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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Parshas Mishpatim




This past week, an early member of Yeshivas Chipass Emmess, who was also a Musmich of the Yeshiva, passed away after a long illness.

I recall one Shavois night when this man, his son, and I sat at a table together in Shul discussing the philosophical underpinnings of the Jewish faith. At one point, during a particular exchange, either his son or I referred to "Hashem", to which this man responded in a booming voice, "You mean Y-H-W-H??!!" (pronouncing the Divine name as a single word).

It was as if for a moment all learning stopped in the Bais Medrish. The son and I were briefly concerned that we would be taken outside and subjected to Skillah. (It was roughly the equivalent of the scene in National Lampoon's Animal House when the eight white college students walk into the all black nightclub and all the music suddenly stops.)

It was probably the only time in the thirty-plus year history of the Shul that anyone pronounced the Sheim HaMeforush.

He was a man with deep commitment to the Jewish People and to profound humanistic and spiritual introspection.

May the family be consoled amongst all the mourners of Zion.


Parshas Mishpatim

This week’s Parsha, Parshas Mishpatim, is my favorite Parsha in Kol HaToirah Kooloh. It has everything: Laws, holidays, oxen, Moishe teaching Toirah, big feasts of Israelite elders, slaves with earrings, and men seducing hot Israelite virgins. And all of this culminates with the famous commitment of Klal Yisroel, “Kol Asher Dibber Hashem NaAseh VeNishmah” – “Whatever the Lord spoke we will do and we will listen.” Mamesh, with this kind of excitement, who needs YouTube or the Superbowl?

Of course, the Parsha is quite detailed and features many, many shailahs asked by Chazzal after drinking double espressos at Starbucks while waiting for their wives to come back from their weekly visits to the sheitelmacher.

One key question focuses on the collection of laws in the Parsha. In a Gemarrah in Brachois, Rav Huna asks: Why are all of the laws in this Parsha delivered in a seemingly random order? Laws about slaves lead to oxen, followed by ethical rulings (i.e. the treatment of widows) and religious injunctions (warnings sprinkled throughout against the worshipping of other deities). What’s Pshat?

In answer, Rav Chisda cites a Medrish that suggests that the jumbled order of the Mitzvois is related to the rambling discussions between Moishe Rabbeinu and Hakkadoshboruchhu as they… err… were enjoying some exotic bsomim they bought from a Bedouin in Sinai. Notes the Medrish, the whole time they were writing down the laws they were giggling non-stop and snacking on six boxes of Entenmann’s doughnuts while listening to Led Zeppelin in the background.

However, Rabbi Chananya holds farkhert. Chass V’Sholom Moishe Rabbeinu and the Reboinoisheloilum were using illegal substances! Rather, he brings down a Braisah that suggests that the Aimishteh suffers from ADHD. As proof, the Braisah notes the fact that the Jews, Hakkadoshboruchhu’s “Chosen People”, have been cast across the world for 2,000 years and, despite Divine promises, have never been able to settle down in one place for very long. Shoyn.

The RAMBAM asks an altogether different, and more disturbing, question. Noting the similarities between the laws in Parshas Mishpatim and many of the social and economic laws in ancient Near Eastern legal codes such as The Code of Hammurabi, the RAMBAM asks, “If these sets of laws are so similar, how can we believe that the Toirah is Divine and was in fact given to Klal Yisroel on Har Sinai?”

Commenting on this question, the Ibn Ezra suggests that, quote, “The RAMBAM is a total mechutziff, and if he were here today, I would Hakheh his Shinuv!” The Ibn Ezra goes on to protest that “Of course the Toirah is Divine. Look, the Goyim certainly copied these laws from us, just like the Muslims copied our prohibition on eating pork and the Pope copied our Yarmulkas. So what if Hammurabi lived 500 years before Moishe Rabbeinu? He undoubtedly used an ancient time machine to travel to the future and plagiarize the Toirah!” As proof he cites a Possuk from Sefer Dianetics, Parshas L. Ron Hubbard.

However, the RAMBAN suggests that the laws in Mishpatim were actually later added to the Toirah by “R”, also referred to by scholars as the Biblical “Redactor”, as he edited the final version of Shmois while in exile in Babylon. The RAMBAN also suggests that the entire story of the Bnei Yisroel crossing the Yam Suf was actually a source text that originally came from “S”, also known in Biblical Criticism circles as “Surfer Dude”, who is believed to have lived in Eastern Hawaii around 1700 BCE.

The MAHARAL disagrees, insisting that these laws were indeed written down by Moishe on Har Sinai. However, he holds that Moishe was acting at the suggestion of the Reboinoisheloilum who told him, “They are an Am Kshey Oiref. Please make up some laws that will keep them out of trouble.” But because of tight deadlines, Moishe did not have time to write new laws, and instead copied these laws off the Internet as “filler”.

Finally, the Vilna Goyn denies that there is any linkage whatsoever between Parshas Mishpatim and the Code of Hammurabi and other ancient Near Eastern legal codes. As an example, he points to the “seeming” similarities between the following:

-- The Toirah: “If men are fighting and one hurts a pregnant woman so that her fetus comes out, yet no harm follows, he shall be punished according to the will of the husband, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay a life for a life…”(Shmois, Perek Chuff Aleph, Possuk Chuff Baiz-Chuff Gimmel)

-- An ancient Near Eastern legal code: “If… strikes the daughter of a man and causes her to lose her fetus, he shall weigh and deliver thirty shekels of silver. If she dies, that man shall be killed” (Laws of Lipit Ishtar, ca 1930 BCE)

Says the Gruh, “Hey, these are common scenarios that any society would contemplate. I already accidentally caused the spontaneous abortion of three fetuses this morning alone!”

Perhaps the most fundamental question that we can ask about Parshas Mishpatim is how we should relate to these laws in our day. After all, so many of the Toirah’s rules reflect a different era, with different material concerns, social pressures and sensibilities. Do you and I have an ox? (To be honest, my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, has on more than one occasion told me that I am “hung like a buffalo”. Kenaiyna Harrah.) Do we have slaves, Jewish or otherwise? As best verbalized by the Pri Megadim, “Parshas Mishpatim tells us that we should not charge interest and that we should worry about the widow and the orphan, and twice states that we should not abuse the stranger that is in our land because ‘we were once strangers in the Land of Egypt.’ The next thing you expect the Aimishteh to do is raise taxes! Has He gone mad?”

The Tzitz Eliezer answers this question by suggesting that Moishe actually proposed these laws during an election year, but never had any intention of enforcing them. However, they were ultimately left in the Toirah as part of a budgetary compromise package with the Speaker and the Majority Leader of the Anshe Knessess HaGedoilah. And therefore we just have to live with them.

However, the Schvantz Mordechai suggests that these laws were put into place in order to address the disturbing shidduch crisis. If Klal Yisroel were to accept the presence of strangers in the land, the poor, etc., then there would be many more men available to marry Klal Yisroel’s growing number of educated, frum, unmarried women who are over-the-hill at the age of twenty-two.

I am reminded of a famous Moshal. There was once a king who lived on a very small plot of land. When his son grew old enough, he arranged a marriage with the zaftig princess of a neighboring kingdom because her father owned “great tracts of land.” But when his son refused to marry the girl next door, he disowned him, and adopted a local pauper, who was delighted to marry the princess and be in line to inherit a great kingdom. When asked how he could disregard his own genetic offspring, he answered, “I make the rules here. If my son doesn’t like it, he should start his own damn kingdom!”

Such is the nature of our special Bris with Hakkadoshboruchhu. Sure, some of these laws make no sense whatsoever, and you feel like a total schmuck doing them. But by subordinating your will to the Word of the Reboinoisheloilum, you demonstrate your faith and allegiance to Him. You demonstrate that His word is timeless, and rises above the day to day considerations of, so-called, modernische society. And you also give Him something to laugh about when He is off getting stoned with Moishe Rabbeinu.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Parshas Yisro



Parshas Yisro

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Yisro, we read of the giving of the Aseres Hadibrois, the Ten Commandments, to Klal Yisroel. We are automatically struck with two obvious questions -- or at least they would be obvious to you if you were paying attention, you Minuval:

Question One: Why are there Ten Commandments? How come the Goyim get seven, in the Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the seven Noahite laws, but we get more? Did we really need more? Were we required to PAY MORE!? (Frankly, I've got my hands full; with Sarbannes Oxley, the mortgage crisis, etc., I have to work twice as hard to embezzle...err… to make a living.)

Question Two: Why does the Parsha that features the essence of the Jewish faith, the giving of the Aseres Hadibrois, carry the name of a Goy? A priest no less? What, Moishe Rabbeinu was such a self-hating Jew he needed to make the Parsha sound more Goyyishe? Or were he and the Reboinoisheloilum smoking some kind of exotic bsomim on Sinai and not paying attention to what they were writing down?

I defy you to give me an answer, because whatever you say, you won't know what you are talking about, you Am Ha'aretz.

Regarding the first question, the RAIYVID points out that of the original Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the seven Noahite laws, two were completely dropped and do not appear in the Ten Commandments.

The first dropped mitzvah is the commandment not to eat the flesh of a living animal. The RAIYVID quotes a Mishna in Hoirayois that explains that this mitzvah was dropped because Moishe Rabbeinu didn't want to be seen as a hypocrite. Do you think he had time to start doing cooking when he was receiving the Toirah on Sinai? There he is, up on Har Sinai for forty days and forty nights, face to face with Hakkadoshboruchhu, and do you expect him to say, "excuse me Aimishteh, I have to go pop a pizza bagel in the Microwave -- please give me five minutes"?

Of course not. Moishe ate the flesh of living creatures, and he enjoyed it! And who can blame him -- while up on the mountain, the Reboinoisheloilum supplied Moishe with His delicious bounty. Birds flying around. Mountain goats. Grasshoppers. Aimishteh Almighty, just thinking about it makes my mouth water!

However, Moishe did use paper plates and plastic forks while eating because he didn't fully trust Hakkadoshboruchhu's Hashgacha (kosher certification). After all -- the Rebboinoisheloilum did create pigs too, as well as horses, frogs, and Skittles. Who is to say that the Aimishteh wouldn't slip a little bacon into Moishe's meal while Moishe was intensely carving out the Luchois. I mean, when it comes down to it, can we really trust Him?

The second dropped mitzvah is the commandment to establish a legal system. A Beraisah in Baba Kamma Sutra tells us that this commandment was dropped so that Moishe Rabbeinu could set up his father in law in a nice racket...err...I mean...engage Yisroi's expertise in crafting the legal system of Klal Yisroel. (According to a Medrish in Shmois Rabbah, Moishe was getting a 20% "mitzvah fee" on the contract, plus equity.)

So indeed, that leaves us with five mitzvois (7 commandments - 2 commandments = 5 commandments). Yet Klal Yisroel received Ten Commandments? That is double what everyone else received. What's Pshat?

This is explored in a famous machloikess in a Yerushalmi in Soitah.

According to Bais Shammai, Klal Yisroel, the Jewish People, received Ten Commandments because we are like the Rebboinoisheloilum's first born child. As such, we are entitled to twice the inheritance of everyone else, twice the Land, twice the money, twice the mitzvois, and twice the persecution. I personally would have preferred half the mitzvois, half the persecution, and a date with the Olsen twins, but please don't think I am complaining, chass v'sholom.

However, according to Bais Hillel, Klal Yisroel was actually only supposed to receive Toirah Sheh-Baal-Peh, the Oral Law, on Sinai, and nothing in writing, in order to ensure deniability in the event of an SEC investigation. So what happened? Well, Tzippoirah, Moishe's wife, had instructed Moishe to bring back souvenirs for the kids since he was going away on a long business trip. And given that he had two sons, he was planning to give each son one Lucha (tablet) with five commandments each. But when Moishe descended from the mountain things got a bit out of hand. Says Bais Hillel, we all would have been much better off if Moishe had come down with two T-shirts that said "My father spent 40 days and 40 nights face to face with the Rebboinoisheloilum, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!"

So that answers our first question. However, our second question still remains: How could the Parsha detailing Klal Yisroel's receiving of the Toirah have been named after Yisro? Eppis, Yisro is a Galach! (This reminds me of the Yeshivas that give winter vacation during Kratzmach week. It's a slippery slope, you know: one day it's teaching Gemarrah to girls, the next day it's Yushke Pandra.)

The RASHBA addresses this question. He says that the naming of the Parsha after Yisro comes to imply a critical mitzvah: Since Yisro was the father in law of Moishe Rabbeinu, and the Parsha that includes the Ten Commandments carries Yisroi's name, then an eleventh commandment must be implied: Thou shalt marry a Shiksa, so long as her father is socially prominent.

The RIF wholeheartedly disagrees: he says that if you want to marry a Shiksa, especially one who is hot, who cares about her father?

In our day, the RAPAS disagrees with both of them. That's me, by the way -- Rav Pinky Schmeckelstein (one of my Einiklach once called me the Raw Piss, and I had to break one of his fingers). I say that both the RASHBA and the RIF were too busy thinking with their Bris Milahs.

The real reason why the Parsha carries Yisroi's name is to teach us an important lesson. Even if we keep the Torah, the Mitzvahs, Shabbos, Aishess Ish, we still don't get any of the credit. We get leftover Cholent on Tuesdays while the Goyim get lobster. We get persecution, they get membership in exclusive country clubs. We get Barbara Streisand and Dr. Laura, they get Angelina Jolie and Paris Hilton.

Shver Tzu Zeineh Yid.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Friday, January 18, 2008

Parshas Bishalach





Last week I was asked by a Minuval why I did not attach a note of Mazel Toiv to him in my weekly drasha on the Simcha of his son's Bar Mitzvah. Well... first of all he is a total Mechutziff, whose children go to the local super-frummie school, where they beat any last independent thoughts out of their brains. Good choice. Shkoyach!

In any case, he and his chevra are now in Eretz Yisroel, visiting every isolated settler outpost to inspect their kitchens to see if they use Cholov Yisroel. Great use of your time! Mazel Toiv! Don't forget to filter the water for crustaceans.

A second Mazel Toiv to a new member of the Yeshiva, also in Eretz Yisroel for a family Bar Mitzvah. Good luck remembering the names of all of your siblings!

And a third Mazel Toiv to a long-time Yeshiva family who is having a chassanah this week, Imirtza-Shem. The Choson and Kallah should be zoicheh to chuppah and building a Bayis Ne'eman BeYisroel... and never discover my e-mail address, website, or blog. Ouch. Mazel Toiv!

Incidentally, it is Minhag BeYisroel to write a check to the Ruv for giving Brachois and wishing Mazel Toivs...



Parshas Bishalach

In this week's Parsha, Bishalach, the Bnei Yisroel pass unhindered through the Yam Suf, while the Mitzrim drown, those Vilda Chayas. Following this great miracle, Moishe Rabbeinu sings Az Yashir, the "Song of the Sea," surrounded by a chorus made up of Klal Yisroel, with musical accompaniment by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and with U2 serving as the opening act. It's gevaldik, man!

A Gemarrah in Chulin quotes Rish Lakish, who is troubled that Miriam Haneviya felt compelled to deliver her own song afterwards. What, Moishe Rabeinu's song wasn't good enough? Suddenly women need to have equal time with men and copy everything that we do, including singing praises to Hakkadoshboruchhu? I'm surprised that the Bnei Yisroel's sheep didn't feel left out and start singing a duet with the goats!

Asks Rish Lakish: What could Miriam have possibly been thinking?

According to the RIF, Miriam's motivation is purely philosophical: Miriam is fundamentally committed to the concept of equality between the sexes. He cites as proof a famous Medrish that notes that Miriam once burned her bra while preparing the Korban Pesach, the sacrificial Paschal lamb, and points out that Miriam used to always complain about getting paid 60% of what Aharoin Hacoihain, the minuval, was earning.

According to the RAMBAN, Adderabbah! Miriam was not interested in gaining gender equality at all. Rather, she was... err... more than happy to spend ALL of her time with women, if you know what I mean. He cites a Medrish that says that Miriam took six years off from her prophecy career to participate full time in the LPGA tour, and is frequently referred to in the Zoihar as "Big Butch Haneviya." She is in fact credited by most of Chazzal for keeping Mishkav Nekaiyvah off the "Abomination" list and on the "Mitzvas Asei She'Hazman Gramma" list.

However, the Sifsey Chachomim hold farkhert. They say that Miriam was solely focused on her singing career and only performed immediately following Moisheh Rabbeinu to attract interest in a three record deal. They cite an MTV "Behind the Music" Special that tells us that Miriam was always seen in a belly shirt, had a pierced navel, and was once engaged to Binyamin Affleck for six months. Tragically, the Special tells us, her life spiraled out of control after an embarrassing "wardrobe malfunction", and when the Toirah says that Miriam spent two weeks outside of the encampment of Klal Yisroel due to leprosy, she was actually in rehab at the Betty Ford clinic.

Whatever the reason, Miriam's actions have bequeathed us a legacy. This is where we see the roots of the Reform Movement, Lady Rabbis, and Yeshiva University. It is because of Miriam that women want to reveal an inch of their real hair in Brooklyn, have their own Minyan in New Jersey, dance with the Torah in Lincoln Square, read from the Torah in Long Island, and bond with their sisters through membership in the Orthodykes. All because of Miriam.

But that is not all. If Miriam would have stayed in the kitchen and had been watching the bread bake like she was supposed to instead of playing Chazzan, we wouldn't have to spend a week and a half in constipated agony after eating nothing but Matzoh for eight days straight.

I would like to share a Maiseh Shehoyo: Last week I was at the Chassanah of the daughter of my insurance salesman. They had such wonderful schnapps that I got really shikkur. In the morning, I was so hungover, I did pisshin-zein in the bathtub, gargled with my Neigel Vassar and flossed with my Tzitzis (which is quite efficient, since you can clean between nine teeth at one time).

My Bashert, Feige Breinah, could not join me at the Chassanah, since she said she needed to cook for Tisha Be'Av. The next day she asked if I enjoyed myself, and I told her that other than being Mishtachaveh in the men's room for twenty minutes, I had a wonderful time. She wished me well as she went off to teach at the Bais Yankif, while I went back to bed to watch Oprah and order in a pizza.

Such an Aishess Chayill. You should only be so lucky.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Friday, January 11, 2008

Parshas Bo



Parshas Bo

This week we again read of the great plagues, the Esser Makkos. Ten plagues, from Blood all the way to the Killing of the First Born. Some plagues, like the Killing of the First Born, are very frightening. Others, like the frogs, sound more like Moishe Rabbeinu got drunk and acted on a dare from Kulaiv Ben Yefuneh (Voos iz givven tzfardayah?)

According to a Tosefta in Makkois, the reason the severity of the plagues was so inconsistent is that, truth be told, the Aimishteh should have had better input from his political advisors. Moishe Rabbeinu and Aroin Hacoihain should have made a suggestion or two, backed up by data and a business case presented in Powerpoint. (For example, my Rebbe muvhak, the NPOJHARTHA, is always open to new ideas; just last Shabbos he agreed with my suggestion that one small package of bacon added to a large pot of cholent would be Battul B'Shishim, and would help bring out a delicious smoky flavor. Boruch Hashem.)

I'm sure the Aimishteh would have welcomed some additional thoughts. But Moishe was likely off making a little extra cash doing magic tricks with his Makkel at a bachelorette party. And Aroin Hacoihain was probably too busy polishing the gold for the Eigel Hazahav.

So here are a few suggestions for some new plagues to bring upon the Egyptians, three and a half thousand years too late: New Plague #1 -- Ingrown toe nails. New Plague #2 -- Excessive flatulence. New Plague #3 -- Jock itch. New Plague #4 -- Yoko Ono.

But even with these latter day suggestions, the plagues must still conclude with the most horrific plague of all, Makkas Bechoirois, the Killing of the First Born. Which leads to a key question posed by the RASHBAM: Why did the Reboinoisheloilum choose to kill the first born? Why didn't He kill the youngest? Or the ugliest? Or the dumbest? Or even better, the ones with the hottest wives?

The RADAK adds on to this question: What does Hakkadoshboruchhu have against the eldest anyway? Look at the pattern:

-- Plague #10 -- Killing of the First Born
-- Yitzchak Hatzadik becomes the favored son over his older brother Yishmael, the Anti-Semite
-- Yankif Avinu gains the birthright over his hairy elder twin, Eisav the Mamzer
-- Moishe Rabbeinu leads Klal Yisroel out of Mitzrayim to the Promised Land, while Aroin Hacoihain, the Minuval, has to support himself by slaughtering sheep for tips.

To answer this question, the Toldois Aharoin quotes a tremendously obscure Medrish that tells us that the Aimishteh Himself had an older brother who used to beat Him up all throughout high school, and who even stole His high school sweetheart, Asherah. As a result, the Rebboinoisheloilum has it in for all first born sons, and He started His cycle of revenge with His own older brother. According to the Medrish, the Reboinoisheloilum got back at His brother by inducing him to give up his birthright in exchange for a bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup and a McDonald's Happy Meal.

But, the MAHARAL asks, Adderabbah, were the plagues even necessary in the first place? Why be so harsh on the Egyptians? Was it necessary to wreak violent havoc across the whole of Mitzrayim in order to take revenge? Why not just charge them more interest and processing fees, and refuse to discount off the retail price for at least six months?

The MAHARAL goes on to answer that the Aimishteh acted with such wrath because the Egyptians hated the Jews so much. Those Antisemittin! And what did we ever do? Just because we used their baby's blood in our Matzoh -- They should get over it already!

But it was their incessant Anti-Semitism that bound us together as a cohesive nation, so that we could be rescued and delivered to the Promised Land.

And to this day, Anti-Semitism is what keeps us together.

A Maisseh Shehoyo: Just a few weeks ago I went to the Bronx, the first time I had been back since the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Yankees in eight games. I'm walking down a busy street, black velvet yarmulke prominently displayed, waiting to be attacked by a shaygitz. Nothing. I've got my payis hanging down, my tsitsis flying in the breeze, and I'm collecting interest on my IRA. Still nothing. So I scream out, "Goyim, am I too frum to be hated?!" Still nothing.

The whole incident upset me so much that I had to step into the nearest restaurant, sit down, and order some traifus.

To be honest with you, without Anti-Semitism I worry for the Jewish people. To quote the motto of the A.D.L., “Rampant Anti-Semitism is a horrible thing; but a little Anti-Semitism is good for business.”

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Parshas Va-Eyrah

Buy my Book, you Minuval, or I'll send a note home to your mother!!



Parshas Va-Eyrah

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Va-Eyrah, the Aimishteh commands Moishe Rabbeinu to declare independence from the Egyptians and go to Eretz Yisroel, first and foremost so Am Yisroel can stop paying rent and begin to build up equity in their own homes. Moishe at first refuses, responding that he is an "Arel Sefasayim," someone with "uncircumcised lips."

Chazzal pondered at the meaning of this phrase. Pashut Pshat (the simple explanation) is that Moishe was using a metaphor for being shy and uncomfortable when speaking publicly, and was therefore not the best choice to serve as representative of Klal Yisroel.

On the other hand, a famous Medrish tells us that as a young boy, Moisheh was tested by the Egyptians regarding his greed. To prevent Moishe from being discovered as the future prophet of the global diamond industry, an angel pushed Moishe's hand onto a pile of burning coals. Moishe immediately drew his burnt hand into his mouth, scarring his tongue and leaving him with a speech impediment. (I must tell you -- I spent 6 years of my life trying to figure out this medrish. I imagine that someone must have fallen off an elevated chair dancing at a Chassanah and banged his head on the floor in order to come up with this one.)

According to a Gemarrah in Avoidah Zorah, Rava holds that Moishe is actually referring to the fact that he had a cleft palate. Indeed, Rav Ashi goes even further, suggesting that Moishe was also a hunchback. As proof, Rav Ashi cites a Beraisah that says that though formally named "Moishe," his nickname was actually "Quasimodo."

Finally, Reb Hai Goyn suggests that Moishe, using the words "uncircumcised lips," was perhaps referring to certain "experimentation" in college with one of his gentile roommates, if you know what I mean, making him unfit to lead Klal Yisroel. But in the following Possuk (verse), the Reboinoisheloilum immediately made clear his "don't ask, don't tell" policy, rendering the whole issue moot.

Beyond this dispute over semantics, a fundamental question arises in this Parsha: If the Aimishteh loved the Jews so much, why didn't He just give us Egypt? We were running the place anyway. The Egyptians could have gone; there were twenty-one other Arab countries waiting to welcome them. And the Jews could have done really well with tour packages to the pyramids.

But instead, it was the Jews who were compelled to leave, which leads to another, no-less-important, question. Moshe, instead of taking the Jews north, should have gone south. Was Moishe's compass broken, or was he simply suffering from heat stroke? Or did he drink too much at the Kiddush Club that week?

Klal Yisroel could have had the whole continent of Africa. Beautiful beaches, diamond mines, glatt kosher safari tours, giraffe meat in our cholent. But no. Moshe went north, to a desert wasteland. (I swear, sometimes I think that Moishe Rabeynu's Tfillin were on a little too tight.) So we are now left with this tiny country with little more to offer than ceaseless geopolitical conflict, rampant corruption, and really rude hotel staff. (Thank the Aimishteh for the topless beaches in Eilat or I would never visit.)

Rest assured, we are not the only ones to struggle with this thorny issue. The status of Eretz Yisroel is of course one of the key areas of disagreement between the RAMBAN and the RAMBAM.

According to the RAMBAN: Whoever is the most extreme, right wing, fundamentalist, xenophobic political figure in the country, he’s our man. The government -- Labor, Likud, whoever -- they don't know what they're doing. Only by sheer force can we expel all the Arabs, as well as all the leftists and non-religious and anyone else we don't like, in order to build the society Hakkadoshboruchhu always intended. (That would leave about 200,000 people in the country -- which is about all He needs, apparently.)

The RAMBAM on the other hand holds farkhert: We should give the Palestinians as much land as viably possible. All our Arab cousins want is a little bit of dignity and a little bit of land, so they can live their lives as we live ours, in harmony, side by side. Then we can develop a common economic zone, open our borders, and hold Israeli-Palestinian dance mixers every Saturday night. (I bid twenty dollars for a slow dance with Fatima, by the way.)

However, thankfully, koolay alma lo pligi, the RAMBAN and RAMBAM do agree on one critical point. They both hold that in the event that a treaty is signed with an Arab country, a true Ben-Toirah must be first on line to get a visa in order to bring back souvenirs from the Shuk and show pictures to everyone in shul of himself sitting on a camel, visiting a local archaeological dig, and spending time with his new best friend, Fatima. And if he's lucky, she'll have "circumcised lips."

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval