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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Parshas Devarim



Parshas Devarim

This week we begin Sefer Devarim -- the Book of Deuteronomy, as the goyim and the Reform call it. With this, we officially begin the countdown to a day a few months from now when men will dance with other men, hand in hand, to celebrate the completion of the cycle of the reading of the Toirah. (I can't wait; I have a date with a talmid named Yerachmiel. I hope I get lucky.)

Saadia Goyn, a minuval in his own time, asks why we even bother with Sefer Devarim, which is largely a restatement of the preceding books of the Toirah. Why not jump straight into Beraishis?

According to the RAN, the repetitive nature of Devarim is directly related to its being read in the summer months, during which we customarily are relegated to repeat episodes of all of our favorite shows. Indeed, the RAMBAM, in his famous introduction to Hilchois Depreciation, suggests that to keep the Toirah fresh, we should pre-empt the entire Sefer Devarim and replace it with an original dramatic anthology series on famous Jewish tax evaders. We don't hold like the RAMBAM, however, because even if we had new episodes every five minutes, we wouldn't have enough time over the summer to do justice to the topic.

The RASHBA agreed completely. In his shtetl one year he preempted the entire Sefer Devarim with a new reality series entitled "Who Wants To Marry a Sheitelmacher." The series was cancelled after one season, however, as there was little interest in marrying a woman with the hair of a hot shiksa and the body of Moby Dick.

So we do read Sefer Devarim. In it, we are witness to Moishe Rabbeinu standing before Klal Yisroel in the desert as he is about to exit the stage of history, summarizing Klal Yisroel's achievements, reviewing rules and regulations, and basically reminding the Bnei Yisroel that they are a bunch of rebellious good for nothing minuvals.

A Gemmarah in Pesachim asks why Moishe didn't simply distribute a pamphlet in order to save time and the expense of organizing a large gathering of all of Klal Yisroel.

According to Rav Yehuda, Moishe simply liked the power of the stage, and relished the opportunity to lead one last political rally.

But according to Rav Ashi, Moishe really milked this thing into a big money maker: He charged for attendance, got a piece of the food concessions (five dollars for a kosher hot dog in the desert), and sold licensed products such as Moishe Rabbeinu golf shirts, stuffed Toirahs for the kids, and big orange sponge hands saying "We're Number One". He also set up a website and internal satellite network and charged for pay-per-view access.

This week, in the first Parsha of Devarim, we focus on the sojourning, the travels, and the battles of the previous forty years.

According to Rabbeinu Tam, of all his achievements, Moishe rabbeinu was most proud of his beating Oig Melech Habashan, which is why there is so much detail of their encounters in this week's Parsha.

According to a famous medrish, Moishe was twenty amois high, he held a stick twenty amois high, and he jumped twenty amois high, and he only reached Oig's ankle. Yet he was able to knock Oig down to the ground, and then proceeded to cut off Oig's private parts, which he used as a tent on family camping trips.

But a different medrish tells us that Moishe and Oig really settled their disputes through arm wrestling. After much struggle, Moishe won the match, and in turn received all of the land east of the Jordan River on behalf of Klal Yisroel. While Oig, upon losing his kingdom, was forced to work as a telemarketer and sell Amway products in his spare time.

The MAHARAL has a beautiful interpretation of this event. He suggests that Moishe Rabbeinu never actually fought Oig. Indeed, he never met him, though did read an article about him once. Rather, Moishe created this legend to build excitement about the prospects of entering the Eretz Yisroel, to unify the people, and to make people forget about the whole "Babylon has weapons of mass destruction" debacle.

Indeed, just as the Jews stood on that mountain overlooking the Promised Land, we too, in our generation, stand at a critical juncture in our history. Do we push forward, or step backward? Do we move into the future, or recede into the past? Our wives are relying on us to make the right decisions, as are our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

So you owe it to them: Stop having children, for Reboinoisheloilum's sake! Get that vasectomy already! The last thing you need to do is to start with those midnight feedings again. And more yeshiva tuition? No -- save some money for the strip clubs and traifus. You're not getting any younger, you know. Moishe knew that the only choice was to move into the future. We should all embrace his wisdom.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Friday, July 13, 2007

Parshas Matois



Parshas Matois

In this week's Parsha, Matois, Klal Yisroel strives to emulate the benevolent, merciful, forgiving nature of the Reboinoisheloilum by slaughtering all the nations of Midian.

Like last week, we are faced with a question regarding Klal Yisroel's relationship with Midian: How is it that the nation of Yisro, the man who helped develop Am Yisroel's legal system, so soon became a mortal enemy to be pillaged and plundered, killed to the last man, with all its wealth taken away? According to the Mei Menuchois, the Toirah here is coming to teach an important lesson to lawyers: they are to pledge allegiance to the legal system, but are then encouraged to exploit it, abuse it and devour it like locusts, so long as they are not disbarred.

However, the Sifsey Chachomim focuses on an even more fundamental question on the Parsha: Why, after Klal Yisroel killed all the adult males of Midian, did Moishe Rabbeinu insist that they kill all the adult females as well?

According to the Baal Haturim, Moishe's motivation was that he was a misogynist. Indeed, a Gemmarah in Nedarim attributes to Moishe the Halacha that women can never enter the inner areas of the Bais Hamikdash, not because they were banned from bringing sacrifices, but because of the strict MEN ONLY rules in the Temple's health club.

But the RAN disagrees, referring in his commentary to the Baal Haturim as "Shvantz for Brains." The RAN holds that Moishe Rabbeinu actually loved women, perhaps a little too much. He cites a medrish that says that the reason it took Moishe so long to return to Klal Yisroel from Sinai was that he went three blocks out of his way, where no one he knew would see him, to buy "marital aids." Indeed, the RAN holds that Moishe had the adult women of Midian killed because they "lacked passion", and he didn't dare risk making the Israelite wives any more frigid than they already were, chass v'sholom.

But according to the MAHARAL, Moishe ordered the killing of the Midianite women for as grand a reason as to help Klal Yisroel finally reach the Promised Land.

Klal Yisroel was originally supposed to enter Eretz Yisroel in a matter of weeks after receiving the Toirah on Sinai. However, every time the Jews had a spare moment to make some progress toward reaching The Land, their wives always came up with new chores for them to do. "Moishe, fold the laundry, the Aimishteh can wait." "Aroin, go next door to borrow the lawn mower. I don't care if we are moving our tent tomorrow. TODAY the place looks a mess." "Kulayv, watch the children for the next three hours while I get my nails done." "Yehoishua, you can't meet Moisheh to discuss conquest strategy this afternoon; we have a guy coming in to give us an estimate on redoing the kitchen."

Since Moishe didn't want the males of Am Yisroel to become any more whipped than they already were, he had all the Midianite women put to death.

I am reminded of a famous story told of the ARI ZAHL. He was once addressing his students in Tzfas, expounding on new, insightful interpretations of the Zoihar, and using his deep understanding of the interrelationships of ten Sefirot to bring about the coming of the Moshiach and end Israel's state of exile.

Suddenly, the back door of the Bais Medrish opened, and his eight year old son Pesachya stuck his head in. "Tahti, come home quickly, Mommy needs you right away!" Fearing some horrible disaster, the ARI ended his treatise mid-sentence and ran home. His wife anxiously greeted him at the door. "I need you to do car pool. Shayndl next door is sick, and I have an appointment with the Shaytelmacher." The ARI held his temper and faithfully picked up his daughter Fruma from day camp.

That night the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. "ARI, you were about to crack the code and bring about Israel's redemption. Why did you choose your wife over the Moshiach?"

"Aimishteh," the ARI answered, "if the Moshiach doesn't come now, he'll come soon. Maybe in ten years, maybe in one hundred, maybe in one thousand. And then we will sit at Your throne and joyfully worship You. But if I piss off my wife, she'll make me miserable for all eternity." The Aimishteh praised the ARI's wisdom and rewarded him by bringing a plague that ended the ARI's life.

In our day we too are confronted by a similar choice: Lifelong dedication to the Reboinoisheloilum, or splitting loyalty between Him and a wife. Many spiritual groups have different approaches to managing this challenge. The Moslems marry many women in order to counter the aggregation of power by a single wife. The Episcopalians and the Reform allow their wives to become clergy and manage the family's relationship with the Aimishteh, thereby freeing up time for the husbands to play golf. And the Catholics don't marry, but take matters into their own hands, or into the hands of their alter boys, if you know what I mean.

But a true Ben Torah accepts his fate, secure in the fact that while his wife wastes her time on such insignificant tasks as supporting the family, paying the rent, filling out school registration forms, planning carpool, packing school lunches, cooking, cleaning, and worrying about birth control, he is off doing the Aimishteh's work by learning in Kolel and contemplating his reward in the World to Come.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Parshas Pinchas

This week's Parsha, Parshas Pinchas, is named after me. After all, Moishe Rabbeinu certainly had Ruach Hakoidesh and could easily foresee the day, 3500 years in the future, that a full bearded white man wearing a long black coat and big, black felt hat would use electronic pulses to share deep insights on the words of the Reboinoisheloilum with people like you – minuvals who need an occasional five minute break from surfing porn. Isn’t it obvious? No wonder Moishe Rabbeinu was always so optimistic about the future of Klal Yisroel!

Ironically, this week’s Parsha also opens with the celebration of Pinchas Ben Elazar -- the grandson of Aroin Hacoihain, the minuval -- who at the end of last week's episode emulated the rich, warm, personal connection of the Aimishteh and Klal Yisroel by slaughtering an Israelite man and his Midianite girlfriend with a spear, initiating a plague in which 24,000 people died.

Reb Hai Goyn asks the question: Who were these 24,000 people? Was inter-dating such a widespread activity for the holy Dor Mattan Toirah? What’s pshat?

According to Rabbeinu Tam, the 24,000 included not only people who dated Midianite women, but also various cross-dressers, insurance salesmen, fundraisers, lawyers, and telemarketers.

But the Mordechai disagrees. He holds that none of the group who died in the plague were dating Midianite women. Rather, all were all members of Klal Yisroel who were also Amway representatives.

Yet the question about the centrality of Midianite women to this Parsha does fall away that easily. A Gemarrah in Chulin asks the question: Why was Moishe Rabbeinu immune to the plague targeted at all members of Klal Yisroel involved with Midianite women? Indeed, Moishe’s wife was the daughter of a Midianite priest!

Rav Ashi points out that we learn from this the halacha that while interdating is banned, intermarriage is acceptable, as long as the marriage represents a step up in social class. He goes on to point out that Midian was considered to be the crème de la crème of Late Bronze Age Near Eastern society. According to Rav Moishe Feinstein, in our age this ruling would apply to Episcopalians, Lutherans, and wealthy Republicans.

But Rish Lakish holds farkhert. He holds that interdating is not only acceptable, it is encouraged. And it is intermarriage that is not permitted, even when the woman converts. However, Rish Lakish notes, chazzal tell us that Mrs. Moishe was exempt from this restriction since even after her conversion she maintained several of her…err…goyisha practices, in particular one that I cannot get my bashert to do no matter how much I beg.

There is a medrish, however, which tells us that the plague did not really kill 24,000. Rather, only 4,000 people died. However, the Toirah improperly counted an extra 20,000 people who were projected to die during the remainder of the year. This, however, resulted in an accounting scandal and a significant decline in Market Value for which Moishe Rabbeinu was held responsible. And, according to this medrish, the real reason that Moishe was not able to enter the Promised Land was that as a result of this episode, he had to spend 25 years in a minimum security penitentiary for white collar crimes and pay $2 million shekels in fines and back taxes. Shoyn.

The M'EERIE asks a question on a different part of this Parsha: Why is the story of Pinchas juxtaposed with a listing of the clans of the tribes of Israel, followed by a discussion of property and inheritance rights highlighted in the story of the Bnois Tzeluphchud. The daughters of Tzeluphchud request the right to inherit their father's property, given that he had no sons to receive the inheritance. After consulting with the Aimishteh and several leading estate lawyers, Moishe Rabbeinu accepts their argument. So, what does one story have to do with another?

The Bais Yoiseph suggests that the Toirah put the stories together to teach us that if a parent dies and you argue over the inheritance with your siblings, you are allowed to drive a spear through their stomachs, as Pinchas did.

But the Nair Havdalah (born 1938; died 1969 at Woodstock of a bsomim overdose) suggests that farkhert, the reason that Klal Yisroel, still in the desert at this point, were even focused on property and inheritance, even before entering Eretz Yisroel, is that they were beginning to process their mortgage applications. And the story of Pinchas tells us that whenever you prepare to purchase real estate, you should always show up to the closing prepared for the worst.

I, the RAPAS (Rav Pinky Schmeckelstein), would like to suggest an alternative explanation for the episodes being presented together. If we contemplate the logical result of the petition of the Bnois Tzeluphchud -- these young Bas Yisroels, Bais Ya’akov girls I imagine, were instantly considered desirable. Even if they had one eye and seven arms between them, they were women who owned property, and that made them nice catches. This Parsha comes to teach us that this applies to Midianite women as well: A Midianite woman who eats pork, worships idols and is regularly mezaneh with farm animals is also desirable, as long as she owns property.

So if you are going to marry out, at least marry rich.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval