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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Parshas Shmois


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Parshas Shmois

This week’s Parsha is all about names. Big names and little names. That why it starts with "Ve-eyleh Shmois".

I remember a Rebbe I had in Cheder. He had such a name, Velvel. What kind of name is that? It sounds like a cross between a fabric softener and the latest car from Chrysler.

On the other hand, I was sitting in Shul the other day next to three guys named Brandon, Matthew and Corey. Maybe next week they'll bring their chavrusas Sting, Friar Tuck and Captain Kangaroo.

Names are important. We are told by the Zoihar that in the center of the Reboinoisheloilum's front garden, right next to the bird feeder, sits a tree that determines the names of every member of Klal Yisroel. Every moment that a Jew is born, a leaf blossoms on the tree, and on that leaf is the name of the new soul. Mazel Toiv. And when the leaf gets rained upon, the person is blessed with wealth and happiness. When the leaf dries on the vine, the person is stricken with sadness and melancholy.

And when the leaf falls off the tree, it means his e-mail address somehow gets on a spam list and he will be targeted with offers to refinance the size of his Bris Milah through multi-level marketing and hot shiksas named Amber.

The Zoihar also tells us that when one of these leaves is deformed, it means that the person will have a particularly silly name. Take me for example. My parents, with the best of intentions, gave me the name Pinchas. It sounds a bit like a side dish in a Mexican restaurant. Pinchas, of course, was also the grandson of Aharoin Hacoihain, the Minuval, who when he wasn't making the Eigel was busy rifling through Moishe Rabbeinu's personal effects.

Or, take the name of my bashert, Feige Breina. Silly name, I agree. But in Yiddish it means "can suck a golf ball through a garden hose." Boruch Hashem.

There are names that are acceptable to the Aimishteh: Adam, Aharon, Mark, Chaim, Eric, Josh, Jeff, Lenny, Moishe, Steven, and Shlomo.

Yet there are names that Hakkadoshboruchhu frowns upon: Douglas, Avigdor, Paul, Yerachmiel (too many syllables) and Scott. He especially dislikes transgender names. According to the RIF, the Reboinoisheloilum would rather a Rosheshiva show up to work in a bra and panties than a man should be named Leslie, Rene, or Adrian.

One thousand years ago the Cherem D'Rabbeinu Gershom laws were established, decrees adopted universally by Ashkenazi Jewry. These critical laws are still in place today, including: A man may have only one wife; one should not open up someone else's mail; a man may not divorce a woman without her consent. One of the lesser known decrees of Rabbeinu Gershom was the banning of androgynous names. As proof for his ruling, Rabbeinu Gershom specifically referred to Parshas Shmois. Commenting on the names of Shifra and Pooah, Rabbeinu Gershom suggested that the names of the Hebrew midwives in Egypt have been responsible for three and a half thousand years of gender confusion, which has led to cross dressing, male nurses, and womens’ prayer groups.

If you are not sure about a name, listen to the beginning of Parshas Shmois. That's why it’s called "Names." Reuvain. Shimon. Layvee. Yehudah. Yisaschar. Zevulun. Dun. Naftali. Gad. Asher. Menashe. Ephrayim. Binyamin. The names of the Shvatim, the twelve tribes, are the prototypical masculine names. They carry boldness and confidence, strength and vigor. They elicit images of broad shoulders and large, sweaty muscles. They ring with testosterone. The names are so gevaldik, it actually excites me a little, if you know what I mean.

I think I need to go sit in a nice, cold mikvah.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Drasha

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waiting for?

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Christmas Drasha

Rabbi Yoichanan Ben Zakai, in a Braisa brought down in Maseches Airuvin, asks: What is the true mitzvah of Christmas? Is it to share the joy, the festivities, the gift-giving, and the spirit of good will towards all men? Or is it to go to a matinee, pay half price, and stay the hell off the street until the goyim sober up?

This line of questioning echoes a story of Eliyahu Hanavi, as he faced down the priests of Baal on Har Carmel. As they each brought sacrifices and rejoiced in their Avoidah Zarah, Eliyahu chose to sit on the side and clip coupons, rather than participate. And when it came time to show the power of the Aimishteh, Eliyahu chose to consume all the priests with fire, rather than pay to provide refreshments for everyone.

According to the RAN, this story captures the essential dilemma of ambivalence we all feel at this time of year. All year long we function as a part of external secular society, with our own traditions and peculiarities accepted in an air of viva la differance. But at Christmas time we are not Battul BeShishim; we stand out as the minority that we are.

Yet, we needn't abandon this Yuntif entirely, given our myriad connections to it:

- Jesus was, of course, a Jew. Indeed, a medrish in Matthew Rabbah refers to him using a cell phone in a movie theatre and taking Mary Magdolyn on a shidduch date for drinks at the local Marriot;

- Christmas tree lights are a modern day expression on the ancient Germanic festival of lights commemorating the winter solstice. This, in itself, is partly reflected in the lighting of the Chanukah candles;

- Christmas is a celebration of...RETAIL. According to the RAMBAM's Mishnah Toirah, one of the key Mitzvois Asei SheHazman Gerammah is the raising of ALL prices by 20% between December 10th and December 24th. Boruch Hashem for Kratzmach -- this Yuntif pays for my kids' Yeshivah tuition! Indeed, all of my talmidim are encouraged to contribute to a Christmas fund for families who cannot afford toys, the Kratzmach Gemach, so that Jewish merchants will not suffer because the Goyim are in the middle of a recession.

- There is a famous Mishnah that states that just as Roish Hashanah is the New Year for the universe and Tu BiShvat is the New Year for trees, Christmas is the New Year for big, fat, bearded white guys. And I know many Rabbanim in our community who should therefore celebrate this Yuntif too.

There is a famous Maiseh SheHoya about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In an effort to raise money for vodka for his Chasidim one year, he dressed up as Santa Clause and stood in front of the local Bloomingdales, pretending to be from the Salvation Army. Who should walk by, but his archenemy, the Satmar Rebbe.

"So, Menachem-Mendel," the Satmar Rebbe declared in a loud voice, "Your movement truly has evolved into another religion."

"Not at all," the Lubavitcher Rebbe calmly replied. "We simply never miss an opportunity to find joy. What do you say you and I do a couple of shots, sing a niggun, and make-up underneath the mistletoe?"

The Satmar Rebbe was so upset by the confrontation that day, he insisted that all of his followers use reindeer meat in their cholent that shabbos.

Meanwhile, the Lubavitcher Rebbe raised enough money to keep his Chasidim drunk through the end of the month of Tayvais. That night, the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. "Rebbe," the Aimishteh said, "Have I not given you enough to celebrate in Yiddishkeit? Why are you and your followers embracing another religion?"

"But Hakkadoshbaruchhu," the Lubavitcher Rebbe responded, "we have not strayed from Yiddishkeit. It's not as if any of my Chasidim will ever embrace the concept of resurrection or anything like that."

So we have a lot more in common with Christmas than we originally thought. We should therefore neither ignore the holiday nor treat it with disrespect. Rather, we should treat it as the money making opportunity that it truly is.

Ah Freilichen Yuntif, You Mechutziff

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Parshas Vayechi

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Parshas Vayechi

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

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

The focus of Rabbi Shimon's contemplations was Yankif Avinu's deathbed prophesies. Rabbi Shimon was obsessed with interpreting these ancient poetic predictions to gain insight into events in his own day, a technique referred to as "Pesher" in the writings discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ultimately, he determined that there was no present day relevance, only the hope that we should all be zoicheh to benefit from similar final blessings from reverential Toirah figures lying on their deathbeds, as well as a little extra sympathy from the hot shiksa nurse.

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

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

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

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

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

The RIF is less troubled by the Brachois of Yankif in the Parsha. After all -- why would the brothers care about Yankif's opinion when he is about to die? Aimishteh knows they weren't too damn worried about his opinion when he was alive.

Rather, the brothers were obsessed with the Yerushah, the inheritance. This is why Yankif pleads repeatedly throughout the Parsha to be buried in Meuras Hamachpaylah next to his father and grandfather. He did not trust his sons: He knew the shfatim, the twelve tribes, couldn't wait to get their grimy hands on the deed to set up a falafel stand for all the tourists.

Which leads us back to the essential question Rav Shimon Bar Yochai was trying to address: How in our day are we to interpret and understand prophesies which are billed, in the words of the Parsha itself, as a reflection of "Acharis Hayamim", the end of days?

If one looks around, modern reality in Rav Shimon's day or in our own time does not synch with Yankif Avinu's prophesies.

A famous Medrish addresses this, saying that Yankif Avinu did in fact intend to reveal the future of Klal Yisroel, but the Reboinoisheloilum blocked his Ruach Hakoidesh so he wouldn't give away Halikeh Soidois. So instead Yankif ended up repeating some of the plot lines he has seen on the soap opera One Life To Live earlier that day.

The RI takes an alternative approach. He suggests that the texts, including the prophesies, were clearly developed by J text sources, reflecting the post-United Monarchy perspective, and edited within a non-priesthood textual school. I have no idea what this means, but it was this comment that led to the RI being put in chayrem by the community for his heresy. He was only allowed back into the fold after fasting for 30 days, repenting for three years, and writing a $3,000 donation to the Chief Rabbi's Discretionary Fund.

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

But the Schvantz Mordechai insists that the Brachois of Yankif were NEVER intended to be taken literally. He points out that Yankif spoke openly and freely, predicting failure as a warning to his sons to stay on the straight and narrow path. This teaches us that it is a big mitzvah to always remind our own children what miserable failures and disappointments they are.

Finally, the ARI ZAHL looks upon Yankif's works as the secret key that will unlock the arrival of the Moshiach. Only when we stop judging others and realize that we ourselves, like the shfatim before us, are minuvals and Vilda Chayas in the eyes of Hakkadoshboruchhu will Klal Yisroel be worthy of Biyas Hamashiach. Until then, I will just have to suffer in the Gallus until the rest of you Am Haratzim realize how worthless you truly are and change your Minuveldicka ways.

But when the time comes and you do finally begin to repent, a natural first step would be to buy my book, or write a check to NPOJ Intl. - Yeshivas Chipass Emmess. For a donation of one hundred dollars or more, you will even receive an autographed copy of my new CD, "Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein's Yuletide Greetings," which includes the hit single remake, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" a duet I recently recorded with my good friend, Mel Gibson.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Parshas Vayigash

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Rabboisai,

I am publishing this week's drasha late, nuch Shabbos-Koidesh, for two reasons:

-- Because you should realize, you minuval, that Toirah should eb studies all week, not just on Shabbos, while you are waiting for your Bashert to get out of the bathroom already, so you can engage in the double-mitzvah;

-- Because unlike you, I HAVE A YESHIVA TO RUN! Over the past week, I have been busy preparing the end of year evaluations and determining how much Kollel money each of the Yungeleit are entitled to in the coming year. It is an awesome responsibility, you mechutziff. So stop complaining already!

Have a Gut Vuch, you mechutziff!

Pinky

-----------

Parshas Vayigash

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayiggash, we read of the culmination of the Yoisaiph Hatzadick story, where Yoisaiph Hatzadick exposes himself to his brothers, as well as to numerous underage bystanders.

Not long after, of course, Yankif Avinu is told that his beloved son Yoisaiph is indeed alive, ending his years of mourning. The Toirah is silent about how the wonderful news is told to Yankif. However, a famous Medrish tells us that the news was gently broken to Yankif by his granddaughter Serach Bas Asher.

Serach Bas Asher was respected amongst her family as a talented singer and a musician. The Shfatim were concerned that breaking the news outright to Yankif would cause him to have a heart attack. So instead, they employed Serach to gently sing to her grandfather while playing the harp, and embed in her song the news that Yoisaiph was alive. The Medrish goes on to say that Serach’s reward for performing this great expression of Kibud Av VaAim was eternal life.

Unfortunately for Serach, her gift of eternal life was not accompanied by a matching gift of a trust fund or a professionally managed pension fund to support her financially for eternity. Consequently, she was dirt poor, and had to spend the next thousand years working as an exotic dancer in a Mesopotamian strip club.

Whatever became of Serach Bas Asher? There is a famous machloikess on this topic in a Gemarrah in Megillah.

-- According to Abaya, Serach prayed for the Reboinoisheloilum to end her life as she witnessed the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash and the descent of Klal Yisroel into the Babylonian exile.

-- According to Rava, Serach lived though Golus Bavel, returned to Eretz Yisroel with Ezra and Nechemia, and lived for several hundred more years. But as Sinas Chinum overtook Klal Yisroel in the years before the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, Serach could no longer withstand her role as eyewitness to all of Jewish history, and prayed to the Aimishteh to be taken to the Oilum HaEmmes.

-- However, according to Rav Shayshess, Serach Bas Asher is indeed still alive, and she currently lives in Wisconsin and runs an online porn site (SerachWILD.Com).

-- Rav Puppa concurs that Serach is still alive, but is neither engaging in pornography, Chass V’Sholom, or living in obscurity. Farkhert, he holds that she is leveraging her years of wisdom and experience to make the Reboinoisheloilum’s world a better place by engaging in public service, and is none other than Hillary Clinton. In addition, Rav Puppa holds that Barak Oibama is really Culaiv Ben Yefuneh, Rudy Giuliani is actually Shloimoi Hamelech, and Mitt Romney is in reality Yeruvum Ben Nevut.

A different Gemarrah in Shabbos focuses on Yankif Avinu’s response to the revelation of Yoisaiph’s whereabouts. According to Rav Chisda, upon hearing the news that Yoisaiph was alive, Yankif looked up to Shamayim and recited Hallel “at having lived to see the handiwork of the Etzbah Eloikim.” However, according to Rabba Bar Bar Channa, Yankif Avinu first looked down to the floor and took a moment to reflect on the enormity of the information. Then he turned around and bitch-slapped Yissaschar and Zevulun in the head, and then kicked Naftali in the Schvantzlach.

RASHI, however, is not at all troubled by the confusion raised by the total lack of any real information in these stories. He states in Perek Chuff Baiz, Passuk Yud Aleph that the entire Parsha of Vayigash should not be taken literally anyway, but should be read as a complete metaphor… for Parshas Miketz, which makes even less sense than Parshas Vayigash. Consequently, every year at this time, to coincide with Chanuka, RASHI would take a break from writing his commentary and travel abroad to sample the new wines being developed in Sonoma County. He would stay at a boutique hotel in downtown San Francisco and take day trips to the wineries where he would drink enough, he writes, “until I can no longer tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabarnet, or between a woman names Chris and a cross-dresser named Christine.” Shoyn.

As we sit here in our modern world, how are we to relate to the entire Yoisaiph Hatzadick story, and, in fact, to the entire Yankif Avinu cycle? Did we even need the brave actions of Yoisaph Hatzadick to begin with? Would we not have been better off had Klal Yisroel not descended to Egypt? Why did Hakkadoshboruchhu have to put our ancestors through hundreds of years of suffering the stinging horrors and humiliations of slavery, only to return to Eretz Yisroel through bitter conquest? Could we not have just stayed there in the first place and survived the famine by taking government subsidies?

Indeed, this is a reflection of a broader existential quandary – linked to one of the ultimate questions facing Klal Yisroel: Why is our history so twisted and tinged with challenge and tragedy? If we are indeed the Aimishteh’s chosen people, could we not have had it a bit easier, like, say, the Norwegians? Who is at fault for our having such a convoluted and tortured fate?

According to Reb Yoisaiph Katski, this is indeed the fault of Hakadoshboruchhu Himself, Bichvoidoi UbiAtzmoi. He points to the Akeidah and notes that just as Yitzchak’s life is spared when a lost little lamb is sacrificed in his stead, the Reboinoisheloilum constantly looks at the world, is tempted to destroy it, remembers His oath to Noiach, and then uses Klal Yisroel as His punching bag to take out His frustrations.

According to Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah, it is of course not the Aimishteh’s fault! He loves us the same way a child lives his pet hamster. Rather, we should blame our parents. If they had only loved us a little more as we were children, and bought us that thing that we really wanted, and let us watch a little more TV, and helped us more with out homework, and not favored our younger brother, and has not been so critical about our bisomim smoking friends, we would have had all the needed confidence to succeed in our every endeavor. Yes, it is our parents who are at fault for our failure for going down to Egypt, for us being exiled, and for all of our other failings. Indeed, the fact that we are 3,000 years old and still wet our beds proves that our parents never really cared about us!

However, according to the RASTA, it is neither the fault of Hakadoshboruchhu or of our parents, but the fault of the liberal media. Case in point: Did we really have to know that Yoisaiph had actually been sold into slavery by his brothers, and then lied to Yankif Avinu and maintained the lie for the next two decades? Is it that big a deal? Every nation has its little internal arguments, and exposing this disagreement only plays into the hands of our enemies.

Similarly, we would never have been exiled from Eretz Yisroel if the liberal media was not always talking about how corrupt the kings of Israel were. They should really love the country, otherwise they should keep their mouths shut. And did the liberal media need to tell us that idolatry has been introduced into the Bais Hamikdash? These were a few isolated events, blown totally out of proportion.

And so what if there were poor members of Klal Yisroel being ignored by their fellow man? They were probably illegal immigrants anyway.

Yes, it was the liberal media that undermined the position of Malchis Bais David, the Malchus of the Chashmonaim, and later, the leadership of the Nasi in the post Temple period. By the actions of the liberal media, our enemies have been given constant reason to hate us and to persecute us. Reboinoisheloilum-Damned-Liberal-Media!

I am reminded of a famous Machloikess in the medieval period. The RIF and the RAN got into a disagreement with the RALBAG and the RITVAH over who had the bigger shtender, Moishe Rabbeinu or Aaroin HaKoihain, the minuval. The RIF and the RAN insisted that Moishe’s shtender was bigger, as we are told that Moishe was the greatest Navi that ever lived, and how can you imagine Navi with an inferior shtender? The RALBAG and the RITVAH, however, refer to the fact that the descendents of Aharoin HAKoihain get the Kehunah as proof that Aharoin had a bigger shtender. After all, they argue, “only someone with a groisse shtender has earned the right to appoint his descendants to the institutional leadership of future generations.

I would like to suggest a different approach. LeOilum, this debate isn’t really about the size of ones shtender. After all, size doesn’t matter, or so my Bashert, Feige Breineh, tells me. Rather, it is the scope of one’s influence that really counts. Moishe Rabbeinu was the greatest Navi, but his descendants were more interested in learning Toirah, and less focused on addressing the everyday needs of Klal Yisroel. Aroin Hakoihain was indeed a minuval, what, with the designing of the Eigel and the speaking Rechilus about Moishe. Yet his children were committed to serving Klal Yisroel, even if that meant giving of their private time, sacrificing commitments to their children, violating their marital vows, or taking of the collected wealth of Klal Yisroel. As a result, they established the paradigm of the future religious leadership of Klal Yisroel.

Similarly, Yoisaiph Hatzadick, and the cycle of stories that surround him, do not represent some perfect era of Klal Yisroel’s history. On the contrary, they tell us that the nature of the relationship between Klal Yisroel and the Reboinoisheloilum is not at all clear. In fact, it is downright convoluted. Yet, what is clear from the story of Yoisaiph is that Klal Yisroel is best served when we hide our own identity, marry shiksas, work for the goyim, and abuse our brethren. Only then can we be in a strong position to help bring about the Geulah Shlaimuh. Umayn.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

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 Playstation One games to play on their 19 inch 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 and having sex with young boys.

The Rabbeinu Mordechai responds farkhert, that hallevai we should all be wearing dresses and sleeping with young boys. 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 Freilichen Yuntif, You Mechutziff

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On The Mitzvah of Shmita


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On The Mitzvah of Shmita

Rabboisai,

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Parshas Vayayshev

Mechhutziff! Have you bought my book yet??!!

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

http://stores.lulu.com/rapas

==========================================================


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 Britney Spears 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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Parshas Vayishlach

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

http://stores.lulu.com/rapas

=============================================================


You Minuvals!

As we all know, the revolutionary tenet of Yiddishkeit, the unique philosophy delivered at Maimud Har Sinai, is the notion that Hakadoshboruchhu acts in the world through history, in reaction to and in accordance with human events. This stands in contrast to the traditional notions of the pagans, the Oivdei Coichavim, who believe that their gods act in a random fashion to suit their own whimsy. Therefore, we must all view history and current events through then lens of the Aimishteh’s involvement: “We have been rewarded for our commitment to the Mitzvois.” “We are being punished for being Am Haratzim.” “We have been given an opportunity by the Reboinoisheloilum – so we should not screw it up!”

It has come to my attention that a number of you Mamzerim have actually not taken full advantage of one unique opportunity that Hakadoshboruchhu has provided you. As I have been telling you for many months, I have compiled a collection of my brilliant writings into a book called Kisvei HaRAPAS, the Writings of the RAPAS. This book includes a unique glossary prepared by my esteemed colleague the RABAM, and was published with the generous support of the RAGU (non—monetary, of course. He is really rather cheap; he recently tried to rent out one of his kids on E-Bay for the summer in order to avoid paying for sleepaway camp). This collection represents a fresh look at the weekly Parsha, and is a mélange of Toirah wisdom, Rabbinic insight, and adult humor.

Obviously, the fact that this book has become available is NOT because of my own unique talent and wit (distinctive that it is). Only an Apikoires (and my mother) would believe that! Rather, THIS BOOK HAS BEEN PUBLISHED BECAUSE THE AIMISHTEH WANTED IT TO BE PUBLISHED! He wanted this brilliance brought into the world to sanctify His name!

SO, if you have not already purchased the book, then you deny the fundamental Jewish belief in the Reboinoisheloilum’s involvement in the world. You are an Apikoires. Or, even worse, you are the equivalent of an Oivayd Avoidah Zorah!

But, of course, in Yiddishkeit we also believe that it is never too late to do Teshuvah for your horrible actions. So, if you are a long time talmud of my special brand of Toirah, if you are a personal acquaintance, if you are a guy who just accidentally met me at dinner on Friday night and argued in defense of Rabbinic child molesters, or if you are a new member of the Yeshiva, IT IS A MITZVAH FOR YOU TO BUY MY BOOK! Please go to:

http://stores.lulu.com/rapas

Incidentally, all major credit cards are accepted. And when you purchase this important Sefer today, it just might buy you your own chelek in Oilum Habah. Aimishteh knows, you need all the help you can get.

Pinky
---------------


Parshas Vayishlach

To begin this week's drasha, I must share with you a wonderful personal story.

Earlier this year I was traveling on business to a Yeshiva fundraiser at an exotic dance club in Tennessee. Having used up all my singles, when night descended I was compelled to make camp on a hill overlooking the city of Knoxville.

In the middle of the night, I was stirred by someone walking around my campsite. I arose and was immediately thrust into the clench of physical combat. This mysterious person and I wrestled throughout the night, locked in mortal struggle. As the sun rose the next morning, the person tried to pull my thigh, but inadvertently dislodged my testicle, Rachmana Letzlan. At daybreak our struggle ended, and the being revealed himself as none other than Al Gore.

From that day forth that location has been known as Kickmyass, because that was the site where Al Gore kicked my ass.

I share this story, of course, because of its strong resemblance to the story of Yankif Avinu struggling with the Rebboinoisheloilum, while making his way to Eretz Yisroel, en route to his rendezvous with his twin brother, Eisav HaRasha, Yemach Shmoi Ve'Zichroi. Why did the Reboinoisheloilum engage Yankif in mortal combat?

According to the RASHBA it was because there was a nickel on the floor somewhere, and neither Yankif nor Hakkadoshboruchhu wanted to walk away from spare change.

But according to the Bais Yoiseph, they were actually fighting over a waffle. He cites as proof a Medrish that quotes the Aimishteh as telling Yankif during the struggle "Leggo my Eggo, before I turn your Makom Hamilah into a piece of potato kugel."

However, the ARI ZAHL offers a beautiful interpretation. The ARI points to the end of the episode in the Toirah, where Yankif Avinu is for the first time given the name Yisroel, or Israel. Noting the longstanding Kabalistic belief that the relationship between the Aimishteh and Klal Yisroel is like that of husband and wife, the ARI likens this episode to the awkward wedding night of Klal Yisroel and Hakkadoshboruchhu. They stay up together all night, vigorously engaged in physical interaction. As dawn arrives, they reach a climax, but not without some minor injury. And, to commemorate this event, the ARI suggests that when a man and his wife participate in intimacy while having in mind to spiritually align their actions with the holy cosmic union of Klal Yisroel and the Rebboinoisheloilum, the man ought to spank his wife every once in a while.

Of course, this story is but one of the many strange tales we read in this Parsha. Other stories include:

-- Ya’akov's ultimate confrontation with his brother. After all the buildup, Yankif sends out his least favorite wives and children as canon fodder before the feared enemy, using them as human shields to protect himself, his favorite wife Rachel, his favorite children, and his pet cat, Fluffy. But when Eisav finally meets Yankif's party, he in fact extends his hand to Yankif in peace. Yankif responds by asking Eisav for a donation and tries to sell him life insurance and a cell phone.

-- Reuven, Yankif's eldest son, has sex with Bilhah, one of his father's concubines, who is also the mother of his half brothers (Perek Lamed Hay, Possuk Chuf Bais). How could one of the Shvatim, the tribes, holy as he was, commit Aishess Ish with the bedmate of his father? This is indeed very troubling!

But you mustn't ask such silly questions, you Minuval. Because according to Rabbi Eliezer, as quoted in a Beraisah in Beraishis Rabbah, this was not Reuven's intention at all. Says Rabbi Eliezer, Reuven was terribly nearsighted and had lost his glasses. After wandering across the tent camp, Reuven thought he had made his way to his destination, the bed of his boyfriend Theodore, Yankif's manservant. However, Reuven bedded Bilhah by mistake. And who can blame him? Both Bilhah and Theodore had the same moustache problem.

-- But perhaps the strangest story in the Parsha is the story of the rape of Dinah. Dinah, the sister of the Shvatim, is raped by Shchem, the son of Chamor. After he defiles Dinah, Shchem falls in love with her and asks for her hand in marriage. Both are told that if all the males of the village are circumcised, Shchem will be permitted to marry Dinah. But as the men of the village recover from their procedures, two of the tribes, Shimoin and Layvee, slay the village to the last man. This results in a harsh reaction by their father, Yankif Avinu.

How should we look upon this reactionary behavior? Were the brothers justified in their behavior? And if so, how can we understand Yankif's angry response towards them?

According to the Metsudas Dovid, Shimoin and Layvee acted lishmah, with great personal integrity, and believed that their actions would help make the world a better place through setting an example of loving-kindness for their sister by committing bloodthirsty revenge. The Metsudas Dovid adds that Yankif Avinu actually supported the brothers' action, but he explains that Yankif's stated negative reaction in the possuk (verse) was only "delivered to satisfy American pressure, brought about by the liberal media." He further suggests that the Toirah no longer include such actions since they reflect badly on Klal Yisroel.

But the RAIVID offers a different set of answers. Says the RAIVID, in truth, the brothers did overreact, just a bit. They should have only killed Shchem, who was truly the only figure guilty of criminal behavior. However, on their way to the village to kill Shchem, they forgot to take their lithium medication, and began hearing voices asking them to kill every male in the town. And this explains Yankif's reaction: How can he expect to co-exist with the Canaanites and Perrizites when he has the reputation of having a couple of psychos for sons?

Finally, the Akaidahs Yitzchak offers a different interpretation. In truth, all of the males of the town supported and endorsed the criminal actions of Shchem. So indeed, they all deserved to die. And Shimoin and Layvee set out on their military operation, as planned, with little more that two submachine guns each, plus grenades, pistols, and hunting knives, in order to carry out their mission. But after killing all the males, Layvee looks back at the town and says in his deep, Aramean accented voice, "I'll be back," and it is that statement which Yankif protests.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Parshas Vayaitzai

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

http://stores.lulu.com/rapas

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Parshas Vayaitzai

"Vayaitzai Ya'akov mi'Be-er Sheva vayailech Charanah." And Yankif went out of Be'er Sheva towards Charan. In such succinct fashion, the Toirah introduces the next twenty years of fun and oppression at the hands of Lavan.

The RAMBAN asks the question: Why is it that Yankif Avinu -- one of our founding Avois, a pinnacle of our early relationship with the Aimishteh, and a model for future behavior emulation -- was so consistently disliked by his brother, his uncle AND his own father -- all the male figures in his life? What's pshat?

According to the MAHARAL, this is because Yankif was insufferably arrogant. According to a Medrish in Soitah, Yankif used to boast to his brother Eisav, "I have an IQ of Koof Mem Chess, while you kill weasels for a living. And you were stupid enough to sell me your birthright for a bowl of lentils, schmuck!"

But the TOISFOIS YUNTIF points out that, ironically, as much as Yankif was hated by the men in his life, the women in his life REALLY loved him: His mother Rivka, who taught him all the finer arts of lying to his father; and his two wives, who constantly fought over him like sisters (hey -- they were sisters!). Explains the TOISFOIS YUNTIF, when the Toirah tells us that Yankif didn't like to go to the fields to hunt, it is really trying to tell us that Yankif was extremely sexually conflicted and effeminate. This really pissed off his father and brother, but was very popular with all the women, who used to like to shop with Yankif, and talk fashion and attend the ballet with him.

Rav Yoiseph Karo, on the other hand, holds farkhert: Yankif was a true he-man who left all the men jealous and all the women swooning. As proof, he cites the fact that to impress Rachel when her first meets her, Yankif single-handedly removes the giant boulders covering the well. Says Rav Yoiseph Karo, "If Yankif Avinu was man enough to get his rocks off in public, that is good enough for me."

As Yankif meets with his uncle for the first time, the Toirah tells us that Lavan hugs and kisses him. A famous RASHI addresses an implicit question: Why does the Toirah tell us that he both hugs AND kisses him? RASHI explains that the Toirah was not being redundant: Lavan first hugs Yankif to see if he has valuables hidden under his clothes, and then kisses him to see if any jewels are hidden in his mouth. (Author's comment: Check out RASHI. He really does say this.) So is this what family reunions were like back then? I think I will stick with a handshake and a beer.

The RASHBA adds, the real reason Lavan hated Yankif is that Yankif Avinu didn't let him get to third base on their first date.

As one reads of these curious events, a good-for-nothing minuval such as you must wonder why the Toirah bothers to tell us such tales. Indeed, a famous Gemmarah in Yevamois specifically asks why the Toirah doesn't just begin at Har Sinai with the giving of the Ten Commandments. Or begin with the Exodus from Egypt, the formal agglomeration of Klal Yisroel into an independent nation. Or begin with the entrance of Klal Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel. Why do we need all of this pre-history?

The Gemmarah quotes Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel as saying that all of Sefer Beraishis comes to teach us the ways of Tzidkus, righteousness, so we can emulate our forefathers' and foremothers' actions in our own lives.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in our Parsha, with the lessons taught by Rachel and Leah. Yankif of course ends up marrying Leah, and, subsequently, Rachel. As Rachel struggles to conceive, she hands over her maidservant to be a concubine to Yankif. Leah ends up doing the same thing.

The RAMBAM points out that if you include Sarah Imainu, who gave Hagar (the Horrible), her own maidservant, to Avraham as a concubine, we have a total of three instances where the Imahois INSIST that their husbands be mekayim the mitzvah of pru urvu with another woman, or at least perform a quickie. That's 66% of the Avois, and 75% of the Imahois. And THESE WERE GREAT WOMEN, who always acted at every moment with the complete intention of fulfilling the mitzvois of Hakkadoshboruchhu. You cannot argue with these statistics, you Minuval.

So, as we know from Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel and from many others of Chazal, in order to be a true Ben Toirah we must walk in the footsteps of our great and righteous ancestors and emulate their very deeds. Consequently it is a Dioraisa, a Biblical commandment, to engage in an intimate relationship with a concubine!

I have made this argument many times to my bashert, Feigah Breinah. She is not fully convinced of this particular mitzvah, but she does hold that lap dances are a D'Rabbanan, and not the worst thing you can do on a Thursday night after a long week of work. But I expect that she'll come around sooner or later, otherwise I will cease snacking on the schmaltz herring, if you know what I mean.

Four hundred years ago the ARI ZAHL, living in Tzfas, taught us that with every mitzvah we fulfill, we restore another primordial spark of the Aimishteh's goodness to its rightful place in the cosmic universe, thereby bringing the world one step closer to its original perfection.

Rachel, Leah, and Sarah, in their holy righteousness, understood this, and that is why they insisted their husbands sleep with their maidservants. So as we walk in their Heiligeh footsteps, we should always keep in mind that every extramarital biyuh brings us one step closer to Biyas Hamashiach. Bimhairah Biyamainu. Umain.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Parshas Toildois

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Toildois

In this weeks Parsha, Toildois, we learn how truly dysfunctional Yitzchak Avinu's family was. Indeed, the Parsha tells us about the lies, the deception, and the struggle of brother against brother. I swear, Toldois sounds more like General Hospital than an account of our holy forebears.

Take the account of Rivka Imainu. We learn right away that Rivka was barren. This leads to an obvious question pondered by Chazzal as they were standing behind the mikvah, trying to sneak a peek through the cracks in the wall: Why is it that 75% of the Imahois were barren? That includes Sarah, Rivka, and Rachel. (Leah Imainu, on the other hand, was so fertile she had to be fitted to wear a chastity belt with a combination lock to keep her out of trouble, Kenaiyna Harah.)

According to Rabbeinu Tam, there was actually nothing physically wrong with these women. It is just that the Avois were very, very holy. They were studying Toirah 20 hours a day, sitting in the Bais Medrish holding hands with their Chavrusas, never realizing they should be home having relations with their wives or their girlfriends. What Kedushah!

The Chassam Soifer brings proof to this position from another important incident in our Parsha, Rivka’s misrepresentation of herself as Yitzchak’s sister, rather than his wife. (This, of course, echoes two similar incidents involving Sarah, Avraham Avinu and two different kings.) According to the Chassam Soifer, the reason the Imahois were constantly telling people that their husbands were actually their brothers is because they were love starved and were looking for a little action. And if they could shack up with a local king they might even get a nice bauble out of the deal.

However, according to the RIF, we should go with the Pashut Pshat, the simple interpretation of the Toirah. It really was Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu who asked their wives to make believe that they were their sisters whenever they would meet a head of state. But it was not that they were afraid for their lives. Chass V'Sholom! Rather, it is because the Avois were both pretty kinky and were titillated by the thought of sharing a mate with a powerful individual. He cites as proof a Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah that says that Avraham Avinu was a cross-dresser, and that Yitzchak Avinu once asked Rivka to wear a strap-on.

Like any good soap opera, Parshas Toildois shares with us the full range and volatility of human emotions across the broad spectrum of human experience. A famous Medrish tells us that halfway through Parshas Toldois, Rivka was diagnosed with depression. And who can blame her? The Toirah tells us that the when Rivka Imainu was confused by strange stomach pains during the course of her pregnancy, the Aimishteh explained to her that "Shnay Goyim BaVitnaych --Two gentiles are in your womb" (Beraishis, Perek Chuf Hay, Possuk Chuf Gimmul). Hey, it's bad enough you have to put up with them at work. If you were told you had two of them in your stomach, you'd need Prozac too!

Of course, the two brothers that were in Rivka's womb grew up to be Ya'akov and Eisav, who through their descendants make up the nations of Klal Yisroel and Edom. We learn so many lessons from them:

-- From Ya'akov -- we learn to take advantage of people who are weak
-- From Ya'akov -- we learn to lie to our parents, and in doing so, to disrespect them, and by inference, disrespect the Reboinoisheloilum as well
-- From Ya’akov -- we learn to covet that which belongs to another
-- From Ya'akov -- we learn to steal
-- From Eisav -- we learn to kill.

So, basically, from Eisav, and especially from Ya'akov, we learn to violate all 10 of the 10 Commandments. Thank Hakkadoshboruchhu! All those nasty restrictions were beginning to cramp my style.

As they grew up, Eisav and Ya'akov became very different people. The Toirah tells us that Eisav became a great hunter and a man of the fields. But Ya'akov did not. According to a Gemmarah in Sotah, while Eisav went off to hunt, Ya'akov went off to study ballet and attend cooking classes in the evening. No wonder Yitzchak didn't want to give him his blessing!

In that same Gemmarah, Rav Yoichanan asks -- why is it that, when it came time to offer his fatherly blessing, Yitzchak could not tell the difference between Ya'akov and Eisav, his own sons?

According to Reb Hai Goyn, Yitzchak spent so much time studying Toirah and coaching the basketball team at Yeshivas Shame V-Ayver that he was never home to see his kids.

But the accepted answer, according to RASHI, is that Yitzchak was blind. Indeed, the RI adds, Yitzchak’s eyesight disappeared as a coping mechanism. He cites a Medrish that reports that following the birth to her twin sons Rivka put on 300 pounds and started wearing a really bad shaytl. So the Reboinoisheloilum, in His benevolence, took away Yitzchak's sight.

This reminds me of a Maiseh Shehoya. I was on a fundraising mission in the Bahamas for my Yeshiva, Yeshivas Chipass Emmess. My wife Feigah Breinah and I were going snorkeling, since, as everyone knows, major donors can often be found examining coral in its natural habitat. Suddenly, as we were about to descend into the water, my bashert announced to me that she could not go in, as she had that second become a Nidah. And, she continued, it is dangerous to go snorkeling in such circumstances since sharks are all drawn to the smell of blood.

I was greatly troubled by this: How could something so repulsive to all men be attractive to the common shark? And, farkhert, how can something so attractive to a shark be so repulsive to all men?

This is the essence of Parshas Toldois. Ya'akov, so unattractive to Yitzchak Avinu, was the pride, the favorite of Rivka Imainu. And it was only through their combined guile, their joint deception, that Yankif Avinu was able to fulfill Hakkadoshboruchhu's plan for the world by stealing the birthright from Eisav and, with it, the foundational line of descent from Avraham that carried the Aimishteh's promise of future greatness for Klal Yisroel.

Hence, just as Yitzchak was blind to the truth about his two sons, the Reboinoisheloilum's master plan is not visible to us in our day-to-day concerns and observations. You may think you know what is right and wrong, but the truth is you are a worthless minuval who doesn't even know the right bracha to say on pumpkin pie, let alone the ultimate truths that drive the universe and the future.

So, the next time your bashert is a Nidah, don't hide from her, as would be your first instinct. Don't reject her as Yitzchak did Ya'akov, and possibly drive her into the arms of a local king. Embrace her. For what may disgust you today may actually be laying the foundations of future greatness for Klal Yisroel. Short of that, it might lead to a nice but messy quickie.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Parshas Chayei Sarah

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Chayei Sarah

I write this Dvar Toirah while on an international flight en route to an annual gathering in commemoration of this week's Parsha, Parshas Chayei Sarah. Thousands of people focus on the first half of the Parsha and gather in Chevroin every year to celebrate the burial place of Sarah Imainu. I, on the other hand, will be joining a group of people commemorating the second half of the Parsha, the marriage of Yitzchak Avinu to three-year-old Rivka Imainu, by traveling to Thailand to have sex with a group of underage girls.

This week's Parsha, of course, begins with the passing of our foremother, Sarah Imainu. RASHI tells us that Sarah died as a result of hearing that her husband, Avraham, had taken their only son to be slaughtered at the altar. The RAMBAM asks the question: Why should Sarah have been shocked? Where was her faith in the Reboinoisheloilum? Was she not ready for the Aimishteh's test? Was she tempted by the Yetzer Harah, the Evil Inclination, to question her belief in the all knowing, rational and loving Hakkadoshboruchhu who expressed His divine love by suggesting that Yitzchak be grilled to perfection like ribs at a July 4th barbecue? Did she not want her son to be slaughtered, so he could die for all our sins? (OOPS, wrong religion. Sorry.)

Indeed, it was not Sarah who mentally snapped as a result of Akaidahs Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac, at the end of last week's Parsha. It was Avraham Avinu. According to a famous medrish in Beraishis Rabbah, this Parsha is testimony to that fact that Avraham completely lost his marbles after the Akaidah. Note the evidence of his nervous breakdown:

-- We are told, not once -- but twice, that Avraham bows down to the "Am Ha'aretz," the People of the Land, to express his humility and gratitude for their support (Beraishis, Perek Chuff Gimmul, Psukim Zayin and Yood Bayz). How can Avraham Avinu, our forefather, the man who discovered Hakkadoshboruchhu, the man who invented string cheese and the Blackberry, prostrate himself before other human beings? Did he not realize that the only thing he should EVER bow down to was the Reboinoisheloilum, the Melech Malchei HaMelachim -- unless of course someone had dropped a quarter? However, the medrish quotes Rabbi Akiva as saying that at this point in his life, Avraham was so deluded and confused he would bow down to a cow every time he had a potato with a little sour cream on it. He would even bow down to his dry cleaner every time he picked up his shirts.

-- Avraham Avinu barters to gain the right to bury his beloved Sarah in Meuras Hamachpeilah. Ephroin, the property's owner, gives Avraham the land and does not want payment. Avraham, however, insists upon counting out four hundred shekels of silver as payment to Ephroin. So what's pshat "payment"? Why didn't Avraham just chop off one his arms and present it to Ephroin, instead of giving away money for no reason? Maybe he should have given away his ATM card and his PIN code, while he was at it?

-- Avraham decides to send his man-servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son, Yitzchak. To secure his commitment, Avraham asks that Eliezer, his servant, put his hand "underneath Avraham's thigh." Wow. That is progressive. According to Rabbi Akiva, after the death of his wife, Avraham was so randy he was open to "all lifestyle alternatives." Indeed, there is a separate Beraisah in Masechess Pesachim that suggests that following Sarah's death, Avraham Avinu joined a local S&M club, spent six months in a nudist colony, and made seventy five dollars a week posing for an art class at his local community college.

Avraham's mental state is of course balanced with the beautiful story of the discovery of Rivka. After swearing commitment to Avraham to find a wife for Yitzchak, Eliezer sets out on his quest. As he reaches a well, he decides that he will anticipate a divine sign: the appearance of a woman who will offer drink to both him and his camels. The RADAK asks the question: why did Eliezer choose a sign based on a woman's action, rather than a visual metaphor, such as a yellow ribbon on the woman's dress or a tattoo on the small of her back? The Toirah Temimah answers that, mamesh, Eliezer was indeed also looking for such a sign: he was hoping that as the women bent down to fetch the water he would catch a glimpse of her cleavage. Says the Toirah Temimah, Eliezer had also committed to Avraham that the bride he would bring back to his master's son would have a Double-Daled cup.

Of course, all of these expectations were turned upside down when Eliezer saw Rivka for the first time. We are told specifically by the Possuk that Eliezer noticed her great beauty. We are also told that Rivka "was a virgin; she had known no man." An obvious question arises: why did the Toirah have to repeat itself -- wasn't this a redundant statement? RASHI tells us, however, that the local girls had strange sexual practices that enabled sexual activity without the surrender of one's maidenhead. (He really does say that, by the way. Look it up.) Who ever heard of such a practice amongst youth?!? But the RASHBAM disagrees. He suggests that the verse is telling us that while Rivka had not had a sexual relationship with a man, her femininity had been "totally awakened" as an active member of the LPGA tour, if you know what I mean.

And now the strangest part of the Parsha: nowhere in the Parsha are we told Rivka's age, but Rabbinic tradition has always deduced that Rivka was three years old when she was discovered by Eliezer and brought into Yitzchak's tent for consummation of their marital relationship. How can this be? Was Yitzchak some kind of pervert?

According to a Gemmarah in Masechess Nidah, Yitzchak was indeed a pervert. Says the Gemmarah, the reason that Yitzchak didn't marry until the age of forty is that as a counselor in Yeshivas Shame V'Eyver Basketball and Learning Camp, Yitzchak sexually abused three of his charges and spent the next twenty two years in prison. As proof, the Gemmarah cites a Beraisah that states that the reason Avraham insisted that Yitzchak, his son, not marry a local Canaanite woman was NOT because he wouldn't want one as a daughter in law. Adderabbah! It was because Yitzchak had to register with the local authorities as a convicted sex offender and therefore no local woman was willing to date him.

But according to Rav Saadya Goyn, Yitzchak Avinu was no more perverted than any other man at that time. LeOylam, every man in those days married underage girls. As proof, he cites a medrish that says that Avraham Avinu married Sarah Imainu when she was one and a half, and Noiach married Mrs. Noiach when she was an aborted fetus.

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Yisroel Salanter once traveled to Siberia to attend a celebrity golf tournament. As customary, he lodged at the home of a local Eskimo. When it came time to go to sleep, the Eskimo said to Reb Yisroel, "Nu, Reb Yisroel, we have a minhag here when guests stay over: Please take my wife to sleep with for the night."

Reb Yisroel looked at him sternly and responded, "That is unacceptable! Aishess Ish is a Dioraisa. However, do you have any children I can sleep with instead?"

To which the Eskimo responded: "Rebbe, I knew you were here for a fundraiser, but I did not know it was an NCSY event. Or are you raising money for Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn? Please forgive me!"

So, unfortunately, a scant few members of our community still like to keep up the tradition of Yitzchak Avinu. So next time you are tempted to poke fun at the Catholic Church, hold your tongue until you have investigated your own youth organization.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Parshas Vayayrah

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Vayayrah

This week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayayrah, features many critical fables, er..., I mean true stories that lie at the heart of Yiddishkeit. The Parsha includes:

-- The birth of Yitzchak. The angels come down to visit Avraham bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Oops -- wrong story. The angels come to Avraham and tell him that a child will be born to him and his barren wife, Sarah Imainu (our matriarch). Upon hearing the news, Sarah chuckles disbelievingly at the Aimishteh's promise that he will enable her to conceive.

An obvious question arises: why didn't the Reboinoisheloilum simply kill Sarah due to her act of disrespect? According to a famous medrish, Hakkadoshboruchhu had indeed decided to kill her, referring to her in an internal Heavenly memorandum as an "ungrateful wench". However, Sarah took out a "personal insurance policy" while living in the palace of the Pharaoh -- or was it Avimelech (I always get confused between those two identical stories) -- playing "hide the kishka" with the Pharaoh while Avraham pretended to be her brother. She made photocopies of critical incriminating evidence relating to Avraham, the Aimishteh, a missing $500,000 in cash, and several off-balance sheet liabilities, and left specific instructions to send the documents to the Canaanite Gazette should anything happen to her. Hey, she may have been barren, but she sure wasn't stupid.

-- The exile of Yishmael. Sarah, who sounds more and more like my mother-in-law throughout this entire Parsha, decides that now that Yitzchak is born, there is no reason to have Yishmael hanging around smoking the family water pipe ("bong" in Yiddish). So she orders Yishmael and his mother Hagar (the Horrible) to be cast into the desert.

Little did she realize, Yishmael was destined to be Father of the Arab Peoples. Those guys LOVE the desert! I know -- I saw Lawrence of Arabia, twice. I once even had ice cream in a Bedouin tent in Beer Sheva, where a Bedouin Chief offered me two goats and a chicken for my eldest daughter, Bracha Levatala. He would have had a deal if he had only agreed to include his lucky pen.

Well, as a result of Sarah exiling Yishmael, the Arabs have had it in for the Jews ever since. This hostility has resulted in wars, terrorism, and high oil prices. Gee, thanks Sarah Imainu! Life wasn't complicated enough.

-- The destruction of Sodom. Once again, the Aimishteh shows his mercy and loving-kindness by completely obliterating a population. To Avraham's credit, he tries to haggle for the life of the city. "If there are 50 righteous men...40...30...20...10." The RASHBA asks: Why did the Aimishteh let Avraham go on haggling for twenty minutes if He knew the outcome was not about to change? According to the RITVA, this proves that haggling over price is a Mitzvah Dioraisa, a Biblical commandment, even if this means haggling over the price of a Ben and Jerry's ice cream bar at a tourist stop in Nevada in August (trust me, this is a maiseh shehoya!). And Hakkadoshboruchhu is undoubtedly proud of the fact that this is one mitzvah in which Klal Yisroel excels.

-- The Akaidah -- the binding of Yitzchak. The Reboinoisheloilum commands Avraham to bring his beloved son to be sacrificed at the altar. Avraham reveals his true leadership and intellectual independence by not questioning the order for one second.

A Gemmarah in Kesubois brings down a Beraisah which quotes a Medrish referring to a Tosefta relating to a Mishnah commenting on a Possuk, which refers to a famous machloikess (Rabbinic debate) between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. Bais Shammai holds that the eagerness with which Avraham embraces the commandment to cook his son at the altar reveals his true identity: Hannibal Lechter. Bais Shammai cites as proof the fact that at the beginning of the Parsha, Avraham serves his surprise desert guests a meal of fava beans and nice Chianti. Bais Hillel holds farkhert; since the Aimishteh apparently loves to devour his own creations, He must be the true Hannibal Lechter.

On the episode of the Akaidah, the RAN asks: why would the Reboinoisheloilum ask Avraham such an unseemly request, to kill his own son; why doesn't He put Avraham to a cleaner yet equally challenging test, such as to pay retail? The RAN answers that Hakkadoshboruchhu wanted to once and for all scare the crap out of Avraham, and this was the best way, short of sending in ghosts to haunt his tent.

The Tzitz Eliezer, on the other hand, offers a beautiful interpretation. The ultimate challenge for a father, or a Rebbe, is to bear witness to the estrangement of a son. By bringing Yitzchak to the altar, Avraham had to overcome his fear of causing Yitzchak to hate him for the rest of his life (all two hours of it). The Aimishteh, too, risked alienating Avraham, the progenitor of the Chosen People. So the true challenge brought down in Vayayrah is of staying committed to one's ideology, even at the risk of losing the loyalty of the successors of the next generation.

I too know this feeling. I was once away on business, traveling to Cancun to open up a new Bais Medrish. That week, I asked my Talmid Muvhak (my principal student protégé, also known in Yiddish as my "bitch") to prepare my weekly Parshas Hashavua drasha. My Talmud Muvhak, Dr./Rabbi Sterling/ Shmiel Tyler/Tanenbaumowitz, shared with the yeshiva his tendency towards Literary Deconstructionism; that is, taking the Toirah out of its original context, and viewing it as relevant solely from a contemporary perspective.

Now, Dr./Rabbi Sterling/ Shmiel Tyler/Tanenbaumowitz is both an apikoress and a minuval. But he is also Yeshivas Chipass Emess' principal fundraiser.

So, should he call you, I strongly encourage you to take his call. Deep inside him is a lost Jewish soul. As SVP of Yeshivas Chipass Emmess, Sterling/ Shmiel is responsible for helping to keep our doors open, our lights on, and our students out on bail...I mean, in the Bais Medrish. Consequently, I beg of you, show him that glimmer of your true Yiddishe Neshama (Jewish soul). If he asks you for money, write him a bigger check than he asks for. If not for the Yeshiva, do it for him -- this might help bring him back to the true path. If not for him, then for yourself, you selfish good-for-nothing mamzer. And if not for yourself, do it for me; I'd like to open up a new Bais Medrish in Honolulu around Christmas time.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Parshas Lech Lecha

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Lech Lecha

This week we read the Parsha of Lech Lecha, where, for the first time, the Aimishteh promises the gift of Eretz Yisroel to Avraham Avinu our forefather, and by extension, to us. In this Parsha, we also read about the Bris Bain Habesarim, the Covenant Between the Pieces. We read about Sarah being temporarily taken as a wife by the Pharaoh of Egypt. And we read about Avraham's ritual circumcision at the ripe old age of ninety.

The RAMBAM asks an obvious question on this Parsha regarding the giving of the Land of Israel to Klal Yisroel: MAMESH, WHAT COULD HAKKADOSHBORUCHHU HAVE POSSIBLY BEEN THINKING!? Of all the inhospitable rocks He could possibly have selected, why did He have to choose an arid land filled with deserts, thorn bushes and scorpions, lacking in fresh water, and populated with the most unfriendly, close minded, hostile, self absorbed people you can possibly encounter -- Chassidim. Err..., I mean the indigenous inhabitants of The Land -- The Canaani, the Chivi, the Yevussi, the Girgashi, and a few others.

According to Rashi, the Reboinoisheloilum actually instructed Avraham to go east, not west, and indeed meant to give him all of China. However, Avraham was holding his map upside down while practicing using chop sticks, and ended up walking in the wrong direction.

However, according to the Sifsey Chachomim, Avraham actually wanted to go to Eretz Yisroel because he dug Yevussi chicks, who were all blond, a foot taller than him, and renowned for their beauty. Indeed, the Sifsey Chachomim cite a Medrish that tells us that after entering into Eretz Yisroel, Avraham Avinu went around telling every woman he met that he is a producer and would cast her in his next film, if she would only audition in his tent.

The Tzitz Eliezer points out that Avraham actually loved The Land that the Aimishteh promised him -- with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might. He was really very attached to it, running through the trees, walking through the fields, and, especially, lying on the grass, for hours on end. In fact, he may have loved the land a little bit too much, if you know what I mean, not unlike his great grandson Onen. In fact, according to a Beraisah in Baba Kamma, Avraham and Sarai couldn't conceive because Avraham had a low sperm count. Says the Tzitz, the reason that Hakkadoshboruchhu commanded Avraham to cut off the tip of his Makom Hamilah was so that he would give it a rest for a week or two.

The Schvantz Mordechai holds farkhert. He says that Avraham was ambivalent about the Land of Israel, but was committed to fulfilling the agreement consecrated at the Bris Bain HaBesarim.

How are we to understand this strange practice? Take a cow, cut it in quarters, add some spices, and BAM! eternal covenant. In a famous Mishnah in Nezikin, Rabbi Tarfon complains that for the miniscule sliver of land the Jews received, it would have been more appropriate had the covenant been consecrated by cutting up a miniscule animal, such as a gerbil. In fact, a related Beraisah conveys that every year on Yom Ha'atzmaut the same Rabbi Tarfon would have a special ceremony commemorating Eretz Yisroel with a gerbil, one select student, and a nice merlot.

A Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah actually recounts that two hundred years before Avraham Avinu was born, the Reboinoisheloilum consecrated an agreement similar to the Bris Bain HaBesarim with a different nation by cutting up a Chilean Sea Bass. Unfortunately, that other nation was Atlantis, so we don't like to talk about it.

Another Medrish tells us that cutting up a cow was Avraham's second choice. His first choice was an S.U.V., so he could make a killing on the spare parts.

In our day, we live up to our covenants with Hakkadoshboruchhu in three ways: We keep the Toirah and Mitzvois; we perform our own "Bris" on our male children. And we live in Eretz Yisroel despite the sectarian violence, the high taxes, the monotonous Jerusalem stone architecture, the yellow journalism, the political corruption, the secular extremists, the religious zealots, the naive left, the fanatical right, and the uncommitted center. Basically, there are too many people in Eretz Yisroel -- it is intensely overcrowded. When the Reboinoisheloilum promised Avraham Avinu in this week's Parsha that his descendants would be like the dust of the earth, we thought He meant only the Jews; we didn't know He actually meant ALL of Avraham's children!

What Eretz Yisroel needs today is more space -- land enough for all its inhabitants -- Israeli and Arab, Jew, Christian, and Moslem. Indeed, many of our latter day sages believe that this very same Parsha holds the key to solving our territorial dilemma.

According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, we can look to the story of Bris Milah for our solution. Just as we remove a very slight but symbolically significant portion of ourselves in order to make us "completely Jewish", so too we should remove any elements from Eretz Yisroel that prevent us from being "completely Jewish."

Rav Ovadiah Yoseph, on the other hand, points to the Bris Bain Habesarim for the answer. The Aimishteh and Avraham Avinu cut up a cow into equal portions in order to consecrate an agreement. So too must we be prepared to cut up the Land in order to reach an agreement.

I, the RAPAS, would humbly like to suggest another option, also suggested by this week's Parsha. This week we read how along their travels, Avraham and Sarah come to Egyptian territory. Avraham pleads with Sarah Imainu to tell the Egyptians the she is his sister, and she subsequently shacks up with the Pharaoh. Meanwhile, in next week's Parsha, at Avraham's urging, Sarah once again masquerades as Avraham's sister and hooks up with another national leader, this time with Avimelech of Canaan. According to Rabbeinu Taam, this revolutionary sharing of Sarah Imainu is the first instance in history of the time share.

And it is using this approach whereby we may find the solution to our overcrowding problem. Here is how it works. We get Eretz Hakoidesh two weeks out of the year. We plan ahead, bring the kids, the in-laws, everyone. The local staff ensures that the refrigerators are filled with our favorite foods. We can even use all the facilities, for a nominal fee. After we leave, the Palestinians can use the place for two weeks, eat all the falafel they want, and tour around every part of the country. After their two weeks are up, the gypsies get it for two weeks -- Aimishteh knows they need a homeland. Then the Basque. And so on.

To make sure that the Eretz Yisroel Time Share Enterprises (TM) is fully utilized, we will do some aggressive marketing. Telemarketing to people in their homes when they are in the middle of Biyuh is a good start. We will give away cheap electronics to nations willing to come over and have a look. We will invite them for a low cost weekend and have them stay in Gaza, promising that the place is being redecorated and, trust us, the whole area will look just like Savion in eight months. And we will remind them: a time share can be shared with friends, it can be passed down in a Last Will and Testament to subsequent generations, and is much less expensive than setting up their own homeland.

All this discussion of overcrowding reminds me of a Maiseh Shehoyo. 300 years ago in the town of Berditchev, the one shul which stood at the center of town, Temple Ahavas Achiyois, was filled every week wall to wall with mispallelim. It became a hardship for the Gabbai to physically go through the shul every week and get the Hebrew names of all the guests in order to call them up to the Toirah. Reb Chaim MiBerditchev, the Gadol Hador -- the great sage of his generation -- came up with an alternative custom: Instead of calling people by the standard convention -- Hebrew name BEN father's Hebrew name, they would call people in a descriptive manner, not requiring specific names.

The first week went very well. "Ya'amoid the guy in the second row, three seats from the left, Shlishi." It worked like a charm for all seven Aliyois plus Maphtir. However, problems began the second week. "Ya'amoid, the guy in the back row who is secretly gay, Chamishi." Three men stood up. It was particularly embarrassing because one was the rabbi's son. The third week was the clincher, though. "Ya'amoid, the guy in the shul with the really hot wife, Shishi." Nobody stood up.

Reb Chaim decided that for Shalom Bayis reasons the new custom was a mistake. He ruled that the shul should revert to the old method, and also founded the Rolodex Corporation that very week.

So not every solution to overcrowding works. At least Reb Chaim didn't introduce any ceremonies requiring a gerbil.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Parshas Noiach

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

http://stores.lulu.com/rapas
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Parshas Noiach

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Noiach, we read of the great flood that destroyed the entire civilized world. It rained. It poured. Forty days and forty nights. People forgot to wear their boots. All the umbrellas turned inside out in the wind. The newspaper got soaking wet and couldn't be read. Uchinvei.

An obvious question arises: what did human society do that was so bad that the whole world deserved to be destroyed by the Reboinoisheloilum? This is a topic that is frequently addressed by Chazzal in their many, many ancient writings and e-mail discussion groups.

According to a famous medrish in the Sifre, the people of the world had all of the sudden become completely evil. They were killing each other right and left. They became depraved: Men were sleeping with sheep. Women were sleeping with well hung goats. Horses were sleeping with flounder. Businessmen were surfing porn during the work day. Children were discussing sports in shul. People were stealing each others' parking spaces. It was a real mess.

However, the Sifsey Chachomim rejects this medrish, calling it "the stupidest thing since New Coke." According to the Sifsey Chachomim, the people of that generation were no better or worse than they are today. Rather, the Aimishteh, after creating the world, was watching its every move, staring at the world for hours on end, and interacting with it whenever necessary; He was tracking the evolution of society, shaping its progress towards ultimate redemption (and a 50,000 point bonus). But just as the Moshiach was about to arrive on screen, the phone rang. And as the Reboinoisheloilum picked up the phone, He reached over to press "pause." But the system crashed and He was forced to hit the reset button. Damn that Microsoft!

But the Chuchmas Shloimoi disagrees. According to the Chuchmas Shloimoi, Hakkadoshboruchhu consciously decided to destroy the world. And by coincidence, this happened on the second week of the New Year: the previous week, immediately following the Holiday cycle of Roish Hashanah, Yoim Kippur, Sukkois, and Simchas Toirah, half the shul didn't show up to hear Parshas Beraishis, staying home to overcome "shul fatigue". And while He was somewhat perturbed that the people threw their phony Teshuvah (repentance) out the window, He was completely incensed that they let half of that good Kiddush go to waste.

Some other suggested reasons:

-- According to the Toirah Temimah, the people deserved to die because they insisted on paying retail.

-- According to the RI, the people regularly ate food with Triangle K supervision, and once had a cup of coffee at a place with no rabbinical supervision whatsoever. (If this pshat is true, global destruction was too good of a punishment for them!)

-- The RITVAH suggests that the Reboinoisheloilum was actually upset that the people weren't murderous enough. Sure, they were killing, but they weren't doing it "lishmah". He cites this as proof that Israel should elect an Ultra-Orthodox, Ultra Nationalist Taliban-like government in the next election.

Finally, the REEBOK takes a totally different approach. He says that the world wasn't really destroyed. It was simply made to look that way so that the Aimishteh could collect on the insurance.

It is often pointed out by academic scholars that the Toirah's story of Noiach is paralleled by similar tales in Mesopotamian lore and other Near Eastern texts. The most famous of these is the epic of Gilgamesh. However, in Misechta Baba Basra, Rav Ashi was actually the first to note the extreme similarity between the story of Noiach and another epic cultural touchstone, Gilligan's Island.

Like Gilligan, Noiach initially set out for a three hour tour. But before he knew it, he was forced to reestablish the human society he once knew. And like Gilligan, Noiach was set adrift in the company of a small group of people.

The RAN asks: Who in the Gilligan story is the true counterpart of Noiach? I would have thought that it would be the Skipper, who piloted the boat, in which case the epic tale should be called Skipper's Island. But the RAN points to the conclusion of the Parsha, which alludes to Noiach being violated by his son, Chum, and suggests that just as Noiach was violated by his son and the Parsha is named after him, so Gilligan was frequently violated by the Skipper, and therefore the epic tale is named after him. This, the RAN points out, is the reason Gilligan always insisted upon sleeping on the top bunk.

(A separate machloikess -- Rabbinic debate -- between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rav Yoinasan on who was hotter -- Ginger or Marianne -- need not be discussed here.)

In our day we are forced to ask: If the Aimishteh brought global destruction before, why can't it happen again? We are evil. We have terrorism and endless war. We have tax fraud and embezzlement. We have political corruption. We have moral inconsistency and selective application of the law and ethical values, tinged with religious self-importance. Are we not worthy?

I am reminded of a maiseh shehoya. The Rabbeinu Tam was in downtown Lublin, delivering a shiur on the subtleties of Smicha, rabbinical ordination. As he was elucidating in great detail on the various religious laws, a middle aged man wearing train conductor overalls called out, "But Rabbi, what about ordaining women as rabbis -- can we do that?"

The Rabbeinu Tam glowered down at the man and responded, "Son, ordaining women as rabbis is like getting a PHD out of the phone book. Just please don't tell my wife I said that." His wife, of course, was the Cantor at the Hebrew Institute of Prague, who was pulling down six figures so that the Rabbienu Tam could go around writing Tfillin that no one wanted to buy.

Are we truly better or worse than our ancient ancestors? Is our stated quest for peace a value or a fault? Is the changing role of women progress or moral corruption? Is near-total freedom of expression liberation or tyranny? Is our preparedness for war self defense or self destruction? I get cross-eyed just thinking about it; now I have to lie down.

So, are we no less worthy than our ancestors to have the full loving attention of the Aimishteh manifested by having the world destroyed in one fell swoop? Well, judging by the latest headlines, we may indeed be worthy in the eyes of the Lord. So if I were you, I would stay home from shul this week, order in some traif Chinese, and spend the day watching that new 52 inch high definition TV you'll pick up on the way home. Just be sure to put it on your Visa or American Express card. Based on how things are looking these days, I don't think you will have to worry about paying the bill.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval