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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On the Current Economic Situation

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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THE WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
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On the Current Economic Situation

Rabboisai,

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.

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