Subscribe To My Weekly Drasha

Send a message to with the word "subscribe"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Parshas Koirach



Parshas Koirach

In this week's Parsha, Koirach, once again a portion of Klal Yisroel rebels against the Reboinoisheloilum's rule. A group led by Koirach challenges Moishe Rabbeinu's appointment as the Aimishteh's personal representative and business manager. After returning to their tents, Koirach and his minions are swallowed up whole into the ground.

How stupid are these mishugayim anyway? How many times do they have to be told that they should shut up and study Toirah instead of asking for food and the right to return to Mitzrayim to visit the pyramids and eat traifus? And how much abuse does Hakodoshboruchhu have to tolerate before he smites all the minuvals down like cockroaches with a strong hand, an outstretched arm, and a really big shoe?

I know you were asking these questions, you good-for-nothing amhaaretz, but they are actually stupid questions. I mean, we read this same Parsha every year. It hasn't changed since the Redactor compiled the text in Babylon -- OOPS -- I mean since the Aimishteh dictated the Toirah to Moishe on Sinai.

No, the real question isn't why the people keep on rebelling. Rather, it is: Why do we, and our wise Rabbinical predecessors, continue to look back at the generation of the Exodus as the paradigm of Jewish virtue, when in truth they were a bunch of vilda chayas? Compared to them, a band of marauding rabid water buffalo are cooperative.

Indeed, this paradox is highlighted in the following Maiyseh Shehoyo: In the late 1950s, the Bobover Rebbe was sitting in first class on an airplane next to the famous playwright Arthur Miller. The playwright observed the care and reverence with which the Bobover Chassidim escorted their Rebbe through the airport, got him settled on the plane, and checked on his well-being periodically. Miller turned to the Rebbe and asked, "Rabbi, how come it is that when I lecture at a university, a pillar of secular knowledge, I am treated casually by the students, even with disrespect, while you, teaching an archaic tradition, are treated with respect, almost as a beloved surrogate parent, by your followers?"

The Rebbe smiled, and replied, "It is very simple -- you, a secular person, tell your students that they are descended from monkeys, so when they look at you, they see a person one generation closer to their primitive ape past. We tell our students that they are descended from the generation at Sinai, so when they see me, they see a person one generation closer to the face to face encounter with the Aimisheh." Arthur Miller stroked his chin and thought for a moment. And then he responded, "That may be true, but I am sleeping with Marilyn Monroe, so who cares?" The Bobover Rebbe, recognizing that he had lost the argument, never traveled by airplane again.

The Tanna Kamma alludes to this question in a Mishnah in Maseches Nidah, Perek Gimmul. He suggests that the reason the Aimishteh enacted restrictions on "relations" with one's wife during her natural cycle (Zman Nidasa) is so that 50% of Klal Yisroel will always be so frustrated they will be ready to go to war over a missing paper clip.

However, The Zohar tells a tale of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai sitting around a campfire with his female students and giving them life advice. He said, "When your husband calls you an idiot, it is the best news you have had all day." This is understood as a reference to the Kabbalistic understanding of the relationship between the Aimishteh and Klal Yisroel. The Aimishteh is seen as the groom, and the Jews as the bride. And what what could be more natural, or even healthy, than occasional bickering, or even a good knock-down-drag-out argument over who takes out the garbage or whose turn it is to do the dishes. Or in the case of Klal Yisroel, dancing around the Eigel Hazahav while eating traifus. Rather than leading to divorce, this keeps the marriage vibrant and stimulates the senses.

I am reminded of my own wedding day to my Bashert, Feige Breinah. As I stood under the Chuppah waiting for her to join me, I wished that the earth would open underneath my feet, just as it had for Koirach. Would I be a good husband? Could I manage a strong Jewish household? Would I be able to consummate my marriage that night without the ritual twenty minutes of begging?

The moment of introspection was broken by my bride. As she walked down the aisle and circled me seven times, she softly whispered, "wipe that stupid look off your face; the video camera is running!!"

So a little tension between bride and groom is quite healthy. Klal Yisroel in the desert understood this, which is why they frequently rebelled, about leadership, about idols, about what to eat, and about leaving the comforts of Egypt.

In honor of the generation of the Exodus, we too must keep the vibrance and energy of the relationship with the Aimishteh alive. Consequently, we are compelled to eat the occasional traifus and watch the occasional game on Shabbos. We are supposed to have unclean thoughts and covet the property of others. For if we do not, we will fail to live up to the heritage of our forefathers.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Tefillah BiTzibbur



Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Tefillah BiTzibbur

Rav Pinky,

I need the benefit of your wisdom and experience.

We have recently started a Hashkama minyan in my shul, much to the Rav’s dismay. I personally wonder why we should spend 3 hours doing what only takes 1 ½ hours, unless of course you are talking about being fruitful and multiplying.

My question to you, Rav Pinky: Is that extra hour and a half spent in the main minyan bitul Torah?

Thank you for your help in clarifying this troubling question.

Your talmid,

Reb Yankel

Dear Reb Yankel,

Thank you for your critical and insightful question.

Eppis, Tefillah BiTzibbur is a tremendously important and misunderstood mitzvah, so I am glad at least one of my talmidim asks about it, instead of the usual shailah about apikorsus or sexual innuendo, chass ve’sholom. Sadly, there is too much focus on sex in our Dor. When you are sitting in your house, and when you are traveling on your way. When you lie down, and when you get. Too much. It’s dirty. Ichh! Now I need to go the the mikvah with some 300 pound cholent-fressers to get the thought out of my mind…

Now, I would actually characterize your question into a couple of subordinate questions: Does length really matter? And is a little variation good for the relationship? Err… I mean… When it comes to davening, do we care how long the davening is? And how should we consider the occasional aspiration to be Poiraish Min Hatzibur, separating oneself into a different Kehillah, spinning off as a Hashkama minyan, or a chulent-kugel minyan, or a woman’s minyan chass v’sholom, or a “young marrieds” minyan, or a youth minyan, or a gay minyan, or a local chassidishe shtibul, or a Sephardic minyan, etc.

To answer these questions, we will of course begin by looking to our Avois in the Toirah for the principal clues. I ask you, when Avraham Avinu stopped at Ur Hakasdim to daven Shacharis, was it a quick, meaningless Shacharis, like you do everyday, you miserable minuval? Or did Avraham take his time to put on his Tefillin, have the proper kavannah, recite the Karbanois, and make sure not to skip anything? When Yitzchak Avinu davened Mincha, did he mumble through Tachanun? Or did he make sure to say every word, especially when referring to himself during Shmoineh Esray? Did Yankif Avinu, while studying in Yeshivas Shame V’Eyver, skip an occasional Maiyriv to spend a bit more time on the basketball court or to surf porn or the Internet? Or did he daven with Yiras Shamayim even though it was nine o’clock at night and he was missing his favorite TV show? What kind of vilda chaya are you to ask such questions anyway?

No. Tefillah has always been the cornerstone of Yiddishkeit. Even in the desert, Moishe Rabbeinu led Klal Yisroel in Tefillah BiTzibbur. A Medrish in Shmois Rabbah describes the beauty when all of Klal Yisroel surrounded Har Sinai, shuckling in unison during the Shmoineh Esray. There they stood, united in kavvanah, at the height of their communal holiness. Indeed, according to the Medrish, the Aimishteh planned to bring about the redemption right there on the spot, erasing the need for forty years of wandering the desert and for Kibbush Eretz Yisroel. But just as Hakkadoshboruchhu was about to reveal himself, someone in Kehilas Yankif broke wind, offending the Reboinoisheloilum and the rest of the congregation, thereby delaying the Geulah for many millennia.

Even during the period of the Malchuss Bais Duvid, Tefillah was the essence of Klal Yisroel’s relationship with Hakkadoshboruchhu. Sure, there were Koihanim who brought sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdash for spare change; but their trade was established because, nebech, they studied for too many years in yeshiva and couldn’t hold down a real job. So it was either karbanois or selling cell phones.

But for the rest of Klal Yisroel, there was davening. Why else did Duvid HaMelech write all those Tehillim? Not to write silly poetry, you MeChutziff! What do you think he was -- some kind of left-wing homosexual Arab loving college educated self-hating Soinay Yisroel? No! He was a groisseh tzaddik, and when he wasn’t busy studying Toirah, he was cutting off Philistine foreskins (except for when he was busy being Mezaneh with the wives of his generals.) Yes, even back then, Klal Yisroel, Kehilas Yankif, regularly reached out to commune with the Reboinoisheloilum through the fundamentally mystical act of prayer, as well as through IM.

So what is the essence of Tefillah? Tefillah is more than just an act of individual unity with Hakadoshboruchhu. Were it only that, there would be no special inyun, no higher value, to the notion of Tefillah BiTzibbur. But Tefillah is also about the joining of the voices of Klal Yisroel. Essentially, it is about the power of community.

As a communal act, prayer is not only about the recitation of liturgy. It is also about acts of prayer, the trappings including:
-- Having a Shaliach Tzibur lead Shacharis
-- Having a chazzan schlep on and on and on during Mussaf until you are ready to ingest that cyanide pill sewn into your Talis Katan
-- Having some Bar Mitzvah boy read from the Toirah while three sadists in the minyan drool in anticipation as they wait for him to make a mistake so they can correct him in the ultimate act of Toirah-inspired humiliation.

But Tefillah is also about the social exchanges within a congregation. After all, throughout the Galus, as much as Klal Yisroel preserved Yiddishkeit, Yiddishkeit preserved Klal Yisroel. While our ancestors were cast across the furthest reaches of the globe, scrounging about for a living and to find some solace from millennia of persecution, they were able to maintain their unique identities through the institution of Tefillah in the Bais HaKnessess, the synagogue. Now, if all they had done during davening is daven, I assure you that you and I would now be speaking Latin or Arabic while sleeping with hot shiksas. However, they also used their time to build strong social bonds during davening by discussing chiddushim on Toisfois, linkages for business, insights on sports, perspectives on politics, and assessments of the talent on the other side of the Mechitza. Tefillah -- and in particular talking during davening -- became the cornerstone for the survival of the Jewish People.

Consequently, whenever the is a lull in the action – silence between aliyas, a pause while waiting for the Chazzan to recite a Bracha, an insignificant or boring part of the davening, it is a mitzvah for a Ben Toirah to talk to his neighbor in shul and perpetuate the social bonds that are the essence of Klal Yisroel. Indeed, according to the RAMBAM in Hilchois Tefillah, when one talks during davening, it is as if he has saved a life. Consequently, the RAMBAM holds that talking during davening is a Chiyuv Dioraisa, a requirement mandated by the Toirah.

As such, we all know that one must be Marbim BeMitzvois, one must spend as much time as possible engaged in fulfilling the commandments. So given the importance of davening, the longer the better, and one should always include a healthy dose of talking. And on Shabbos, a day we are charged with sanctifying, we should must add special sanctity to morning Tefillah by speaking extensively throughout the davening with other members of the Tzibbur.

I am reminded of a famous story about Rabbi Yitzchak Meyer Alter, the first Gerrer Rebbe. The Rebbe was once traveling to collect funds for the sect’s Shaytel G’Mach. One night he stayed in a lodge run by a Polish woman and her three daughters. As it was time to retire for the evening, the woman asked the Rebbe, “Rabbi, would you like anything before I turn in for the night?”

The Rebbe responded, “Well, you should turn in at once, but I would like for your three daughters to come and visit me in my bedroom.”

Shocked, the woman asked, “All three daughters! How can a devout man like you have such bad intentions?”

The Rebbe smiled and looked the woman right in the eyes. He then spoke, “Let me ask you, when you cook, do you cook for only yourself, or for the entire lodge?”

“The whole lodge of course, guests and all” she whispered tersely.

“My good woman, if I go back to my room by myself, I will end up bringing joy to myself. Why should I not share the joy with all three of your daughters?”

Satisfied at the answer, the woman asked to go back to the Rebbe’s room as well, to which he agreed on the condition that she would wear a bag over her head. Shoyn.

Now, with regard to your other shailah regarding establishing a second minyan, Chazzal are very much divided on this topic. According to a Yerushalmi in Orla, “anyone who splits up a congregation, it is as if he brought about the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Or even worse, drank a cup of coffee without a Hashgacha.” However, according to the Roish, commenting on a Gemarrah in Nezikin, “A community must maintain a multitude of congregations just as a rich man maintains a multitude of oxen.” So which position is correct?

On this I would like to offer a very practical solution. You should explain to your rabbi that a Hashkama minyan is not an effort to take away from the centrality of the main minyan, but represents an attempt to broaden the appeal of the shul to a wider target audience. Who knows, maybe some guy who lives in the neighborhood, eats traifus and sleeps with farm animals will find out about the early minyan, attend one day, and do a full and complete Teshuvah. And who is your rabbi to stand in the way of a lost soul returning to the fold of Yiddishkeit?

If that doesn’t work, you can also donate a couple hundred dollars to the rabbi’s discretionary fund. Throughout the millennia of Diaspora, that’s always helped too.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Book Now Available: "Igrois Pinky"


At long last, I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book: Igrois Pinky.

Igrois Pinky is a collection of my renowned responsa ("Ask Rabbi Pinky"), topical commentaries, and other brilliant rabbinical writings and insights. There are also new introductions and a new section of Giveldik Toirah thoughts developed by my esteemed colleague, the RABAM, who heads the San Francisco Branch of Yeshivas Chipass Emmess.

As you may be aware, the publication of the new book was delayed by several months. While it was largely ready in time for Purim, my publisher, the RAGU, was very focused on other commitments. Specifically, he has been working selflessly to support the re-election campaign of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, and clearly, all of his efforts have borne fruit. In addition, he has been counting his federal bailout money: His company received billions of dollars in bailouts funds, only the money was transferred in pennies, and he was charged with manually ensuring that all of the funds were properly received and moved into the basement.

Please use my new Sefer, "Igrois Pinky", to fulfill the Mitzvah of "Vehigisa Boi Yomam VaLayla" -- "You should engage in it day and night". It will make you a better person, and a better Jew (or Gentile -- my Yeshivah does not discriminate). You are also encouraged to buy copies for all of your friends and donate copies to your local shuls.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. I can be contacted at


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva Yeshiva Chipass Emmess

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On the Current Economic Situation



On the Current Economic Situation


Before I begin my Drasha, I would like to apologize for being in a bit of a hurry. I got a late start this morning because I had to participate in an Upsherin in the family. Such simchas are always joyous occasions, but this one was special: My Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, got her annual bikini wax, since beach season is upon us, and she insisted that I stay home to perform a Seudas Mitzvah, if you know what I mean. Shoyn.

Yidden, we are living through challenging economic times. I don’t know about you, but the Yeshiva’s fundraising efforts are down by four percent year-over-year. I hate to say it, but if this keeps up, the Rebbehim are going to have their salaries cut. Mamish, we have tremendous expenses, what, with the costs of feeding the Talmidim, buying the latest Sforim, providing Yayin for Kiddush and Havdalah and Pas for Orchim, and paying for the expansion of my summer home… errr… Shtibul in Monte Carlo. We may not even be able to put in the Olympic size mikvah until next year.

But we are not the first generation of Klal Yisroel that has suffered though deprivation. Shtayt in Pasook: “Vayehee Ru’uv Bekhol Ha’aratzot, Oo’Bekhol Eretz Mitzrayim Hayah Lukhem”, “And there was a hunger in all the lands, and in all the land of Egypt there was sustenance (literally – bread)” (Beraishis, Perek Mem Aleph, Pasook Nun Daled).

There is a famous Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah that features a discussion of this Pasook. According to Reb Yoichanan, the hunger referred to a famine caused by a lack of rain. Says Reb Yoichanan, Yankif Avinu did everything possible to end the drought: He was Mispallel to Shamayim. He brought Karbanois. He borrowed a plane from his father-in-law Lavan and tried seeding the clouds. He and his Chavrusa from Yeshivas Shame V’Ayver, put on feathered headdresses and performed an Apache rain dance. All to no avail.

However, according to Reb Chilkiah in the name of Reb Shimoin, the hunger was caused by a great pestilence created by a swarm of locusts. One night, Yankif Avinu prayed for three hours and then went into a deep sleep. The Reboinoisheloilum came to him and said “Yankif, Yankif”, and Yankif responded “Hineni”, Here I am”.

The Aimishteh asked, “What can I do for you, my son?” To which Yankif replied, “There is a great hunger in the land caused by a swarm of locusts. Can you please intercede and chase the locusts away so that I and my family and all of the peoples of the land may eat?”

Hakkadoshboruchhu paused a moment, the replied. “I would love to help you, but I cannot. I am powerless to stop this pestilence. I may be Almighty and All-powerful, but I am also afraid of bugs. They are icky, and have like sixteen legs each, and crunch when you step on them – Yuck! You are on your own.”

But according to Reb Yehudah Bar Ilai, the famine was actually the result of the crash of the Canaanite banking system, which was driven to the brink by excess leverage in the system caused by greedy mortgage lenders and short-sighted tent dwellers. This caused a liquidity crisis that resulted in a sharp decrease of cash in the economy, severely impacting demand for domesticated camels and bursting the bubble in the overheated speckled wool market. This drove people to earn their livings by subsistence farming, barter, roadside prostitution (See under: Yehuda and Tamar), and by selling low quality bootleg DVDs on the street.

Asks Reb Hai Goyn in his famous treatise “Sefer HaMashkoyn”, “How can Yankif Avinu have suffered from a famine in Eretz Yisroel, when we are told quite clearly by the Toirah “Vehaya Im Shamoyah…’, ‘If you listen (to the commandments of the Aimishteh) you will get rain, etc.’? So is Beraishis telling us that Yankif Avinu wasn’t a Tzaddik and did not deserve the bounty promised elsewhere in the Toirah? Or is the promise of a reward for listening to the Reboinoisheloilum’s commandments a lie, Chass V’Sholom?” Reb Hai Goyn, of course, later rejected Judaism and became an Anglican Priest so he could marry his hot shiksa girlfriend.

Now, the essential point for us, my beloved Talmidim, is that a Mechutziff like you will point out the parallels between the events surrounding Yankif and the famine in his time, and our current economic situation. Yet there are clear differences. For one thing, in Yankif’s day, Klal Yisroel had not yet received the Internet…errr….the Toirah, So post Sinaitic promises and strictures were not yet in effect. Case in point: Yankif was married to two hot sisters, while I have never even once been allowed to see my sister-in-law’s real hair underneath her wooly-mammoth-haired shaytel.

Further, it was never Yankif’s fate to possess the Promised Land. As had been revealed to his grandfather, Avraham Avinu, Yankif and his descendants were destined to be sent into exile in Mitzrayim, only to be brought back to Eretz Yisroel 400 years later. Sure, this makes no sense to you, you Minuval. You are thinking, “we were there already in Canaan, why not stay?” But this goes to show what an ignoramus you are! Had Klal Yisroel not been in Mitzrayim, there would never have been the opportunity to gel as a nation, to share a common moment of national foundation through Yetziyas Mitzrayim, to say “Na’aseh V’Nishma” at Har Sinai, or to follow Israel’s greatest leader, Moishe Rabbeinu, until he was banished from entering the Promised Land for bitch-slapping a rock. I do not understand why something this crystal clear is not obvious to a Minuval like you!

But if we return to the essential shailah raised by Reb Hai Goyn regarding the commandment of “Vehaya Im Shamoyah”, we cannot help but conclude that the current recession is indeed a punishment for our generation. The question is: What are we doing wrong? And who is to blame for our current economic travails?

According to Rav Shmiel Kalbasavuah, the Goyim are to blame, Yemach Shmum. He notes that their election of a dark skinned erudite leader who has roots in the Middle East is a clear violation of the Toirah’s commandment of “Ve’ahavta Lerayakha Kamoicha”, “Love thy neighbor as you would love thyself”. Asks Rav Shmiel: “How can you love this President? Eppis, he is a Communist, his middle name is Hussein, and your wife would like nothing better than to play 'Hakhnasas Orkhim' and 'Yetzias Mitzrayim' with his Makoim Hamilah over and over AND OVER again while he recites poetry, passages from the State of the Union Address, verses from the Koran, or excerpts from the General Motors bankruptcy filings in his crisp, lawyerly voice.”

Reb Yoisaiph Katzki holds farkhert. He says that the bad economy is the fault of the Liberals and the Secular. All they do is complain and eat Traifus. Do they add any value to the world? No! They are the Erev Rav living amongst us. They redistribute our hard earned dollars to illegal immigrants, and speak out against our right to defend ourselves, the Mamzerim. They are even trying to provide affordable healthcare to everyone, Chass V’Sholom! I would like to take every one of them and torture… errr, waterboard… errr, learn Toirah with them.

But according to Reb Betzalel Kupkayk, the bad economy is the fault of the Jews – yes, Klal Yisroel. How does he come to such a conclusion? Reb Betzalel cites a Medrish in Pesikta De Rebbi Kehana that describes the "End of Days”. Says the Medrish, “In a faraway place and time, the world as we know it will come to an end when all of Klal Yisroel unites. According to Rabbi Akiva, this refers to all of Israel keeping Shabbos. According to Rabbi Elisha Ben Erva, this refers to the Mitzvah of Leviyas HaMais. And according to Rabbi Yishmael, this refers to the Jews amassing large volumes of debt in order to send their kids to yeshiva, take out jumbo mortgages to pay from their large homes, buy minivans, send their kids to sleep away camp, and get their wives breast implants so that they will remind them of the hot shiksas they fooled around with in college that they should have married instead of the whiny Ballabusters that their wives have become.”

If indeed Reb Betzalel is correct, how are we to process this information. Here, Klal Yisroel sit in our homes doing the will of the Reboinoisheloilum, and yet He seemingly conspires against us at every turn. What’s Pshat?

I am reminded of a famous Pasook in Yishayahu, which was altered when it was converted into our daily Tefillah. Everyday we make a Bracha right after Borchu, “Yoitzer Ohr U’Voray Khoishekh, Oiseh Shaloim U’Voray Ess Hakol”, “Creator of light and darkness, maker of peace and creator of all”. However, the Pasook that this is based upon, Sefer Yishayahu Perek Mem Hey, Pasook Zayin, reads Azoy, “Yoitzer Ohr U’Voray Khoishekh, Oiseh Shaloim U’Voray Rah. Ani Hashem Oiseh Kol Eileh”, “Creator of light and darkness, maker of peace and creator of evil, I am the Lord who does all these things.” What does this mean, you Vildah Chayah? Is Hakadoshboruchhu stating that He is the source of evil as well as good?

I would like to share a famous Moshul that my Rebbe, the NPOJHARTHA, once told me. There once was a peasant who lived not far from the king’s castle. One day the peasant was walking and he saw a ragged old man at the side of the road. He asked the old man how he was feeling, and the old man told him that he was poor and had not eaten in days. Without hesitation, the peasant reached into his pocket and gave the old man the only coin he had. At that point, the old man revealed himself to be the king in disguise, and as a reward, promised to give the peasant the hand of his only daughter in marriage.

The next day the peasant arrived at the castle in his best clothing. He was ushered to the king’s court, which was filled with aristocracy and gentry. The wedding procession began. As the man waited under the canopy, four guards carried forth a veiled royal rickshaw -- a portable throne -- hoisted on their shoulders. The peasant’s heart was filled with anticipation, but his spirit was shattered when out from under the veiling jumped a pig, to the raucous laughter of everyone in the room.

“Where is the princess?” the peasant asked.

The king approached him, put his hand on his shoulder, and replied, “Son, you are not only a sucker, but you are also a schmuck!”

Rabboisai, when we assume the benevolence of the Reboinoisheloilum we make a leap of faith. By the same token, when we take on debt, we also make a leap of faith. We believe that we will be able to repay our debt, and that the benefits of our borrowing – our expenditures and investments -- outweigh our liabilities.

Debt is like Hakadoshboruchhu. It can bring light and darkness, and it can also bring peace and evil. And yet the corollary is true as well: The Aimishteh is like debt. We believe we can influence him through learning Toirah, committing Mitzvois, and engaging in sound financial planning. But He behaves in a manner that is outside of our control and beyond our understanding.

The Reboinoisheloilum may indeed deliver us with blessing and benevolence. Or He may give us swine flu, bring famine and poverty upon us, exile us from our homeland, persecute us, or give us gout, herpes, or erectile dysfunction. We suffer and beg for mercy. But He does not hear us, because he is too busy listening to the latest Wall Street Journal report on His I-Pod, because He Himself lost 60% of his net worth invested in GM, Citigroup, Bear Stearns, and Merrill Lynch. And He is sick and tired of His credit card companies calling him repeatedly with heavily-Indian-accented women who claim to be named Barbara reminding him of how late his payment is. If I were Him, I would smite a few million people just to feel better about myself too.

So how do we appease Hakadoshboruchhu? Well, we continue to learn Toirah and do Mitzvois. But we also engage in acts to remind Him of our eternal bond,and attune ourselves to Him. We bury our dead in ceremonies that mourn the loss of the living and recognize the return of a soul to its eternal source. We celebrate marriage, with the coupling of man and woman intended to remind the Aimishteh of the desired union of Himself and Klal Yisroel. We commemorate historical moments like Yetzias Mitrayim and Matan Toirah. And we celebrate important life events such as the reaching of the age of religious responsibility by a Bar or Basss Mitzvah, the first hair cutting of a three-year-old Ben Yisroel, and the annual bikini waxing of a middle aged Bas Yisroel.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On the Rabbinic Calendar



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On the Rabbinic Calendar

This week I respond to a critical and timely shayla:

Yoinison K. writes:

Dear Rabbi Schmekelstein,

As one of your loyal Talmidim and Chasidim I would like to bring to your attention a discriminatory injustice.

I am a resident of Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, and until recently, I was able to share your beautiful words of Torah at my Shabbat Table with my wife and children.

We would often discuss your words for many hours. Once, we were so engrossed with your torah gems that we ended up being interrupted by my neighbor, Mohammad, who said: "Rabboysai – Higia Z'man L'Kriyas Shema Shel Shacharis". We weren't sure what he meant, but we notified the authorities immediately and had him targeted by the IDF the following day…

In any event, due to some inexplicable phenomena, your Parsha emails are coming to me a week late. Here in the Holy Land, we are a week ahead in the weekly Parsha, and therefore, we can no longer benefit from you Divrei Toirah. There are a few solutions to this problem.

1)You can forget the poor assimilated Jews in Galus and get on the right schedule as your brethren in the Holy Land.

2)You can appeal to the high Rabbinical courts to unify the reading of the same Parsha for all of Klal Yisroel.

3)You can prepare your Parsha email a week early and send it to me and other Chassidim a week earlier than to the minuvalim in golus.

4)You can completely disregard this email and not respond at all.

Your humble talmid,

Reb Yehoinason

Reb Yoinison,

Thanks so much for your inspired question. I am delighted that at least one of my minuval talmidim has the fortitude to go on the Internet and ask me such a shayla, WHEN INSTEAD HE SHOULD BE BUSY STUDYING TOIRAS MOISHE RABBEINU!

Incidentially, your maiseh shehoyo about your neighbor Muhammad is indeed mechavayn to a famous machloikess in Maseches Eiruvin. According to Rav Ashi, if your Palestinian neighbor interrupts your Shabbos meal with religious or fundraising solicitations, you should target him for military action. This is the position that you cite. However, Rabbi Meir holds that you should expel him from his home, and confiscate all of his belongings except for his tzitizis and his AK-47. But Reb Yossi holds farkhert – He holds that you should unilaterally give him your living room and second bedroom, in the hopes that he will let you eat dessert in peace.

In truth, we hold like none of these positions. As brought down by Toisfois, we treat him with respect, because unbeknownst to him -- and to your wife -- you are secretly dating his sister, who is capable of making such noises in the throes of passion that it could cause the walls of Jericho to fall. Shoyn.

I break your question into its constituent parts:

-- How does Jewish prayer, liturgy and practice bind Klal Yisroel into a unified whole?
-- The conflict between the weekly Toirah reading in Eretz Yisroel and Chutz La’Aretz is the result of the celebration of a second day of Shavuous outside of Israel several weeks ago, which put the Jewish calendar out of synch. So, what’s Pshat with Yoim Toiv Shenu Shel Goliyois? Isn’t that about as stupid as nipples on men?

Once upon a time, in an era when the Bnei Yisroel were closer to Hakkadoshboruchhu and chronologically closer to Zman Matan Toiraseinu, we would worship the Reboinoisheloilum by slaughtering sheep in his honor and paying the Koihain to sprinkle blood on the mizbayach while dressed like the Moslem Halal butcher in Chevroin, adorned all in white and looking like a big tampon, chass v’sholom.

However, beginning with the Golus in Bavel, and growing throughout the creeping corruption of the priestly institutions during the course of Bayis Shaynee, the role of Kriyas HaToirah and Tefilla grew. And with the destruction of the Second Temple, prayer and practice completely succeeded Karbanois (and also saved the lives of numerous innocent sheep, pigeons and red heffers).

Through Tefillah, Jewish worship was democratized. The Jewish form of worship was whisked out of the monopolistic hands of corrupt Koihanim, and instead was placed into the caring, always just, fair, and completely balanced hands of our rabbinical leadership. You know, the ones who employ blackmail to squeeze the ever-tightening vise of kashrut certification, who systematically ignore sexual abuse of children when it is inconvenient, who distribute vials of “holy oil” in exchange for political donations, who embrace ignorance in place of intellectual pursuit, and who passed the religious ruling that compels you to…errr…flog the flanken two weeks out of every month. Yes, those balanced and even handed guys.

As a result of this process, worship was no longer something that took place only within the context of the Bais Hamikdash or in the proximity of the Koihain. The service of the Aimishteh became increasingly embedded in our everyday lives. With all our actions, our words, our thoughts, we sanctify His Name. When we sit and eat at our table, when we conduct commerce in the market, when we ogle His creations in a strip club, we celebrate His glory. Incidentally, this is why I deduct ALL my daily activities on my annual tax return. Boruch Hashem the IRS honors the “Contribution of Bodily Fluids” as a religious expense.

And since all of Klal Yisroel has used this form of workshop as our common language for two-thousand years, this is what binds us as a People, religiously and culturally. Yes, your attending shul on Shabbos is not just an opportunity to sit in the back, talk sports and business, and check out the hotties in the Ezras Nashim, you Michutziff!

With regard to the second part of your question, it has been customary for communities outside of Eretz Yisroel to keep two days of Yuntif instead of one, in case word of the breaking of the new moon is delayed in arriving to Bavel from Eretz Yisroel. There are some who would have the gall to suggest that such a practice is an anachronism since:

1) Klal Yisroel has a adopted the calendric calculations of Hillel (not, not that one, but his great, great, great, great grandson) to determine our calendar, thereby negating the necessity to manually spot the moon, determine the state of the month, and forward the news to the Jewish masses;

2) There are no longer any Jews in Bavel, save Saddam Hussein’s accountant and Ahmad Chalabi’s allergist; and

3) If we really wanted to allow time for news of the new moon to be passed via manual signals to all far-flung contemporary Jewish communities, such as the Kehilas in the United States, Argentina, and Australia, we would need to institute celebrating Yuntif for an extra six days instead of adding just one day.

But celebrating the extra day in Chutz La’aretz is a critical mesoirah that can never be cancelled, no matter how insanely idiotic it is. This indeed was a subject of discussion in the famous Disputation at Barcelona between the RAMBAN and Pablo Christiani in 1263. The public debate before the Spanish royal court featured the convert-to-Christianity Pablo Christiani challenging the RAMBAN on a number of topics including the interpretation of specific verses in Yishayahu and the status of the Messiah as discussed in the Talmud. He also challenged the RAMBAN on the notion of Yoim Toiv Sheni Shel Goliyois, asking, “Reb Moishe, if it plays no practical purpose in the current age, why wouldn’t Judaism simply excise the custom from the body of Halacha?”

The RAMBAN, who had been withstanding all of Christiani’s taunts for hours, took a deep breath and glared at the former-Jew-turned-Dominican-Priest. “Reb Feivel,” the RAMBAN said, using Pablo Christiani’s Jewish name. “You are now a priest in the Church of Yushka. Is that correct?”

“Of course!” Christiani replied proudly.

The RAMBAN continued. “And you have taken a vow of chastity, is that also correct?”

“Yes” Christini answered, his voice beginning to reveal annoyance. “So what is your point?”

“Well,” the RAMBAN answered, “you are no longer using your Makom HaMilah. Why don’t you just excise the useless appendage from your body?”

Pablo Christiani, having lost the Disputation, subsequently had the RAMBAN expelled from Spain.

So of course Yoim Toiv Sheni Shel Goliyois plays no purpose whatsoever in the modern day. However, this is a tradition that is fixed in the religious practice of the majority of Klal Yisroel. According to the Netziv, we should address the occasional calendar conflicts by embracing the Halacha of Acaharei Rabim Lehatois – we should follow majority rule, and since the majority of Klal Yisroel keeps two days of Yuntif, people in Eretz Yisroel should keep two days as well. That way they too can get twice the kedushah, twice the brachois, and twice the opportunity to relax during the long, lazy Yuntif afternoon and use their Makom Hamilahs while the kids are outside playing.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.