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Thursday, January 29, 2009

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, like the Killing of the First Born, are very frightening. Others, like the frogs, sound more like Moisher Rabbeinu got drunk and was acting 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 Aron 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 smokey flavor. Boruch Hashem.)

I'm sure the Aimshteh would have welcomed some new thoughts. But Moishe was likely off making a little extra cash by doing magic tricks with his Makkel at a bachelorette party. And Aron Hacoihain was probably too busy polishing the gold for the Aygel 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 Yishmael, the Anti-Semite;

- Yankif Avinu gains the birthright over his hairy elder twin, Aisav the Mamzer;

- Moishe Rabbeinu leads Klal Yisroel out of Mitzrayim to the Promised Land, while Aron Hakoihain, 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 through high school, and who even stole His high school sweetheart. 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 lentil 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 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 22, 2009

Parshas Va-Eyrah





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 Braisah 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, there is a fundamental question which 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 Rabbeinu'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.)

And we are trapped in our current dilemma.

But rest assured, we are not the only ones to struggle with these thorny issues. 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.)

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, 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 is the 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.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Communing With The Reboinoisheloilum





On Communing With The Reboinoisheloilum


This week I respond to a shailah from a chazer-eating-minuval who wants to know what Kavvannah to have when he is Davening:

Lichvoid Harav Hagoyn Moreinu Harav Reb Pinky Schmeckelstein Shlitah:

I have a very disturbing dilemma concerning my new status. As you know everyday in Davening we Daven (pray) three times a day that all the Apikursim and their friends the Modernisheh Mentchen should go to Gehenoim Bo'Uilm Hazeh UBo'Uilom Haboh. Since I am now an Apikuiros Lechatchiluh Lechol Hadeios (even according to the Briskers, Men Ken Mechaven Zein Of Mir), I was wondering if I have to pray for my own demise.

I cannot give peace to myself without knowing the correct Daas Toiroh. In the meantime I thought that Shev V'al Taiseh Odif, and I haven't Daven any weekday Tefilois that have the aforementioned Brachah. I only Davened on Shabbos.

Please Harav Hagoyn let me know what the true Das Toiroh is in this matter so I should be able to Daven all 5 (or is it 3, sorry my mistake) times a day.

Your Talmid Acher Hakotoyn

Dearest Acher H.,

I answer you with the greatest pride and joy in my heart that you should ask such a gevaldikkah shailah. After all, your mother and I have been worried that you would grow up to be a shtickel Vilde Chaya, but now we see that you are a COMPLETE MINUVAL.

Let me ask YOU a shailah: Do you really think that Hakadoshboruchhu, the Almighty Creator of the Universe, who rescued His people from Mitzrayim with a long hand, an outstretched arm, a terrific curveball, and a mighty change up, cares a bit about the Davening of an Apikoiress? He doesn’t have other things to worry about? What, with the economy the way it is! Do you know how many millions He lost with Madoff? Did you know that a significant portion of His retirement portfolio was in banking and automotive stocks? I’ll tell you this: I would not want to be His financial advisor right now…

So, what kind of Mechutziff are you anyway?

No. Your shailah is proof that everyone can learn Toiras Moishe… just that most people don’t understand it. Indeed, your question is in essence about the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum’s interaction with our world, and, frankly, would have been insightful if I had asked it. But you – you are an Apikoress who CANNOT possibly have any Toirah insight, because ONLY a Toirah true Jew can have wisdom. How can someone who turned away from the gift of Toirah have any valuable insights whatsoever? Einstein – He learned everything he knew from his boyhood Rebbe, and never had the decency to give credit. Sir Yitzchak Newton stole the Vilna Goyn’s notes without Reshuss and published them as his own. Mozart – He copied all of his music from the long forgotten Chassidic sect led by the Groisseschvantze Rebbe.

But before I answer your shailah, I must address a key underlying issue. You identify yourself as an “Apikoress.” What’s pshat Apikoiress? Do you not believe in the Aimishteh? Do you have fundamental doubts about the Toirah, about creation, or about our Mesoirah being handed down directly from Har Sinai in Moishe Rebbeinu’s time to ArtScroll (R) in our day?

Or is your Apikorsus more about your dietary habits? Do you eat non-kosher pizza, chass v’sholom? Do you eat chazer mamesh with shellfish on the side? Or do you go out to Peter Lugers on occasion, order the steak on the bone, very rare, dripping with Lugers’ own special steak sauce, and accompanied by the house potatoes and creamed spinach on the side? Who ever heard of such a thing?

Or do you engage in other offensive practices? Do you not put on Tefillin every morning? Or, farkhert, do you put on both RASHI and Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin, but embezzle money from old ladies? Do you satisfy your own needs, but deny your wife her Makkeh VaPatish, if you know what I mean? Do you spill your seed while thinking of Mel Gibson? Or are you Mezaneh with underage goats while reading the Daily Znuss?

Or, worst of all, do you use a tea bag on Shabbos Koidesh without using a Klee Shanee, or did you vote Democratic in the last election, chass v’sholom??!!

It kind of makes a difference.

With regard to the nature of prayer, your Shailah is Mechavayn to a four way Machloikess that has bored…errr…enriched the lives of Talmidim for centuries. Reb Hai Goyn asks in the introduction to his Musar Haskel, “What is the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum’s engagement in the world? Does He listen to our prayers, or is He too busy smoking a Hookah?”

This question was first addressed by Reb Moishe Ben Yankif of Coucy, better known as the SMAG. In his lesser known work Toisfois Yeshainim, he suggests, “There is no Hakkadoshoruchhu. Meileh, how can I believe in some old man in the sky? It’s like believing in Santa Clause or Aunt Jemima.” The SMAG of course was subsequently banished from Coucy and was exiled to Argentina.

Rabbi Meir MiRothenberg (the MAHARAM), however, believes wholeheartedly in the existence of the Reboinoisheloilum, and in fact believes in the Aimishteh’s direct involvement in the affairs of the world. The MAHARAM is best know in Jewish history for his refusal to be ransomed from his prison tower in Alsace. But in his own day, he was held in high regard by the men of Lorraine for his Talmudic scholarship and his knowledge of card tricks, and was lauded by the women of Lorraine for his “disappearing snake” magic act.

The ROSH, like his Rebbe, the MAHARAM, believes in the existence of Hakadoshboruchhu. However, he views the Reboinoisheloilum as aware of the world, but distant from its everyday workings. Says the ROISH, “Who can blame Him? If I could choose between engaging in all the world’s problems or surfing the Internet, I would choose porn every time.”

Finally, The ROISH’s son, the Baal HaTurim, believes in the existence of the Aimishteh, but views Him as not involved, or even aware, of world affairs. Referring to the Crusades, the Baal HaTurim once noted that “Hakadoshboruchhu is either not at all aware of the supreme suffering of His chosen people in this world, or he is one very sadistic dude with some serious freaking issues.” Shoyn.

Now, my beloved Talmid, if we look at these four positions, we can almost equate the position of the SMAG (no Reboinoisheloilum) and the position of the Baal HaTurim (yes Reboinoisheloilum, but unaware of our world or our existence). In either of these views, your prayers are not heard, and can never be heard, unless you are one of those guys who Davens really loud and makes it difficult for the rest of us to talk to each other. So it is only according to the positions of the ROISH and the MAHARAM where your shailah is even relevant.

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. The Chernobler Rebbe was once traveling in Poland on a trip to raise money for the local Museum of Jewish Fundraising. One Friday evening he settled in the village of Mogilov at an inn run by an old widow. Shabbos morning, after Shacharis, the Rebbe came down to the dining room. The old woman came out of the kitchen to serve him and asked him what he wanted. “I’ll take the creamed herring”, said the Rebbe.

“I’m sorry Rabbi, “ the woman responded. We are fresh out of creamed herring. But I can bring you shmaltz herring.”The Rebbe signaled that he would take the schmaltz herring instead. Moments later the old woman came out of the kitchen with a plate heaping with schmaltz herring.

Two hours later, the old lady came to the Rebbe’s room to clean. The Rebbe was sitting at a small table, reading the newspaper. Then the old lady noticed on the table that plate that she had given the Rebbe earlier, only now it was filled with creamed herring. “Rabbi,” she exclaimed, “it must be some kind of miracle!”

The Rebbe looked up from his paper. “No. It’s not a miracle. I creamed my own herring. And you would be amazed at what I can do with an ear of corn.”

So, my Talmid, you can choose to Daven for your own demise. Or not. The Reboinoisheloilum may or may not be listening. And if He is listening, He may not really care. However, by asking such a question, you reveal that you are not an Apikoress, but a Talmid Chacham who likes to eat chazer, which is about as conflicted as a Rebbe who creams his own herring.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Parshas Vayechi







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 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 migrane.

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 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 was tutoring in how to satisfactorily perform Metzitza BiPeh, if you know what I mean, stopped calling my home.)

The focus of Rabbi Shimon's contemplations was Yankif Avinu's deathbed prophesies. Rabbi Shimon was obsessed with interpreting them to gain insight into events in his own day, a technique referred to as "Pesher" in the writing discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ultimately, he determined that there was no present day relevance, only the hope that we all should be zoicheh (fortunate enough) to benefit from similar final blessings from reverential Toirah figures in our own lifetimes, as well as a little extra sympathy from the 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 Bilha, 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, Pasook 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 Brittany Spears.

- 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!

- When blessing Menashe and Ephrayim, Yankif reverses his hands so that his right hand, instead of resting on the head of the elder, rests on the head of the younger, as a signal that he will excel over his older brother. (There is also a famous medrish that says that at that moment Yankif went cross-eyed, and used his right eye to look to the left, and vice versa.) I will say only one thing: 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. Or go off to live in a 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 the Parsha to be buried in Meuras Hamachpaylah next to his father and grandfather. He knew the shfatim, the twelve tribes, couldn't wait to get their grimey hands on the deed and 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 intepret 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 our own 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 Ruyach Hakoidesh so he wouldn't give away halikeh soidois. (In other words, He put a big crack in Yankif's crystal ball.)

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 which led to the RI being put in chayrem, being ostracised 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 sizable donation to the Chief Rabbi's Discretionary Fund.

The Tzitz Eliezer insists that all of the prophesies of the future of the shfatim by Yankif Avinu 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 alien invaders.

But the Pri Ha'adamah insists that the brachois of Yankif were NEVER intended to be taken literally. He points out that Yankif spoke openly and freely, predicting failure when appropriate. 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 Mashiach. 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 galus until the rest of you Am Haratzim realize how absolutely worthless you truly are. But when the time comes and you begin to repent, a natural first step would be to write a check to NPOJ Intl. - Yeshivas Chipas Emess. 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.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess