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Friday, March 27, 2009

On the Role of Women

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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On the Role of Women

Rabboisai,

There is a famous Maiseh Shehoya about RASHI Hakoidesh. One day, RASHI decided that he wanted to know who his chavrusa would be in Oilum Habah. So he prayed to the Reboinoisheloilum for seven days. In the evening of the seventh day RASHI fell into a deep sleep. That night, the Aimishteh came to him and related the name and location of his future study partner. RASHI woke up excitedly the following morning. Immediately after breakfast, he set out on a journey across Europe, beginning at his home in France, passing through Italy and what is today Austria and Hungary, and arriving in Romania in a city called Brasov; in all, a voyage of three weeks by horse and carriage. Upon his arrival in the town, RASHI began to look for his future study partner.

He first went to all the Bussay Medrish, but no one had ever heard the name of the man RASHI asked about. Then he went to the local shuls. Again, no one had heard of the person. Finally, he checked into a lodge to stay overnight, and on a whim, asked the matron of the lodge if she knew the man that RASHI was seeking. Yes, she replied, she knew the man very well. She told RASHI that he could be found at a local stable. Excited, RASHI hurried off to meet his future chavrusa, only to discover that the man spent his days cleaning the stalls of the animals.

Highly distraught, RASHI had a dream that night where he came face to face with Hakadoshboruchhu. "Why did you give me such a mediocre chavrusa?" RASHI complained. "I am the great RASHI, interpreter of Toirah for generations of Klal Yisroel, and I should be partnered in Oilum Habah with a stable boy?!"

The Reboinoisheloilum responded. "You are indeed the great RASHI, the greatest commentator in all of the Yiddishe Velt, and who is sought regularly by scores of Jewish men. But the stable boy is hung like a horse, and is sought out regularly by Jewish women. You will make a great team."

Rabboisai, I share this story with you because, as you know, we are not all created the same. Some are taller and some are shorter. Some are smarter, and some are dumber than an overcooked kishka. Some are attractive, and some look like the fungus on the bottom of Oig Melech Habashan's oversized foot. But together we make up the community that is Klal Yisroel.

But does this mean that we should all be treated as equals? Should I, a great Toirah scholar have to pay the same amount of taxes as you, you Am Haaretz? Should you, my beloved talmid, have to wait in line for a movie on 84th street and Broadway the same amount of time as a student at Yeshiva University, or, chass v'sholom, the same amount of time as a student from the Jewish Theological Seminary?

These questions are similar to a discussion in a Gemarrah in Nidah, where Abaya and Rava have a machloikess on why the Aimishteh created women. According to Abaya, women were created to support man's basic mission to work and procreate. They are to cook, clean, passively perform maisay biyuh, and keep the damn children as far away from me as possible when I am trying to get some work done on my laptop. Abaya cites the pussuk where the Hakadoshboruchhu creates Chava as Adam's Eizer Kinegdo, his "helpmate," out of Adam's rib (Bereishis, Perek Baiz, Pussuk Chuff Aleph). Says Abaya, if women were intended to be our equals, Chava would have been created out of a more important body part, such as one of Adam's schvantzlach.

But Rava holds farkhert. He points to an earlier Pussuk – Bereishis, Perek Aleph, Pussuk Chuff Zayin – as proof that man and woman were created together, concurrently, and as such, are fundamentally equals. He notes that in his home his wife pays the bills, makes the bracha on the Shabbos challah, and likes to make mei raglayim while standing.

So how is one to understand the complex nature of the role of women within a Jewish context given the conflicting Toirah and Halachic messages? How do we inform our attitudes and behavior from Toirah perspectives that on one hand tell us that "Hakol Oilim Laminyan Shivah, Afilu Isha"(Megillah, Chuff Gimmel), that every one may be called to read from the Toirah, including a woman, but on the other hand tell us that teaching women is the equivalent of Tiflus (Soitah, Chuff)? What's pshat, for Reboinoisheloilum's sakes?

There are, of course, intense speculation and halachic prescriptions on this topic by Chazal. Commenting on the notion of women not reading from the Toirah due to "Kvoid Hatzibur," the Hai Goyn suggests that the gemarrah was worried about a situation where a maideleh is in Nidah on Shabbos Koidesh, chass v'sholom, and may bleed all over the Bimah, dyeing the cloth carpet red on Shabbos, resulting in an Issur Dioraisah of Tzovayah.

The RAN, however, holds that the concern of "Kvoid Hatzibur" relates to the chashash that a woman, while reading from the Toirah, might look up for a moment and be instantly attracted to the 60-ish, overweight, bearded rabbi in the dark suit standing at the front of the shul, and might not be able to control her animal-like urges. This would cause the kehillah great discomfort, as they witness the Baalas Koiray ripping off the rabbi's shirt to slowly stroke his manly Arba Kanfois with her right hand, as she begins to loosen his gartel with her left. Then she would twirl his payis in her fingers while stroking his beard, and begin to whisper the leyning in his ear… Errr… Well, I often worry about things like this when I am in the front of my shul delivering a drasha…

Perhaps the halachic shakvetarya (discourse) is not the best source for understanding the basic nature of the role of women as envisioned in our heritage. Perhaps a better model may be viewed in the Zoihar. The Zoihar understands that the Aimishteh can be viewed the prisms of ten different Divine Aspects, the Sfirois. Rooted in the Ein Soif, the indescribable hidden part of the Reboinoisheloilum, the Sfirois emanate like a tree. The outermost Sfirois are Yesoid, the foundation of Hakadoshboruchhu's activity in the world, and Malchuss, His kingdom. Malchus is most commonly known as the Shechinah.

According to the Zoihar, balance in the world was once maintained by a constant unity between Yesoid, viewed as the male aspect of the Aimishteh, and the Shechina, the female aspect. But from the time that mankind gained self awareness, as personified by the casting out of Adam Harishoin from Gan Eidan, Yesoid and Malchuss became separated from one another. Yes, in the cosmic view of Yiddishkeit, the natural, optimal state of male and female – man and woman – is to be in a fundamental state of balance and unity.

So we must ask ourselves: How did this natural partnership between male and female deteriorate into its current state?

According to Reb Moishe Chaim Luzzatto, man is to be blamed for the decline of the role of woman, due to his insistence that his wife should stop freaking nagging him already about what to get Shaindel for her Bas Mitzvah. It's just a freaking party, for Reboinoisheloilum's sakes, to which Shaindel's parents invited five hundred of their closest friends.

But according to Reb Yoisaiph Gikatilla, the fault lies clearly with woman, and is the result of women wearing shaytels that are two sizes too tight.

The ARIZAHL agrees that the decline of the feminine aspect is the fault of woman, but states that her withdrawal from cosmic responsibility is the result of a complex organic process. Says the ARIZAHL – every Jewish Maydel is born perfect. She grows up in a Bayis Ne'eman B'Yisrael, maybe gets an education, chass v'sholom, and then marries her chussin. The problem is that the typical Jewish woman's brains are expelled from her body with her afterbirth. By about the third child, a Jewish woman is pretty much like that episode of Star Trek where Spock's brain gets taken out and Dr. McCoy has to guide him using a remote control. According to the ARIZAHL, in our generation, instead of a remote control, women are guided the Bed, Bath, and Beyond catalogue and Botox.

I am reminded of an early occurrence in my marriage to my bashert, Feige Breinah. We had conceived our first child, Baruch Hamavdil, but had not yet reached the completion of the first trimester. We agreed not to share news of the impending event to avoid an Ayin Harah. Later that week, I was wished a Mazel Toiv by the shoeshine boy's cleaning woman. I had not told a soul. Feigeleh swore she had not either, but promised to find out who did. So she hired outside consultants to investigate the source of the leak. After tracking down various phone records, all signs pointed back to my mother-in- law, may she rest in peace, soon. As it turns out, whenever she visited our home, she would dip a pregnancy test in the toilet, measuring hormone levels in the pish-vasser. Based on this, she diagnosed my wife's pregnancy, as well as my bran deficiency.

However, two years later, when we conceived our fifth child, Feigeh Breineh no longer cared about keeping the happy news secret. On the contrary, she publicly celebrated as soon as she found out about her pregnancy by ingesting a full bottle of sleeping pills.

So while man and woman begin their journeys through life with a clear head and a clean slate, the years leave their impact. Only very special people are able to maintain an optimal social and spiritual balance over an extended period of time, typically people that have a deep commitment to Toirah, an innate sense of their role in the broader cosmic reality, or are hung like a horse.

Ah gutten Shabbos, you minuval.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Parshas Pikudei

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Pikudei

In this week's parsha, Pikudei, the Toirah tells us that the Eiphod made by Am Yisroel was knitted out of gold thread, Techailess, Argomon, scarlet yarn, and fine linen. (In fact I'm ready to convert to Yushka after all this Mishkan talk the last few weeks.) However, what is unusual is the rather graphic description of how the golden thread was manufactured. An obvious question arises: Why does the Toirah bother to tell us the graphic details of how to make the thread? Does the Aimishteh expect me to do this in my spare time? I can barely fold up my tallis by myself!

A gemara in Baba Basra discusses this and says that the Toirah uses this language to stress the male role in the Mishkan. If I only knew that there was sewing involved, I would have assumed that women had a critical role in preparations of the Mishkan. But since the possuk tell of "beating the gold...cutting it...working like a craftsman," I know that the real labor was done by men. Real men, who wore tallis and tefillin, learned sixteen hours a day, and still found time to work hard and make a living. The women simply had to do a little weaving, and didn't even get a mitzvah, since they were talking about soap operas the whole time. Shoyn.

But Maseches Bayuh (Baitzuh) brings down a medrish which offers a more complete version of the possuk. According to the medrish, as the Jews beat the gold, they developed a spool of thread that was long enough to circle the earth seven times. However, the amount of thread needed for all the sewing in the Mishkan was the length of one time around the earth. So what happened to the vast majority of the thread? Rav Chiyah holds that Aron Hakoihain, the minuval, used it for the Eigel Hazohov. But Rav Ashi holds that Aron embezzled it, using half to start a carpet business, and depositing the other half in a secret Babylonian bank account.

The Kutzker Rebbe had a beautiful interpretation of this possuk. The Kutzker would often tell his followers that we learn from this possuk that no matter how poor you are, even if you are a nomad living in the desert, you have to spend as much money as you possibly can to look better than your neighbors. If they wear Pierre Cardin, you wear Ralph Lauren. If they eat chicken on Shabbos, you eat roast beef. If they add on an extra room to their house, you knock down your own house and build the largest house on the block.

However, this possik remind me of a maiseh shehoya. Many years ago my more free spirited daughter, Rina Vashti, was knitting a yarmulkah for the goalie of the local yeshiva hockey team. I said to her, "Rinaleh, voos iz givehn a yarmulkah foon de shaygitz? First he will take the yarmulka, then he'll try to take your bisulta!" She then assured me that while this was the first yarmulka she was making for him, she had already made yarmulkas for six other members of the team.

Very troubled, I called my Rebbe, and told him I was concerned my daughter was becoming a pupke. He pointed out a story in the Zohar about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who felt that because he had seven daughters, each married to a great tzaddik, he was like a four cornered garment without tzitzis on it. This is understood to mean that any Ruv who does not have at least one slutty daughter has not ignored his family enough and has therefore not adequately met the needs of his congregants.

Happily, I returned home and asked my Bashert to make sure that my daughter went to live in the Stern College dorms, where she could put out as much as she wants without getting my neighbors talking.

Ah gutten Shabbos, you minuval.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Parshas Kee Seesah

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Kee Seesah

This week's seminal parsha features the creation of the Eigel Hazahav by Aron Hakoihain, after Am Yisrael panics when Moishe Rabbeinu doesn't return after receiving the Luchois.

What were these am haratzim thinking? The Rebboinoisheloilum delivers them from Egypt with an outstretched arm, but Moishe hits a little traffic and POOF! "Let's worship Yushka Pandra!"

And Aron Hakoihain, the meshumid, why did he have to go so far as to create the Eigel? If the people needed to rebel, why not start slowly? First, start with some traifus. Maybe a nice lobster. Sure it's a big cockaroach, but in the midbar you take what you can get. Or maybe he should have distributed Skittles or Hostess Twinklies to Klal Yisrael.

But instead, straight to the Eigel. No wonder the Melech-Malchei-Hamlachim wanted to wipe out Klal Yisrael.

However, He chose to spare them.

RASHI quotes a Gemarrah in Sanhedrin that says that instead of striking the minuvals down on the spot, Hakkadoshboruchhu renders the punishment on all subsequent generations of Klal Yisroel. When any generation suffers a punishment, the Shchinah ensures that there will be an added element attributable to the Eigel.

Consequently, in our day, even in times of relative affluence and success, we continue to suffer the Chayt HaEigel. Current sufferings include frigid wives, Macaroons, Kiddush Levanah in the middle of winter, the wait to get into Le Marais on a Sunday night, and the fact that Bernie Madoff is a Jew.

Yet, despite his aveirah of inciting Klal Yisroel to worship the Eigel, Aron retained the Kehunah. Farvoos?

The common answer among Chazzal is that Aron was a tzaddik who was trying to distract and delay Klal Yisrael. Consequently, it was only natural the he remain in charge of filling the paper towel dispensers, sweeping up, and turning out the lights in the Koidesh HaKedoishim.

But the MAHARAL disagrees, declaring that is a whitewash to say that Aron was really a tzaddik. Says the MAHARAL, this makes about as much sense as waving a live chicken over your head to take away your sins.

Farkert. The MAHARAL feels that Aron was the ultimate Machiavellian figure who had clear aspirations to usurp the position of Moishe Rabbeinu. However, continues the MAHARAL, Moishe was smart enough to see this, and used it to his advantage. Moishe realized that every organization needs both a hero for leadership and vision, and a despot to keep everyone in line and "take the heat". And Moishe used Aron as that despot.

The political machinations are clear. What was the first thing Moishe did when descending from the mountain? He broke the Luchois that the Aimishteh had made with His own two hands. And what did Moishe do next? He recruited Aron and the Leviyim to slaughter 3,000 people. I personally would not have questioned Moishe's breaking the Luchois after that. Neither would you, you mechutzeff!

According to the RADAK, One of Moishe Rabbeinu's great aveiras was his obsession with looking good. Hence, he kept his farbissineh brother around to be his goon. That way he could keep up his good image and capture future book deals and licensing revenues. (I personally have a new Moishe Rabbeinu Chia Pet in my Bais Medrish.)

We can even see signs of Moishe's obsession with image in his discussions with Hakadoshboruchhu. Follwing the Chayt HaEigel, one of Moishe's pleas to prevent the destruction of Am Yisrael is that if the Aimishteh were to destroy Klal Yisrael, the Mitzrm would say that the Jews were delivered from Egypt only to be killed in the desert. In essense, Moshe's argument is: "What will the Goyim say." What will the Goyim say? Since when does a Jew, Moishe Rabbeinu no less, worry about Goyisheh public opinion? Who does he think he is -- Tzippi Livni or Bibi Netanyahu?

I am reminded of a Maisseh Shehoya, when I was a Talmud with my Rebbe, the NPOJHARTHA. Many years ago we were travelling by horse and buggy through rural San Francisco to raise money for his Yeshiva. When it became evening, we stopped at a local lodge to eat. "But Rebbe," I asked, "the lodge serves traifus. How can we eat here?" "Sha, you minuval!" the NPOJHARTHA patiently responded, "we can eat whatever we want, and then sneak out the door. As long as we don't pay for it there is no aveirah." Years later, the NPOJHARTHA recognized that his sin had caused a stinging punishment: He is currently exiled to the wilds of West Virginia, not because of eating traifus, but because he didn't order the most expensive items on the menu.

Such is the fate of Moishe. Hitting the rock kept him out of Eretz Yisrael. But the Chayt HaEigel instigated by his minuval brother lost him his copyrights and much associated revenue on the Chamishay Chumshay Torah. Rachmana Litzlan.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Purim Drasha

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Purim Drasha

Rabboissai,

Today we gather together to celebrate the most joyous of all the Jewish Holidays, the holiday of Purim. On this holiday, we celebrate the near destruction of the Jewish People and the exploitation of Esther's Hamalka's bisulta to enable their salvation by getting stinking drunk and trying to be mezaneh with our chavrusa when he himself isn't throwing up.

Chazal have often contemplated the deeper meaning hidden within Megillas Esther, the text that details the story of Purim. Why, they ask, is the name of the Rebboinoisheloilum not mentioned throughout the Megillah, while in contrast, Haman Harasha's name is mentioned so many times that people audibly bang their heads against the wall?

According to the RASHBAM, the Aimishteh refused to have his name attached to the story, as he was repelled by the Machiavellian activities of Klal Yisroel. Such actions include:

-- Mordechai saves the life of the king and doesn't even collect a cash reward (What's pshat with that?)

-- Esther curries the favor of the king by taking hold of his extended staff

-- Once victory is achieved, Klal Yisroel doesn't stop until they have murdered Haman's allies, hanged his sons, and raped his horses.

Says the RASHBAM, Hakkadoshboruch didn't need any of that, as He was still trying to live down the bad press from the whole ten plague thing.

The RITVA disagrees, noting that the RASHBAM dropped too much bsomim when he was in college and was prone to flashbacks while in the Bais Medrish. The RITVA suggests that the reason that the Rebboinoisheloilum is not mentioned is that Megillas Esther is simply not originally a Jewish story. Noting the similarity of the names of Mordechai and Esther to the Persian diety names of Marduk and Ishtar, the RITVA offers that Purim was really adapted from a pagan Persian holiday where Persians would traditionally drink heavily, exchange gifts of food, and kill their wives and replace them with younger women.

But the Toldois Aharoin disagrees with both the RASHBAM and the RITVA. The Toldois Aharoin offers that the Melech Malchei HaMelachim didn't want his name included since He was completely upset by the fact that no one could ever get His name right. He cites a beautiful discussion from the Zoihar: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yoichai, sitting around a campfire with his followers, tells them that one must try to know the Ain Sof, the unknowable aspect of the Omnipresent, by giving it a name. "What would YOU call the Ain Sof?" he asks each of his followers.

One follower responds "Rebbe, I would call Him 'Fred' because that is a name I can relate to, since I once had a dog named Fred, and a dog is man's best friend". Another follower says, "I will call Him 'Spike', because the Jewish People have a Bris with the Ain Sof, and that is what I nicknamed my Bris Milah when I was sixteen years old." And so they went around the circle.

When the last of the followers had spoken, Rebbe Shimon addressed them. "You idiots," he said, "you cannot give the Ain Sof a proper name! He is unknowable. I spend 13 years in a freaking cave just to teach schmucks like you?" When Rabbi Shimon calmed down, he told them that the Ain Sof should be called the Aibishter, meaning in Yiddish "The One On High." since, according to Rabbi Shimon, "as He is unknowable, one would have to be high to think you can know him."

As the rebbe's talmidim nodded in agreement, Rabbi Akiva joined the group, and, upon hearing, the topic, began to berate Rabbi Shimon. "You would call the Ain Sof 'Aibishter'?" Rabbi Akiva asked. "Everyone knows that He should be called 'Aimishteh', which means in Aramaic 'Where the Gehenim is He when you really need Him?"

Says the Toldois Aharoin, as the Aimishteh did not want to get involved in the argument, he decided to adopt a low key approach in the Megillah.

I, the RAPAS, would like to offer a new answer to this question. The Rebboinoisheloilum's name is obscured from the Megillah so Klal Yisroel would know that sometimes we have to solve our own problems. We cannot rely on a deus ex machina, an external solution, heavenly or otherwise, to resolve the most challenging issues of our day. We must use our own intelligence and creativity to devise and implement our best alternatives.

Take for example the issue of peace between Klal Yisroel and the Arab world. Some would say that we should give up all of the West Bank in exchange for peace. Others would say that we should not give up one inch. I would like to humbly suggest that in exchange for real peace, we should be prepared to make sacrifices, even painful ones. However, it should be clear to all sides that not everyone will get what they want. But in the spirit of compromise, I am certain that we can reach an understanding. Consequently, while I am not certain what we should do with the West Bank, in exchange for real peace we should definitely give Brooklyn to the Palestinians. And if calm prevails there, we can talk later about giving back other territories including the Five Towns, Teaneck, and Skoikie.

Ah Frelichen Yuntif You Minuval.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Parshas Tetzaveh

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Parshas Tetzaveh

In this week's parsha, Parshas Tetzaveh, the Aimishteh commands Moisheh Rabbeinu to appoint Aron Hacoihain and his sons to serve as the priests of the Jewish People. A serious question arises immediately: Why would Hakkudoshboruchhu appoint the minuval conspirator who built the Eigel Hazohov to lead the religious rituals of the Mishkan and the Bais Hamikdash?

Please don't try to figure this one out, you michutzeff -- you'll hurt yourself and have to take the rest of the day off.

According to the Bais Yoseph, Hakkadoshbaruchhu singled out Aron so that he and his luch-in-kup sons would do all the dirty work of Klal Yisroel, so that Moisheh would have more time for speech therapy. And what was the dirty work? Primarily it was slaughtering the cows, sprinkling the blood, smoking the Parah Adumah, etc.

Clearly the Bnei Yisrael are obsessed with cows. Why this obsession? We sacrifice them, we eat them, we drink their milk (provided the proper Cholov Yisrael supervision), and we put their pictures on overpriced cartons of ice cream.

In India, where I once was a talmud, people are also obsessed with cows. Bessie walks around the streets, treated with respect and reverence. This is because the cow community is viewed as the model form of society. Unlike Am Yisrael, cows are friendly, cooperative, and never speak on their cell phones while in a movie theatre. In other words, they make the Jewish People look bad. Consequently, it is a Chiyuv Dioraisa to walk into Kosher Delight, ask for a double beef burger, fries, and a coke. And, Pirkei Avos tells us, whoever eats an overstuffed pastrami sandwich is guaranteed a place in Olam Habbah. (Indeed, according to the Rabeinu Tam, the Aimishteh banned the eating of pigs solely so we will rid the world of more cows.)

Picking up on this logic, the RASHBAM asks a further question: If Aron Hacoihain and his menuval sons no longer have a Bais Hamikdash to serve as their base of exploitation... err, in which to lead the Avoidah, who is charged with doing the Jewish People's dirty work in our day?

According to the Toisfois Yom Tov, in our day, it is the Rabbi who is charged with doing the dirty work. Cohanim are relegated to playing Casper the Friendly Ghost at the front of the shul and giving the Kehilla the finger when nobody is looking.

The TUSH disagrees vehemently, suggesting that the Toisfois Yom Tov
was busy picking the crumbs out of his beard and not paying attention to all the sources. He holds that shul caterers are charged with the dirty work, pointing out that cleaning up half eaten plates of cholent and Kishka after a big kiddush is the equivalent of handling the fat of the Egla Arufah with your bare hands.

I believe that both the Toisfois Yom Tov and the TUSH were completely off target. I think that the dirty work of the Jewish People is today done by the Gabbai. After all, who likes the guy? He stands up there on the Bimah acting like he is the Rebboinoisheloilam, hands out Aliyas to all his friends, and absolutely loves to correct the errors of the pimple faced Bar Mitzvah kid who is barely tall enough to read from the Torah.

Come to think of it, he also likes to humiliate underage children by forcing them to go to the front of the shul to lead Adon Olam and Anvim Zmirois. I ask you: Is it a right of passage, or child abuse?

In my kehillah, I love the Gabbai because he makes me look good. Every Shabbos, all the mishugayim stand at the front of the shul and argue with him over whose turn it is to daven musaph for the amud. Meanwhile, I can slip to the back and find out what the Yankees did the night before. (Boruch Hashem we have some am horatzim who watch TV on shabbos.) When there is too much talking, I let the Gabbai shush the kehilla. They may be talking about Torah, but then again they may be talking about sports or how the whole Madoff scandal is very reminiscent of most Yeshiva raffles.

In any case, the Gabbai of today is just like the Coihanim of yesterday. If he calls your name you better go quickly -- you won't get another Aliyah for the next three years. But be careful: He just might have an Eigel Hazohov up his sleeve.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.