophical opinion, one which I do not share. I commented that sitting here in the tiny communal remnant of an Eastern European Shtetyl, the notion was impossible to believe, as it was comparable to stating that my family and six million others were slaughtered because of the Reboinoisheloilum’s anger about the Reform Movement or some other such nonsense occasionally voiced by some Rabbonim. I noted my personal belief and the normative Rabbinic dictum that we cannot understand the nature of Hakadoishboruchhu, His, thoughts, or His actions.
The debate went on for a 20 minutes or so, in civil voices and an air of mutual respect, with me referring to the RAMBAM's description of the Aimishteh as being beyond comprehension, and the Kabbalists' efforts to illustrate the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum-head as far more complex than the simplistic linear explanation of the Toirah: If the Jews are good, good things happen to us; but if the Jews misbehave, Hakadoishboruchhu "hides His face". For such simplistic logic did not hold true in history any more than it holds true today.
After Benching, the four of us walked through the traditional Jewish Quarter, and the oldest of the group pointed out the store that was once his mother's bakery, prior to the Shoah.Shoyn.
-----
Rabboisai
Klal Yisroel is on a downward spiral. Here we are, in the midst of what many feel is a period of Reishis Smichas Geulasainu, the dawn of our redemption, but Klal Yisroel cannot help itself. Just when Eliyahu HaNavi is circling on his flying ass, looking for a place to land, you Menuvals always seem to find some way to screw it up.
I was recently visiting some Talmidim from Lakewood. They are Tzadikim - they never miss a Mincha, even behind bars - and they reported that in the federal penitentiary there are Yidden who shave with a blade. A blade!!! Why, that is a Dioraisah!!! What can these people possibly be thinking?!?!
Similarly, when I walk the streets of Brooklyn and Yerushalayim I see women who go with their hair uncovered. It is difficult enough for a man like me at this time of year to hold off from masturbating like a monkey while walking down the street, but to be tempted by the fruit of a woman's follicles is beyond what I can bear. (I personally think that the federal government should pay for Sheytels - It would likely significantly lower infidelity, and some rabbis even hold that it would decrease breast cancer.)
On rare occasions I visit the Goyim in Teaneck. Once upon a time, I refused to drink anything but cold water. But I cannot even do that now, since the Teaneckers do not use filters on their water taps and daily consume microscopic crustaceans, Rachmuna Litzlan. What Am Haaratzim!
And recently I saw some data on members of Klal Yisroel going to college. Ah Shandah! What a waste of time when Buchrim are studying Computer Science, Accounting, Medicine, or Law, Chass V'Sholom, instead of learning Toirah all day, sitting in Koilel, and relying on their loving Bashert-lech, the Reboinoisheloilum, and, of course, their father's in law to pay for the house, the cars, the kids, and Pesach on a cruise to the Bahaimas.
Yes, this is a generation that has lost its right to be the Am HaNivchar, the Choisen People.
---
We are of course not the first generation in the history of Klal Yisroel to ponder why the actions of Klal Yisroel do not make sense. Shaving with a blade. Oy Vah Voy!! Women not covering their hair properly. Drinking unfiltered water. Jews going to college - for Reboinoisheloilum's sakes, no wonder Moshiach has not yet arrived!!!
In the meantime, there are other members of Klal Yisroel causing tremendous distractions and causing others to sin. People complaining about sexual abuse in the community. Where? There is no sexual abuse in the Orthodox community!! Maybe by the Reform, Ich Vais. But all of these false allegations are causing donations to fall... errr... are distracting the focus of the world from the wonderful things that Klal Yisroel do for the community, such as Hatzollah, Toimchei Shabbos, and supporting the local prostitute community.
There are even Yidden who are complaining about money "donated" by the government to ensure that our Yeshiva Buchrim and their wives and 12 children are all able to live at a respectable standard: Not working, yet collecting Social Security benefits, Welfare, Medicaid, Section 8, Food Stamps and other programs. Hey, we are the Tashmish Hamitah-ing Choisen People, and we deserve to be learning in Koilel, married, have twelve children, collect all sorts of public benefits, and drive a Lexus! What could possibly be wrong with this that people should complain?!?!
---
Rabboisai, what I have described above is a clear case of misplaced priorities. Some people are worried about such Narishkeit like sexual abuse and the long term unsustainability and illegality of the lifestyles of many in the Frum community, while instead they should be focusing on the real priorities: Shaving without a blade, women's uncovered hair, unfiltered water, and the dangers of secular education. We need to keep our priorities straight, Hakadoishboruchhu-Dammit!!!
It seems to me that Klal Yisroel has lost its way. We have lost the true lessons of the Toirah. We have been focused on the "revealed" Toirah, and have begun to lose our oral Mesoirah. Some have taken seriously such concepts as "V'Ahavtah Le'Reachah Ka'Moichah" (“Love your neighbor as you would love yourself”), "Im Ain Derech Eretz, Ein Toirah" (“If there are no basic human dignity, there can be no Toirah”), and "Dinah D'Malchusah Dinah" (“The rules of the local civil government apply as rules for the Jewish community”), when in fact, those concepts are just a smokescreen for the True Toirah.
Rabboisai, I have recently been reading a book by Professor Moshe Halbertal entitled "Concealment and Revelation - Esotericism in Jewish Thought and its Philosophical Implications". The book focuses on a trend between the 11th and 14th centuries by a series of different schools of thought to expose the "hidden truths" of Klal Yisroel, the esoteric knowledge that reflecting the actual understanding of Toiras Moishe that lay hidden behind the normative TANACH and Talmud.  Because of fear of loss of tradition or loss of control or the message, various rabbis and schools revealed key teachings, often conflicting, which in some cases purported to have been handed down secretly by an entrusted elite.
-- RAMBAM wrote the Moireh Nevuchim, which together with his other writings, presented a synthesis of traditional Jewish though with Aristotelian philosophy and the Arabic science of the era. He also shared secrets on winning at Blackjack.
-- The Ibn Ezra wrote his commentary on the Toirah and other works synthesizing neo-Platonic philosophy, astrology and a strong preference to Pashut Pshat of the Toirah, versus reliance on Midrashic allegories to address textual problems. He also revealed a list to proven pickup lines for men, women and ToomTooms.
-- The RAMBAN spent a third of his time arguing with the RAMBAM, a third of his time arguing with Ibn Ezra, and the remaining third of his time making clouded allusions to Kabbalistic belief in his own biblical interpretation. At the same time, he condemned those who were sharing the secrets of the Kabbalah with the masses. And he hinted at ways to satisfy your woman multiple times per night.
-- The Kabbalists who decided to explain the Toirah and the all Creation by sharing the secrets of Jewish mysticism. Most famous of these works is, of course, the Zoihar, written or compiled by Rabbi Moses De Leon. (Please Note: If you are going to argue that the Zoihar was written by Reb Shimoin Bar Yochai 1200 years earlier then I will be forced to expel you from my Yeshiva.)
What all of these great scholars shared was a commitment to revealing the True Toirah, not the simplistic understanding that an ignoramus like you might derive from your limited knowledge.
Given the crisis within Klal Yisroel today, I, the RAPAS, Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein, have decided that it is time to put in writing the modern hidden truths of the Toirah that have been handed down to me by my father who received them from his father who received them from his father who received them from his step-father; his real father was a well hung blond Cossack. In doing so, I am revealing the Sacred Secret Teachings of the Wise Elders Of Zion, so that these understandings will not be lost to a generation caught up in Narishah Zachen.
Sacred Secret Teaching Number 1: Always obey every single Mitzvah Bain Adam LaMakoim – the commandments between man and the Reboinoisheloilum. That means: Daven three times a day (five, if you are Moslem); put on Tefillin; eat only Koisher food; go to Mikvah; wave a live chicken over your family’s heads Erev Yoim Kippur; never carry on Shabboskoidesh; shake a palm branch and 300 dollar lemon at the sky on Sukkois; do not wear Shatnez, you Shkutz, and if you have to shave, Chass V’Sholom, please use an electric razor, but only after sending the electric razor to my brother-in-law to he can dull the blades to the point where you have get a cleaner shave using a piece of cardboard or dental floss.
Sacred Secret Teaching Number 2: Always judge the religious observance of other people. Since Hakadoishboruchhu is busy dealing with the messes in Syria, the Ukraine, and the Trump White House, it is up to you to ensure that your family, friends, and neighbors are observing the Halachois according to YOUR standards. And if they are not, please tell everyone you know – it is not Loshon Harrah because they are sinners who are going to hell.
Sacred Secret Teaching Number 3: There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to observe any of the Mitzvois Bain Adam LeChaveiroi – the commandments between man and man – as long as you do not get caught.
-- Overcharge your clients – just don’t get caught.
-- Try to sleep with your neighbor’s wife – just don’t get caught. (And for Aimishteh’s sakes, wear a… ummm… Kishka Skin.)
-- Cheat on your taxes – just don’t get caught.
-- Illegally file for Welfare, Unemployment, Section 8, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and every other government paid social benefit – just don’t get caught.
Sacred Secret Teaching Number 4: If you do get caught, Chass V’Sholom, always remember to use one or more of the following responses:
-- Blame the victim. (“He seduced me! Yes, he was only 8 years old, but he had the maturity of a Bar Mitzvah Bochur!”)
-- Talk about the good that Klal Yisroel do. (“So what if we received a few extra dollars from the government; we take care of our community through Hatzollah, Shoimrim, and Bingo Night.”)
-- Blame anti-Semitism. (“This is a specious allegation! Why do you think that there was voter fraud in favor of the Orthodox Jewish judge who will redistrict in favor of Orthodox Jewish real estate developers? So what if the judge got 100,000 votes in a district with only 45,000 registered voters, and none of them are Jewish or could afford housing in the proposed new real estate development! THIS MUST IS ANTI-SEMITISM! Damn that Oibama!!”)
---
Rabboisai,
If we follow these Sacred Secret Teachings that I am passing along to you Talmidim, we can ensure that the Reboinoisheloilum will never “hide His face” from Klal Yisroel again, even when we are sitting behind bars.
Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Menuval
---------
Rabbi Pinky SchmeckelsteinRosheshivaYeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, July 26, 2018

SPECIAL BONUS DRASHA: On Rabbis and the Employment of Reason

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SPECIAL BONUS DRASHA: On Rabbis and the Employment of Reason


Rabboisai,

I would like to start this week’s Drasha by describing the Reboinoisheloilum:








No, there is no typo, you Minuval! I did not fall asleep at my keyboard, or smoke too much Besamim, if you know what I mean. I simply followed the tradition of the RAMBAM who declared that you can only describe Hakadoshboruch by what He is Not.

Now, the RAMBAM of course was a Sefardi, so he was certainly hardly an Erlichah Yid. He worked as a physician to many, including to the principle advisers to Salah A Din, the Muslim conqueror of Eretz Yisroel who chased out the Crusaders Yemach Shmum. So instead of learning thirty hours a day like a good Jew, he was busy engaging in Bittul Toirah by saving lives. What a waste of time! All of his patients are undoubtedly dead by now, so the RAMBAM passed up the eternity of Toiras Moishe Rabbeinu to engage in what was only a temporary fix, at best. This is certainly not the choice any of OUR Gedoilim would have made, of course. Can you possibly imagine Reb Auerbach, SHLITA or Reb Kanievsky, SHLITA stopping leaning over their Gemarrah long enough to wipe up their drool?

But the RAMBAM cannot be all bad. After all, Art Scroll wrote at least one book about him. And he did, of course, only learn medicine from the Gemarrah and while sitting in the Bais HaKeesay. Which is where I developed my Value Investing strategy when I was a teenager: How to take something small and make it bigger until it shoots out a big payoff.

But RAMBAM’s basic premise requires a thoughtful analysis, at least long enough to fit three pages so that I can cross the line “Write a new Drasha” off of my To Do list, and I can get to the next item on my list: “Whatever is in the headlines, blame Hillary and Oibama”.

The RAMBAM, in his day, was confronting a reality that was in many ways quite similar to our own. Jews were persecuted in some places, yet found safety in others. Religious traditions within Klal Yisroel were becoming divergent. People were beginning to allow the beliefs of modernity to impact their Emunah in the Aimishteh. And women were beginning to assert their right not to be treated as sex objects by covering themselves with Burkas, donning metal chastity belts, immersing themselves in the Mikvah, and avoiding any man whose last name was “Weinstein”.

To the RAMBAM, a key concern was the literalism that had infiltrated the Jewish perception of The Divine. He believed that people who took Biblical references such as “the hand of God” or “the finger of God” as literal walked a treacherous path leading to a form of Avoidah Zarah, idolatry. He believed that anthropomorphism of the Reboinoisheloilum was a falsehood and was, in fact, dangerous, and that Hakadoshboruchhu could never be understood in human terms. He even went so far as to say that most prophetic confrontations with the Aimishteh in the Toirah were not actual encounters, but the product of inspired dreams, perceptual imagination, or LSD flashbacks.

At the center of the RAMBAM’s focus was the need to find the balance between faith and reason. For the RAMBAM, the Toirah was a one time gift given to Klal Yisroel through Moishe Rabbeinu. The Toirah was not a rule book designed to outline reward and punishment, as these were human concepts. To the RAMBAM, the Reboinoisheloilum exists beyond any human understanding and is outside of the realm of human activity. The RAMBAM believed that the Toirah’s primary purpose was to provide order and structure to society. That was the role of Faith. However, understanding of the Divine, while never fully achievable, was the essential higher objective of mankind. And the only way to approach that understanding was through Reason.

The RAMBAM faced struggle and challenge throughout his life. He was born into the golden age of Islam in Spain, where philosophy, mathematics and the natural sciences complemented his education in Kol HaToirah Kooloih. But his upbringing in the equivalent of the Upper West Side, the Five Towns, or Teaneck was cut short by the rise of a regime practicing an intolerant form of Islam that demanded that Jews convert or die. So the RAMBAM, his father, his brother, and presumably the rest of their family fled for their lives, not unlike many of our own parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Plus they had to shlep their pet dogs, cats, and hamsters, which must have made for a messy exodus.

After spending time in Morocco and witnessing the deprivations of the Land of Israel firsthand, the RAMBAM settled in Egypt. He lost his father. He lost his brother. He dealt with depression. But he also became an internationally renowned religious scholar, known for his seminal religious writings: His commentary on the Mishnah; the Mishnah Toirah, which was an audacious attempt at systematizing Halachic scholarship up to that date; and the Moireh Nevuchim, The Guide For The Perplexed, where he laid out his theology and philosophy. He also published medical textbooks. And he wrote a humorous comic strip syndicated in all the major newspapers of Egypt about a tortoise named Menachem Mendel and a hare named Yoili.

Given his knowledge of the science of his day and his keen awareness of the wretched state of Jewish existence, and perhaps troubled by his own personal suffering, the RAMBAM worked to reconcile the equation at the heart of the struggle between faith and reason: The punishment suffered by the Jews did not fit the actions of the masses. So rather than explain away the suffering by attributing blame to the Jewish People, he dispensed with the equation altogether. The Reboinoisheloilum was beyond understanding. There was no linkage between human action and reward and punishment. Hakadoshboruch could not be understood in either physical or rational terms. The world existed as a holistic whole, with its own ebbs and flows, and man’s best path to God was to embrace the Unknowable, through philosophical reasoning. Man could never truly know the Divine. Man could never even describe the Aimishteh. The only way to describe Him was to describe “what He is not”.

This view stands in contrast to everything we ourselves have learned since we were little children in kindergarten. (Maiseh Sheyoh: I do not know about you, but at the age of four I had a kindergarten teacher named Moirah Ginzberg who was so scary, the other kindergarten teachers would shit themselves every time she walked into the room. Mamish.)

Obviously, RAMBAM’s is not the only Da’ah, the only opinion, on the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum and the broader questions regarding human existential purpose. Indeed, his perspectives were at times considered so controversial, manuscripts of his writing were burned in some Rabbinic circles as heresy. Plus artistic renditions of his likeness were often defaced by Talmidim drawing Groucho Marx glasses, including a mustache and thick eyebrows.

But his is a voice than cannot be easily dismissed. Indeed, the RAMBAM is often cited today when Rabbis, including those engaged in Kiruv, want to highlight Judaism’s rationalist perspectives on issues related to Faith and Reason. Their renditions often shy away from the deeper implications of RAMBAM’s thought, however. But to be honest, Rabbis often shy away from meaningful implications, unless it involves the renewal of their contracts.

And what are those implications? The RAMBAM is dismissive of direct Divine engagement in the world, a view which stands in direct contrast to the belief in a world based on the values of reward and punishment in Oilum HaZeh and Oilum HaBah, this world and the next. Yet he strongly believes in a Halachic system, with a strong emphasis on moral laws Bain Adam LeChaveiroi, between human beings, as they are philosophically rational and necessary for an orderly society. And he believes that human engagement with the Divine through prayer and ritual is designed to suit human needs; though for him, intellectual contemplation of the Unknowable is what truly brings human beings closest to the Creator.

One of the most famous brief pieces of writing of the RAMBAM is his Teshuvah, his Rabbinic responsa, on the status of forced converts. As mentioned above, RAMBAM himself had to flee for his life when an oppressive brand of Islam replaced the progressive leadership of his native Spain. Years later, when consulted by a community in Yemen where some Rabbinic leaders were rejecting people who had converted to Islam under threat of death from returning to the body of the Jewish community, the RAMBAM spoke strongly of the need for embracing the many individuals who had been forcefully compelled to convert to Islam, if only publicly. In his Igeret Teiman, Epistle to Yemen, he strongly chastised those who would close their hearts to their fellow Jews, their fellow human beings, forced to continue to suffer a plight that no fault of their own.

If RAMBAM were alive today, I suspect that he would be sorely disappointed by much of our Rabbinic leadership and their unwillingness to act in a manner sensitive to the oppressed, whether the descendants of Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain for generations, Agunot, sex abuse victims, or those who have chosen a less observant path who are forced to fight to retain access to their own children.

For instead of embracing reason, a rational approach to managing an orderly, humane society, too many of our Rabbinic leaders have instead opted for the path of falsehood and idolatry.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


---------

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Shabbos Nachamu Drasha

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Shabbos Nachamu Drasha 


Rabboisai, 

We are standing here mere days after Tisha Ba’Av, the commemoration of all the unspeakable tragedies that impacted Klal Yisroel, including the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash in 587 BCE, the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 ACE, the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, and the Treifing up of the kitchen in Grossingers in 1966. Like our ancestors before us, we seek to make this a time of year for individual contemplation, collective mourning, a chance for group prayer, and the opportunity to check out all the hot Shiksa cleavage on these sweaty summer days. 

One constant of Klal Yisroel’s collective experience, reaching back to at least Second Temple times, is the aspiration and yearning for the Moshiach, the Messiah. In this context, the era of the Messiah is anticipated as the period when oppression of the Jews subsides, and, perhaps, when world history as we know it comes to an end and the universal clock is reset at a new beginning. This anticipation reflects a spiritual and emotional response for those who have suffered persecution and general misfortune. It has also been the particular hope for the many of Klal Yisroel who are awaiting trial for embezzlement, have built up extensive credit card debt, or have engaged in pre-marital experimentation without using an… errr… kishka wrapper … and now have to explain to their Tatties and Mommies that there may be a little Einikel on the way. 

This anticipation of the Moshiach, the longing and expectation, helped to justify in the minds of Klal Yisroel the actions, or inactions, of the Reboinoisheloilum in our deepest times of need. Why did Hakadoshboruchhu stand back and let our Bais Hamikdash burn, or let our people be murdered, or let our nation be expelled? Perhaps, one might suggest, He willed it as a punishment upon us for sinning. Of course, this idea poses dangerous philosophical and theological dilemmas: How can the Aimishteh, the fair and almighty, allow innocents – including children – to be slaughtered or tortured or expelled or sexually abused or punished in other terrible ways? Is He cruel? Is He uncaring? Is He impetuous and moody, like a four year old child? 

Or, perhaps, is He indeed truly benevolent, but limited in His powers? As understood by Lurianic Kabbalah (the teachings of the Ari Zahl, you Minuval ignoramus), perhaps He exists within specific constraints and is not quite as almighty as your second grade Rebbe told you He was. 

One reflexive approach of Jewish theology commonly interpreted the various tragedies of Klal Yisroel as “Chevlei Moshiach” – the birth pangs of the Messiah. The logic went as follows: As we in our era (whatever era it was) believe that the Moshiach is impending, the tragedies we face are a necessary suffering that paves the way for the Messiah. This explanation was used in the time of the RAMBAM, as it was in the time of the expulsion from Spain, as it was in the time of the Chmelnitzky massacres. Indeed, one Tanna was quoted in a Braisah in Sanhedrin as follows, “Amar Rabbi Yoichanan, ‘Im Ra’isa Dor SheTzarois Rabbois Baois Alav KeNahar, Chakeh Loi, SheNe’emar, “Kee Yavoi KeNahar Tzar Ve’Ruach Hashem Noisasah Boi,” VaSumich Lei, “U’va LeTzioin Goiel.”’” “Rabbi Yoichanan said, ‘When you see a generation that has suffered many troubles like (the flood of) a river, wait for him (the Messiah), as is written, “When suffering shall come like a river, and Spirit of Hashem shall be aligned against it,” which is followed by, “And the Redeemer will come to Zion.”’” (Sanhedrin, 98a). 

So, the message is, the Moshiach is on his way, and we must bear the terrible suffering that will shortly come to an end. And yet, the Moshiach has never arrived. Or has it? 

On order to answer this question, one must have a clear understanding of what, in fact, is the very nature of the Messianic era. This is Nisht Azoy Pushit, not so simple, you Minuval. There are many, many ideas and speculations as to what will constitute the Messianic era: 

-- OPTION ONE: According to the RAMBAM, the Messianic era will be reached when the Jews regain their independence and all return to the Land of Israel, led by a Messiah king descended from the Davidic monarchy. This will usher in a period of global peace and harmony. This era will be followed by the “end of days”, when all will live in a disembodied spiritual existence. 

-- OPTION TWO: According to the RAMBAN, the Messianic era will be the Shabbos-Koidesh of creation, after which will begin an era of spirit-infused physical existence. 

-- OPTION THREE: According to the RASHBA, the Messianic era will start with a period when everyone in the world learns Toirah and performs Mitsvois. This will be followed by an era of pure spiritual bliss, which he compares to “perpetual acts of Maisei Beyuh with beautiful women.” 

-- OPTION FOUR: According to Rabbi Yoisaiph Gikatilla, the Messianic era will be a period when we are no longer required to learn Toirah and perform Mitzvois. Rather, all that was forbidden before will now be permitted. Tisha Ba’Av will change from a fast day involving mourning to a festival day involving excessive eating. Instead of eating Matzois on Pesach we will all eat Hostess Twinkies. And we will enter a era of pure joy where every man will be entitled to engage in Maisei Biyuh with 72 virgins, 7 strapping, well endowed Yeshivah Bochrim, and 3 nice fluffy goats. 

-- OPTION FIVE: The MAHARAL holds quite like Reb Yoisaiph Gikatilla, except that instead of 72 virgins, he suggests that real Moshiach-tzeit will be like doing it with one very talented, very experienced, toothless Pupkeh. 

-- OPTION SIX: The RIVAM holds that Moshiach-tzeit will neither be like engaging in Biyuh with one Nafka nor with 72 virgins. Rather, it will be like one man engaging with 7 beautiful women at once, with one woman reading to him from Tehillim, one woman serving as the remote control for the 3,000 channel, 65 inch 4K television set, one woman sitting on the man’s face, one woman focusing on his Petzel, two woman focusing on his Schvatzlach, and the last woman available to run to 7-11 to get single malt Slurpies. 

-- OPTION SEVEN: The ROISH suggests that the Messiah will be ushered in by the ascent of a skinny, bearded rabbi who will lead a new movement towards a more progressive embrace of the Reboinoisheloilum’s love and munificence, as part of a process that leads to global peace and prosperity. 

Rabboisai, if we look at these various visions for the Moshiach, we can certainly understand the yearning of our ancestors: How could they, in their times of need, ever believe that they had reached the era of the Moshiach? However, in our day, many of these visions of the Messiah have indeed come to pass: 

-- There is Jewish sovereignty for the first time in two millennia. In fact, Ivanka just stepped down from her clothing design business to dedicate her full time focus on affairs of state. (In addition, there is also an independent State of Israel, although we would hardly term that as “Jewish sovereignty”, what, with its secular, Arab loving government, its busses and movie theaters running on Shabbos Koidesh, its efforts to draft poor helpless Yeshiva Buchrim into the army, its requirement for Frum people to pay taxes, and its naked women on bus station posters. It’s like the Spanish Inquisition all over again.) 

-- There are indeed periods of joyful bliss. In fact, last night, as I lay in bed, I had my Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, dance the Kazatske on my face while two billy goats grazed at the Gan Eden surrounding my Makoim HaMilah. If that’s not Moshiach-tzeit, you tell me what is! 

-- There is indeed a man who has been put on this earth to bring love and kindness and peace. He has been known to perform miracles, and has brought many to believe in him. And when he suffers, it is so that the rest of us will be redeemed. Indeed, it is said that many of us are blind to The Truth, that the Messiah has indeed come, and his name is… President of the United States Donald J. Trump. Even greater than turning water into wine or loaves into fish or curing lepers (or whatever the New Testament miracles were – Hakadoshboruchhu knows I never learnt them in Yeshivah while I was growing up), Donald Trump performs the miracle of saying offensive, nonsensical things about race and gender and religion, incites hatred of immigrants - legal and undocumented alike, creates trade wars that harm domestic industries, pushes away our allies and embraces our enemies, has a string of ex porn star and Playboy models implying affairs he had with them while his wife was either pregnant or recovering from childbirth, and yet becomes more popular every day... 

Yes, for many, the Moshiach has come, in the shape of prosperity and personal security. Unlike many of our ancestors who lived in filth and poverty and perpetual fear of Pogrom or worse, and turned to superstition for solace, we live in prosperity. We no longer need to look towards the idealized future for salvation. In fact, we no longer need the Aimishteh or the End of Days. We no longer need to help others, or think of the greater good. We no longer need to worry about investing in the long term, or making education more affordable, or fixing healthcare, or managing the deficit. We have it all today, in the form of nice new homes, shiny new cars, and wives with liposuction and $3000 sheytels, and that’s all that matters. 

Hey - what could possibly go wrong? 

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval. 

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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tisha Ba'Av Drasha

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THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Tisha Ba'Av Drasha


Rabboisai,

I would like to share with you some thoughts I developed on the topic of Tisha Ba’av.

Last year, as I sat on the floor in shul on Tisha Ba’av, inhaling the stench of the guy in front of me who took the whole no-bathing thing during the Nine Days a bit too literally, I began to contemplate the relevance of Tisha Ba’Av to our daily lives. Later in the week, I pondered a parallel question: what is the relevance of Shabbos Nachamu, especially for those of us who are not single and have no plans to go up to the Catskills to play sample-the-gefilte-fish with some desperately unmarried third grade social studies teacher from the Bais Yankif of Sheytel Park.

At face value, Tisha Ba’Av is a simple concept. Klal Yisroel marks a period of national mourning by engaging in outward rituals designed to prove to the Reboinoisheloilum how sad we are, while we meanwhile pass our many post shul hours surfing porn to distract us from the growls of our empty bellies.

Yes, these were our ancestors who suffered horrible consequences many centuries ago. And in the great Yiddeshe tradition of compounding suffering, we somewhat arbitrarily link the date with other national tragedies. The destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash, the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, the Hadrianic Persecutions, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, etc. In other words, every bad thing that could possibly happen to the Jewish people.

But how can we feel personal linkages to the various national tragedies that happened long ago and did not impact us in our own lifetimes? And what EXACTLY are we supposed to feel? Empathy with our ancestors? Affinity with Jewish brethren and sistren? Or, as I sometimes feel, sheer panic and a sense that I ought to sign up with another religion as soon as possible, so long as I can avoid future persecution and have access to hot shiksas?

This question is at the center of a famous Machloikess Rishoinim between the RAMBAN and the RASHBA on the topic of Soitah. According to the RAMBAN, the Koihan administers the Mei Soitah to a married woman as potential punishment for her sleeping with other men in the past. But according to the RASHBA, the Kohain administers the Mei Soitah the woman as punishment for her not having slept with him.

As Jews, we are instructed to sanctify the Reboinoisheloilum through time: On Pesach, we re-enact the exodus from Mitzrayim be eating Matzoh until we are hospitalized for intestinal blockage. On Sukkois, we re-enact our sojourning in the desert by making last minute trips to Home Depot for electrical tape. And on Shavuois, we re-enact receiving the Toirah by doing shots with our friends and talking about who has the hottest wives in shul, while our own wives are home putting the children to sleep and probably stroking the schmaltz herring to help them fall asleep, if you know what I mean.

But what are the rational limits of our behavior as we relate to Jewish history? And where do we draw the line between symbolism and reality when we worship Hakadoshboruchhu through time?

It is told of Reb Akiva Eiger that he was very diligent about not using numbers to count people, lest it echo the Avoidah, the ritual Practice, of the Bais Hamikdash, and wrongfully re-enact the past. Every morning in the Great Synagogue of Posen, he would check to see if there was a minyan by counting heads, “Hoshiya, Ess, Amecha, U’Varech, Ess, Nachlasecha, Uraim, Ve’Nasaim, Ad, Oilum.” At a count of Oilum, signaling the number ten, he would begin to say Birchas Ha’Shachar, as well as start whipping the Baal Tefilla with his Tfillin.

But he would not stop there. One Shabbos morning before Kriyas HaToirah, a young boy came up to him and asked, “Rabbi, do you know what the Yankees did last night.”

Reb Akiva smiled reassuringly and replied, “Shimee, great news! The Yankees beat the Red Sox Uraim to Hoshiya. Jones had Ve’Nasaim strikeouts, and Jackson had Ess home runs.”

This practice was not a universally held position. Many of Chazal actually counted using numbers, holding that concern for replicating the historical Avoidah was not relevant in their day – that there were indeed limits to how the history of Klal Yisroel should impact religious practice in their own lives.

The Baal Shem Tov is recorded by numerous of his Chassidim as having counted using actual numbers. As he traveled from town to town, raising money for his new movement, he would often go the front of a shul and say aloud, “Which of you would like to buy a chelek of Oilum Habah for eighteen zloties?” He would then look out towards the Kehillah and start counting the raised hands. “I see one Yid, two Yidden, three, four… Wow! There are fifteen of you suckers… err… I mean tzaddikim out there.”

But this practice was not unique to the Chassidic movement. Reb Moishe himself writes in the Igrois Moishe how he once traveled to Florida with his talmidim for spring break, and after being appointed as a competition judge, used real numbers to keep score in a wet tzitzis contest.

More to the point, the Maharal MiPrague himself addresses these issues directly in his lesser known sefer, Be’er HaGalus. According to the Maharal, Klal Yisroel is distinct from the pagans in that Oivday Avoidah Zorah seek the favor of their deities through the celebration of the forces of nature, which are largely seen as behaving randomly and are fundamentally distant from the work of humanity. But Klal Yisroel worships the Aimishteh, who we view as fundamentally involved in our fate and the workings of our own reality. And since the Reboinoisheloilum acts through history, such as in Yetzias Mitzrayim 3,400 years ago, and through the notion of time, such as through the unique covenantal pillar of celebrating the Shabbos Koidesh, the seventh day, so we must in turn use practices in time, such as practicing commemorative holidays fixed upon the calendar, to worship Hakkadoshboruchhu.

However, the Maharal goes on to discuss the limits of this principle. Writes the Maharal, “When I was a young bocherul in the Yeshiva, I prayed to the Aimishteh for two things: One, that I would learn Kol HaToirah Kooloh. And Two, that I would win the Prague Pick-Finnif Lottery so I could buy myself a new shtender. I studied day and night, night and day, and mastered the Toirah by the age of nine. I also davened three times a day. And I very strictly kept the Shabbos Koidesh. Plus I never tried to look up my next door neighbor Shayndel’s dress. But did I ever win the lottery? No! Which taught me one thing: No matter what we do, even when we worship the Reboinoisheloilum through time, He has His own master plan. And if our world does not align with His plan, we may as well start praying to Yushka or Buddha or to a giant head of lettuce, because Hakadoshboruchhu is certainly not going to help.”

Continues the Maharal, “So, conversely, if you are trying to worship the Aimishteh, and the form of worship does not make sense – say, by fasting three days and three nights after a bad dream, or not showering for a week before Tisha Ba’Av, you should probably stop. The Reboinoisheloilum created the world to be peopled by human beings and not angels, and also endowed them with common sense. So if you do something silly, like wear a $400 hat over a $3,000 shaytel, or get filters built into your water system, or only eat uncut fruit that has a Hashgacha, the only thing you have accomplished is convince Hakadoshboruchhu that you are indeed an idiot.”

So when it comes to Tisha Ba’Av, we must have appreciation for our history because marking time is inherent to our faith. Fast a little bit. Be a bit somber. Think about the suffering of our ancestors. Get under the bed and hide, so the Goyim cannot find you and persecute you. Try not to knead the flanken for one day, if you know what I mean. It won’t kill you.

But at the same time, we needn’t instill upon ourselves an intolerable level of suffering. Our ancestors did not seek their own torment – we should therefore limit our own. In fact, given the choice, I can assure you that our ancestors would have much preferred to skip the suffering commemorated by Tisha Ba’Av altogether, and go straight for the cute, zaftig, single third grade teacher at the singles weekend on Shabbos Nachamu.

Have an easy fast, you Minuval

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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess