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Friday, December 19, 2014

On The Mitzvah of Shmita

On The Mitzvah of Shmita


This, week, I respond to a Talmid in Eretz Yisroel who strives to shed light on one of the key Halachic Inyunim of the day.

Tzioyn writes:

Rebbe - I saw this beautiful woman on the beach in Tel Aviv. I engaged her in a conversation about Torah subjects, and the topic of Shmita arose.

The woman was wearing a new cotton Gottex bikini, and since Gottex uses natural Israeli fibers, the material probably came from cotton grown with Kedushas Ha’aretz and therefore should not be used. I pleaded with her to take off her bikini, but she preferred to violate the laws of Shmita.

Rebbe, can you please validate my position on this topic so I can get a little action?

Your talmid

Zion in Tel Aviv

Reb Tzioyn, thank you for your brilliant and meaningful question that promises to shed light upon the dark, provide sustenance to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and display cleavage to the lustful.

Indeed, your shailah raises so many critical Halachic questions, I do not know where to start:
-- Shall I focus on the topic of Shmita, about which you are clearly an ignoramus?
-- Shall I address the notion of how to integrate Halacha with the modern world, you behaimah?
-- Or shall I contemplate why you are on the beach in Tel Aviv, while the rest of us are off studying Toirah or selling life insurance, you mechutziff?

Before I answer your question, there is something I would like to share with you: As I sit and write this Teshuvah, I am currently snacking on an apple. However, this is not just any apple from some Kibbutz run by pig eating Socialists, or even worse, hairy Communist rabbis. This apple was imported from a farm in Antarctica owned by a gentile, to avoid being oiver on the issur of eating Shviis, violating the laws of Shmita. Just to be on the safe side, the shaygitz also symbolically sold his land to a different goy. In addition, the farm was leased by the local Bais Din, and the farmer is being treated as a schlepper, being symbolically compensated at minimum wage to work his own land. In addition, once I finish eating the apple, I plan to stick my finger down my throat to force myself to puke. The apple, by the way, cost me $400.

All in all, it is a worthy price to pay in order to keep such a critical mitzvah.

Yes, Shmita is a core mitzvah that we must all go to great lengths to observe. It is a Mitzvah that has been practiced by Klal Yisroel since the days of Bayis Rishoyn and the kingdom of Shloimoi HaMelech, and our lives have certainly not changed much since then. It is troubling that many vilda chayas like you would find the topic of Shmita an opportunity for laytzonis. It is because of people like you that there is Sin’as Chinum, that the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed, and that the stock market is going down.

As we all know, the Toirah commands us to observe Shmita, a sabbatical year, when we are required to let the land lie fallow – we do not work the land, and we do not plant for the coming year. In addition, we are commanded to forgive all debts that were issued over the previous six years.

In a Mishnah in Shviis, there is a famous machloikess between Rebbe Yehoishua and Rebbe Yoichanan, two Tanaim who lived in late Second Temple times. According to Rebbe Yehoishua, Shmita produce should never be eaten, under any circumstances. He brings as proof a Gezairah Shavah -- the fact that the Toirah uses similar language for both Shmita and Yoim Kippur. Both are referred to as “Shabbas Shabbasoin”. Rebbe Yehoishua makes the link, stating, “just as one is required to starve all day on Yoim Kippur, one is required to starve all year of Shmita”. Adds Rebbe Yehoishua, Shmita is the Toirah’s natural diet plan. He even published the book “The Rebbe Yehoishua Diet Plan”, available wherever quality paperbacks are sold.

However, Rebbe Yoichanan holds farkhert. The Reboinoisheloilum wants us to give the land a rest, but certainly does not want us to suffer as a result. Consequently, we are sanctioned by Halacha to pick up the produce that has fallen on the ground, and to make the rest Hefker, available without charge to one’s friends, neighbors and the poor. However, Rebbe Yoichanan points out that you are still allowed to put some rules in place around the gathering of the produce, For examples, a landowner is allowed to insist that only hot, large breasted women with low cut dresses pick up the produce by bending forward, to remind the landowner that the Ikkar Mitzvah of Shmita is to express our faith in Hakadoshboruchhu that he will provide plentiful fertility and bountiful sustenance to all of Eretz Yisroel, “A Land Flowing with Milk and…”.

Even back in the time of the Mishnah, however, the basic notion of Shmita was not without its controversy. Rabban Shimoin Ben Gamliel insisted that Shmita no longer applied, and was to be replaced by taxes paid directly to the Nasi of Eretz Yisroel, made out to the “RASHBAG Discretionary Fund” or to cash. And Rabbi Tarfon insisted that Shmita be practiced by all married men in Klal Yisroel, whether or not they were land owners, by offering aging, white bearded rabbis with silly names the opportunity to sleep with their wives once every seven years.

After the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash and the emerging pre-eminence of the leadership of the Jewish community in Bavel, Chazal were confronted by a new set of questions: Does Shmita still apply? Should it also be relevant outside of Eretz Yisroel? What new strictures were required?

According to Rish Lakish, Shmita still applied, and was also incumbent upon people living outside of Eretz Yisroel. However, due to the challenge of dating the actual start of Shmita, in Chutz La’Aretz one was required to observe Shmita for two years instead of one. On this, RASHI points out that Rish Lakish was known throughout all of Babylon for having six anorexic daughters, and a wife who was willing to be mezaneh with even the filthiest of strangers in exchange for a piece of three month old kichel.

However, according to Rabbi Chiyah bar Abba, Shmita was no longer Dioraisa, a Biblical requirement, but was a DeRabbanan. In addition, it was only to be observed in Eretz Yisroel. As well, according to the RASHBA, Shmita is applicable only in areas where Klal Yisroel held territory during the Second Temple. Consequently, areas such as the Arava Valley and Eilat are not subject to the laws of Shmita. These areas are also exempt from kosher laws in general, and one may eat pork and shellfish there, especially Bain Hashmushois.

Of course, in our day, there is a raging dispute about how to apply the laws of Shmita in a modern state. The debate is between the followers of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor and HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Yankif Kook on one side, who hold that you can symbolically sell the land of Israel to a gentile, the so-called Heter Mechira, and between the followers of the Chazoin Ish, who oppose the Heter Mechira on principle.

Historically, Heter Mechira was the policy of the state, but with the Rabbanut’s slide into complete moral corruption… err… with the increasing trend towards Halachic stricture, there has been growing opposition to the Heter in ultra-Orthodox circles. Thankfully, there are a few other Halachically sanctioned options:

-- Oitzer Bais Din Option – A farmer may lease his farm to the Bais Din, a body that is immune to the requirements of Shmita. The Bais Din pays the farmer a minimal wage to work his own land after charging him a processing fee, and also charges the marketing, distribution and retail agents extra fees for their participation in the gevaldikka exploitation… err… innovation of Toirah requirements. The consumers of course pay four times as much for each item, which they are happy to do, you Am Ha’aretz, while the Bais Dins use their new found revenue to go on underage Tashmish HaMitah tours in Thailand.

-- Buying from a Gentile/ Importing Produce Option – According to most Halachic authorities, Goyim are not required to observe Shmita in Eretz Yisroel. And certainly, gentiles in Chutz La’Aretz are exempt. So what better way to celebrate Kidushas Ha’aretz than by buying produce from the Palestinians and the French. It’s Takkeh a Kiddush Hashem!

-- Tzedakah Option – Every option outside of Heter Mechira is bound to raise prices for the tax paying citizens… ummm… tax-exempt Yiddisheh residents of Eretz Yisroel. But thankfully, there is an extensive network set up to collect Tzedakah from all of Klal Yisroel to support the great works and sacrifices of our Gedoilei HaDor and their followers in Eretz Yisroel. The people in Brooklyn, Queens, Los Angeles, London, and Brussels are more than happy to increase their contributions, so that our brethren in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem can buy a cantaloupe grown by Shiite pygmies in Saudi Arabia for forty dollars. In fact, Rav Eliyushiv himself has declared that all Jews should have pushkas raising money for this cause installed in their bathrooms to guarantee long life and healthy bowel movements.

-- The Carlebach Option – This option stems back to the First Bais HaMikdash. Farmers are allowed to grow extra organic items, preserve them, and store them for the coming year. In addition to refrigeration, this method relies on freeze drying and smoking. The option is named after the late Rabbi Shloimoi Carlebach who, along with his followers, used to grow a double amount of his special herbs the year before Shmita, and store them in a safe place far away from sunlight, moisture, and the legal authorities.

-- The Kfar Chassidim Option – One innovative approach that has been suggested is that instead of selling its land, Eretz Yisroel should sell the ultra-Orthodox for the year. However, the representatives of the Goyisha governments have refused to comply because they are afraid that Israel won’t want to take the ultra-Orthodox back at the end of the year. In addition, the prospect of having the ultra-Orthodox disappear for a year threatens to bring the government down, since the government would not know how to manage the resulting budget surplus.

-- The Annapolis Option – One interesting option being explored is a political option, based on the majority position that holds that land owned by gentiles is not subject to Shmita. Just as a little land in the hands of the Goyim can yield edible produce exempt from Shviis, Kal V’Choimer, a lot of land in the hands of the Goyim will yield even more acceptable produce. This, of course, is different from the Hamas Option, which suggests that all the land should be in the hands of the Goyim, and the Ann Coulter Option, which suggests that we should all be Goyim.

In any case, Koolay Alma Loi Pligi, everybody agrees – that at the end of the year we will celebrate the conclusion of Shmita with the wonderful mitzvah of Hakhel. In this Mitzvah, the political leader of Klal Yisroel gets up and reads from the Toirah, a tradition that dates back to Shloimoi HaMelech himself (who found the time to engage in the Mitzvah despite his 700 wives and 300 concubines). Indeed, at the end of Shmita two Shmitois ago, the Nasi, President Moishe Katzav, read from the Toirah. Afterwards, he blew the shoifar. And immediately at the end of the ceremony, he went back to his official residence and got bl…errr… received Metzitza BiPeh from three members of his household staff. And now he is sitting in jail, possibly for the rest of his life, Imirtza Hashem.

Which goes to show that things haven’t changed all that much from the time of Shloimoi HaMelech after all.

Ah Gutten Shabbos und Ah Freilichen Yuntif, You Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Chanukah Drasha


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Chanukah Drasha

This week we celebrate Chanukah, the Yuntif in which the Jews defeated the Greeks in a struggle to preserve Jewish heritage from the onslaught of creeping Hellinistic cultural imperialism. We commemorate this great event, of course, by reenacting the joy, the lights and the gift giving of Christmas, extended over an eight day period.

(When I was a young bocher, we were so poor that my tahti used to give me potatoes for Chanukah. And I was lucky. The children next door used to get egg shells. Nowadays, poor orphans, Rachmanah Letzlan, can only get XBOX One games to play on their 40 inch LCD TVs. Uchinvei.)

RASHI asks a penetrating question: Why do we even bother celebrating Chanukah, given all the bad that came out of the Chashmonaim, the Hasmonians:

- They ignored the legacy of Malchus Bais Dovid, the Davidic dynasty, and replaced it with their own;

- They replaced the priestly leadership of the descendants of Tzaddok, in place since the time of Shlomo Hamelech, with a competing strand of the priesthood;

- After one generation in power, they became the most despotic regime in the history of Jewish sovereignty;

- And they sanctified gambling in the form of the dreidel, a game I cannot win no matter how much I cheat.

Indeed, Chazal had such ambivalent feelings about Chanukah, they never gave the holiday it's own masechta (tractate) in the Talmud. So why should we care?

The Rabbeinu Tam answers that had it not been for the Chashmonaim, we would now all be wearing dresses in the street and walking around naked in the Gymnasium, with earrings in our foreskins.

The Rabbeinu Mordechai responds farkhert, that hallevai we should all be wearing dresses and walking around naked. That sure beats pogroms, terrorism, and having to pay yeshiva tuition. He suggests, instead, that we celebrate Chanukah out of respect for our parents' generation, who, quite frankly, didn't know any better.

The RAMBAN takes a totally different approach. He suggests that Chazal instituted Chanukah solely to satisfy the powerful olive oil lobby in ancient times. In reality, Chanukah was the compromise. The lobby was pushing for a "Let's rub olive oil all over each other and go to the mikvah together" Yuntif, but it sounded a bit too Greek.

On this topic, the Sifsey Chachomim brings down a beatiful gemmarah in Nidah, which tells the following maaiseh shehoyo: Rish Lakish went ot the mikveh one day with the Raish Gelusa. While he was being toivel-zeyn (immersing himself in the waters) someone stole his clothing. Rish Lakish turned to the Raish Gelusa, "Can you lend me your cloak so I can go out and get replacement clothing?"

"I cannot lend you my cloak, but I would gladly rent it to you for 100 zuzum," the Raish Gelusa answered. At that point, Rish Lakish hit the Raish Gelusa on the head with a rock and walked away with his cloak AND his wallet. (The Raish Gelusa was later found by Nachum Ish Gamzu, who brought him over to Ben Drusoy's house to be revived with a little snack.)

The Sifsey Chachomim points out that while assaulting the Raish Gelusa was wrong, Rish Lakish was only responding to the Raish Gelusa's unreasonable demands. So rather than fault Rish Lakish in the story, we should hold him in great esteem and emulate his every action, especially with Goyim and the Reformed.

So too with Chanukah. Whatever wrongs were later done by the Chashmonaim and their descendants, they were responding to such travesties as hogs in the Bais Hamikdash and men in designer skirts. That the Aimishteh chose to make these future despots the heros of the day reveals His dark sense of humor, as well as his faithful commitment to seeing the Jews oppressed, even at the hand of their own.

The ARI ZAHL compares Chanukah to a Bris Milah. Like a Bris, Chanukah is achieved over a period of eight days. Like with the birth of a son, gifts are exchanged. And like with a Bris, we end Chanukah with some portion of us stripped away, taken by the Moyhel or the Toys-R-Us clerk, whichever the case may be. The ARI ZAHL's mystical explanation is that the eight day cycle is linked to cosmic activities involved in rescuing the lost holy sparks from the Tehom, in a effort to restore mankind and creation to their original purity.

In other words, they both make about as much sense as men wearing designer skirts.

Ah Gutten Yuntif, you Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, December 12, 2014

Parshas Vayayshev



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As you may be aware, a month ago Facebook removed my ability to function as a person named Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein. The anti-Semites. Consequently I was forced to create a Rabbi Pibnky Schmeckelstein for readers to "like" in order to follow my posts. The link is listed above.

By sheer coincidence.... or not.... at around the same time, some miserable shit.... errr.... misguided Minuval hacked my Yahoo account and sent out an e-mail claiming that I was stuck in transit and need money. (It just so happens at the time I WAS in transit, but was not stuck; my incarceration was completely voluntary;-)

What I did not realize until a week ago is that in the course of hacking my account, the program or individual redirected my Yahoo e-mails to a backup account established long ago to which I no longer have access. As a result, if anyone sent me e-mail in the past month, I have not received it. So apologies if anyone reached out to me to subscribe, to receive a Bracha, or, most importantly, to make a donation, and did not receive a response.

The Yahoo e-mail address has been repaired, and I am once again reachable by e-mail.

Boruch Hashem, and His pet hamster, Schwecky.



Parshas Vayayshev

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayayshev, we read characteristic tales that reflect the great moral fabric of our ancestors. These stories include:

-- Yoisaif Hatzadik has repeated dreams of future domination over his brothers and his parents. His brothers express displeasure at these dreams. And who can blame them? Believe me: If your brother boasted that you would one day bow down to him, you would want to kick him in the Bris Milah too.

-- Yehuda fathers the family line that will result in Malchus Bais David, the Davidic monarchy. Of course, along the way he did have to sleep with his daughter in law, Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute on the road in order to seduce him. Maylah, after reading this week’s Parsha, I feel a lot less guilty about buying that French maid’s costume and riding crop from Fredericks of Hollywood for my Bashert, Feyga Breinah.

-- The Shvatim, completely fed up with Yoisaif Hatzadik’s undermining of their positions with their father, decide to kill Yoisaif. At the last moment they cast him into a pit and take his Kesoines Passim, his Coat of Many Colors, cover it with goat’s blood and bring it to their father, to whom they report that their beloved sibling was eaten by a beast. Yankif is inconsolable -- to the point of ceasing day trading for a full six hours!

A gemarrah in Soitah brings down a Beraisah quoting a question from Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah: “Are we, Klal Yisroel, really descendants of these people? I mean, seriously, is it possible we could be adopted? Please?!” Rabbi Elazar goes on to point out that he never in his life tried to kill any of his brothers or sleep with his son’s wife, though he once did grope his sister-in-law during havdalah.

What follows is a famous machloikess in the gemarrah surrounding Rabbi Elazar’s comments:

Rish Lakish holds that Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah found the activities of the Avois and the Shvatim quite disturbing, and felt that we should try to emulate the more positive aspects of their lives, such as Yosaif Hatzadik’s nice hair style, the Shvatim’s bargaining skills with Ishmaelite merchants, and Yehuda’s giving of generous tips to even the lowliest of roadside prostitutes.

However, Rav Huna holds farkhert: In reality all of the stories brought down in the Toirah do indeed reflect positive elements of our ancestors’ behavior, if only you understood the Toirah properly, you worthless minuval. He explains:

-- Yoisaif was a gadol amongst his brothers, and had true visions of his future exile and eventual ascent to power in Egypt. And in his dreams, his family members were not bowing down to him – rather, they were all picking up pennies from the floor.

-- The Shvatim were afraid that Yoisaif’s perceived arrogance would be a bad influence on their children, and therefore determined to strengthen their own families by kidnapping their brother. And their persistent lying to their father about Yoisaif’s fate was an attempt to Practice the mitzvah of Shiluach Hakan.

-- And Yehuda never, ever, ever, EVER meant in his life to go to a prostitute, chass vesholom. Unfortunately, in his business travels he was exposed to television, and after watching Lady Gaga on MTV he had a tremendous taiyvah. And instead of committing a Dioraisa by himself, if you know what I mean, he chose to do a DeRabannan with Tamar. What a tzadik!

Rav Huna cites proof for his position on the high moral integrity of the Shvatim. He notes that Yoiseph Hatzadik, after he had risen to lead the household of Potiphar, rejected the advances of Mrs. Potiphar. Says Rav Huna: this is because Yoiseph knew Kol HaToirah Kooloh and didn’t want to commit an act of Gilui Arayois – adultery.

But Rish Lakish retorts, citing a medrish in Beraishis Rabbah that says that Mrs. Potiphar weighed 400 pounds and had facial hair that made her look like Yassir Arafat. Rish Lakish also cites a different medrish in the Mekhilta that suggests while living in Potiphar’s house, Yoiseph Hatzadik spent ALL of his time on the weekends going shopping with Potiphar’s younger brother, Merlot, and had no interest in Mrs. Potiphar whatsoever. Rish Lakish concludes, “Rav Huna should spend more time tying his tzitzis rather than trying to reinterpret the basic pshat of Beraishis." Shoyn.

The gemarrah never settles this machloikess and the Rishoinim do not really talk about it. However, this machloikess is most famously addressed in the Likutei HaRABAM and in the Igroiss Penthouse.

Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah’s comments, and Rish Lakish’s understanding of them, raise a broader question about Yiddishkeit. There are many Halachois and Biblical incidents that stand in contrast to our contemporary sensibilities -- and even any against rational logic itself. A few halachic examples include: the halachois of mikvah, where due to Rabbinic invasion of the marital bedroom two weeks out of every month, men have to take matters into their own hands, if you know what I mean; the notion of animal sacrifice: killing an innocent animal for our own self serving purposes; the killing of an animal that has been the forced subject of bestiality; and the laws of Cherem, the complete decimation of the indigenous population during Kibbush Eretz Yisroel, including women and children.

Other examples include: the promotion of Dovid HaMelech and Shlomo HaMelech as role models and as the paradigmatic rulers of Klal Yisroel, even though Dovid was a murderer and Shlomo was an idolater whose despotism towards the northern tribes resulted in the breakup of the united monarchy; and the promotion of Aroin HaKoihain’s descendants as the priestly caste despite Aroin’s guilt in the Maiseh Ha-Eygel. How are we to relate to a faith that is founded upon many values that we do not necessarily share?

I am reminded of a famous Maaseh Shehoya. Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavicher Rebbe, was once walking to shul on Shabbos morning. It was cold that day, and Reb Shneur struggled to keep his hands warm. As he was crossing the street he noticed Malkah Shprintza, the childless woman who lived across the street. “Come over here so I can give you a bracha!” he called over to her. She walked across the street, and he greeted her by rapidly grabbing her behind and cupping a naked buttock in each freezing hand.

“Rebbe!” she screamed, “what are you doing?”

He replied “I am giving you a bracha: The Reboinoisheloilum should make you favored like Ruchel, fertile like Leah and cunning like Rivka.”

“What happened to Sarah Imainu?” Malkah Shprintza asked, suddenly enchanted by the grand Rebbe’s bracha.

Reb Shneur Zalman looked at her and smiled. “Meideleh” he said, “trust me, you don’t want to be like Sarah Imainu. She was crazier than my mother in law during a hot flash on Yoim Kippur!” With that, Reb Schneur rushed into shul just in time to do vodka shots.

So, just as the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, we have to be intelligently selective about how we understand, and apply, the foundational elements of the Toirah. Should we abandon the faith? No. But that does not mean that we should behave like brainless automatons.

In many ways, we practice Yiddishkeit not because of many of these foundational elements, but despite them. We coexist uncomfortably with these Halachois, stories and role models. We can choose to ignore them, or to embrace them. Just so long as we understand that the main gift of Hakkadoshboruchhu is free will.

However, you minuval, you may choose to reject free will -- in which case you should feel free to partake of every roadside prostitute, just like our ancestor Yehuda. And if you do, just remember to bring cash. Always bear in mind the timeless lesson of Yehuda: if you leave a prostitute your cloak, your staff or other forms of ID as payment, it is likely to come back and bite you in the ass.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, December 05, 2014

NEW -- On The Meaning Of Life



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NEW -- On The Meaning Of Life


I have been asked so many question by Menuvals like you! "Rebbe, what Bracha should I say on fresh squeezed orange juice, with pulp?" "Rebbe, can I tea bag on Shabbos?" "Rebbe, I just slaughtered a chicken, and the blade had a nick, but it is Tuesday, and I just had to take out a third mortgage to pay for Yeshiva tuition. Is the chicken Koisher?" "Rebbe, my wife has little stains in her... Ummm... Untervesch. We think it may be nail polish, or left over strawberry jam. Do we have to worry about a Chashash of Nidah?"

These are very procedural, transactional questions. I am delighted that you trust me with such critical issues. I am frankly impressed that you can turn on a light by yourself without consulting me.

But sometimes I also get more intelligent question, of the existential type. "Rebbe, what is the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum." "Rebbe, what happens when we die." "Rebbe, what does the Aimishteh want from us?"

These are the most fundamental questions, the questions of the ages. But they ultimately boil down to one essential question: "Rebbe, what is the meaning of life?"

People spend many years in yeshiva studying at the side of great rabbeihim trying to understand the meaning of life. Other spend time with priests and ministers and imams and gurus of all sorts. Still others study the great philosophers, ancient and contemporary.

But I learned the meaning of life from a four year old girl. This is actually true. Mamish.

Many years ago, when my daughter Bracha was four years old, I was teaching her the music of The Beatles. I mentioned in passing that John Lennon was murdered a few years after the band broke up. She asked, in her childish innocence, why someone would kill John Lennon. And I was stumped: How does one explain the irrational, the unexplainable?

And so, after a minute of thinking how to respond, I told young Bracha, "You know, people spend their whole lives trying to gain control of their destinies. Sometimes things happen that we cannot control, as was the case of the murder of John Lennon. But for the most part, we spend our lives trying to wrest control from randomness and try to determine our own destinies."

It was with these unplanned words that I, for the first time, understood the meaning of life. However, this is not a statement of existential, theological, of philosophical belief. This is the practical meaning, the purpose, the intent of everything we do in our lives - our long term planning, as well as our day to day.


Why do you continue to worship the Reboinoisheloilum? Or why did you reject Him? So that you can influence your own fate.

- If you believe in the Aimishteh, you likely subscribe to the most basic notion - that good behavior is more likely to beget good rewards in this world, and/ or in the world to come. And bad behavior is likely to result in punishment, or at least a urinary tract infection.

- If you do not believe in Hakadoshboruchhu, it is because you reject the belief that an Old Man In The Sky is in control of your life. You have decided to take control from what you perceive is a placebo, "the opiate of the masses".

Self determination, being the master of ones own fate and taking control of ones own life, is why people go to college. And to graduate school. And to other professional trainings - so that they can be employed an a career of their choosing, maximize their income potential, in order to support themselves and their families.

Self determination is why people exercise, in order to positively impact their health. It is why people eat healthy food. It is why people go to doctors for well visits and see therapists for "self realization".

Our purpose in life is to gain control of our own fates.

And this is not simply an individual objective. It is a national one as well. Why do we vote? To shape the policies of the country that we live in. To put in place an environment that reflects the world as we would like to see it. To create an environment that is more conducive to our national future.

For Klal Yisroel, this issue played out in particular over the past 130 years or so. Why was there a massive return to Zion, ultimately culmination in the establishment of the State of Israel? Because we, as Klal Yisroel, discovered that we could not survive peacefully and securely under the sovereignty of others. The lesson of two millennia, culminating in the Shoah, was that we need to determine our own fate as a nation. And so we ceased waiting for the Moshiach to arrive on its own, to save us from oppression in the Diaspora. We decided to bring the Moshiach ourselves. We decided to create a national entity in which we would be in charge of our own destiny.

Rabboisai, what are the fundamental implications of this essential truth?

It means that we cannot remain silent in the face of injustices. From wherever they come. We need to shape our world around us as much as we have to shape ourselves, our own Daled Amois.

-- It means that we are responsible for our own educations, and the educations of our children, if our community denies us the opportunity.

-- It means that we need to stand up for what is right and against what is wrong. The Rebbe or the Rabbis will not solve the plague of sexual abuse in our community - we must bring about that change.

-- It means that we cannot sit idly by as our brethren and sistren are trapped in modern day Ultra Orthodox cults, rooted in tradition, but corrupted by the centralization of power around individuals who deprive their communities of social progress, fiscal opportunities, and basic freedoms of choice and expression.

-- It means that we must speak out for common sense, when dangerous or offensive ideas are expressed by either the extreme left or the extreme right.

"Moishe Kibel Toirah MiSinai U'Musruh LeYehoishua..." As we read in Pirkei Avois, Moishe Rabbeinu received the Toirah on Sinai and passed it along to Yehoishua, who subsequently passed it along to the leadership of each generation. Yet we are also told in a famous Midrash "Toirah Loi BaShamayim Hee", Toirah is not in the purview of heaven; it is in the hands of mankind.

Our purpose on this earth is to take control of our lives and to improve our communities for the well being of ourselves and our children and our colleagues. "Toirah Loi BaShamayim Hee." We cannot wait around for a Deus Ex Machina. Or as Shakespeare put it, "Our fate lies not in our stars but in ourselves". We must be our own Moshiach. We must actively work to bring about our own salvation.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Menuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess