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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Parshas Balak

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Parshas Balak

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Balak, we are provided a welcome respite from the usual rigmarole of the Toirah -- no Moishe Rabbeinu, no Aharoin the minuval, no vilda chaya Klal Yisroel -- until the very end of the Parsha. No regulations regarding sacrifices or other Priestly responsibilities. No critical laws that continue to enrich our lives until today, such as the prohibition against eating creeping insects while having relations with your father's wife on Yoim Kippur.

The RAMBAN asks the obvious question: why does the Toirah veer away from focusing on Klal Yisroel, the Chosen People, the Goy Kadoish, and focuses instead on Bilaam, Balak, and a talking she-ass? What’s Pshat?

The Tzitz Eliezer suggests that the Rebboinoisheloilum was suffering from writer's block, and was forced to plagiarize a script he found on the Internet in order to meet His tight deadline.

But the Schvantz Mordechai vehemently disagrees, saying that the Aimishteh was renowned for delivering his scripts on time, but that union issues with the Screen Actors Guild resulted in a walk out by Moishe and the rest of Klal Yisroel, requiring some quick rewrites and recasting with low cost fill ins ("scabs" in Yiddish). By Parsha's end, of course, the strike was settled, just in time to enjoy the usual hijinks of Klal Yisroel being smitten by a plague that killed twenty-four thousand. He cites as proof a medrish in Yechezkel Rabbah suggesting that the reason Moishe wasn't allowed into Eretz Yisroel was because his affinity for labor was expected to make Yehoshua's right-wing coalition unstable.

So what of Bilaam and Balak? The Gemarrah, in discussing this Parsha, notes how strange it is that Bilaam is portrayed by the Toirah as having a personal relationship with Hakkadoshboruchhu, referring to him by name, and mentioning several times that Bilaam had His personal cell phone number.

Says the Gemmarah, according to a Bas Kol (a voice emanating from heaven), Bilaam was in fact not associated with the Rebboinoisheloilum at all. Says the Bas Kol, "The Aimishteh denies that any alleged contacts with Mr. Bilaam took place at any time, and expresses that any alleged leaks were certainly unintentional and not a violation of Federal law. As well, Hakkadoshboruchhu has engaged a private counsel, and will have nothing else to say on this matter at this time."

Rav Huna rejects the Bas Kol, citing credibility issues arising from previous high level leaks that took place following the "Golden Calf" affair. Instead, he suggests that the Bilaam story is actually a legend created by the author of the E text in order to support Israelite claims of manifest destiny over Moabite territories by referring to Bilaam, a historical Near Eastern shaman. Unfortunately, Rav Huna disappeared without a trace before he could prove his theory.

Rav Ashi suggests, however, that Bilaam did indeed have a relationship with the Rebboinoisheloilum, but tried to exploit that relationship in order to develop his own following and offer an alternative religion, a substitute to Toiras Moishe. He points to a medrish that says that Bilaam was supported by a band of nerdy looking teenagers who were always doggedly handing out deceptive looking yellow fliers in the subway during rush hour advocating membership in “Bedouins for Bilaam.”

Indeed, this interpretation points to a paradox at the heart of Yiddishkeit. Judaism itself is an alternative, a substitute for the pagan beliefs and rituals pervasive in society until the time of Avraham Avinu. As such, we have from time immemorial lived side-by-side with others, yet remained committed to alternative philosophies and approaches based upon our conception of monotheism and the practices inspired by our core belief set.

Yes, Judaism is dedicated to the concept of being unique, both in our faith and in our material existence. Take food, for example. We separate ourselves from the animals and the anti-Semite nations of the world by our dietary practices. Others eat pig; we do not. Other mix milk and meat; we consecrate our lives by putting non-dairy creamer in our coffee.

Take aesthetic habits. The women of other nations expose their hair as they prostitute themselves; we, on the other hand, assert our holiness and superiority by wearing $3000 dollar wigs.

A maaseh shehoyo: The Pri Megadin was once at a bachelor party for his brother in law, the Eliyahu Rabbah. After going out for steaks, they eventually ended up at the best strip club in all of Lithuania. One of the exotic dancers, Ruchel, came over to the Pri Megadin and whispered in his ear, "Rebbe, I have always been inspired by your commentaries. Would you like a lap dance?" The Pri Megadin looked at her closely, leaned forward, and replied to her, "Meideleh, I don't fraternize with shiksas."

"But Rebbe," she said, "I am as Jewish as your wife!"

"You don't show it. My aishess chayil projects her Jewishness with her elaborate hair covering, separates herself through her elegant-though-modest mode of dress, builds upon the Divine's creation with her delicate rhinoplasty, and truly distinguishes herself with her double-D implants."

The Pri Megadin then puked and passed out at the bar, and spent the night sleeping on the floor until it was time for Shacharis.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Tefillah BiTzibbur (Congregational Prayer)

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Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Tefillah BiTzibbur (Congregational Prayer)

Rav Pinky,

I need the benefit of your wisdom and experience.

We have recently started a Hashkama minyan in my shul, much to the Rav’s dismay. I personally wonder why we should spend 3 hours doing what only takes 1 ½ hours, unless of course you are talking about being fruitful and multiplying.

My question to you, Rav Pinky: Is that extra hour and a half spent in the main minyan bitul Torah?

Thank you for your help in clarifying this troubling question.

Your talmid,

Reb Yankel
-----------

Dear Reb Yankel,

Thank you for your critical and insightful question.

Eppis, Tefillah BiTzibbur is a tremendously important and misunderstood mitzvah, so I am glad at least one of my talmidim asks about it, instead of the usual shailah about apikorsus or sexual innuendo, chass ve’sholom. Sadly, there is too much focus on sex in our Dor. When you are sitting in your house, and when you are traveling on your way. When you lie down, and when you get. Too much. It’s dirty. Ichh! Now I need to go the the mikvah with some 300 pound cholent-fressers to get the thought out of my mind…

Now, I would actually characterize your question into a couple of subordinate questions: Does length really matter? And is a little variation good for the relationship? Err… I mean… When it comes to davening, do we care how long the davening is? And how should we consider the occasional aspiration to be Poiraish Min Hatzibur, separating oneself into a different Kehillah, spinning off as a Hashkama minyan, or a chulent-kugel minyan, or a woman’s minyan chass v’sholom, or a “young marrieds” minyan, or a youth minyan, or a gay minyan, or a local chassidishe shtibul, or a Sephardic minyan, etc.

To answer these questions, we will of course begin by looking to our Avois in the Toirah for the principal clues. I ask you, when Avraham Avinu stopped at Ur Hakasdim to daven Shacharis, was it a quick, meaningless Shacharis, like you do everyday, you miserable minuval? Or did Avraham take his time to put on his Tefillin, have the proper kavannah, recite the Karbanois, and make sure not to skip anything? When Yitzchak Avinu davened Mincha, did he mumble through Tachanun? Or did he make sure to say every word, especially when referring to himself during Shmoineh Esray? Did Yankif Avinu, while studying in Yeshivas Shame V’Eyver, skip an occasional Maiyriv to spend a bit more time on the basketball court or to surf porn or the Internet? Or did he daven with Yiras Shamayim even though it was nine o’clock at night and he was missing his favorite TV show? What kind of vilda chaya are you to ask such questions anyway?

No. Tefillah has always been the cornerstone of Yiddishkeit. Even in the desert, Moishe Rabbeinu led Klal Yisroel in Tefillah BiTzibbur. A Medrish in Shmois Rabbah describes the beauty when all of Klal Yisroel surrounded Har Sinai, shuckling in unison during the Shmoineh Esray. There they stood, united in kavvanah, at the height of their communal holiness. Indeed, according to the Medrish, the Aimishteh planned to bring about the redemption right there on the spot, erasing the need for forty years of wandering the desert and for Kibbush Eretz Yisroel. But just as Hakkadoshboruchhu was about to reveal himself, someone in Kehilas Yankif broke wind, offending the Reboinoisheloilum and the rest of the congregation, thereby delaying the Geulah for many millennia.

Even during the period of the Malchuss Bais Duvid, Tefillah was the essence of Klal Yisroel’s relationship with Hakkadoshboruchhu. Sure, there were Koihanim who brought sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdash for spare change; but their trade was established because, nebech, they studied for too many years in yeshiva and couldn’t hold down a real job. So it was either karbanois or selling cell phones.

But for the rest of Klal Yisroel, there was davening. Why else did Duvid HaMelech write all those Tehillim? Not to write silly poetry, you MeChutziff! What do you think he was -- some kind of left-wing homosexual Arab loving college educated self-hating Soinay Yisroel? No! He was a groisseh tzaddik, and when he wasn’t busy studying Toirah, he was cutting off Philistine foreskins (except for when he was busy being Mezaneh with the wives of his generals.) Yes, even back then, Klal Yisroel, Kehilas Yankif, regularly reached out to commune with the Reboinoisheloilum through the fundamentally mystical act of prayer, as well as through IM.

So what is the essence of Tefillah? Tefillah is more than just an act of individual unity with Hakadoshboruchhu. Were it only that, there would be no special inyun, no higher value, to the notion of Tefillah BiTzibbur. But Tefillah is also about the joining of the voices of Klal Yisroel. Essentially, it is about the power of community.

As a communal act, prayer is not only about the recitation of liturgy. It is also about acts of prayer, the trappings including:
-- Having a Shaliach Tzibur lead Shacharis
-- Having a chazzan schlep on and on and on during Mussaf until you are ready to ingest that cyanide pill sewn into your Talis Katan
-- Having some Bar Mitzvah boy read from the Toirah while three sadists in the minyan drool as they wait for him to make a mistake so they can correct him in the ultimate act of Toirah-inspired humiliation.

But Tefillah is also about the social exchanges within a congregation. After all, throughout the Galus, as much as Klal Yisroel preserved Yiddishkeit, Yiddishkeit preserved Klal Yisroel. While our ancestors were cast throughout the furthest reaches of the globe, scrounging about for a living and to find some solace from millennia of persecution, they were able to maintain their unique identities through the institution of Tefillah in the Bais HaKnessess, the synagogue. Now, if all they had done during davening is daven, I assure you that you and I would now be speaking Latin or Arabic while sleeping with hot shiksas. However, they also used their time to build strong social bonds during davening by discussing chiddushim on Toisfois, linkages for business, insights on sports, perspectives on politics, and assessments of the talent on the other side of the Mechitza. Tefillah -- and in particular talking during davening -- became the cornerstone for the survival of the Jewish People.

Consequently, whenever the is a lull in the action – silence between aliyas, a pause while waiting for the Chazzan to recite a Bracha, an insignificant or boring part of the davening, it is a mitzvah for a Ben Toirah to talk to his neighbor in shul and perpetuate the social bonds that are the essence of Klal Yisroel. Indeed, according to the RAMBAM in Hilchois Tefillah, when one talks during davening, it is as if he has saved a life. Consequently, the RAMBAM holds that talking during davening is a Chiyuv Dioraisa, a requirement mandated by the Toirah.

As such, we all know that one must be Marbim BeMitzvois, one must spend as much time as possible engaged in Mitzvois. So given the importance of davening, the longer the better, and one should always include a healthy dose of talking. And on Shabbos, a day we are charged with sanctifying, we should must add special sanctity to morning Tefillah by speaking extensively thoughout the davening with other members of the Tzibbur.

I am reminded of a famous story about Rabbi Yitzchak Meyer Alter, the first Gerrer Rebbe. The Rebbe was once traveling to collect funds for the sect’s Shaytel G’Mach. One night he stayed in a lodge run by a Polish woman and her three daughters. As it was time to retire for the evening, the woman asked the Rebbe, “Rabbi, would you like anything before I turn in for the night?”

The Rebbe responded, “Well, you should turn in at once, but I would like for your three daughters to come and visit me in my bedroom.”

Shocked, the woman asked, “All three daughters! How can a devout man like you have such bad intentions?”

The Rebbe smiled and looked the woman right in the eyes. He then spoke, “Let me ask you, when you cook, do you cook for only yourself, or for the entire lodge?”

“The whole lodge of course, guests and all” she whispered tersely.

“My good woman, if I go back to my room by myself, I will end up bringing joy to myself. Why should I not share the joy with all three of your daughters?”

Satisfied at the answer, the woman asked to go back to the Rebbe’s room as well, to which he agreed on the condition that she would wear a bag over her head. Shoyn.

Now, with regard to your other shailah regarding establishing a second minyan, Chazzal are very much divided on this topic. According to a Yerushalmi in Orla, “anyone who splits up a congregation, it is as if he brought about the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Or even worse, drank a cup of coffee without a Hashgacha.” However, according to the Roish, commenting on a Gemarrah in Nezikin, “A community must maintain a multitude of congregations just as a rich man maintains a multitude of oxen.” So which position is correct?

On this I would like to offer a very practical solution. You should explain to your rabbi that a Hashkama minyan is not an effort to take away from the centrality of the main minyan, but represents an attempt to broaden the appeal of the shul to a wider target audience. Who knows, maybe some guy who lives in the neighborhood, eats traifus and sleeps with farm animals will find out about the early minyan, attend one day, and do a full and complete Teshuvah. And is your rabbi going to stand in the way of a lost soul returning to the fold of Yiddishkeit?

If that doesn’t work, you can always donate a couple hundred dollars to the rabbi’s discretionary fund. Throughout the millennia of Diaspora, that’s always helped too.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Parshas Chukass

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Parshas Chukass

This week's Parsha, Parshas Chukass, has more action than an episode of Desperate Housewives. Let's see:

-- There are four confrontations with other nations, three of which result in wars
-- There are two rebellions of Klal Yisroel against the Aimishteh
-- Moisheh Rabbeinu, undoubtedly prompted by his good-for nothing brother, Aroin Hacoihain, the minuval, hits a rock and loses the right to enter Eretz Yisroel
-- Aroin Hacoihain dies (or at least he claims to; I think he actually returns to Egypt to open a falafel stand in a strip mall)
-- We learn about the Parah Adumah, the laws of the red heffer.

Once again, we are confronted by the key questions: Why do the Jews always rebel, those bahaimas? And why doesn't Hakkadoshboruchhu just wipe them out once and for all? (That way, we wouldn't have to read from the Torah every week and I could get home by 11:00 am, in time to watch the end of Saturday morning cartoons -- Er, I mean learn Daf Yoimi.)

If we look at all the grievances that Klal Yisroel raised in the desert, they are largely around sustenance (food and water), security (in the face of hostility from local nations) and leadership (either panic in the absence of Moishe, or challenging his authority). They frequently long to return to Egypt, where they likely still have active bank accounts and unredeemed frequent flyer miles. They never long for a hot shiksa or a ham sandwich, unlike you, you mamzer.

According to the Tzitz Eliezer, all of this boils down to one simple question: Why did the Aimishteh have to make it so difficult on Klal Yisroel? If we are warned against entrapment in the rule known as Lifne Iyver, is not the Reboinoisheloilum bound by the same rule? If He has already selected the Bnei Yisroel as the Chosen People, rescued them through the Exodus, split the sea, given them the Toirah, etc., why can't He just cut them a little slack? Does He really need to constantly test them? Give them some water, for Reboinoisheloilum's sake. Maybe even give them a coke machine in the desert. Provide catering. Give them machine guns; Oig Melech Habashan's bows and arrows won't stand a chance.

Is it that He is bitter? Is it that He likes to see Klal Yisroel suffer, or that He seeks validation from their prayers? Does He enjoy inflicting plagues that wipe out 10,000 minuvals at a time?

This question relates to a tale about the MAHARAL Mi-Prague. One Sunday afternoon the MAHARAL was taking the Golem for a leisurely walk in the zoo in downtown Prague. Noticing a gum wrapper on the floor, he pointed to it and said, "Goilem, please don't ever litter like that." The Golem stared at him blankly, and then suddenly picked him up and threw him over the fence into the monkey cage. The monkeys proceeded to climb on his beard, swing from his tzitzis, and make Mei Raglayim on his hat.

That night the Reboinoisheloilum came to the MAHARAL in a dream. "Why did you let the Goilem humiliate me today in the zoo?" the MAHARAL asked? The Aimishteh, half paying attention, looked up from His newspaper and responded, "Iyoiv (Job), I kill his whole family and he doesn't complain, but you get upset at a dry-cleaning bill!" Upon waking up the MAHARAL immediately renounced his faith and joined the Ethical Humanist Society. (He later returned to the faith when he was told by his congregation that they would not allow him to collect his pension otherwise.)

So the MAHARAL, trying to do a good deed, ends up being punished. Was it wrong that he renounced the faith? Is it wrong for Klal Yisroel to panic in the desert or make what seem like reasonable demands? Indeed, was it wrong for me, when I visited Eretz Yisroel last month, to insist on getting a steep discount on my real estate investment, because while I love the Land of Israel, I suspect the value of my property in Sderot is not going to go up anytime soon?

There is a gemarrah in Yoomah that brings down a famous machloikess between Rava and Abaya. The debate goes as follows: Rava holds that in shul on Yoim Kippur everyone must kneel on the floor four times. His reasoning is that this must be done to show humility before the Aimishteh. But Abaya holds that only half of the congregation has to kneel, while the other half stands around and gossips about the schmucks lying with their knees on dirty paper towels and their faces on the floor. Abaya explains that according to him, there actually is no God, and religion is simply a human construct. He proves the nonexistence of God from a possuk in Beraishis, Perek Yud Daled. Abaya concludes that there is no better way to commemorate this fact than to gossip on the most somber day of the year.

Toisfois comments that real argument here is not about whether or not the Aimishteh exists. Koolay Alma Lo Pligi – everybody knows -- that both Rava and Abaya were thrown out of yeshiva for being atheists, as well as for smoking on Shabbos. Rather, their argument is over the nature of the universe: Rava believes in Karma, that for every action, there is a counter-action. But Abaya holds that everything in the world happens completely at random.

This week's Parsha stands as additional proof of Abaya's position: No matter what they do, Klal Yisroel cannot win. They have to starve. They are attacked. When they complain, they are smitten. Moishe Rabbeinu, for all his personal sacrifices, doesn't even get to enter Eretz Yisroel. And to top it all off, the Bnei Yisroel are told that if they sprinkle each other with the ashes of a red calf all of their spiritual impurities will magically go away.

No, look as hard as you will, you will not find a rational center to the world. Which is why we are required to keep three basic precepts: Judge others as if we were the Reboinoisheloilum; complain as much as possible about the most insignificant things; and act as if we know all the answers about everything, rather than admit ignorance even once, chass v'sholom.

If we follow these basic principles, we may create Hakadoshboruchhu for ourselves and generate a rational nexus for the world. We may save money. And, most importantly, we just might make ourselves more attractive to hot shiksa desperate housewives.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ask Rabbi Pinky -- On the Essence of Prayer

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On the Essence of Prayer

Rabboisai,

This week I respond to a shailah from a conscientious talmid
concerned about the essence of his Tefilois.

David C. writes:

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I took special notice of the
inclusion of the pussuk "Shehaim Mishtachavim LaHevel VaRik
Umitpallelim El El Lo Yoshiyah" in the Alenu prayer. Apparently,
some people include this verse in their daily prayers, while others
do not. What should I do?

David C.

Reb Duvid,

First, let me complement you on such a wonderful and insightful
shailah resulting from what is obviously a high level of
attentiveness during tefillah. You have only been davening for how
many years, and you first noticed that there are parentheses around
this passuk?! Next thing, you'll ask if it is common that people
should stand silently like schmucks for five minutes during
Shacharis, Mincha and Maiyriv, and you'll wonder why everyone sits
down towards the end of Shacharis and Mincha, grabs a hold of their
jacket, and smells their underarms. Very observant. Shkoiyach.

With regard to your question, the passuk you refer to translates
as "They bow to emptiness and pray to a diety that will bring no
salvation." There is indeed a great machloikess – rabbinic debate –
about the passuk's inclusion in contemporary prayer, as it was
originally removed to allay friction with the Catholic Church. And
indeed, the BACH holds that the pussuk is in fact an indictment of
the worship of Yushka Pandra. However, the TAZ notes that the BACH
probably made this statement as a reflection of his resentment
towards Catholicism, a resentment brought on by the BACH's hot
shiksa secretary consistently refusing to, err..., play "hide the
tzaylem" with him, Rachmana Letzlan.

However, the actual intent of the reference of the
word "Shehaim", "They," is nisht azaiy pashoot, not so simple. Who
does the pussuk refer to when it says that "their" prayers are for
naught? Chazal expended much effort on this theme, used up a few
reams of paper, and were even compelled to change an ink cartridge
on their printers.

According to the RAMBAN, the word "they" refers to Muslims. Says the
RAMBAN, anyone who can strap suicide bombs on their men and dress
their women in burkas that cover up 98 percent of their luscious,
hot Mediterranean bodies won't be having their prayers listened to
by Hakkadoshboruchhu anytime soon.

But according to the Hai Goyn, the term "Shahaim" actually refers to
women. They spend all day talking about their clothing, their
architectural plans for the house, and the latest romance novel they
read, while at the same time complaining about all they have to do
regarding taking care of the kids, managing the household, and
pursuing their careers. And at the end of a long day, they insist
that you come home to have a gefilte fish party, if you know what I
mean, while they continue to have no interest in getting fleishig by
snacking on the party weenies. If they only channeled some of their
ceaseless energy to better use, they could take on a third job so
you and I could work less and study more Toirah.

However, according to Reb Yoisaiph Cairo, the "they" refers to
Ashkenazic Jews, with their matzoh balls, their pale skin and their
big noses. They think they created Yiddishkeit, and hold up as
fundamental tenets of their faith the notions that Moishe Rabbeinu
was an accountant, Eliyahu Hanavi was a pediatric gynecologist, and
Yankif Avinu spoke with a Lithuanian accent (Voos?!) Do you think
that Hakkadoshboruchhu would ever want to listen to them? If their
wives won't, why the hell should He?

According to the RAMAH, the pussuk actually refers to Sephardim,
with their swarthy looks, their hairy backs, and their siddur that
the Aimishteh Himself couldn't follow along in. Question: Why does
a Sephardi eat rice and beans on Peysach instead of eating only
Shmurah Matzoh like a real Jew? Answer: So he can save money in
order to buy magic oil amulets from his turban-wearing-Rabbi. Says
that RAMAH, Sephardim aren't even Jews – between their ululations
(Lululululululu!!!!) and their henna parties, they are either Shiite
or Hindu, but they certainly aren't Yiddin.

Finally, according to the Vilna Goyn, the work "Shehaim" refers to
Chassidim. Why would the Reboinoisheloilum want to spend any time
listening to men who wear fur hats in ninety degree weather anyway?
And what's with that gartel thing? Koolay almah lo pleegee --
everybody holds, Misnagdim and Chassidim alike – that the elastic
waistband in a person's underwear functions as an adequate
separation between his upper body and lower body during prayer. So
why do Chassidim wear a gartel at davening? Very simple – because
they don't wear underwear! And do you think that Hakadoshboruchhu
will listen to someone with his schvantzlach hanging out?

So what does it all mean? What and who does the pussuk of "Shehaim
Mishtachavim" refer to?

The Tefillah of Aleynu is considered to be quite old, and there is
even the suggestion that the prayer goes back to the time of the
Bais Hamikdash and was a central prayer in the Avoidah. So the
Tefillah itself predates Christianity, Islam, the geographic
splintering of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and certainly the
establishment of Chassidoos. The Tefilla doesn't pre-date women,
chass v'sholom, but given that women were not allowed into the Bais
Hamikdash, the Koihain Gadol would not have wanted to mention them,
lest he incur the wrath of the Aimishteh, who, we are told in
Beraishis Rabbah, is a complete misogynist. So the pussuk cannot
refer to any of the above-mentioned groups.

However, we may be able to detect a clue from the pussuk in question
itself. The latter clause of the pussuk, "Umispallelim El El Lo
Yoishiyah," is a direct quote from a pussuk in Sefer Yishayahu,
Perek Mem Hey, Pussuk Chuff (Isaiah, Chapter 45, Verse 20). If we
look at the original context, Yishayahu HaNavi makes a prophecy
addressed to the Persian King Koiresh. Now, how Yishayahu, who lived
at the time of Chizkiyahu HaMelech during Bayis Rishoyn, can be
speaking to a Persian king who lived two hundred years after him, I
have no idea. Maylah, maybe he had a time machine. Or maybe Koiresh
heard the prophecy in a podcast on his Royal I-Pod.

In any case, the original context of the Perek in Yishayahu upon
which the pussuk in Aleynu is based is a contrast between the
monotheistic faith of Klal Yisroel and the Pagan faiths of their
neighbors (not including Persians, who, via Koiresh, are viewed as
heroes). It is a rejection of pagan prayer vessels, e.g., idols, but
also specifically rejects pagan beliefs and philosophies, such as
creation of the world as "Chaos." Consequently, the world described
in the pussuk is not the world of today. It is a world of classical
avoidah zorah, a world that no longer exists, at least outside of
770 Eastern Parkway.

I personally do not recite this pussuk, just in case the guy
standing next to me in shul is secretly a devil worshipping pagan
sent to spy on Klal Yisroel for the purposes of shmad, or is a
Buddhist working for the IRS. So should people who choose to say the
pussuk continue to do so?

I am reminded of a beautiful vort given by Rabbi Nachman MiBreslov.
Rabbi Nachman was visiting Minsk one Shabbos. On of his followers, a
short Jew names Shloimi came up to him and asked, "Rebbi Nachman, is
it true that if I say the letters of your name over and over again,
it will bring about the geulah?"

Rebbi Nachman smiled and put his arm around Shloimi. Then he hugged
him. Them he started humming a tune, a special niggun usually sung
before drinking shots of vodka on a Friday night.

After a few minutes, Shloimi looked up and asked, "so, Rebbe, what
is the answer to my question."

Rebbi Nachman let go of his follower and looked at him. "Reb
Shloimi, you tell me: Does it make sense that saying my name, the
name of a flesh and blood being, again and again, will bring about
redemption?"

"No," Shloimi responded.

"And you figured that one out all by yourself, you schmendrick?"

"Yes." Shloimi's voice cracked as he began to turn a bright shade of
red.

"Then why ask such a question in the first place? Use a bit of
common sense, for Chrissakes! I am your spiritual advisor, but if
what you really need is someone to make every decision for you, go
home to your mother. Toirah requires you to use your brain and is
not a substitute for your mother's teat!"

So, my beloved Reb Duvid, I must say the same thing to you. It seems
rather obvious that this pussuk is not relevant to today, certainly
as a contrast to the Christian and Muslim worlds, both of which have
adopted forms of Monotheism rooted in our great tradition. Moreover,
this pussuk denies the essence of the Neshama with which all human
beings were created, Jews and non-Jews alike, and by which we are
all linked to Hakadoshboruchhu. But if it makes you feel better to
say the pussuk, gizunteh heit. After all, the Aimishteh probably
isn't listening to you anyway.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Parshas Koirach

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Parshas Koirach

In this week's Parsha, Koirach, once again a portion of Klal Yisroel rebels against the Reboinoisheloilum's rule. A group led by Koirach challenges Moishe Rabbeinu's appointment as the Aimishteh's personal representative and business manager. After returning to their tents, Koirach and his minions are swallowed up whole into the ground.

How stupid are these mishugayim anyway? How many times do they have to be told that they should shut up and study Toirah instead of asking for food and the right to return to Mitzrayim to visit the pyramids and eat traifus? And how much abuse does Hakkadoshboruchhu have to tolerate before he smites all the minuvals down like cockroaches with a strong hand, an outstretched arm, and a really big shoe?

I know you were asking these questions, you good-for-nothing amhaaretz, but they are actually stupid questions. I mean, we read this same Parsha every year. It hasn't changed since the Redactor compiled the text in Babylon -- OOPS -- I mean since the Aimishteh dictated the Toirah to Moishe on Sinai.

No, the real question isn't why the people keep on rebelling. Rather, it is: Why do we, and our wise Rabbinical predecessors, continue to look back at the generation of the Exodus as the paradigm of Jewish virtue, when in truth they were a bunch of vilda chayas? Compared to them, a band of marauding rabid water buffalo are cooperative.

Indeed, this paradox is highlighted in the following Maiyseh Shehoyo: In the late 1950s, the Bobover Rebbe was sitting in first class on an airplane next to the famous playwright Arthur Miller. The playwright observed the care and reverence with which the Bobover Chassidim escorted their Rebbe through the airport, got him settled on the plane, and checked on his well-being periodically. Miller turned to the Rebbe and asked, "Rabbi, how come it is that when I lecture at a university, a pillar of secular knowledge, I am treated casually by the students, even with disrespect, while you, teaching an archaic tradition, are treated with respect, almost as a beloved surrogate parent, by your followers?"

The Rebbe smiled, and replied, "It is very simple -- you, a secular person, tell your students that they are descended from monkeys, so when they look at you, they see a person one generation closer to their primitive ape past. We tell our students that they are descended from the generation at Sinai, so when they see me, they see a person one generation closer to the face to face encounter with the Aimishteh." Arthur Miller stroked his chin and thought for a moment. And then he responded, "That may be true, but I am sleeping with Marilyn Monroe, so who cares?" The Bobover Rebbe, recognizing that he had lost the argument, never traveled by airplane again.

The Tanna Kamma alludes to the Dor Yetzias Meitzrayim and its relevance to today in a Mishnah in Maseches Nidah, Perek Gimmul. He suggests that the reason the Aimishteh enacted restrictions on "relations" with one's wife during her natural cycle (Zman Nidasa) is so that 50% of Klal Yisroel will always be so frustrated they will be ready to go to war over a missing paper clip.

However, The Zoihar tells a tale of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai sitting around a campfire with his female students and giving them life advice. He said, "When your husband calls you an idiot, it is the best news you have had all day." This is understood as a reference to the Kabbalistic understanding of the relationship between the Aimishteh and Klal Yisroel. The Aimishteh is seen as the groom, and the Jews as the bride. And what could be more natural, or even healthy, than occasional bickering, or even a good knock-down-drag-out argument over who takes out the garbage or whose turn it is to do the dishes. Or in the case of Klal Yisroel, dancing around the Eigel Hazahav while eating traifus. Rather than leading to divorce, this keeps the marriage vibrant and stimulates the senses.

I am reminded of my own wedding day to my Bashert, Feige Breinah. As I stood under the Chuppah waiting for her to join me, I wished that the earth would open underneath my feet, just as it had for Koirach. Would I be a good husband? Could I manage a strong Jewish household? Would I be able to consummate my marriage that night without the ritual twenty minutes of begging?

The moment of introspection was broken by my bride. As she walked down the aisle and circled me seven times, she softly whispered, "wipe that stupid look off your face; the video camera is running!!"

So a little tension between bride and groom is quite healthy. Klal Yisroel in the desert understood this, which is why they frequently rebelled, about leadership, about idols, about what to eat, and about leaving the comforts of Egypt.

In honor of the generation of the Exodus, we too must keep the vibrancy and energy of the relationship with the Aimishteh alive. Consequently, we are compelled to eat the occasional traifus and watch the occasional game on Shabbos. We are supposed to have unclean thoughts and covet the property of others. For if we do not, we will fail to live up to the heritage of our forefathers.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Friday, June 08, 2007

Parshas Shlach Lecha

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Parshas Shlach Lecha

This week's parsha, Shlach Lecha, is one of the most confusing parshiyois in Kol Hatoirah Kooloh. Takkah, I had to read it three times to make sure it wasn't the latest issue of the National Enquirer. Or even worse, a medrish.

Moishe Rabbeinu sends twelve spies into Eretz Yisroel to determine the fertility of the land, the vulnerability of the local populations, and the volatility of interest rates. The Meraglim come back and claim at first that the land is fertile, but the locals are too intimidating. They later change their story to say that the land itself does not provide adequate sustenance. Why can't they make up their minds, those mishagayim? Only Yehoshua and Culayv are optimistic about Klal Yisroel’s ability to conquer the land.

Confusing point #1: What could these people have been thinking? I mean, why would Yehoshua and Culayv be interested in Eretz Yisroel? How about Madagascar? What about Miami Beach? Or Brooklyn?

Also, as the spies were surveying the Promised Land, why didn't the Meraglim note that the hotels are overpriced; the people are rude; it's hard to find a decent kosher meal in Tel Aviv; oh, and HALF THE POPULATION WANTS TO KILL YOU!!!!

Takkah, according to a medrish in Divrei Hayamim Rabbah, the Meraglim never even made it into the heartland. Unbeknown to Moishe Rabbeinu and the Bnei Yisroel, the spies secretly went down to Eilat and spent seven days on the beach ogling at the topless Scandinavian women.

Confusing point #2: When Klal Yisroel, those bahaimas, panicked and longed to return to Egypt, the Reboinoisheloilum decides to kill them all. Moishe Rabbeinu pleads for their lives by using a somewhat surprising argument: (Bamidbar, Perek Yud Daled, Possuk Tess Vuv-Tess Zayin) “... if you (the Aimishteh) shall destroy this People in a single instance, the nations (of the world) which have heard of you will say, 'The Aimishteh slaughtered this People in the desert because He was unable to bring them into the Land which he swore to them...'"

In other words, "What will the Goyim say?" What will the Goyim say?!!! Who does Moishe think he is -- Ehud Olmert or Simon Peres? Since when does Moishe Rabbeinu worry about the Goyim? Since when does any Jew worry about the opinions of the Goyim, those anti-Semites? Why, as is well known, in the world to come, the GOOD Goyim will walk around all day holding onto my tzitzis. And the BAD Goyim are going to be my "bitches", since, according to the Ari Zahl, when Moshiach comes there will no longer be a prohibition of Mishkav Zachar (homosexuality).

No wonder Moishe was never let into Eretz Yisroel! If he likes the Goyim so much, he should learn to play golf and shave with a blade.

The RAIVID, when looking at this episode, suggests that Moishe was secretly trying to anger Hakkadoshboruchhu in order to be released from his contract. The Mesopotamians were offering him 50% more per year to be their leader, four weeks of vacation, plus unlimited use of the corporate magic carpet.

However, the RAMBAN holds that Moisheh made the defensive argument in earnest. And, remarkably, the Aimishteh ultimately relented and did not destroy Klal Yisroel (though He did raise management fees by 50 basis points).

What is going on here? I am reminded of a famous story in Gemarrah Yevumois about Rabbi Tarfun. Once, at the end of a three day yuntif, Rabbi Tarfun went to put out the last of his garbage bags. However, he found that all the garbage cans outside of his house were full. He was about to put the bags into the cans of his gentile neighbors, when his wife stopped him, and insisted that he get permission first. "Why?" he asked her, as she painted the toe nails of their thirteen daughters.

She responded, "you never know when you are going to need a gentile's help." And it came to pass that three weeks later, as he tried to assemble his children’s' new swing set, the gentile next door was the only person in the entire neighborhood who knew how to change the head of a socket wrench.

This theme is also addressed in a famous story in the Zoihar. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was sitting in the cave where he hid from the Romans for 14 years. After spending an afternoon meditating, Rabbi Shimon fell asleep. Using his deep Kabalistic knowledge and the pureness of his soul, he summoned the presence of the Reboinoisheloilum. "What do you want, Reb Shimon? I'm on another call," Hakkadoshboruchhu asked.

"Aimishteh," Rabbi Shimon responded, "I am getting tired of living in this filthy cave. Can you please take me away from all this suffering, and reward me with land and wealth and lots of spare time for Toirah and day trading? Why do the Goyim have it so good, while I, one of your chosen few, continue to struggle?"

The Reboinoisheloilum paused for a moment, and then responded in a low monotonous tone that was little above a whisper. "Reb Shimon, how many people in the world are there?" He asked.

"Why, about six billion" Rabbi Shimon slowly responded.

Hakkadoshboruchhu continued. "And how many Jews are there in the world?"

Again, Rabbi Shimon answered, this time quickly, and with more confidence in his voice. "I would guess about twenty million."

The Aimishteh then raised His voice. "So do you think that in a world of six billion people, all reality revolves around the actions and the fate of 20 million people, three tenths of one percent of the global population? What kind of crack are you smoking in that cave, you michutziff??"

So the truth is, the non-Jewish world and world opinion do matter. This may not make sense to you, you amhaaretz, but neither does shatnez or yeshiva tuition.

It also doesn't make sense that after witnessing all the miracles of the exodus from Egypt, the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, and receiving the Toirah, Klal Yisroels continue to rebel against the Reboinoisheloilum at every turn. But they should get over it already, and so should you.

Life doesn't make sense. And if you don't like it, you can always quit the religion and convert to Catholicism. There are a lot more of them.

Also I hear the tuition is cheaper. Plus you are likely to make a little extra cash when the Church pays you off after abusing your children.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval