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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Purim Drasha


Purim Drasha


Today we gather together to celebrate the most joyous of all the Jewish holidays, the Yuntif of Purim. On this holiday we celebrate the near destruction of the Jewish People, and the exploitation of Esther's Hamalka's bisulta that enabled the salvation of Klal Yisroel, by getting stinking drunk and trying to be mezaneh with our chavrusa when he himself isn't busy throwing up all over the Bais Medrish.

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 Reboinoisheloilum not mentioned throughout the Megillah, while in contrast, Haman Harasha's name is mentioned so many times that people bang their heads against the wall?

According to the RASHBAM, the Aimishteh refused to have his name attached to the story since he was repelled by the Machiavellian activities of Klal Yisroel throughout the entire episode. 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

-- Esther hosts a dinner for Achashveiroish and Haman, serving bottled water without a proper Hashgacha

-- 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, Hakkadoshboruchhu didn't want to be associated with any of those activities as He was still trying to live down the bad press from the whole Ten Plagues thing.

The RITVA disagrees, however, 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 the Reboinoisheloilum is not mentioned in Megillas Esther is simply because the Megillah is not based on a historical, Jewish story. Noting the similarity of the names of Mordechai and Esther to the Persian deity names of Marduk and Ishtar, the RITVA proposes that Purim was actually adapted from a pagan Persian festival where Persians would traditionally exchange gifts of food, wear silly three-cornered hats, and drink heavily and then 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 'Phil', 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 can’t believe 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. Upon hearing the topic, he 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 is He when you really need Him?"

Says the Toldois Aharoin, as Hakadoshboruchhu was annoyed with the whole discussion, so he decided to adopt a low profile 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 that 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 a creative understanding. Consequently, while I am not certain what we should do with the West Bank, in exchange for real peace we should 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 Miami Beach.

Ah Freilechin Yuntif, You Minuval

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parshas Teruma




Parshas Teruma

Last week I was away on a business trip, traveling to the Bahamas to dedicate a local mikvah. No one invited me, of course, but given that it was a "business trip", it is tax deductible. Well, after my Bashert went to the mikvah, we got back to our hotel room and dedicated the mikvah. Twice.

Which brings us to this week's Parsha, Parshas Teruma. Teruma of course refers to the contributions made in the midbar by Klal Yisroel, the Jewish People, in setting up the Mishkan. The ARI ZAHL asks an obvious question: why was Am Yisroel, while traveling in the desert for forty years, probably not having showered, so privileged as to be able to donate the materials for the Mishkan, while we, in our day, don't have a similar opportunity?

The ARI ZAHL offers a beautiful answer. In a time of spiritual unification between the Rebboinoisheloilum and His bride Klal Yisroel, the Jewish People express our closeness to the Aimishteh by funding spiritual endeavors. But in a time when Klal Yisroel is separated from Hakkadoshboruchhu, trapped within the realm of the mundane as scattered sparks, we can only aspire to emulate this divine behavior by cheating on our taxes.

Well, I would like to suggest that in our generation, we are again in a state of closeness to the Rebboinoisheloilum. In fact, you sitting out there, reading this in shul instead of peaking into the Ezras Nashim, are blessed with a gevaldik opportunity to cling to the Aimishteh. Like Klal Yisroel in the midbar, you too have the chance to give tzedakah, and cling to Hakkadoshboruchhu through performing a big mitzvah.

Minuval, how much money do you waste every week on narishkeit? Movies, cable television, Playstation, gym membership, mortgage, rent, 401K, income taxes, bread, health insurance, cholesterol medication, anti-depressants, birth control (Rachmana Litzlan). You should be spending your money on real items that will make the world a better place and reserving your spot in Olam Haba, the afterlife. And at the same time, you can provide me... err… rabbinic scholars an appropriate standard of living.

You read this commentary every week. Did it ever occur to you that I don't do this for my health? No, I do this to help your neshama, you ungrateful vilda chaya! And now, just as the Jewish People did in the desert, you have to pay.

I want you to take out your check book right now and start making out a check to "Yeshivah Chipass Emmess/ NPOJ International -- Tuition".. (Incidentally, we do accept credit cards with a nominal 52% surcharge.)

"And why should I?" you are asking, you good-for-nothing? I'll tell you. When you contribute to NPOJ International, you help to preserve the Jewish People. Our yeshiva and movement are critical in the struggle against assimilation. And of course, our philosophy embraces modernity and the integration of modern cultural ideas.

We are against the peace process in Eretz Yisroel, but are also in favor of a just and lasting resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Your contribution helps to fight anti-semitism. We are also resoundly against Jewish xenophobia, and also oppose the Jewish cabal bent on dominating the media and implementing world government.

In other words, whatever it is, we're against it. Unless you're in favor of it, in which case we're in favor of it too. Just so long as you write us a check. Make that checks. Because in Parshas Teruma we read of a multi-level contribution structure that is echoed and commemorated in our own fundraising model.

The Reboinoisheloilum commanded the Jewish People to contribute gold for the Mishkan. This is equal in our day to the Yeshiva tuition that you must pay. He also commanded them to donate:

-- Silver, which is equal to the building fund
-- Brass, which is equal to the family obligation
-- Techayless, which is equal to the journal ad
-- Argaman, which is equal to the dinner
-- Toalas Shani, which is equal to the Rabbi's discretionary fund.

Additional commandments are equivalent in our day to the Passover candy drive, the book fair, and, of course, scrip. So this week, as you read this, don't read my name as "Schmeckelstein" but as "Shekel-stein".

A beraisah in Sanhedrin brings down a debate among the chachomim on how much money one should contribute. Rav Yehudah Hanassi said you should give until it hurts; Rabbi Yoichanan said you should give beyond it hurting, until it begins to feel good. But the Chachomim held that you should give until you cannot afford groceries and have to appear before the scholarship committee.

While lechatchilah we hold like the Chachomim, bedeeyeved you don't have to go so far. Just so long as you donate enough so that next month my Bashert and I can go and dedicate a new mikvah in Hawaii.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Synthetic Kashrus



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Synthetic Kashrus

Rabboisai, this week I address a Shailah from a Talmid who was Mechavayn to a similar Kashah posed by the RITVAH on a Teshuvah made by RAMBAN while traveling with Rebbeinu Tam and the Roish to an Agudah Convention held on Rigel VII, which was discussed over Kiddush with the Chief Rabbi of Ferengi and the Sgan Chacham of the Klingon Empire.

Dear Reb Pinky,

I have this friend and we were talking about what is Treif and what isn’t, and as we came up with a real Halachic dilemma, I volunteered to find an answer, and I couldn't think of any Chacham Gadol other than you who might be able or willing to give a Teshuvah to such an important Shailah, so here goes: We are both major Star Trek fans and we are wondering if bacon that was made by a replicator would still be Treif? Or any other food currently Treif, for that matter. Reb Pinky, please help us put our minds at rest. I figure that only the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Chippass Emmess, a man that surely sits at the very top of the pantheon of Chachamim Gdolim of the Talmud and Halacha, would be able to render such a ruling.

Thanks in advance.

Your loyal Talmid

Wood Maven


Reb Wood, thank you for your kind and Erlicheh words. You are indeed everything that a Rebbe looks for in a Talmid: You are polite, you are gracious, and you are willing to blindly follow every word I say.

Your Shailah touches upon an issue at the heart of Yiddishkeit: What is the fundamental essence of an object: Its appearance, or its internal nature? Is a Sefer Toirah holy because of the words it contains, or because of the beautiful pink velvet cover with the sterling silver schvantzlach hanging off of it? After reading Masechess Nidah, can you immediately go for a quick Mitzvah, or do you have to go to the Mikvah and take the rest of the week off from marital Shuckling? Can you count as the tenth in a Minyan a man with a long black beard and Payis that reach the floor, even though he has a swastika tattooed on his foreskin? Does that real-hair-blond-headed-Shiksa-Sheytel that your wife wears make up for the last thirty-five year of her being a Groisseh Ballhabuster?

Well, you Mechutziff, I ask you: When the Reboinoisheloilum chose Klal Yisroel to receive His Toirah and keep his Mitzvois, did he pick the tallest nation, or the most beautiful nation, or the nation with the best recipes for lobster, Chass V’Sholom? No! He picked a simple nation, the Jews, because of their sweet Neshamas, their inner beauty, and their ability to deliver a ten percent annual return on a minimum investment of $100,000, guaranteed.

So when we look at an object, or a person, we look at their essence. That is the Jewish way. This point was brought out in a famous Medrish in Luke Rabba. Tells the Medrish, Rav Huna was once walking in Rome looking for a place to put on his Tfillin. Upon finding a secluded area, he began to don his Shel Yad. As he was putting on his Shel Roish, he was surrounded by the Roman Centurion Intelligence Agency (RCIA), who suspected him of having a bomb. After explaining what Tfillin are, how they contain holy scriptures that link the wearer to the Reboinoisheloilum, and how the Battim and Retzuois are hand crafted Leshaim Shamayim, the RCIA, very impressed, brought Rav Huna to meet the Roman Emperor, Constantine.

Constantine was so inspired by the notion of Tfillin and the ideas of Yiddishkeit in general that he offered to convert to Judaism and bring along with him the entire Roman Empire. Rav Huna, delighted at the suggestion, offered to personally convert everyone in the Empire through his organization, the EJM (Eternal Jewish Mafia…errr…Mishpacha), for the nominal fee of 100 pieces of gold per person. But after Rav Huna insisted that he have the right to be Mezaneh with all of the women in the Roman Empire, Constantine decided to convert the Roman Empire to Christianity instead, since its leaders were charging only 50 pieces of gold per conversion and were willing to settle for being Mezaneh with only the children.

Rabboisai, it was because of external factors, gold and physical considerations, Gashmiyus in other words, that Klal Yisroel missed the unique opportunity to take over the Western World…errr… was fortunate enough to preserve our identity as a minority who has intellectually influenced and inspired the world through our religious ideas, our philosophy, our art, and our approaches to structured finance. We stayed true to our essence, our core, and look at us now: We have sovereignty over only one precious, tiny little country, precariously surrounded by our enemies, while the rest of the world is run by a bunch of Mishugayim. And if we weren’t in control of the world financial system and the global media, things would really be intolerable.

Reb Wood, Klal Yisroel’s commitment to fundamental essence is present in every aspect of our lives – including how we behave, where we go, what we do, and who we engage with in Tashmish HaMitah. Which brings us back to your original Shailah about Traifus Mamish that is artificially replicated. Indeed, there was an important Machloikess in the last century that is very relevant to your question.

Reb Moishe was once asked whether one may eat artificial shrimp. According to Rav Moishe, the Ikkur Issur of eating shrimp is based on the Pasook, “VeChol Asher Ain-Loi Snapir VeKaskeset, BaYamim U’VaNachalim, MiKol Sheretz Haaretz U’MiKol Nefesh HaChayah Asher BaMayim, Sheketz Haim Lachem” (VaYikrah, Perek Yood Aleph, Pasook Yood), “And all that do not have fins and scales (that live) in the seas and in the rivers, of all that swarm in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are a detestable thing unto you” (Leviticus 11,10). So eating a shrimp or an oyster or a lobster is detestable. However, eating something that looks like a shrimp but is made of pollack or flounder, or eating something that tastes like crab but is made out of whitefish, or eating something that smells like a clam but is fleshy and surrounded by short, curly hair, especially when it is properly groomed, is expressly permissible, and possibly a Mitzvas Asey.

Reb Aroin, on the other hand, holds that while a food item may be Traifus based on strict Halacha, there are certain instances when even Traifus Mamish may be permissible to eat. For example, a Gemarrah in Nezikin tells us that when one is at war, he may eat anything in order to sustain himself, so long as he eats it with a Shinui, such as bring the food to his mouth with his toes rather than with his fingers.

Similarly, according to a Toisefta in Baba Basra cited by Reb Shrirah Goyn as referenced in RAMBAM’s Mishnah Toirah, one may eat Traifus as long as he does not own it. Consequently, you may NEVER, EVER have pork or shrimp or Kraft cheese or Chalav Stam or cut vegetables from the Korean fruit store or non-certified bottled water in your house. But if you are at a business dinner and the client is paying and there is a Chashash, a concern, that you might insult the client Chass V’Sholom, or, even worse, look like a freaking idiot eating cold salad off a paper plate while using plastic cutlery, you are allowed to order the New York cut of steak, medium rare, with the house potatoes and the creamed spinach, and wash it down with a nice Austrian Shiraz. Shoyn.

So whether you hold like Reb Moishe or Reb Aroin, you may eat synthesized food created on a replicator on a starship, so long as the underlying nutritional source is not Traifus. However, if the underlying protein in fact comes from a Traif animal, you can be Soimaich on the Sheetah of Reb Aroin so long as you do not have exclusive ownership of the starship. And if you are under attack from two Romulan warbirds and possibly others that you cannot see because of their cloaking devices, Koolay Alma Loi Pligi, everyone agrees, that you should dig in and enjoy, because this is probably your last meal anyway.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chippass Emmess

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Parshas Yisro



Parshas Yisro

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Yisro, we read of the giving of the Aseres Hadibrois, the Ten Commandments, to Klal Yisroel. We are automatically struck with two obvious questions -- or at least they would be obvious to you if you were paying attention, you Minuval:

Question One: Why are there Ten Commandments? How come the Goyim get seven, in the Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the seven Noahite laws, but we get more? Did we really need more? Were we required to PAY MORE!? (Frankly, I've got my hands full; with Sarbannes Oxley, the mortgage crisis, etc., I have to work twice as hard to embezzle...err… to make a living.)

Question Two: Why does the Parsha that features the essence of the Jewish faith, the giving of the Aseres Hadibrois, carry the name of a Goy? A priest no less? What, Moishe Rabbeinu was such a self-hating Jew he needed to make the Parsha sound more Goyyishe? Or were he and the Reboinoisheloilum smoking some kind of exotic bsomim on Sinai and not paying attention to what they were writing down?

I defy you to give me an answer, because whatever you say, you won't know what you are talking about, you Am Ha'aretz.

Regarding the first question, the RAIYVID points out that of the original Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the seven Noahite laws, two were completely dropped and do not appear in the Ten Commandments.

The first dropped mitzvah is the commandment not to eat the flesh of a living animal. The RAIYVID quotes a Mishna in Hoirayois that explains that this mitzvah was dropped because Moishe Rabbeinu didn't want to be seen as a hypocrite. Do you think he had time to start doing cooking when he was receiving the Toirah on Sinai? There he is, up on Har Sinai for forty days and forty nights, face to face with Hakkadoshboruchhu, and do you expect him to say, "excuse me Aimishteh, I have to go pop a pizza bagel in the Microwave -- please give me five minutes"?

Of course not. Moishe ate the flesh of living creatures, and he enjoyed it! And who can blame him -- while up on the mountain, the Reboinoisheloilum supplied Moishe with His delicious bounty. Birds flying around. Mountain goats. Grasshoppers. Aimishteh Almighty, just thinking about it makes my mouth water!

However, Moishe did use paper plates and plastic forks while eating because he didn't fully trust Hakkadoshboruchhu's Hashgacha (kosher certification). After all -- the Rebboinoisheloilum did create pigs too, as well as horses, frogs, and Skittles. Who is to say that the Aimishteh wouldn't slip a little bacon into Moishe's meal while Moishe was intensely carving out the Luchois. I mean, when it comes down to it, can we really trust Him?

The second dropped mitzvah is the commandment to establish a legal system. A Beraisah in Baba Kamma Sutra tells us that this commandment was dropped so that Moishe Rabbeinu could set up his father in law in a nice racket...err...I mean...engage Yisroi's expertise in crafting the legal system of Klal Yisroel. (According to a Medrish in Shmois Rabbah, Moishe was getting a 20% "mitzvah fee" on the contract, plus equity.)

So indeed, that leaves us with five mitzvois (7 commandments - 2 commandments = 5 commandments). Yet Klal Yisroel received Ten Commandments? That is double what everyone else received. What's Pshat?

This is explored in a famous machloikess in a Yerushalmi in Soitah.

According to Bais Shammai, Klal Yisroel, the Jewish People, received Ten Commandments because we are like the Rebboinoisheloilum's first born child. As such, we are entitled to twice the inheritance of everyone else, twice the Land, twice the money, twice the mitzvois, and twice the persecution. I personally would have preferred half the mitzvois, half the persecution, and a date with the Olsen twins, but please don't think I am complaining, chass v'sholom.

However, according to Bais Hillel, Klal Yisroel was actually only supposed to receive Toirah Sheh-Baal-Peh, the Oral Law, on Sinai, and nothing in writing, in order to ensure deniability in the event of an SEC investigation. So what happened? Well, Tzippoirah, Moishe's wife, had instructed Moishe to bring back souvenirs for the kids since he was going away on a long business trip. And given that he had two sons, he was planning to give each son one Lucha (tablet) with five commandments each. But when Moishe descended from the mountain things got a bit out of hand. Says Bais Hillel, we all would have been much better off if Moishe had come down with two T-shirts that said "My father spent 40 days and 40 nights face to face with the Rebboinoisheloilum, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!"

So that answers our first question. However, our second question still remains: How could the Parsha detailing Klal Yisroel's receiving of the Toirah have been named after Yisro? Eppis, Yisro is a Galach! (This reminds me of the Yeshivas that give winter vacation during Kratzmach week. It's a slippery slope, you know: one day it's teaching Gemarrah to girls, the next day it's Yushke Pandra.)

The RASHBA addresses this question. He says that the naming of the Parsha after Yisro comes to imply a critical mitzvah: Since Yisro was the father in law of Moishe Rabbeinu, and the Parsha that includes the Ten Commandments carries Yisroi's name, then an eleventh commandment must be implied: Thou shalt marry a Shiksa, so long as her father is socially prominent.

The RIF wholeheartedly disagrees: he says that if you want to marry a Shiksa, especially one who is hot, who cares about her father?

In our day, the RAPAS disagrees with both of them. That's me, by the way – Rav Pinky Schmeckelstein (one of my Einiklach once called me the Raw Piss, and I had to break one of his fingers). I say that both the RASHBA and the RIF were too busy thinking with their Bris Milahs.

The real reason why the Parsha carries Yisroi's name is to teach us an important lesson. Even if we keep the Torah, the Mitzvahs, Shabbos, Aishess Ish, we still don't get any of the credit. We get leftover Cholent on Tuesdays while the Goyim get lobster. We get persecution, they get membership in exclusive country clubs. We get Barbara Streisand and Dr. Laura, they get Angelina Jolie and Paris Hilton.
Shver Tzu Zeineh Yid.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval