Thursday, July 03, 2008
THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
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