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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Parshas Tsav




Parshas Tsav

This week's parsha, Tsav, is a complete repeat of Parshas Vayikrah. If you made it to shul last week, you should seriously consider sleeping in (unless there is a good kiddush).

The ROSH asked why the major elements of Vayikrah are repeated this week: animal slaughter, laws pertaining to specific rituals conducted by the Coihanim, etc. He concludes that Aroin Hacoihain, that minuval, was trying to take advantage and get people to pay twice for the same services, much like Roish Hashanah seats for members.

The RIFF vehemently disagrees. He says that the repetition stems from the fact that Tsav is based on "J" text sources, while Vayikrah is based on a mixture of "E" and "P" sources. I have no idea what he means -- I think this was written during the RIFF's famous apikoress phase.

The RADAK disagrees with both. He suggests that the Torah's repetition here is due to fact that the Parsha is typically read in March, right after the February sweeps are over. As is pointed out is Maseches Kesubois, we can expect many repeats after February until the May sweeps period, where in addition to totally new Parshiyois, we can also expect a Cosby Show reunion special and more best-of highlights from the Carol Burnett Show.

Finally, the RAN takes a different approach entirely. The RAN of course is famous for his benevolent attitude, as well as his facial ticks. He says the Torah repeated itself here to teach us that we should never give up on stupid people. No matter how much they don't understand a damn word we say, we should repeat ourselves again and again. I SAID: No matter how much they don't understand a damn word we say, we should repeat ourselves again and again.

I would humbly like to suggest a new pshat. It is said that the Rugachuga Rebbe once came to a town over Shabbos, and accidentally went to the wrong shul, an early Reform temple in the shtetl. After the Bas Mitzvah girl finished leyning the parsha, which happened to be Tsav, the Rugachuga was first on line at the shrimp table. When asked about the episode later, he replied that the Aimishteh, in his mysterious ways, had designed a different path for all of us to follow. Though two paths appear to be nearly identical, they often have different meanings and different trajectories. (That morning, his path led him to a place abundant in cocktail sauce.)

In our day, this divergence of personal choices and destinations could not be more stark. Take, for example, two principal apikoress institutions -- the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University. YU, you ask? Well, as is well known, it is a great irony that everyone who attends Yeshiva University, a so-called Orthodox institution, either wants to go to Wall Street or become a lawyer. But everyone who attends JTS, a Conservative institution, wants to become a rabbi, and is also likely to date his/her chavrusa.

So while it might seem that the institutions are similar, graduates of both are each going about making the world a worse place in very different ways. The investment bankers and traders on Wall Street are harming the economy in the name of creating value (for themselves); the lawyers -- need I say more?

And the Conservative Rabbis? They oversee local institutions that are consistently responsible for the worst kiddushes on a Shabbos morning. Have you ever been to one? Cold bagels. Egg salad. Looking for cholent at a Conservative kiddush is like trying to find dirt under the Rebbetzin's nails before she goes the Mikva. Try as you might, it's just not there.

So if you do decide to go hear the Parsha this week, just make sure you go to an Orthodox shul. Or a Reform Temple. But if you do make it to a Reform Temple and there is a kiddush, be sure to be first in line, before the Rugachuga and his spiritual descendents eat up all the good stuff.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Hilchois Pesach





In anticipation of the upcoming Yuntif, I would like to address an issue related to Hilchois Pesach

"The Anonymous Minuval" writes:

Rav Pinky,

Am I allowed to perform oral favors on my wife on Pesach if she has a yeast infection?


Well, my beloved, gutter-minded talmid, this is a delightful question that I have been asked several times before, all by members of the Ashkenazic tradition, since, as everyone knows, Sephardic Jews have not subscribed to this approach to marital fulfillment since the expulsion from Spain in 1492.

With regard to your question, yeast is not in and of itself chometz (leaven), but is in the category of chometz-related matter. Hence, Chazal would certainly hold that you could NOT perform oral favors on your wife, though you are not required to dispose of her during Pesach.

However, if you are of the practice of performing oral favors on your wife with the aid of a chometzdikkeh food, say -- pudding, the issue becomes more complex. BeDiyeved, there are those that say that the Halacha would view this as similar to yeast, or a kli (a cooking utensil), and, therefore, you may keep your wife in your possession, as long as you do not perform oral favors on her during the course of Pesach.

Lechatchilah, however, if we consider a wife's private parts as food, and therefore, having been exposed to the chometz, the privates take on the nature of chometz, since chometz is not battul afilu be'elef (is not considered insignificant, even if it is an infinitesmal fraction of the food in question), then you must dispose of the chometz prior to Pesach, preferably by burning.

However, in our day, our Rabbis have determined an alternative approach, as we use with other valuable chometz investments. You are allowed to sell your wife's Erva to a gentile, provided you not benefit from it for eight days. And, of course, you have to provide access to the gentile at any time that the gentile so chooses to take possession of the chometz.

How is this contractual arrangement made? There are those that are more lenient, and say a verbal sales agreement is enough to drive the exchange of possession. However, the majority of Achroinim hold that there has to be a symbolic physical transfer of possession. In real estate sales, this is typified by a kinyan sudor, or exchange of possession using as handkerchief as a proxy. In this instance, however, an exchange of your wife's underwear would be the preferred mode.

As well, the Rabbis note, it is customary the night before Pesach to include your wife's Erva when performing Bedikas Chometz in your home. Your wife will certainly welcome the feather, but be careful with that wooden spoon!


Do you have a halachic question or a philosophical query on Yiddishkeit? Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein is willing to indulge your ignorance by responding to your shailas, kashas, shver inyunim, and basic misconceptions.

Please e-mail me ( your questions with the subject: Ask Rabbi Pinky. Select questions (sans questioner name) and responses will be shared for purely "educational" purposes.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Non Democracy In Our Midst

Check out my comments on this news article in Haaretz.

Parshas Pikudei






Parshas Pikudei

In this week's parsha, Pikudei, the Toirah tells us that the Eiphod made by Am Yisroel was knitted out of gold thread, Techailess, Argomon, scarlet yarn, and fine linen. (In fact, I'm ready to convert to Yushka Pandra after all this Mishkan talk the last few weeks.) However, what is unusual is the rather graphic description of how the golden thread was manufactured. An obvious question arises: Why does the Toirah bother to tell us the graphic details of how to make the thread? Does the Aimishteh expect me to do this in my spare time? I can barely fold up my tallis by myself!

A gemmarah in Baba Basra discusses this and says that the Toirah uses this language to stress the male role in the Mishkan. If I only knew that there was sewing involved, I would have assumed that women had a critical role in the construction of the Mishkan. But since the possuk tells of "beating the gold...cutting it...working like a craftsman," I know that the real labor was done by men. Real men, who wore tallis and tefillin, learned sixteen hours a day, and still found time to work hard and make a living. The women simply had to do a little weaving, and didn't even get a mitzvah, since they were talking about soap operas the whole time. Shoyn.

But Maseches Bayuh (Baitzuh) brings down a medrish which offers a more complete version of the possuk. According to the medrish, as the Jews beat the gold, they developed a spool of thread that was long enough to circle the earth seven times. However, the amount of thread needed for all the sewing in the Mishkan was the length of one time around the earth. So what happened to the vast majority of the thread? Rav Chiyah holds that Aroin Hacoihain, the minuval, used it for the Eigel Hazohov. But Rav Ashi holds that Aroin embezzled it, using half to start a carpet business, and depositing the other half in a secret Babylonian bank account.

The Kutzker Rebbe had a beautiful interpretation of this possuk. The Kutzker would often tell his followers that we learn from this possuk that no matter how poor you are, even if you are a nomad living in the desert, you have to spend as much money as you possibly can to look better than your neighbors. If they wear Pierre Cardin, you wear Ralph Lauren. If they eat chicken on Shabbos, you eat roast beef. If they add on an extra room to their house, you knock down your own house and build the largest house on the block.

However, this possuk reminds me of a maiseh shehoya. Many years ago my more free spirited daughter, Rina Vashti, was knitting a yarmulkah for the goalie of the local yeshiva hockey team. I said to her, "Rinaleh, voos iz givehn a yarmulkah foon de shaygitz? First he will take the yarmulkah, then he'll try to take your bisulta!" She then assured me that while this was the first yarmulkah she was making for him, she had already made yarmulkahs for six other members of the team.

Very troubled, I called my Rebbe and told him I was concerned my daughter was becoming a pupke. He pointed out a story in the Zoihar about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who felt that because he had seven daughters, each married to a great tzadik, he was like a four cornered garment without tzitzis on it. This is understood to mean that any Ruv who does not have at least one slutty daughter has not ignored his family enough and has therefore not adequately met the needs of his congregants.

Happily, I returned home and asked my Bashert to make sure that my daughter went to live in the Stern College dorms, where she could put out as much as she wanted without getting my neighbors talking.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Interesting Article


A member of the Yeshivah has pointed out the following interesting article to me. It is a review of a serious book on a bizarre incident in recent Jewish history (19th century) that highlights the powderkeg mixture of tradition and modernity.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Parshas Kee Seesah




Parshas Kee Seesah
This week's seminal parsha features the creation of the Eigel
Hazahav by Aroin Hacoihain, after Am Yisroel panics when Moishe
Rabbeinu doesn't return after receiving the Luchois.

What were these am haratzim thinking? The Rebboinoisheloilum
delivers them from Egypt with an outstretched arm, but Moishe hits a
little traffic and POOF! "Let's worship Yushka Pandra!"

And Aroin Hacoihain, the meshumid, why did he have to go so far as
to create the Eigel? If the people needed to rebel, why not start
slowly? First, start with some traifus. Maybe a nice lobster. Sure,
it's a big cockroach, but in the midbar you take what you can get.
Or maybe he should have distributed Skittles or Hostess Twinkles to
Klal Yisroel.

But instead, straight to the Eigel. No wonder the Melech-Malchei-
Hamlachim wanted to wipe out Klal Yisroel.

However, He chose to spare them.

RASHI quotes a Gemarrah in Sanhedrin that says that instead of
striking the minuvals down on the spot, Hakkadoshboruchhu renders
the punishment on all subsequent generations of Klal Yisroel. When
any generation suffers a punishment, the Shechinah ensures that
there will be an added element attributable to the Eigel.

Consequently, in our day, even in times of relative affluence and
success, we continue to suffer the Chayt HaEigel. Current sufferings
include frigid wives, Macaroons, Kiddush Levanah in the middle of
winter, the wait to get into Le Marais on a Sunday night, and the
fact that Woody Allen is a Jew.

Yet despite his aveirah of inciting Klal Yisroel to worship the
Eigel, Aroin retained the Kehunah. Farvoos?

The common answer among Chazzal is that Aroin was a tzadik who was
trying to distract and delay Klal Yisroel. Consequently, it was only
natural the he remain in charge of filling the paper towel
dispensers, sweeping up, and turning out the lights in the Koidesh

But the MAHARAL disagrees, declaring that it is a whitewash to say
that Aroin was really a tzadik. Says the MAHARAL, this makes about
as much sense as waving a live chicken over your head to take away
your sins.

Farkhert. The MAHARAL feels that Aroin was the ultimate
Machiavellian figure who had clear aspirations to usurp the position
of Moishe Rabbeinu. However, continues the MAHARAL, Moishe was smart
enough to see this, and used it to his advantage. Moishe realized
that every organization needs both a hero for leadership and vision,
and a despot to keep everyone in line and "take the heat". And
Moishe used Aroin as that despot.

The political machinations are clear. What was the first thing
Moishe did when descending from the mountain? He broke the Luchois
that the Aimishteh had made with His own two hands. And what did
Moishe do next? He recruited Aroin and the Leviyim to slaughter
3,000 people. I personally would not have questioned Moishe's
breaking the Luchois after that. Neither would you, you mechutzeff!

According to the RADAK, One of Moishe Rabbeinu's great aveirahs was
his obsession with looking good. Hence, he kept his farbissineh
brother around to be his goon. That way he could keep up his good
image and capture future book deals and licensing revenues. (I
personally have a new Moishe Rabbeinu Chia Pet in my Bais Medrish.)

We can even see signs of Moishe's obsession with his image in his
discussions with Hakkadoshboruchhu. Following the Chayt HaEigel, one
of Moishe's pleas to prevent the destruction of Am Yisroel is that
if the Aimishteh were to destroy Klal Yisroel, the Mitzrim would say
that the Jews were delivered from Egypt only to be killed in the
desert. In essence, Moishe's argument is: "What will the Goyim say."
What will the Goyim say? Since when does a Jew, Moishe Rabbeinu no
less, worry about Goyisheh public opinion? Who does he think he is –
Ehud Olmert?

I am reminded of a Maisseh Shehoya, when I was a Talmid with my
Rebbe, the NPOJHARTHA. Many years ago we were traveling by horse and
buggy through rural San Francisco to raise money for his Yeshiva.
When it became evening, we stopped at a local lodge to eat. "But
Rebbe," I asked, "the lodge serves traifus. How can we eat
here?" "Sha, you minuval!" the NPOJHARTHA patiently responded, "we
can eat whatever we want, and then sneak out the door. As long as we
don't pay for it there is no aveirah." Years later, the NPOJHARTHA
recognized that his sin had caused a stinging punishment: He is
currently exiled to the wilds of West Virginia, not because of
eating traifus, but because he didn't order the most expensive items
on the menu.

Such is the fate of Moishe. Hitting the rock kept him out of Eretz
Yisroel. But the Chayt HaEigel instigated by his minuval brother
lost him his copyrights and much associated revenue on the Chamishei
Chumshay Toirah. Rachmana Litzlan.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Friday, March 02, 2007

Purim Drasha




Purim Drasha


Today we gather together to celebrate the most joyous of all the Jewish Holidays, the holiday of Purim. On this holiday, we celebrate the near destruction of the Jewish People and the exploitation of Esther's Hamalka's bisulta to enable their salvation by getting stinking drunk and trying to be mezaneh with our chavrusa when he himself isn't throwing up.

Chazal have often contemplated the deeper meaning hidden within Megillas Esther, the text that details the story of Purim. Why, they ask, is the name of the Rebboinoisheloilum not mentioned throughout the Megillah, while in contrast, Haman Harasha's name is mentioned so many times that people audibly bang their heads against the wall?

According to the RASHBAM, the Aimishteh refused to have his name attached to the story, as he was repelled by the Machiavellian activities of Klal Yisroel. Such actions include:

-- Mordechai saves the life of the king and doesn't even collect a cash reward (What's pshat with that?)

-- Esther curries the favor of the king by taking hold of his extended staff

-- Once victory is achieved, Klal Yisroel doesn't stop until they have murdered Haman's allies, hanged his sons, and raped his horses.

Says the RASHBAM, Hakkadoshboruch didn't need any of that, as He was still trying to live down the bad press from the whole ten plague thing.

The RITVA disagrees, noting that the RASHBAM dropped too much bsomim when he was in college and was prone to flashbacks while in the Bais Medrish. The RITVA suggests that the reason that the Rebboinoisheloilum is not mentioned is that Megillas Esther is simply not originally a Jewish story. Noting the similarity of the names of Mordechai and Esther to the Persian diety names of Marduk and Ishtar, the RITVA offers that Purim was really adapted from a pagan Persian holiday where Persians would traditionally drink heavily, exchange gifts of food, and kill their wives and replace them with younger women.

But the Toldois Aharoin disagrees with both the RASHBAM and the RITVA. The Toldois Aharoin offers that the Melech Malchei HaMelachim didn't want his name included since He was completely upset by the fact that no one could ever get His name right. He cites a beautiful discussion from the Zoihar: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yoichai, sitting around a campfire with his followers, tells them that one must try to know the Ain Sof, the unknowable aspect of the Omnipresent, by giving it a name. "What would YOU call the Ain Sof?" he asks each of his followers,

One follower responds "Rebbe, I would call Him 'Fred' because that is a name I can relate to, since I once had a dog named Fred, and a dog is man's best friend.". Another follower says, "I will call Him 'Spike', because the Jewish People have a Bris with the Ain Sof, and that is what I nicknamed my Bris Milah when I was sixteen years old." And so they went around the circle.

When the last of the followers had spoken, Rebbe Shimon addressed them. "You idiots," he said, "you cannot give the Ain Sof a proper name! He is unknowable. I spend 13 years in a freaking cave just to teach schmucks like you?" When Rabbi Shimon calmed down, he told them that the Ain Sof should be called the Aibishter, meaning in Yiddish "The One On High." since, according to Rabbi Shimon, "as He is unknowable, one would have to be high to think you can know him."

As the rebbe's talmidim nodded in agreement, Rabbi Akiva joined the group, and, upon hearing, the topic, began to berate Rabbi Shimon. "You would call the Ain Sof 'Aibishter'?" Rabbi Akiva asked. "Everyone knows that He should be called 'Aimishteh', which means in Aramaic 'Where is He when you really need Him?"

Says the Toldois Aharoin, as the Aimishteh didn't want to get involved in the argument, he decided to adopt a low key approach in the Megillah.

I, the RAPAS, would like to offer a new answer to this question. The Rebboinoisheloilum's name is obscured from the Megillah so Klal Yisroel would know that some time we have to solve our own problems. We cannot rely on a deus ex machina, an external solution, heavenly or otherwise, to resolve the most challenging issues of our day. We must use our own intelligence and creativity to devise and implement our best alternatives.

Take for example the issue of peace between Klal Yisroel and the Arab world. Some would say that we should give up all of the West Bank in exchange for peace. Others would say that we should not give up one inch. I would like to humbly suggest that in exchange for real peace, we should be prepared to make sacrifices, even painful ones. However, it should be clear to all sides that not everyone will get what they want. But in the spirit of compromise, I am certain that we can reach an understanding. Consequently, while I am not certain what we should do with the West Bank, in exchange for real peace we should give Brooklyn to the Palestinians. And if calm prevails there, we can talk later about giving back other territories including the Five Towns, Teaneck, and Skokie.

Ah Freilachin Yuntif, You Minuval