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Friday, January 01, 2010

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Jewish Values


This week's drasha is dedicated to Danny N., who has the opportunity to employ his deep ethical compass and take a moral stand by voting for change, for which I congratulate him. V'Hamayvin Yavin.

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Jewish Values


I write these words as I sit awaiting my bail hearing.

I was… ummm… invited to give a drasha this morning by some rotten antisemmiten… errr… nice police officers, after offering to sell my neighbor’s kidney to a Tzaddik Gammur who was willing to pay $80,000 for it. And now, because of these Soinay Yisroel in blue, my neighbor, Rachmana Letzlan, who recently lost his job at the Chrysler factory, will never get the $500 I was going to pay him.

Indeed, I am often amazed at how the federal government invades the privacy of all of us Reboinoisheloilum-fearing-Americans. Hakadoshboruchhu-damned federal government! It’s that Barack HUSSEIN Oibama trying to legislate our every step. Oy, how I long for the civil liberties of the Cheney administration!

I share this story because of the many letters I have received in recent weeks regarding the unfortunate arrests of several Gedoilei HaDor, Bnei Toirah whose sole interest is serving Klal Yisroel, as well as investing in prime real estate property at a 20-plus percent return per year. Now they will be serving 10-20 years in a medium security Yeshiva with Chavrusas names Butch. For their sakes, I only hope they are part of the pro-Metzitza BiPeh crowd.

Among the shailahs asked was the following from Baruch Kuff, which arrived during the first nine days of the month of Av:

“It is fairly clear that during the 9 days routine laundering and washing are impermissible. But the Shulchan Orech seems to refer to washing involving clothing and the body. What about money laundering? During the 9 days we are permitted to do even new business if it would result in a significant monetary loss to not do the deal. What is the application to the Syrian community? Is there any significance to one of the towns having the name “Deal”? Is it true that there is an implied exception to Brooklyn?”

This is the only thing Baruch had to worry about Erev Tisha Ba’Av?! Well, I could not bother to answer his shailah at the time, because, frankly, on Erev Tisha Ba’av I was on the floor with my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, as she was busy having a quick Seudas Hamafsekess on a Baytzah…

Other shailahs related to the rabbinic profile of the accused: Shouldn’t we look past the alleged crimes of these men, given all of the good they have done for their communities, such as Chinuch, Bikur Choilim, and bringing pleasure to hot divorcees?

And finally, I received the following from a Talmid named Menachem Nun.:

“Dear Rabbi Pinky,

As an Orthodox Jew living in New Jersey, I was very upset recently at the arrest of several prominent Rabbis in an undercover sting operation. They stand accused of laundering money in various ways. So now I am deeply bothered that such holy men could do such a thing. Are we not supposed to be holier than the other nations and live by a much higher standard? Or were all the prophets right? Are we doomed to fail as a people because the bar is set too high? Or are we just fundamentally flawed human beings who are destined to fail miserably at every test Hakadoshboruchhu lays at our feet?”

Rabboisai, these are indeed the kinds of questions Chazal asked two thousand years ago when trying to understand the injustices and tribulations of their own world. A famous Medrish in Pirke De Rabbi Eliezer records a story of how Shammai and Hillel were once arrested for shoplifting from the local pork store in Jerusalem. Under questioning, Shammai claimed that he has stolen and eaten the pork to prevent a fellow Jew from committing a Dioraisa. Hillel, on the other hand, claimed that he has stolen the pork to feed his own family.

Asks Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman, “Why did Shammai and Hillel give different answers? Did they indeed each steal to meet different objectives?” Answers Rabbi Shimoin Ben Yehoitzadak, “One is Yankif Avinu, and one is Moishe Rabbeinu.” With that the Medrish changes topics altogether, and engages in a lengthy discussion about the multicolor spandex uniform worn by the Aimishteh as He led Klal Yisroel out of Egypt.

Asks the RAMBAN in the Mishnah Toirah, Hilchois Cure For The Common Cold, “What’s Pshat ‘One is Yankif Avinu and one is Moishe Rabbeinu’? Had Rabbi Shimoin Ben Yehoitzadak taken too much Nyquil at the time he made this statement?”

Answers the RAMBAM, the key difference suggested by the mention of Yankif Avinu and Moishe Rabbeinu is their physical relationship to Eretz Yisroel. Yankif, who lived much of his life in Eretz Yisroel, was Chayuv on the Mitzvois Hatlooyois Ba’aretz, the commandments linked to the Land of Israel. These include Shmita, Maisser Shaynee, throwing rocks at moving cars on Shabbos Koidesh, and burning down bus shelters with advertisements featuring scantily clad women. Moishe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, never entered Eretz Yisroel, so he had no obligations with regard to the Land, and hence viewed the Mitzvois as, in RAMBAM’s words, “polite suggestions, akin to wiping around the sink in an airplane lavatory for the courtesy of the next passenger.”

The RAMBAM explains that this means that Shammai was concerned about a member of Klal Yisroel eating pork in Eretz Yisroel, especially if it was not properly cooked. Consequently, he deemed it better that he should steal the pork and use it with a Shinui in order to turn a Dioraisa to a D’Rabbanan. (RAMBAM suggests that the Shinui that Shammai employed was to repackage the pork and sell it in his brother-in-law’s kosher butcher shop in Monsey.) Hillel, however, believed that feeding his hungry family was Doicheh any Halachic constraints on food consumption, even a Dioraisa like eating swine. Consequently, like Moishe, he viewed such proscriptions as voluntary.

RAMBAN, however, vehemently disagrees, suggesting that the RAMBAM’s turban was on too tight. According to the RAMBAN, the distinction between Yankif Avinu and Moishe Rabbeinu comes down to ethics and honesty.

Yankif Avinu, the progenitor of all of Klal Yisroel, the father of the twelve Shfatim, the husband of two hot sisters and their maidservants, was also a paradigm of dishonesty and poor ethics. Yankif’s brother Eisuv comes back from the field and asks for a bit of soup, and what does Yankif do? Does he give him Tzedakah? Does he help him relax by bringing him hot cocoa and popping a movie into the DVD? No! He sells Eisuv lentil soup in exchange for his birthright. Later, Yankif disguises himself in his brother’s clothing, misrepresents himself to Yitzchak Avinu, his poor blind father, and then steals the blessing intended for Eisuv. In essence, Yankif is a cheap con man willing to lie to his own father in order to make a buck. If your son behaved like Yankif Avinu, you Minuval, I guarantee you would either disown him, or send him to live with the Niturei Carta.

Moishe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, is a paragon of modesty. He is hesitant to approach Paroah because he is afraid his voice won’t be heard. He steadfastly stands up for Klal Yisroel as their solemn representative, even when Hakkadoshboruchhu is offering to wipe them out and establish a new Chosen People descended from Moishe. He delivers the Toirah, twice. In other words, he leads Klal Yisroel from Egypt and through the desert, at the expense of his own gains and benefits. And after a lifetime of selfless servitude, he is denied access to Eretz Yisroel because he had not filled out the proper visa form,

Says the RAMBAN, in the story in the Medrish, Shammai is like Yankif Avinu. He is willing to steal, and when confronted, lie about it. He is interested solely in the benefits of the here-and-now. He gives little thought to moral responsibility or the long term consequences of his actions or the example that he is setting for others. In other words, he is a groisseh Vilda Chaya.

Hillel, however, is an honest person in a difficult situation. His family is hungry? What should they eat? And when confronted with his actions, he does not lie. On the contrary, like Moishe Rabbeinu himself, he is willing to accept the consequences, even if they are disadvantageous to him. Says the RAMBAN, “Hillel, like Moishe Rabbeinu, is a bit of a schmuck, but I would be happy to let him date my daughter.” Shoyn.


It is at times like these that we have to ask ourselves fundamental questions: What does it mean to be a Jew when it comes to human behavior? What are Jewish Values? What is the definition of a Ben Toirah? Are honesty and ethical behavior fundamental to the Jewish notion of Bain Adam Lachavaeiroih, guiding principles to how man must behave towards his fellow man?

Clearly, the Medrish raises two significant archetypes that are fundamental to the Jewish sense of identity: Yankif and Moishe.

If we walk in the footsteps of Yankif, honestly is indeed selectively applied. Like Yankif, we may steal when it is convenient. We may be dishonest, even to our own parents. We may marry sisters and their hot shiksah maidservants. But we must be aware of the examples that we set and the consequences of our actions. Ten of Yankif’s sons kidnap the eleventh and sell him into slavery. They subsequently lie to Yankif, saying that their brother had died. And Yankif ends his life in exile, far away from his homeland, his investment properties, and the Canaanite buddies that he used to go out drinking with every Saturday night.

However, if we emulate the behavior of Moishe Rabbeinu, we take upon ourselves a mode of behavior that is characterized by integrity. Moishe does not lie to Hakadoshboruchhu or Klal Yisroel. His behavior towards the Egyptians is defensive, not aggressive. He is the conduit for the laws of the Toirah, includes laws against stealing, bearing false witness, coveting someone else’s precious possessions, and being Mezaneh with farm animals on Yoim Kippur.

What is the basis for the fundamental differences between Yankif and Moishe? We must of course remember that Yankif Avinu lived before Matan Toirasainu – before the giving of the Toirah. He lived before Yetzias Mitzrayim. He lived before the Mishkan. If the giving of the Toirah establishes the modern era for Klal Yisroel, then Moishe Rabbeinu was our first modern male, and Yankif was a primitive, a Neanderthal. In fact, according to Reb Saadya Goyn, Yankif stood at four foot two, was as hairy as an ape, and when he wasn’t lying to his father or stealing from his brother, he was busy drawing pictures on the walls of caves. And you expect honesty and ethical behavior from such a creature?

So, when I look at the alleged actions of the New Jersey and Brooklyn based defendants, or Bernie Madoff, for that matter, I do not see people touched in their souls by more than three thousand years of Jewish tradition. I do not see people informed by the Toirah that was given at Sinai and handed down through generations, shaped and defined as a guidebook towards living an ethical life alongside other human beings. On the contrary, I see the actions of primitive cavemen, who must satisfy their whims and impulses, even at the expense of others.

These people do not deserve our defense or our mercy. If anything, they deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, I would advocate leniency for each defendant, in exchange for one of his kidneys. And if he demonstrates good behavior, I will kick in an extra $500 for his legal defense fund.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval


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