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Thursday, September 06, 2018

On Teshuvah

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On Teshuvah


Rabboisai,

There is a famous story in the Zoihar Hakadoish that describes the ritual in Shamayim whereby the Ain Soif delivers an annual report immediately prior to Roish Hashanah before a joint session of the Sefirois, the Malachim, the Tzaddikim, and the Neshsamois of the unborn. The Zoihar also reports that one year, during this annual gathering, Hakadoshboruchhu noted that the world was expected to have a peaceful year, without any additional persecution directed at Klal Yisroel. Suddenly, the spirit of Nosson HaNavi shouted out, “TREASON!” towards the Aimishteh. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon forcibly removed Nosson HaNavi from the room, and after numerous apologies to the Reboinoisheloilum and his Chief of Staff, the Buddha, he was banished to Eretz Yisroel, where he is fated to spend all of eternity as one of the guys who do random ticket inspections on Egged busses.

There is also a Medrish in Medrish Tanchuma that talks about the annual PYW (Pumbedisa Yeshiva World) Awards. One year Rava was honored with the “Chiddush of the Year” award for his “Yeyush Shehlo Mida’as Loi Havei Yeyush” insight. As he was standing at the Shtender to accept his award, Rav Huna burst onto the Bimah and screamed out to the crowd of Yeshivah-Yingeleit, “Sure, Rava, your Chiddush was okay. But Rav Ashi really deserved the award for his ‘Yoim Toiv Shaynee Shel Goliyois Does Not Apply In Antarctica’ Chiddush. No offense, Dude.” After being booed off the Bimah and having a sandal thrown at his head, Rav Huna apologized for his outburst and blamed his behavior on the Besomim-laced mead he had been drinking all day, and also on the fact that he had not been adequately molested by his Rebbe when he was a teenager.

Finally, there is a famous story in a Gemarrah in Gittin that describes the detailed ruling associated with the Bavel Open, the annual sporting contest where leading Rabbis would throw turbans at each other across the Bais Medrish in Sura. The Gemara notes how one year Rav Chisda was disqualified in the quarterfinals against Rav Pappa by the line judge, Mar Zutra, when he threatened to “ram his turban so far up Mar Zutra’s ‘Bor’ that Mar Zutra would have to make an Eirev Chatzayrois every time he needed to go to the bathroom on Shabbos-Koidesh.” He later explained that he had been misunderstood, and that he really meant that Mar Zutra would need to make an Erev Tavshilin before eating on a Shabbos following a Yoim Toiv. But Rav Chisda finally apologized to Mar Zutra after Rav Shayshess threatened to make him pay a fine of thirty thousand zuzim and three goats. Shoyn.

I share this collection of stories as we engage in the spiritual exercise known as Teshuvah – repentance. Every year, after a full twelve months of being Mezaneh with hot shiksas -- at least in your mind you Minuval, after eating pork or shrimp or lobster, or cottage cheese that’s not Cholov Yisroel, Chass V’Sholom, or after murdering your neighbor for 12 dollars in loose change, cutting up his body into little pieces, and burying the pieces in the backyard between the rose bushes and the apple tree, near where you once buried the bunny rabbit that your cat had killed just to shut your children up already, Reboinoisheloilumdammit…. Ummm…sorry. After a year of committing Aveirois, you get in front of Hakadoshboruchhu, and ask Him for forgiveness.

But, as in the famous stories in the Gemarrah and the cosmic history recorded in the Zoihar, you must ask yourself, “Is my Teshuvah sincere? Do you mean it when you say “Selach Lee Kee Pushahtee”, “Forgive me for I have sinned”, and by implication, you will never do it again? Are you in fact sincere in your Teshuvah, or are you simply reciting a medieval liturgical formula, simply biding your time until the Chazzan finishes reciting the sections where the Aron Koidesh is open, so you can finally sit down and rest your aching feet already?

RAMBAM addresses this question in Hilchois Teshuvah of Mishnah Toirah. He notes that sincerity is a prerequisite for real Teshuvah, and he advises all his followers “MiSpharad Ad Mitzrayim”, from Spain to Egypt, to engage in penitence through prayer and acts of mortification, such as fasting and self-flagellation. He states, however, that the Jews of Provence, Ashkenaz and Eastern Europe should, quote, “not bother doing Teshuvah, as Hakkadoshboruchhu can never grant forgiveness to people who have names like Yankel, Berrill, Shprintze and Chraindie, and who sing songs with the lyrics ‘Ai Digi Digi Dai’”.

The RAMBAN, living in the golden age of Kabbalah, writes that Teshuvah can only be achieved when the Sefirois are aligned, with Kesser, Chochmah, Chessed, Netzach, and Yesoid on one side, and Binah, Da’as, Tiferess, Gevurah, and Malchus on the other. In that way, the cosmic aspects of the Aimishteh are in perfect balance and may collectively engage in the act of forgiveness in the human realm, as well as participate in a pick-up basketball game.

The MAHARAL, however, disagrees with the RAMBAN, and suggests that before writing his opinion, the RAMBAN must have popped some of the pain killers he always carried in his medical bag for house calls. He suggests that real Teshuvah emanates from purposeful introspection joined with concrete actions. He points to the liturgical reference in the Nesaneh Toikeff on Roish Hashanah and Yoim Kippur “Oo’Seshuva, Oo’Sefillah, Oo’Tzedakah Ma’Avirin Ess Roiyah Hagezeyrah”, “And repentance, and prayer and charity deter the evil decree.” The MAHARAL notes that the juxtaposition of the three words connected by the term “and” highlights the underlying belief that the actions cited must be combined – It is not enough to commit Teshuvah OR Tefilla OR Tzedakah. But to have real impact, they must be committed by a human being as complementary acts of repentance emanating from the soul, prayer emanating the heart, and charity emanating from the bank account (Ed. Note: Preferably in a check made out to “Yeshivas Chipas Emmess”).

The Abudraham argues farkhert, that repentance is an inner process, enabled by inward contemplation, prayer, and uniting with the Reboinoisheloilum through Hisboidedus. But he notes that Teshuvah is quite separate from Tzedakah, stating that “The act of giving Tzedakah is an outward gesture, absent the soul. Nu, Bernie Madoff gave lots of Tzedakah, and trust me, you don’t want to be where he is going.”

So when we examine the words of Chazal, we discover a range of ideas centered on the notion of exorcising sin from the soul, of sincere Teshuvah as inner commitment. Even prayer is not a substitute for inward change – at best it is a catalyst. This point is clear when we examine the actual words of the liturgy. On Yoim Kippur we spend hours in the Viduy, the Jewish form of “confession”. But do we say “I sinned, I committed Act Aleph, Act Baiz, or Act Gimmul?” No, you ignoramus! We frame our confession in the form of the plural collective: “Ashamnu”, “Al Chaiyt Shechatahu Lifanecha” – “We have sinned”, “(We repent) for the sins which we have committed before You.” The listed sins are formulaic, and include many sins that most of us would never commit, unless we got really lucky. 

So reciting the formulas cannot be equated with personal repentance. Rather, Viduy, listing and repeating these sins again and again and again, is itself an act intended to inspire a mood, to incite an action, to encourage a behavior. It is like porn, but for Yoim Kippur.

So how else can we ensure sincerity in our Teshuvah? I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Issur Zalman Meltzer, the Even HaEzer, was once walking home from the Central Synagogue in Slutsk when he was accosted by a group of three Communist youths. “Rabbi”, they teased him, “Who were you just praying to – the boogieman?” They then held Reb Issur Zalman down and forced him to listen to the first two chapters of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. With every word he heard, Reb Issur Zalman became more incensed. When the brutes finally let him go and turned around to walk away, Reb Issur Zalman attacked them from behind. Using his Masechta Baba Kamma, he crushed the skull of one of his assailants, killing him instantly. He used his Yoireh Dayah to break the jaw and knock twelve teeth out of the mouth of the second assailant. And as the third assailant ran away, Reb Issur Zalman threw his Mikraois Gedoilois at him, hitting his spine, and crippling him for life.

That night the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. “Issur Zalman”, Hakadoshboruchhu called. “What do you have to say for yourself?!!”

Reb Issur Zalman replied, “Oy, Aimisteh, I am so sorry. I did not mean to really hurt those boys. But all that talk about the redistribution of wealth really upset me.”

“No, you Schmendrick” the Reboinoisheloilum retorted. “I am not upset that you killed one of those thugs and mortally wounded the others. Screw them! But you let my holy Chumash fall on the floor and get dirty. And for that you will lose your Christmas bonus this year!”

“That’s ok,” Reb Issur Zalman said, his ears turning red with anger, “as long as you share it with the underprivileged Proletariat hordes, you Opiate of the Masses!”

Shoyn.

Rabboisai, real Teshuvah is not easy. If it were, we would not have ten days dedicated to repentance, as well as many long hours in Shul that perhaps could have been better been spent learning Toirah, doing Maiysim Toivim, or embezzling. But our mission at this time of year is to become better human beings. But we cannot become better people simply through empty apologies, no matter how many times they are repeated, and wherever they are repeated – even in Shul or on Oprah. Or in smug press releases or internal reports that ring hollow.

When we talk about Teshuvah, we are talking about real change, which is ultimately a function of humility. We must realize that we are all fallible, especially you, you Michutziff. We are all simple grains of sand passing through the winds of time. As written by the Paytan, “Kee Heenay KeChoimer BeYad HaYoitzer”, “We are like clay in the hands of the potter.” 

And only when you realize your true insignificance, my beloved Talmid, will you be able to undergo real Teshuvah, real change, and perhaps become a bit more tolerable for the rest of us.

Ah Gutten Yuhr, You Minuval.


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

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
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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.


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Shabbos Nachamu Drasha

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THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN 

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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