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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Parshas Bahaloischa



Parshas Bahaloischa

First, I must acknowledge all the people who reached out to me last week. Phone calls. Faxes. E-Mails. Fundraising letters. "Why was there no drasha from Rabbi Schmeckelstein?" they all asked. You would think that with all the Toirah on the Internet you could find a substitute for a week. Perhaps a Dvar Toirah from Aish Hatoirah. Or a Vort from Har Etzion. (But don't bother looking for an e-mail from Chofetz Chaim. They don't believe in computers. I'm not even sure they know how to read and write.)

Well, truth be told, you Amha'aretz, I was doing research for the commentary on this week's Parsha, Bahaloischa. This Parsha, no less than any other in the Toirah, is all about rebellion, primarily against the Aimishteh. The Bnei Yisroel complain about the poor menu selection in the Midbar. Moishe rebels against the Reboinoisheloilum when asked why Klal Yisroel is rebelling. Aron Hacoihain, the minuval, and Miriam Haneviyah, the yentah also rebel by seeking to share the limelight of leadership with Moishe, or at least receive an equivalent number of stock options with a very low strike price.

What is it about human nature that causes us to rebel, even against the Melech Malchei Hamelachim Hakadoshboruchhu, who, according to the Kabbalistic teachings of the Ari Zahl, can easily crush you with his Almighty, oversized feet? (According to the Vilna Goyn, the Aimishteh wears size 613 Nikes, but according to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, He wears size 770 Skechers.)

In order to get to the heart of the matter, I traveled to Latin America, the Middle East and Western Europe to try to develop an understanding of the very basic nature of rebellion.

In Latin America, I met with countless rebel movements. They each claimed to be largely motivated by a lack of economic equity and opportunity, compounded with a feeling of being locked out of their political systems. In addition, they were clearly impacted by excessively spicy food. (Voos iz givehn ah Fajita?)

In the Middle East, those Anti-Semitic, Jew Hater, Arafat loving, Soinay Yisroels, as well as their coalition partners from the Labor Party, tend to agree that the essence of rebellion is situational, a natural response mechanism motivated by the ever changing human condition, as well as the ever-important support of the Shas Party and Agudat Yisrael.

In the Arab world, the sense of rebellion, which is manifested as anti-Israel and anti-American sentiment, is driven by an overall deep frustration over a lack of freedom of expression, a lack of political self determination, a lack of economic equity, and a lack of political access.

Finally, in Western Europe, the rebellious human tendency is driven by a sense of too much freedom of expression, too much political self determination, too much economic equity and too much political access.

In other words, the only common theme is that everyone is basically unhappy.

According to Rabbeinu Tam, the general malaise of the human spirit emanates from a lack of rules and boundaries -- which is why WE received the Toirah, have Halachah, and are therefore perfect AND BETTER THAN THE GOYIM!

But the Mordechai holds farkhert: pointing at this week's Parsha, he notes that Klal Yisroel, even after receiving the Toirah on Har Sinai and keeping the TARYAG mitzvois, as they most certainly did, were still a bunch of vilda chayas.

According to the Toisfois Yuntif, the reason that Klal Yisroel is so rebellious in Parshas Bahaloischa is that in this week's Parsha, they reached their teenage years. Born as a nation, they grew up in Mitzrayim, and reached the age of Mitzvois at Har Sinai. Now, they are like a fourteen year old with raging hormones, who has recently smoked his first marijuana cigarette (chass v'sholom).

Indeed, if we look at all the dissatisfaction in the world, one must reach one of two conclusions: According to Bais Hillel, the Aimishteh created a perfect world, and humans simply don't know how to appreciate it. But according to Bais Shammai, the Aimishteh created a horrible, imperfect world, and we are all victims of His creation.

While I am personally inclined to agree with Bais Shammai on this one, this opinion would not be good for me professionally, so I am forced to reject it. Yet the basic thinking does offer the roots of an answer, which comes to light in a famous Chassidic tale. There once was an egg merchant in the town of Shklov whose entire inventory was destroyed one day by a heat wave. The merchant went to the Baal Shem Tov and asked why he was singled out for such a miserable fate. The BESHT responded by pulling out a bottle of Slivovitz, drinking down three shots with the man, and then pulling out a mirror which he held up to the man's face. He then said, "Look -- you are so ugly, no one would have bought eggs from you anyway!"

The truth is, the world IS an imperfect place. But if you spend too much time focusing on the imperfections, you are likely to get leprosy, like Miriam, the yentah. Instead, one must focus on the positive. And if you have trouble seeing the positive, three shots of Slivovitz might help bring it into focus.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess


Monday, May 17, 2010

Shavuois Drasha




Shavuois Drasha

On this holiday, the yuntif of Shavuois, we celebrate two things: the giving of the Toirah by the Aimishteh, and lactose intolerance.

Why do we stay up all night to learn Toirah -- also known as Tikkun Layl Shavuois? According to RASHI, we do this to commemorate the fact that Klal Yisroel stood earnestly at the bottom of Har Sinai as Moishe Rabeinu met the Reboinoisheloilum face to face at the top of the mountain, and all that could be heard were bolts of lightling, claps of thunder, the rustle of the wind, and the sounds of concessioners looking to make a buck: "Hot dogs, get your kosher hot dogs!" "Get your program -- Mattan Toirah commerative program!" "Bring home a stuffed Toirah to you kids! One of a kind! They'll never be available again!"

But according to the Bais Yoiseph, Shavuois is essentially a test of Klal Yisroel's commitment to Toirah values. And to celebrate this, we stay up all night to cram for the test.

And as you stay up all night, you had better pay attention. A braisah in Bubba Basra tells a story of the Tannah Kamma, who was learning all night in the bais medrish with his students. Suddenly, one of the talmidim pointed out the window and said, "Look -- it is light outside. It is time to recite the Keriyas Shma!" The Tannah Kammah, with a very serious look on his face, rushed over to the window where his student was standing, grabbed him by the ear, and twisted it until it started to bleed. "Stop looking out the window during my shiur, you schmendrick!" the Tannah Kamma declared. He then forced the student to recite Pesukai Dezimrah in front of the congregation for a week.

The RADAK has a beautiful interpretation of Tikkun Layl Shavuois, which takes a completely different approach. According to the RADAK, Shavuois night gives us the opportunity to initiate an extramarital affair, continue it over the summer while your family is away in the bungalow colony, and break it off just in time to repent on Rosh Hashana.

As proof, the RADAK cites a medrish in the Medrish Tanchumah that tells how Rabbi Akiva used to "visit" the wives of his talmidim at their homes on Shavuois night, while the talmidim were up all night listening to a shiur delivered by his assistant rabbi on exactly which shoe to put on first every morning.

But what does all of this have to do with eating dairy? In a gemarrah in Maseches Soitah, Abaya suggests that we eat dairy lehachis, because it is almost summer and the goyim have all started to barbecue in their backyards and WE DO NOT ACT LIKE THE GOYIM!!!

Rava disagrees. He suggests that we eat dairy to commemorate the miracle of Yehudis killing an enemy general by seducing him, giving him salty cheese to make him thirsty, getting him drunk, and then cutting his head off. (On this itself there is a disagreement of interpretation. RASHI holds that the general was killed because he was an enemy of the Jews; but TOISFOIS holds that Yehudis killed him because he left her "unsatisfied" at the end of their encounter, if you know what I mean. Rachmanah letzlan.)

But according to the Brisker Ruv, there is actually a direct correlation between the receiving of the Toirah at Har Sinai and our preference for dairy on the holiday. 3500 years ago our ancestors longingly stood at Har Sinai, as Moisheh ascended the mountain to receive the Toirah from the Reboinoisheloilum. As the time whiled away and Moisheh did not return, the Jews began to panic. To help resolve the crisis, Moishe's minuval brother, Aron Hacoihain, demonstrated his loyalty by inciting Klal Yisroel to worship the Eigel. In other words, just as they were receiving the Toirah, the Jews were immediately rejecting it.

Was it that they were inherently evil? Was it that they didn't understand its significance? Was it that they were ungrateful, "stiff-necked" good-for-nothings like you, you amhaaretz? No! They really wanted the Torah, but they found it too much to handle. Indeed, they craved it, looked forward to it, and viewed it as the capstone, the "dessert" if you will, of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. But, alas, they found it difficult to digest. Sadly, this is how many of us are with dairy products. And therefore, to commemorate our experiences at Mattan Toirah, we eat blintzes, cheescake, and all things dairy.

But we should look at this as a blessing, not a curse. After all, if we eat some nice, light dairy meals, along with a small salad, we might lose a couple of pounds, which will put us in a better position to keep up that affair all summer long.

Ah Gutten Yuntif, You Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Topical Commentaries

On Current Events (November, 2011)/ On Social Upheaval

On and Off The Derech

On Life At Internet Speed

On The Role Of The Synagogue President

On Current Events (May, 2011)/ On the Occasion of the Death of Oisama Bin Laden

On Modesty

On Current Events (February 2011)/ On the Arab Spring

On The Blessed Event (Bar Mitzvah Drasha)

On The Conversion Issue in Eretz Yisroel

On Schar V'Oinesh (Reward and Punishment)

On The Current Economic Situation

On Rabbinic Authority

On Teshuvah (Repentance)

On The Crisis of Jewish Education in America

On Financial Scandals and Klal Yisroel

On Communing With The Reboinoisheloilum

On The Role Of Women

Election 2008: The Schvartza Versus The Shiksa

On The US Presidential Race

On Global Economic Disparity

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Parshas Bamidbar




Parshas Bamidbar

In this week's Parsha, Bamidbar, there isn't all that much that happens. You may want to take advantage and catch up on your sleep, so long as your snoring isn't louder than the Rabbi's.

In the Parsha, the tribes are counted, one by one -- all the males -- as the Bnei Yisroel's ability to make war is gauged. But the Bnei Layvee, we are told, are not to be counted amongst the rest of the nation, as they shall not be soldiers, but should instead serve as the spiritual frontline through their activities within the Priesthood.

Now I know where the ultra-Orthodox in Israel get the inspiration! Certainly, the Reboinoisheloilum intends that one tribe should tend to the moral fiber, maintain the facilities, carry out the practices of the spiritual institutions, and suck up all the booty in the national coffers, while the rank and file get shot at.

Based on the Haluchois of Milchemess Mitzvah as understood by the RAMBAM, I personally believe that the ultra-Orthodox should never be exempt from serving in the army. Indeed, the Aimishteh needs every possible warrior in Eretz Yisroel, since the Toirah is opposed to any sort of compromise with our enemies. No political agreements are possible. And even if we could, why should we?

In fact, we must never compromise with any of our enemies anywhere. We are surrounded by them. Our neighbors. Our co-workers. The guy in the gas station. The bus driver. The newsman on TV. That little kid sitting in the shopping cart on line in front of you at Shop Rite. They are either members of your Shul, or they are anti-Semites or self-hating Jews!

How much more so in Eretz Hakoidesh. So I intend to start a letter campaign from here in my office in New York at Yeshivas Chipass Emess. No exemptions! We here in the golus will provide the spiritual safeguarding of the State, while our brethren in Eretz Yisroel must be prepared to fight to the last man.

Indeed, it would not be unprecedented if we were to take over the role of spiritual safeguard. Because, also in this week's Parsha, we see the descendants of Aron Hacoihain appointed as the principal Priests of Klal Yisroel, while Moisheh Rabbeinu's descendants are relegated to support positions. Why does Aron Hacoihain get to steal away the the spiritual leadership of the nation from Moisheh?

According to Reb Hai Gaon, Aron was able to engineer a boardroom takeover after securing support of several key institutional investors. But Rabbeinu Tam holds that Aron won the Kehunah during the regular Wednesday night poker game in which Aron, Moisheh, Yehoshua, and Kulayv Ben Yefuneh were members.

But according to the RAMBAM, the Reboinoisheloilum gave Aron the Kehuna to keep him out of trouble. The last thing Klal Yisroel needed was for Aron to get involved in complex decisions. According to the Medrash Rabbah, he couldn't even program his own Tivo.

Of even more concern, Aron Hacoihain led the Bnei Yisroel into the Chayt HaEygel. He was also a poor spokesman for Moisheh who never kept his rolodex up to date with key press contacts. The idea was to put the minuval in a position where he couldn't cause too much damage to himself. Or to Klal Yisroel.

But, unfortunately, things did not quite work out as planned.

Case in point: the descendants of Aron finally did steal the malchus, the political leadership embodied by the kingdom of Israel, during the days of the Chashmonaim, and the result was the most corrupt regime in the history of the sovreignty of Klal Yisroel. In the generations after the miracle of Chanukah, the regime was corrupt and brutal: They abused their power, persecuted the Pharisees (the precursors of Rabbinic Judaism), and forced the religious conversions of neighboring peoples (including the father of the later-despised King Herod). These actions ultimately led to the Romans being invited into Eretz Yisroel by the opponents of the Chashmonaim.

Which brings us back to the ultra-Orthodox in Israel. The best thing you can say about them is they have nice, full beards. And some of those women look really hot with their heads shaved. But they don't serve in the army, they don't pay taxes, they have fourteen kids each (kenaina harah), and they use every opportunity to use their political power to their own community's advantage.

Perhaps we here in the golus should emulate their activities, rather than criticize them. We should refuse to pay our taxes. We should apply for every possible state benefit because they are available: welfare, medicaid, affirmative action, farm subsidies, nuclear waste management, needle exchange programs, and free school lunches (even if they are traifus!)

Because what matters most is not the here and now -- the Oilam Hazeh. What matters most is the Oilam Habbah -- the world to come. And since none of the amhoratzim of the world -- including you, you shaygitz -- will be priveleged to join the Aimishteh in Gan Eiden, they just don't count. Only I and my closest associates will have earned the right to sit next to the Reboinoisheloilum on His heavenly throne. And if He doesn't behave Himself, we'll throw Him out too.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Friday, May 07, 2010

Ask Rabbi Pinky: Al Sfiras HaOimer




Ask Rabbi Pinky: Al Sfiras HaOimer

Baruch Ata Idon’tknow,
Heywhereareyou Melech HaOilum,
Asher Kideshanu BeMitzvoisav Vetzivanu,
Al Sfiras HaOimer.

HaYoim Shmoinah Esrei Alaphim U’Masayim Chamishim Yoim,
SheHaym Alpayim Shaish Maois Va’Sheva Shavuois, VaEchad Yamim LaOimer.


Unlike you, you Minuvals, I have not lost count of the Oimer, ever since I was a Kleinikel. I count Sefirah with a Bracha every day, never missing except for that one time in college when I got lucky with that hot shiksa (Boruch Hashem for tequila!). But, thankfully, I was able to count Sefirah the next morning without a Bracha, as I was putting on my Tefillin in Christine’s apartment.

Which brings us the Shailah I address this week:

Yoineh Vuv asks:

“Rav Pinky -- May a woman shave her Makom HaErva during Sefirah?”

Yoinelah – This is a Gevaldikkah Shailah! You are Mechavayn to the exact question asked by the RALBAG, the great Medieval Talmidist, Mathematician, and dispenser of at-home Brazilian services to the housewives of Avignon, France.

Before I address your Shailah, Halacha Lemaiseh, I would like to address the overall topic of Sefiras HaOimer.

What is Sfiras HaOimer? We know that from the perspective of the Toirah, we are required to count seven weeks from Pesach to calculate the start of Shavuois, Zman Matan Toirasainu. According to Rabbi Yoichanan, cited in a Braisah brought down in a Gemara in Makkois, this is because 49 days is the length of time required for matzah constipation to be flushed out of the system, so we can be fully prepared for the lactose intolerance brought on by cheesecake on Shavuois. But according to Rabbi Yishmael, as mentioned in a Tosefta in Moiaid Kattan, seven weeks is the amount of time it takes for a man to be able to come home from a hard day’s work without having to worry about his wife waiting at the door, barking orders at him about bringing those last three pieces of stray Pesach china up to the attic.

The Oimer was originally grounded in the agrarian cycle of Eretz Yisroel. Later, it came to represent the period of time between Yetzitas Mitzrayim, the Exodus, and the giving of the Toirah. But of course it has also taken on a whole latter day symbolism of semi-mourning. A Gemara in Avoidah Zorah tells us that during Sefirah, we mourn the deaths of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva. There is, however, a machloikess as to why they died.

According to Rav Huna, they died of a plague brought upon them because they lacked Derech Eretz – they did not respect each other. They insulted each other with harsh words and dismissive language, the kinds of things you do all the time, you Minuval Vilda Chayas.

However, according to Rav Sheyshess, Rabbi Akiva’s students actually died fighting in the failed Bar Kochba Revolt, the second rebellion against the Romans from 131-135 CE. Rabbi Akiva is quoted in the Yerushalmi in Tainis as pronouncing Bar Kochba to be the Moishiach (this is true, by the way). Many of his students enlisted to support the military effort, and to get the government sponsored tuition assistance needed to pay for Rabbi Akiva’s Yeshiva, Yeshivas Ohr HaMaskoiret.

Finally, Rav Puppa holds that the students died in an unfortunate accident. LeOilum, in reality, the Reboinoisheloilum only put in an order to kill 1,000 students. But due to a programming glitch in Hakadoshboruchhu’s Persecution Trading System (PTS), the kill off swelled to 24,000 dead before the system’s safeguards kicked in. A similar thing happened in 1938, but due to a weak regulatory environment, the safeguards did not automatically kick in until there were much heavier losses in the market.

So, to commemorate the deaths of so many of Rabbi Akiva’s Talmidim, we take upon ourselves some of the rituals of mourning. There was great debate amongst the Rishoinim about which Sefirah-related proscriptions an individual should follow. During Sefirah:
-- The Roish would not shave
-- The Ran would not bathe, except on Erev Shabboskoidesh
-- The RIF would not go to the bathroom. This also enabled him to save a lot of money on food and toilet paper.

These differences of Minhag are reflected in the various Sefirah practices in place in the modern Yeshiva World:
-- In Yeshivas Punuvitch in Eretz Yisroel, the Talmidim do not attend live musical performances
-- In the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, the Talmidim do not listen to music, live or recorded
-- In Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim in Queens, the Talmidim do not read or write or speak to each other; they just say Tachanun all day and play with the buttons on their little Hatzalah walkie talkies
-- In Yeshivas Toiras Yoisiaph Smith in Utah, the Talmidim do not drink coffee or smoke cigarettes, and are not Mezaneh with more than three of their wives on any given night.

With regard to your specific Shailah, Reb Yoineh, this is linked to a Pesak of Reb Moishe. Reb Moishe ruled that while the laws of Sefirah requires a man to abstain from shaving as a sign of mourning, if someone makes his Parnassah in the professional world, and his situation requires him to be well groomed, then he isn allowed to shave. Notes Reb Shmiel Kalbasavua: We can apply this same rule to women as well. A woman should not shave her Erva during Sefirah. However, if she is required to be well groomed for professional reasons, for example, is an exotic dancer or a Victoria’s Secret model, then she is indeed allowed to shave.

Reb Yoiseph Katski is even more Meikel. He agrees that in principle, a woman should not shave her Erva during Sefirah. However, this should not in any way interfere with any aspect of her life, professional or personal. States Reb Yoisaiph, “If a woman’s overgrown forest is harming her normal patterns of marital activity because her husband cannot find a path through the trees in order to launch his canoe, then she is indeed entitled to clear a path to the lake, though must be careful not to engage in complete deforestation.” Unquote.

Rabboisai, the laws of Sefirah are not simple ones. And too many people in our community do not pay the proper attention to observing this wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the Aimishteh by counting to forty nine and looking like a vagrant. At a cosmic level, Oimer makes us closer to the Reboinoisheloilum by preparing us for the Kedushah of Kabbalas HaToirah. How does the Oimer do this? I admit that I cannot tell you exactly. But this is a point of Mesoirah – it is our tradition of 3,500 years, handed down over many generations, as a Halacha Le-Art Scroll MiSinai.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess