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Friday, February 27, 2015

Fifty Shades of Toirah


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Fifty Shades of Toirah


Rabboisai,

I cannot believe I am about to share this with you, my beloved Talmid, but my conscience requires it.

I am the scion of a great Rabbinic family, whose commitment to Toirah goes back many generations. Through my descent from my great, great, great grandfather, the Kutsker Ruv, I am strongly committed to the practice of Shnayim Mikra VaEchad Targum, reviewing the weekly Toirah portion twice prior to Shabbos Koidesh. In truth, the vast majority of my contemporaries review the Parsha out of a simple Chumash, sitting in the Bais Medrish or on a train, or while looking at their iPhone Toirah App while waiting on line to pick up a dozen lottery tickets.

But not me. I have inherited from the Kutsker a grand tradition -- Shnayim Mikra VaEchad Targum must be performed using a Klaf, a literal Sefer Toirah, to bring about the true closeness between Klal Yisroel and the Aimishteh who hovers above us at all times.

It is with this background that I describe a unique episode that occurred last week. I was visiting the Bais Medrish of Chofetz Chaim in Queens, and was somewhat surprised at the haste with which the Talmidim abandoned the Bais Medrish in order to watch the men's gymnastics competition at Queens College. I was all alone. And I needed to complete my family Minhag, as Shabbos Koidesh was only one day away.

With no one in sight I approached the Aroin Koidesh, slowly pulling back the curtains to reveal a five foot Toirah peeking out at me, covered in a maroon velvet dress. I reached into the Aroin, at first teasing the taut embroidery, circling it slowly with my fingers. I then lightly put my hands around the Sefer Toirah, gently feeling around its curves, and slowly but delicately lifted it out of its location by its underside. As it became freed from its restraints, I brought the Toirah close to me, holding it near to my chest, the exhalation of my very breath depositing moisture on the tip of the velvet cover.

I hugged the Toirah in the crook of my arm as I slowly and cautiously carried it to the Bimah. This was a beautiful Toirah, soft to the touch, with a clean, earthy scent. After gently laying the Toirah down, I leaned over and kissed its center, its belly, feeling a little give as each of two scrolls parted slightly at my touch. As the Kabbalists tell us, as much as the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to give of its milk. And I sensed the longing of the Toirah to open itself to me.

With a slow but steady hand I began to remove the Toirah Deckel, the cover, tugging it up slowly as it willingly yielded to my touch, ultimately allowing it to fall to the floor. The Sefer Toirah was now completely exposed, save its belt, whose role was to modestly preserve the holy works of the Rebboinoisheloilum. The parallel rolled scrolls on either side were interlocked at the top and the base. My right hand drifted, lazily sliding from the top of the scroll to the belt, and I felt the smooth, cool, tightly wound parchment against my palm, which had begun to perspire slightly.

My hand reached the belt, the elasticized velvet sash linked at the center by a metal buckle. I unlatched the buckle with a deft flick of my finger, a move I had employed countless times before. I carefully slid the belt out from under the Toirah’s back, letting it, too, slide to the floor.

With its girding no longer in place, the scrolls parted softly. I gently nudged them apart, encountering little resistance. With a little more push on the handles, the scrolls opened for me completely.

A rush of excitement came over me as I saw my ultimate goal: The busy, curved black and white patterns of ink on parchment, a contrast that thrills me as much today as it did the first time I beheld a Toirah up close as a young Yeshiva Bucher.

I started by focusing on the first Aliyah. I took my Yad and gently followed the lines, right to left, right to left, right to left. The Toirah responded to every touch of my Yad, offering give when I applied slight pressure, heaving slightly up as I pulled my Yad back.

At that very moment, the world around us had melted away This was the Toirah’s purpose, this was my purpose – a delicate dance, a coupling of Toirah and Scholar.

The gentle interplay continued for nearly thirty minutes. As I completed the first Aliyah, the second Aliyah, the third… my focus on the Toirah intensified, and I found myself rushing to complete the Parsha, while trying to no go too fast.

As I neared the end of Shviyi, my concentration was broken, as one of the Yeshiva Buchrim reentered the Bais Medrish with a handful of tissues and proceeded to diligently wipe down his Shtender. He suddenly looked up and asked, “Why are you touching that Sefer Toirah?”

“It is my Minhag”, I exclaimed, suddenly feeling self-conscious. I tried to disguise my embarrassment and frustration, unsuccessfully.

The Bucher walked over to the Bimah and stared, first at me, then at the Toirah Deckel and belt on the floor, and finally at the Toirah itself. “But that Sefer Toirah is Passul!” he declared, as he ascended the Bimah and reached down to pick the velvet cover and belt off of the floor.

“But I must finish!” I insisted, my face growing redder by the minute.

The Bucher tried to push me aside, using his body to shove me out of the way. But my anxiousness had reached a fever pitch. Using my right arm I blocked the Bucher’s access to the Toirah. With my left arm, I reach for the nearest object I could find, in this case a copy of the Artscroll Siddur for the Baal Tefillah. I lifted the oversized volume and used it to strike the Bucher in the head, knocking him off of the Bimah. As he fell back, he struck his head on a copy of Mesilas Yesharim lying on the table next to the Bimah and fell to the floor, unconscious.

I took the next few minutes to hurriedly complete my session with the Toirah, breathlessly finishing my review of the Parsha with an awkward flurry. Pausing for a moment to recover, I then quickly redressed the Toirah, and gently placed it back in the Aroin Koidesh.

Shnayim Mikra VaEchad Targum. For some it is a burden. For others, it is a labor of love.

----
Rabboisai,

Undoubtedly some of my readers may have taken offense to my anecdote for its erotic echos. However, those readers are complete Neveilah ignoramuses. Yiddishkeit is filled with erotic imagery when describing Klal Yisroel’s relationship to Hakadoshboruchhu and to the Toirah, and to human relations between men and women. We see this throughout the Toirah. In Shir Hashirim for example, “Smoiloi Tachas LeRoishi, ViYiminoi Techabkaynee”, “Let his left hand be under my head, and his right hand embrace me.” (Shir Hashirim, Perek Baiz, Passook Vuv).

Or in many references in the Zoihar. One example:

"… just as a Lulav does not grow (and bear fruit) unless the male be planted by the female, so the Tzaddik cannot flourish save when husband and wife are united, when the male aspect of Tzaddik is united with the female aspect of Tzaddik, as with Avraham and Sarah" (Zohar, Bereshit 82a).

Ours is a religion for adults, male and female. But if you cannot handle the adult nature of the Toirah, I suggest you give up studying Gemarrah or performing Shnayim Mikra VaEchad Targum, and instead focus on reading The Little Midrash Says, or Mesilas Yesharim.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval

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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, February 20, 2015

Parshas Teruma


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Parshas Teruma


Rabboisai,

Last week I was away on a business trip, traveling to the Bahamas to dedicate a local mikvah. No one invited me, of course, but given that it was a "business trip", it is tax deductible. Well, after my Bashert went to the mikvah, we got back to our hotel room and dedicated the mikvah. Twice.

Which brings us to this week's Parsha, Parshas Teruma. Teruma of course refers to the contributions made in the midbar by Klal Yisroel, the Jewish People, in setting up the Mishkan. The ARI ZAHL asks an obvious question: why was Am Yisroel, while traveling in the desert for forty years, probably not having showered, so privileged as to be able to donate the materials for the Mishkan, while we, in our day, don't have a similar opportunity?

The ARI ZAHL offers a beautiful answer. In a time of spiritual unification between the Rebboinoisheloilum and His bride Klal Yisroel, the Jewish People express our closeness to the Aimishteh by funding spiritual endeavors. But in a time when Klal Yisroel is separated from Hakkadoshboruchhu, trapped within the realm of the mundane as scattered sparks, we can only aspire to emulate this divine behavior by cheating on our taxes.

Well, I would like to suggest that in our generation, we are again in a state of closeness to the Rebboinoisheloilum. In fact, you sitting out there, reading this in shul instead of peaking into the Ezras Nashim, are blessed with a gevaldik opportunity to cling to the Aimishteh. Like Klal Yisroel in the midbar, you too have the chance to give tzedakah, and cling to Hakkadoshboruchhu through performing a big mitzvah.

Minuval, how much money do you waste every week on Narishkeit? Movies, cable television, Playstation 7, gym membership, mortgage, rent, 401K, income taxes, bread, health insurance, cholesterol medication, anti-depressants, birth control (Rachmana Litzlan). You should be spending your money on real items that will make the world a better place and reserving your spot in Olam Haba, the afterlife. And at the same time, you can provide me... err… rabbinic scholars an appropriate standard of living.

You read this commentary every week. Did it ever occur to you that I don't do this for my health? No, I do this to help your Neshama, you ungrateful Vilda Chaya! And now, just as the Jewish People did in the desert, you have to pay.

I want you to take out your check book right now and start making out a check to "Yeshivah Chipass Emmess/ NPOJ International -- Tuition".. (Incidentally, we do accept credit cards with a nominal 52% surcharge.)

"And why should I?" you are asking, you good-for-nothing? I'll tell you. When you contribute to NPOJ International, you help to preserve the Jewish People:

-- Our yeshiva and movement are critical in the struggle against assimilation. And of course, our philosophy embraces modernity and the integration of modern cultural ideas.

-- We are against the peace process in Eretz Yisroel, but are also in favor of a just and lasting resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

-- Your contribution helps to fight anti-semitism. We are also resoundly against Jewish xenophobia, and also oppose the Jewish cabal bent on dominating the media and implementing world government.

In other words, whatever it is, we're against it. Unless you're in favor of it, in which case we're in favor of it too. Just so long as you write us a check. Make that checks. Because in Parshas Teruma we read of a multi-level contribution structure that is echoed and commemorated in our own fundraising model.

The Reboinoisheloilum commanded the Jewish People to contribute gold for the Mishkan. This is equal in our day to the Yeshiva tuition that you must pay. He also commanded them to donate:

-- Silver, which is equal to the building fund
-- Brass, which is equal to the family obligation
-- Techayless, which is equal to the journal ad
-- Argaman, which is equal to the dinner
-- Toalas Shani, which is equal to the Rabbi's discretionary fund.

Additional commandments are equivalent in our day to the Passover candy drive, the book fair, and, of course, scrip. So this week, as you read this, don't read my name as "Schmeckelstein" but as "Shekel-stein".

A Beraisah in Sanhedrin brings down a debate among the chachomim on how much money one should contribute. Rav Yehudah Hanassi said you should give until it hurts; Rabbi Yoichanan said you should give beyond it hurting, until it begins to feel good. But the Chachomim held that you should give until you cannot afford groceries and have to appear before the scholarship committee.

While LeChatchilah we hold like the Chachomim, BeDeeyeved you don't have to go so far. Just so long as you donate enough so that next month my Bashert and I can go and dedicate a new mikvah in Hawaii.

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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

NEW -- On Navigating the Rivers of Ambivalence

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On Navigating the Rivers of Ambivalence


Rabboisai,

I am writing this Drasha as I embark on the longest flight I have ever taken. I have of course traveled to Eretz Yisroel many times. And I have traveled to many countries in Europe to visit the Kevarim of the Gedoilim, dedicate Mikvaois in scenic beach resorts, and collect money from suckers…. errr… donors in exchange for my Peninim, my pearls of wisdom. I even once presented one of my very attractive female donors with a pearl necklace, but that is a Maiseh Shehoya for another day…

Rabboisai, we live in a very complex world. The only people who are completely certain “in their Kishkas” of their basic beliefs, be they religious or political, are those who subscribe to doctrinal foundational philosophies:

-- For some that means a core intellectual belief in a Reboinoisheloilum who is involved in our world, who counts every Bracha, every act – good or bad – and who is responsible for everything that occurs in the world of humanity, which is a component of the broader cosmic reality. In addition to national well-being and personal health and happiness, He is also responsible for whether your wife will wear that French Maid costume from Victoria’s Secret and perform Metzitza BiPeh with the strength of the Hoover Turbo Vacuum 9000.

-- For some that means a complete rejection of the notion of a deity in any form. The thinking goes, “Of course Hakadoshboruchhu did not write the Toirah, which bears many conflicting ideas and multiple authorial fingerprints. Plus how can you believe in an Aimishteh in the knowledge that your grandmother and aunt were stripped naked, forced to lie in a mass pit on layers of the already slaughtered, and then shot by the Nazis? If there is a Reboinoisheloilum, where the Gehennim was He?”

There is similar absolute surety on Israel related political beliefs:

-- For some, there is a Hakadoshboruchhu-given right to Eretz Yisroel. The Aimishteh promised the Land to Avraham Avinu, fulfilled that promise in the time of Yehoishua and the Shoiftim, through Malchus Bais Duvid, and again in the period of Bayis Shaynee. The establishment of the State of Israel, Medinas Yisroel, in the period immediately following the Shoah, is part of a cosmic plan, and represents the dawning of the Messianic era. And to make any compromise, territorial or otherwise, is an act against the Divine plan.

-- For some, the establishment of the State is rooted in the Jewish experience of the Diaspora, and is a twentieth century manifestation of nationalism informed by Jewish culture and history, but will only reach its culmination with an Israel at peace with its neighbors, abiding by the letter of universal morality and ethics, which includes making agreements with individuals or entities with whom there is a century of distrust and violence, even if the person signing the agreement from the other side is wearing a suicide belt.

Similarly, there are rigid beliefs on American politics:

-- For some, President Oibama is an evil Communist and closet Muslim who hates Jews and Israel, and is secretly negotiating away Israel’s and America’s future. In addition, he hates Christians – as judged by his recent reference to comparing ISIS to the Crusaders. But on the bright side, he is hung like Moishe Rabbeinu’s Makkel.

-- For some, President Oibama is well meaning, He seems to be putting his foot in his mouth quite a bit lately, especially on issues related to global affairs and ethnic and religious tensions. But that does not reflect the broader Centrist-Progressive philosophy that he represents, that views the modern world as rooted in a commonality that requires tolerance and mutual understanding. It also requires the wealthy to share with the less affluent. People should either be willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for providing more social services, including access to health care. Or they should voluntarily participate in Adopt-A-Kollel, so that the working class should support a bunch of able bodied men sitting on their asses and learning Toirah all day, while their wives wear three thousand dollar Sheytels, cook, clean, raise the children and work three jobs. Except after they give birth, when they spend two weeks in bed and force their husbands to be Mevatel Toirah. Those lazy bitches.

---

Rabboisai, I must tell you, I am guilty of violating the Toirah. Because the Toirah tells us not be jealous, and I am FUCKING JEALOUS of everyone who is so 100% certain of their beliefs, to the point where they dismiss the beliefs of others, do not give a fair hearing to arguments from multiple sides, and overall act as if they were on top of Har Sinai with Moishe Rabbeinu and the Aimishteh. In their minds, they are the illustrious grand faithful human witnesses to the giving of the Toirah, Torah SheBichsav and Toirah SheBaal Peh, and should be held in reverence because of their moral certitude.

I too view such people as if they were on Har Sinai with Moishe and the Reboinoisheloilum. But instead of seeing them as “illustrious grand faithful witnesses”, I see them as mountain rats who hid behind a rock and overheard part of the conversation between Moishe and Hakadoshboruchhu while gnawing on Moishe Rabbeinu’s leftover Entenmann’s doughnuts. And when Moishe and the Aimishteh were looking away, the mountain rats made Mei Raglayim or Farkaktah Maisas all over the Luchois HaBris, which resulted in the Luchois slipping out of Moishe’s hands upon his return to Klal Yisroel and his discovery of them worshipping a golden calf and having an orgy at the base of the mountain.

Shoyn.

---

Rabboisai, I recently finished reading a book about Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKoihain Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of all of Mandatory Palestine (he died 13 years before the establishment of the State of Israel). Rav Kook had a classical Lithuanian education, but was also extremely knowledgeable in Kabbalah and Chassidus, and was also self-educated in secular philosophy and poetry and literature, including the nationalist and antinomian (anti-religious practice) literature of his day. He spoke many languages and traveled all over the world, including America, where he was involved in Zionist advocacy and fundraising, as well as in working as an extra in silent Charlie Chaplin movies. (Rav Kook would take banana custard pies in the face, but always made sure to make a SheHakol.)

One of the keys themes of Rav Kook’s life was his enormous ambivalence (in its literal meaning of the world -- being pulled in multiple directions) in the face of the rapidly changing world in which he lived. The Jews were abandoning tradition in droves, rejecting the hegemony of the rabbinical establishment, and embracing secular teachings of all sorts; traditional borders and political leadership structures were being upended by the rise of nationalism across Europe; the working masses were beginning to rise, rejecting the near feudal hierarchy that defined the relationship between owners and workers even into the industrial revolution; and mankind discovered its capacity for mass murder, committing atrocities of all sorts in a world war that reshaped the global political map forever, and included mass instances of genocide, including one million Armenians murdered by the Turks.

In pre-state Israel, there was a gradual shift from the “Old Yishuv”, the Ultra Orthodox focused on maintaining independence and hegemony and rejecting the influx of largely secular Jewish immigrants from around the world, and the “New Yishuv”, which ultimately evolved into the polarized political movements in Israel that we have today (the Workers/ Left vs. the Revisionists/ Right), as well as the National Religious Movement, which largely moved from Center to Right after 1967, more than 30 years after Rav Kook’s death. There were also Arab movements inclined towards working with the Zionist leadership (for example, Abdullah I, King of Transjordan) and Arab movements who viewed any Zionist or Jewish presence as an affront to the post-Ottoman concept of a Pan-Arab Nation (such as the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin Al Husseini).

And let’s, of course, not forget cosmic struggles of that era between the Yankees and the Red Sox, between Laurel and Hardy, and between Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.

How did Rav Kook deal with such conflicting ideas? He struggled with them, seeking compromise positions, both at the practical level and at the cosmic/ theological level. He engaged regularly with the secular immigrants, many of whose leaders had been Lithuanian Yeshiva students or Chassidic followers who rejected traditional faith practice, but manifested their ties to their Jewish identities through Jewish culture, literature, commitment to the Land, and institutional nation building. And at the same time he developed Kabbalistic ideas that embraced the role of the secular as key contributors to the emergence of a new Jewish ideal. And he also viewed the Jewish People as part of a larger humanity, not divorced from the broader whole. And, like President Oibama, he was also hung like Moishe Rabbeinu’s Makkel.

When Rav Kook would walk the streets of Jerusalem, he was often jeered by the Ultra-Orthodox and attacked in the Pashkevalim, the poster placards that line the walls of the Ultra Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem to this day. But he was also supported by many in the Orthodox, even Ultra Orthdox, circles. Amongst his inner circle was Rabbi Issur Zalman Meltzer, the father in law of Rav Aharon Kutler – the man who would found the Bais Medrish Gevoha in Lakewood, and also invent marijuana gummy bears.

So Rav Kook was internally conflicted and both lauded and condemned in his society. However, his middle-of-the-road approach defined him, and his willingness to seek compromise made him stand out as a key foundational figure still studied and lauded to this day.

And what is the key lesson of Rav Kook’s life? That the world is not simple. Reality is not simple. The nature of the Divine is not simple. Politics is not simple. Humanity is not simple. And if there are Absolute Truths, they are far from obvious, can likely never be attained, but must always be pursued, even by Menuvals like you.

---

Rabboisai, as I read the news headlines of the day, nothing makes sense: The American negotiations with Iran; the Republican invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress issued in a way that circumvented political norms and scheduled for two weeks prior to the Israeli election; the latest struggles in the Middle East with ISIS – which hates Israel – battling the Syrians, Iran and the Hezbollah, who hate Israel; the struggle of Jordan – a key ally of Israel – against ISIS; the Egyptian army – also an ally of Israel -- firing on Gaza; Jews being attacked in France, the country that houses the third largest Jewish population in the world; the Argentinian President possibly involved in a political assassination designed to cover up Iranian fingerprints on the bombing of the Argentinian Jewish Center twenty years ago, and so on. I no longer know what to believe or what to think.

When I look at the growing Palestinian population, restive in its national, somewhat self-inflicted purgatory, but, yet a population that is not going anywhere and is fated to live alongside Israel, the Democratic Jewish State, I no longer know what to believe or what to think.

When I look at President Oibama tiptoeing around the global rise of radical Islam, likely well-intentioned but lacking the gravitas required of the leader of the free world, I no longer know what to believe or what to think.

When I look at the corruption of the Israeli body politic, and the failure of so much of Jewish communal leadership around the world – political and religious -- to manage its own house, including numerous scandals and coverups, I no longer know what to believe or what to think.

So I am jealous. I am jealous of all of those who believe that they have the answers, grounded in their own self-assurance. My own conscience and consciousness tells me that the world is far too complex for any human being to understand.

And so I arrive at the same conclusion: The world is not simple. Reality is not simple. The nature of the Divine is not simple. Politics is not simple. Humanity is not simple. And if there are Absolute Truths, they are far from obvious, can likely never be attained, but must always be pursued, even by Menuvals like you.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Menuval

---------

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, February 06, 2015

On Living in the Image of the Divine

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On Living in the Image of the Divine


Moideh Ani Lifanecha Melech Chai VeKayam SheHechezarta Bi Nishmasi BiChemla Rabbah Emunasecha.

Thank you Reboinoisheloilum for returning me to normal life, after many weeks of intense interruption caused by the weather, my vacations, my various speaking engagements, and my many visits to the newest Mikvahs in Hawaii that left me of the brink of being fired for missing so many days of work, for breaking my normal regimen, and for distracting all of my beloved donors… err … Talmidim from writing me checks… err… doing Mitzvois and supporting Limud Toirah.

Rabboisai,

I was delighted to hear Parshas Beraishis a couple of months ago as we read that humankind, all of humanity, was created Betzelem Eloykim, in the image of the Divine. What does that mean?

According to Abaya, being created Betzelem Eloykim means that we were created very tall, very smart, very good looking, with the most beautiful perfectly curled Payis that one could ever imagine.

According to Rava, being created Betzelem Eloykim means that we were created to be intense and unpredictable, one day loving our children, and the next day smiting them with a plague or two, or a Schtickel famine. One day we speak of our undying commitment to our “bride” Klal Yisroel, and the next day we cut up her credit card, take away her car keys, and trade her to the Babylonians for $50,000 in cash, a utility infielder, and a nation to be named later.

But according to Rav Ashi, Abaya and Rava spent too much time at the “bummy” Shul and drank too many shots at Kiddush. Says Rav Ashi, mankind was created Betzelem Eloykim in the sense that we, mankind, were given free will. Unlike the plants and the animals, the other living inhabitants of this earth, we are not trapped to fulfill a very basic purpose as part of an ecosystem: To capture sunlight and convert it into energy, likely a plant. To consume plants in order to survive, like an herbivore. Or to eat herbivores while the National Geographic or Discovery Network cameras are rolling, like a carnivore. No, we have a purpose beyond our basic material needs. We have large brains. We have logic that allows us to exceed our animalistic kill-or-be-killed nature. We have opposable thumbs, and tools. We have writing and communications. We have the Internet. We have NPR. We have Sitcoms. We have Netflix. And some of us even have the Toirah.

We have the ability to build airplanes and grand buildings and write poetry and perform scientific research. We have the ability to do good deeds and help others. But we also have the ability to lie and cheat and steal. And kill. We have the ability to wage war against the guilty and the innocent, and to murder on an industrial scale.

And how do we determine what to do, as individuals, as part of a community, or as part of society as a whole? We have free will. Betzelem Eloykim.

Shoyn.

It is no coincidence that Parshas Beraishis is read following the long cycle of the Yumim Toivim, including Roish Hashanah and Yoim Kippur. On these days, and throughout the entire Aseres Yemai Teshivah, we ask Hakadoshboruchhu for acceptance, despite our inherently imperfect human natures. And why should He listen to us? “Kee Anu Amecha, VeAtta Eloykaynu; Anu Banecha, VeAtta Avinu.” “Because we are Your nation, and You are our Lord; We are Your children, and You are our father.” We are human beings. We do not always live up to the Reboinoishloilum’s expectations. But nevertheless we want Him, we pray to Him, to accept us as we are. We are complex. We are not all alike. We have diverse human natures and preferences and habits. Why? Because we have free choice. Because we were created Betzelem Eloykim.

And where does free will manifest itself? Well I am hungry right now, and I can decide to go to the kosher pizza place around the corner, have two slices and a coke, for the total price of $25. Or I can walk three blocks to McDonalds, Chass V’Sholom, and feed myself, my wife, my children, and my Einiklach, for the same $25. I can chose to keep Shabboskoidesh. Or I can desecrate Shabboskoidesh, violating the Word of Hakadoishboruchhu and risk really pissing Him off by turning on a light switch, Rachmuna Litzlan. I can choose to go to sleep at night by counting sheep (Hoyshiyah. Esss.. Amecha.. U’Varaiych…….. Esss……….. .ZZZZZZZ), or I can put myself to sleep by kneading the challah while thinking about Miley Cyrus, Claire Danes, George Clooney, or Rabbi Shmuley Boiteach, if you know what I mean.

But all of these examples are Bain Adam LaMakoim; They relate to religious commandments, rules and customs between man and the Aimishteh. But what of Bain Adam LeChaveiroi, actions that are between man and his fellow man? Whether they are actions dictated by the Toirah, or common rules of basic humanity, of society? Again, we are guided by our fundamental nature of being created Betzelem Eloykim. We have free will. We have free choice.

Rabboisai, when we look at the Eseres Hadibrois, the Ten Commandments, it is easy to discern that they are roughly divided between Mitzvois Bain Adam LaMakoim, and Mitzvois Bain Adam LeChaveiroi. Klal Yisroel has the Toirah NOT ONLY to teach us how to relate to the Divine, but also to teach us the proper ways to engage with our fellow man. Kabayd Ess Avicha ViEss Imecha – Respect your father and your mother. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not covet the spouse of another. Do not covet the property of another. These are the basic foundations of a functional society.

One need not be a Chassidic Rebbe or a Rosheshiva (like me) or a Rebbetzin with a three thousand dollar Sheytel, or even to believe in an anthropomorphic Reboinoisheloilum who engages with humankind though history in order to appreciate the centrality of these basic societal laws. Yes, even an Am Haaretz like you, my beloved Talmid, understands that if we do not answer to a basic human moral compass, all of society will break down. And one need only look 70 or 80 years back in our collective Jewish history to understand what happens when all of society breaks down – when there is confiscation of assets and enslavement and forced division of families and rape and medical experiments on human beings and gas chambers and mass murder. Klal Yisroel, of all Peoples, understands the importance of an orderly and just society.

But let us say, for arguments sake, that all of society does break down? What happens? Well, as we know from Parshas Noiach, Hakadoshboruchhu was once so disgusted, He decided to destroy the whole world, save Noiach, his family, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the professor and Mary-Anne, and two of every kind of animal. But in the aftermath of the Mabul, the Great Flood, the Aimishteh makes a treaty and a vow never to destroy the world again. The Reboinoishloilum exercises His free choice to create the world. And then destroys the world. And then ultimately pledges to never destroy the world again.

Humankind may be flawed. Humanity may not always live up to Hakadoshboruchhu’s plans, but He is fundamentally committed to tolerance and acceptance. “Kee Anu Amecha, VeAtta Eloykaynu; Anu Banecha, VeAtta Avinu.”

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Rabboisai, we are living in dark times. There is a plague impacting pockets of the Orthodox community.

In the past year, the Orthodox world was shocked to learn of the depravity of Barry Freundel, a prominent rabbi in Washington DC known for his intellect, his leadership on conversions, and his conservative stances against both the Open Orthodoxy movement and acceptance of homosexuals within Orthodoxy (advocating "reparative therapy", which is considered by many to be a dangerous form of abuse and an expression of human ignorance). This same "rabbi", who has held key regional and national Jewish leadership roles, a man who has lectured in some of the finest academic institutions in the world, was discovered to be a sadistic pervert, and an abuser of the weak. In addition to having been found to have been videotaping women showering and preparing for immersing in the Mikvah, he is also reported to have exploited prospective converts by forcing them to do clerical and other labor in his home. And he is suspected of sexually exploiting vulnerable converts.

Looking at the arrest of the high profile Barry Freundel, it is hard not to recall other recent scandals that have plagued Orthodoxy of late among other prominent figures: Michael Broyde (not a sex crime); Moti Elon, a nationally prominent Dati Leumi figure in Israel. And Yisroel Belsky -- a man who persecuted a sexual abuse victim and his family, in a crime where the accused ultimately pleaded guilty, and yet he remains the #2 Kashrus expert in the OU, the largest and most prolific global professional Jewish organization. Why are so many prominent leaders caught up in the worst scandals possible, all violations of Bain Adam LeChaveiroi?

And over the last couple of weeks, many of us have been SHOCKED by the testimony delivered before the Royal Commission in Australia, which is charged with uncovering the systemic sexual abuse of children and subsequent coverups in certain Orthodox Jewish educational institutions in Australia. Here is an actual quote from some of the testimony:

Counsel assisting the Commission Maria Gerace asked: "did you understand that it was against the law for an adult to touch the genitals of another child?"

"I didn't know that as a fact," Rabbi Feldman answered.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-06/rabbi-did-not-have-a-clue-an-adult-touching-a-child-was-illegal/6076796


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Rabboisai, we are living in dark times. We are living in an era when many in the Orthodox community, including many in the Orthodox leadership, have placed all of their emphasis on Bain Adam LaMakoim, and have set aside a basic commitment to Bain Adam LeChaveiroi. In the name of Toirah – but really in the name of maintaining hegemony and power and control – they are ignoring sexual abuse; they are causing humiliation and pain; they are even causing death.

Rabboisai, Judaism is not the exclusive purview of the Chassidic Rebbes or the black hat Misnagid Rabbis or the Modern Orthodox Rabbis or the leaders of Yeshiva University. It is not the exclusive domain of the Askanim, the power brokers, or of the wealthy.

WE WERE ALL created Betzelem Eloykim, in the image of the Divine. Judaism belongs to all of us.

Rabboisai, we are living in dark times. Judaism has a cancer. It is time to take Judaism back.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess