THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
This weeks Parsha, Parshas VaYayrah, features many critical fables, er..., I mean true stories that lie at the heart of Yiddishkeit. The Parsha includes:
- The birth of Yitzchak. The angels come down to visit Avraham bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Oops -- wrong story. The angels come to Avraham and tell him that a child will be born to him and his barren wife, Sarah Imaynu (our matriarch). Upon hearing the news, Sarah chuckles disbelievingly at the Aimishteh's promise to enable her to conceive.
An obvious question arises: why didn't the Reboinoisheloilum simply kill Sarah due to her disrespect? According to a famous medrish, Hakkadoshboruchhu had indeed decided to kill her, referring to her in an internal Heavenly memorandum as an "ungrateful wench". However, Sarah took out a "personal insurance policy" while living in the palace of the Pharoah -- or was it Avimelech (I always get confused between those two identical stories) -- playing "hide the kishka" with the Pharoah while Avraham pretended to be her brother. She made photocopies of critical incriminating evidence relating to Avraham, the Aimishteh, a missing $500,000 in cash, and several off-balance sheet liabilities, and left specific instructions to send the documents to the Canaanite Gazette should anything happen to her. Hey, she may have been barren, but she sure wasn't stupid.
- The exile of Yishmael. Sarah, who sounds more and more like my mother-in-law throughout this entire Parsha, decides that now that Yitzchak is born, there is no reason to have Yishmael hanging around smoking the family water pipe ("bong" in Yiddish). So she orders Yishmael and his mother Hagar (the Horrible) to be cast into the desert.
Little did she realize, Yishmael was destined to be Father of the Arab Peoples. Those guys LOVE the desert! I know -- I saw Lawrence of Arabia. I once even had ice cream in a Bedouin tent in Beer Sheva, where a Bedouin Chief offered me two goats and a chicken for my eldest daughter, Bracha Levatala. He would have had a deal if he had only agreed to include his lucky pen.
Well, as a result of Sarah exiling Yishmael, the Arabs have had it in for the Jews ever since. This hostility has resulted in wars, terrorism, and high oil prices. Gee, thanks Sarah! Life wasn't complicated enough.
- The destruction of Sodom. Once again, the Aimishteh showed his mercy and lovingkindness by completely obliterating a population. To Avraham's credit, he tries to haggle for the life of the city. "If there are 50 righteous men...40...30...20...10." The RASHBA asks: why did the Aimishteh let Avraham go on haggling for twenty minutes if He knew the outcome was not about to change? According to the RITVA, this proves that haggling over price is a Mitzvah Dioraisa, a Biblical commandment, even if this means haggling over a Ben and Jerry's ice cream bar at a tourist stop in Nevada in August (trust me, this is a maisah shehoya). And Hokkodoshborochhu is undoubtedly proud of the fact that this is one mitzvah in which Klal Yisroel excels.
- The Akaidah -- the binding of Yitzchak. The Reboinoisheloilum commands Avraham to bring his beloved son to be sacrified at the alter. Avraham reveals his true leadership and intellectual independence by not questioning the order for one second.
A Gemmarah in Kesubois brings down a Braisah which quotes a Medrish referring to a Tosefta relating to a Mishnah commenting on a Possuk, which refers to a famous machloikess (Rabbinic debate) between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. Bais Shammai holds that the eagerness with which Avraham embraces the commandment to cook his son at the alter reveals his true identity: Hannibal Lechter. Bais Shammai cites as proof the fact that at the beginning of the Parsha, Avraham serves his surprise desert guests a meal of fava beans and a nice chianti. Bais Hillel holds farkhert; since the Aimishteh apparently loves to devour his own creations, he must be the true Hannibal Lechter.
On the episode of the Akaidah, the RAN asks: why would the Reboinoisheloilum ask Avraham such an unseemly request, to kill his own son; why doesn't He put Avraham to a cleaner yet equally challenging test, such as to pay retail? The RAN answers that Hakkadoshboruchhu wanted to once and for all scare the crap out of Avraham, and this was the best way, short of sending in ghosts to haunt his tent.
The Tzitz Eliezer, on the other hand, offers a beautiful interpretation. The ultimate challenge for a father, or a Rebbe, is to bear witness to the estrangement of a son. By bringing Yitzchak to the alter, Avraham had to overcome his fear of causing Yitzchak to hate him for the rest of his life (all two hours of it). The Aimishteh, too, risked alienating Avraham, the progenitor of the Chosen People. So the true challenge brought down in VaYayrah is of staying committed to one's idealogy, even at the risk of losing the loyalty of the successors of the next generation.
I too know this feeling. I was once away on business, traveling to Cancun to open up a new Bais Medris. That week, I asked my Talmid Muvhak (my principal student protege, also known in Yiddish as my "bitch") to prepare my weekly Parshas Hashavua drasha. My Talmud Muvhak, Dr./Rabbi Sterling/ Shmiel Tyler/Tanenbaumowitz, shared with you, dear readers, his tendency towards Literary Deconstructionism; that is, taking the Toirah out of its original context, and viewing it as relevant solely from a contemporary perspective. In short, he is both an apikoress and a minuval.
However, if he ever calls you, I strongly encourage you to take his call. Deep inside him is a lost Jewish soul. As SVP of Yeshivas Chipas Emmess, Sterling/ Shmiel is responsible for helping to keep our doors open, our lights on, and our students out on bail...I mean, in the Bais Medrish. Consequently, I beg of you, show him that glimmer of your true Yiddishe Neshama (Jewish soul). If he asks you for money, write him a bigger check than he asks for. If not for the Yeshiva, do it for him -- this might help bring him back to the true path. If not for him, then for yourself, you selfish good-for-nothing mamzer. And if not for yourself, do it for me; I'd like to open up a new Bais Medrish in Honolulu around Christmas time.
Ah Gutten Shabbos you Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess