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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

Yes -- There are still copies available for purchase! What are you
waiting for?



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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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!



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


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