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Friday, June 18, 2010

Parshas Chukass

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Parshas Chukass

This week's Parsha, Parshas Chukass, has more action than an episode of Desperate Housewives. Let's see:

-- There are four confrontations with other nations, three of which result in wars
-- There are two rebellions of Klal Yisroel against the Aimishteh
-- Moisheh Rabbeinu, undoubtedly prompted by his good-for nothing brother, Aroin Hacoihain, the minuval, hits a rock and loses the right to enter Eretz Yisroel
-- Aroin Hacoihain dies (or at least he claims to; I think he actually returns to Egypt to open a falafel stand in a strip mall)
-- We learn about the Parah Adumah, the laws of the red heffer.

Once again, we are confronted by the key questions: Why do the Jews always rebel, those bahaimas? And why doesn't Hakkadoshboruchhu just wipe them out once and for all? (That way, we wouldn't have to read from the Torah every week and I could get home by 11:00 am, in time to watch the end of Saturday morning cartoons -- Er, I mean learn Daf Yoimi.)

If we look at all the grievances that Klal Yisroel raised in the desert, they are largely around sustenance (food and water), security (in the face of hostility from local nations) and leadership (either panic in the absence of Moishe, or challenging his authority). They frequently long to return to Egypt, where they likely still have active bank accounts and unredeemed frequent flyer miles. They never long for a hot shiksa or a ham sandwich, unlike you, you mamzer.

According to the Tzitz Eliezer, all of this boils down to one simple question: Why did the Aimishteh have to make it so difficult on Klal Yisroel? If we are warned against entrapment in the rule known as Lifne Iyver, is not the Reboinoisheloilum bound by the same rule? If He has already selected the Bnei Yisroel as the Chosen People, rescued them through the Exodus, split the sea, given them the Toirah, etc., why can't He just cut them a little slack? Does He really need to constantly test them? Give them some water, for Reboinoisheloilum's sake. Maybe even give them a coke machine in the desert. Provide catering. Give them machine guns; Oig Melech Habashan's bows and arrows won't stand a chance.

Is it that He is bitter? Is it that He likes to see Klal Yisroel suffer, or that He seeks validation from their prayers? Does He enjoy inflicting plagues that wipe out 10,000 minuvals at a time?

This question relates to a tale about the MAHARAL Mi-Prague. One Sunday afternoon the MAHARAL was taking the Golem for a leisurely walk in the zoo in downtown Prague. Noticing a gum wrapper on the floor, he pointed to it and said, "Goilem, please don't ever litter like that." The Golem stared at him blankly, and then suddenly picked him up and threw him over the fence into the monkey cage. The monkeys proceeded to climb on his beard, swing from his tzitzis, and make Mei Raglayim on his hat.

That night the Reboinoisheloilum came to the MAHARAL in a dream. "Why did you let the Goilem humiliate me today in the zoo?" the MAHARAL asked? The Aimishteh, half paying attention, looked up from His newspaper and responded, "Iyoiv (Job), I kill his whole family and he doesn't complain, but you get upset at a dry-cleaning bill!" Upon waking up the MAHARAL immediately renounced his faith and joined the Ethical Humanist Society. (He later returned to the faith when he was told by his congregation that they would not allow him to collect his pension otherwise.)

So the MAHARAL, trying to do a good deed, ends up being punished. Was it wrong that he renounced the faith? Is it wrong for Klal Yisroel to panic in the desert or make what seem like reasonable demands? Indeed, was it wrong for me, when I visited Eretz Yisroel last month, to insist on getting a steep discount on my real estate investment, because while I love the Land of Israel, I suspect the value of my property in Sderot is not going to go up anytime soon?

There is a gemarrah in Yoomah that brings down a famous machloikess between Rava and Abaya. The debate goes as follows: Rava holds that in shul on Yoim Kippur everyone must kneel on the floor four times. His reasoning is that this must be done to show humility before the Aimishteh. But Abaya holds that only half of the congregation has to kneel, while the other half stands around and gossips about the schmucks lying with their knees on dirty paper towels and their faces on the floor. Abaya explains that according to him, there actually is no God, and religion is simply a human construct. He proves the nonexistence of God from a possuk in Beraishis, Perek Yud Daled. Abaya concludes that there is no better way to commemorate this fact than to gossip on the most somber day of the year.

Toisfois comments that real argument here is not about whether or not the Aimishteh exists. Koolay Alma Lo Pligi – everybody knows -- that both Rava and Abaya were thrown out of yeshiva for being atheists, as well as for smoking on Shabbos. Rather, their argument is over the nature of the universe: Rava believes in Karma, that for every action, there is a counter-action. But Abaya holds that everything in the world happens completely at random.

This week's Parsha stands as additional proof of Abaya's position: No matter what they do, Klal Yisroel cannot win. They have to starve. They are attacked. When they complain, they are smitten. Moishe Rabbeinu, for all his personal sacrifices, doesn't even get to enter Eretz Yisroel. And to top it all off, the Bnei Yisroel are told that if they sprinkle each other with the ashes of a red calf all of their spiritual impurities will magically go away.

No, look as hard as you will, you will not find a rational center to the world. Which is why we are required to keep three basic precepts: Judge others as if we were the Reboinoisheloilum; complain as much as possible about the most insignificant things; and act as if we know all the answers about everything, rather than admit ignorance even once, chass v'sholom.

If we follow these basic principles, we may create Hakadoshboruchhu for ourselves and generate a rational nexus for the world. We may save money. And, most importantly, we just might make ourselves more attractive to hot shiksa desperate housewives.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Friday, June 11, 2010

On Schar V'Oinesh (Reward and Punishment)

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THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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On Schar V'Oinesh (Reward and Punishment)

Rabboisai,

I must begin this week’s drasha with a statement and a plea for forgiveness. Allow me to read a brief statement prepared by my attorney, Reb Gedalia Geltshtupper:

“Last Moitzee Shabbos Koidesh, in the hours before Aliyas HaShashachar, I irresponsibly left my home without completing my Neigel Vassar. This regrettable act caused me to crash my 1987 Chevy Impala into the support posts of the elevated subway station near my home in Borough Park. (In my defense, however, I did honk.) I regret any embarrassment this may have caused my family, and any inconvenience I may have caused the riders of the F Train.

“I would in particular like to thank my Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, for rescuing me from my vehicle by breaking through the back windshield with my prized leather-bound volume of Yoireh Dayah. My Bashert is my life partner, and she should not be distracted by any allegations or hearsay she may have read about me and the local Mikvah attendant Yankel in the Algemeiner Journal. Damned-Liberal-Yiddisheh-Media.”

Shoyn.

Rabboisai, we live in very trying times. The economic situation is not getting better. Healthcare costs are continuing to rise while millions remain without healthcare, but no one, not the Democratic government nor the Republican opposition, has presented a comprehensive solution for solving this decades-old problem. And the war in Afghanistan continues, threatening to become a quagmire. (Incidentally, I do not know what this word means. What’s Pshat ‘Quagmire’? It is often used in the newspaper when referring to military involvements, or marriage. But it is has two syllables and a “q” and is worth more than 50 points in Scrabble under the right circumstances, so at least using it makes me look smart.)

Luckily, we are all members of Klal Yisroel. We are the Chosen People who have a special relationship with the Reboinoisheloilum. So none of these issues or concerns have any relevance to us.

No. We need only concern ourselves with Toirah and Mitzvois, Choookim and Maaisim Toivim. Yes, we all have to make a Parnassah, but thanks to some very generous friends in the investment community and my Yeshivah’s tax deductible status. I am all set. You, however, may have some problems, but please don’t be selfish by ruining it for the rest of us.

No. We needn’t be distracted by Gashmiyus, materialism. We must always aspire to the higher spiritual plane of Ruchniyus. No matter where our physical bodies reside, even if in a four bedroom house that costs $1000 more a month than we should really be paying, we must aspire to raise our spiritual selves to the level of Hakadoshboruchhu. Because it is at that level that the Aimishteh monitors our actions, tracks our deeds, determines our rewards and punishment, and in general toys with our very existence as if we were small amphibians in the hands of a four year old child.

There is a famous machloikess in Mesechta Roish Hashashah that discusses the system whereby the Reboinoisheloilum tracks our every action and calculates Schar V’Oinesh, reward and punishment.

The Gemara cites a Braisah that states that according to Rabbi Akiva, Hakadoshboruchhu keeps track of individuals’ good deeds and sins in an Excel spreadsheet. Upon the commitment of a Mitzvah or an Aveirah, the Aimishteh, or His assistant Sally, enters a mark in a large spreadsheet. Says Rabbi Akiva, “the Reboinoisheloilum absolutely LOVES presenting a person’s Mitzvois in a pie chart because it reminds Him of the Lechem Hapanim.”

But, according to the Rabbi Yoise, Hakkadoshboruchhu uses an Access database. It is a simple tool that took Him just a few hours to learn, but now He loves to run reports on how Klal Yisroel is performing against the other Umois Ha’oilum.

However, Abaya quotes a different Braisah that quotes Rabbi Akiva as saying that the Aimishteh uses a robust SQL database that is open source. He used to use Access, but it crashed during the Mabul and He had to rebuild it from scratch. He is much more confident in His current system, which He and the Mal’achim can now access from any internet browser.

So how is this possible? We have an unbelievable Steerah! How can Rabbi Akiva have held two such conflicting positions? Which is the database that Rabbi Akiva actually holds is used by the Reboinoisheloilum??!!

But, the Gemara answers, this is not a problem. According to Rava, Kooley Alma Loi Pleegey, everyone agrees, that Hakadoshboruchhu uses an open source SQL database to track Schar V’Oinesh. So what are they arguing about? Says Rava, they are arguing about the operating system. According to Rabbi Akiva, Hakadoshboruchhu runs Windows, and He accesses the Schar V’Oinesh Database (SVO db [TM]) from a browser, though the actual SVO db is stored on a server in an offsite datacenter. And, adds Rabbi Akiva, every once in a while He will pull data into Excel to do some custom graphical reporting.

But according to Rabbi Yoise, the Aimishteh actually uses a powerful workstation running Linux, which also houses the SVO db. But not to worry, since the Reboinoisheloilum has a complex remote backup system, which ensures redundancy and 98% uptime. And, by the way, this is the same system that He uses to ensure world peace.

In such a beautiful Oilum, how can we think of anything besides Toirah? It is for this reason that we infuse Kiddushah into everything we do at any time and in any place. When we are at the Bais Medrish. When we are at work. And when we are at home. Because, as the Shulchan Aruch tells us, we have to remember that Hakadoshboruchhu is always in the room with us. He is always watching us. In short, He is a stalker. And the reason why the Shulchan Aruch tells us which shoe the Aimishteh wants us to put on first is because the Reboinoisheloilum also has a foot fetish.

However, children under the age of Bar or Bas Mitzvah are exempt from Schar V’Oinesh because the Hakadoshboruchhu does not stalk them. Dude – that’s really weird, even for Him.

I am reminded of a famous Maiseh Shehoya. The Vilna Goyn was once leading a rally against the Ba’al Shem Toiv, marching at the head of a crowd of hundreds of Misnagdim carrying torches, spears, and pitchforks. “Besht, you Minuval!” he called out in front of the castle where the Ba’al Shem Toiv was getting a makeover from three local homosexuals, “You are leading our people astray! If they follow your ways, they will become heretics!”

Suddenly, a small voice rang out from the middle of the mob. “But Reb Grah, what if the Besht’s ways lead members of Klal Yisroel to keep the mitzvois? Won’t that be better in eyes of the Reboinoisheloilum than if they become non-believers?”

The Goyn turned around to face the crowd. He called out, “Whoever made such a statement should step forward!” The crowd split and a very short young man stepped forward.” “What is your name, son?” the Goyn asked in a soft voice.

“Reuvain” the youth answered.

“Where are you from?”

“The town of Shklov.”

The Goyn suddenly raised his voice. “And is that where you learned that you should argue with the Gadol HaDor in front of an angry mob??!! Allow me to teach you a bit of Derech Eretz!” With that the Goyn thrust his pitchfork into the student’s body, impaling and disemboweling him in front of his hundreds of followers. “Score one point for our team!” he called out to the Misnagdisheh mob. “Now let’s go and find some Chassidic women and shave their heads!”

Rabboisai, we often feel like we are in a unique era of moral ambiguity. We often ask ourselves, “What should I do? What should I not do? What is the right thing to do in the eyes of the Aimishteh? How do I ensure my Schar in the Oilum Ha’Emes, or at least ensure that my Bashert doesn’t smash my head in with my SHAS while I am sleeping?”

When Klal Yisroel stood at Har Sinai and said “Na’aseh Va’Nishma” did it represent an eternal commitment, fixed in time and never changing? Some would say yes, but they would be disregarding the Eigel Ha’Zahav created by Aroin HaKoihain, the Minuval, when Moishe Rabbeinu hit a little traffic on the Cross Sinai Expressway. With that, Klal Yisroel’s eternal commitment was violated even before the ink could dry.

But Hakadoshboruchhu gave us another chance, and another chance, and another chance, over centuries and millennia. In between, he exiled us, and tortured us, and flayed the flesh of our faces, and burnt us in fire and sent us to the gas chamber. And yet we remain loyal to Him, and, we believe, He to us.

So it is clear that Klal Yisroel, and Yiddishkeit, are not chained to a single moment in time fixed at Sinai more than three thousand years ago that somehow becomes weaker and less relevant with the passing of each generation. On the contrary. Yiddishkeit seeks to renew and redefine our relationship with the Reboinoisheloilum in each generation. It is a living philosophy. Eitz Chayim Hee.

However, many of Klal Yisroel choose to see the Toirah as a dry, withering Sefer gathering dust in the back of the Bais Medrish. They prefer to focus on the type of fur that is halachically acceptable on a Shreimel, the proper religion of the Shiksa whose hair is used in a Sheytel, or the optimum height of the hilltop on the outskirts of Shechem on which to put up a trailer home. Or the minimum Shiyur that a wife must swallow in order to be called an “Eishess Chayill”. Yes, Rabboisai, some of you Mamzerim see the Toirah as a handcuff, rather than as a living Mikvah of insight.

Rabboisai, I invite you, my beloved Talmidim, to join me in diving into that Mikvah, to seek new sources of Toirah Truth. It will be a rewarding experience, and for an extra twenty bucks, Yankel the Mikvah attendant is sure to provide you with a happy ending.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Parshas Shlach

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====================================================


Parshas Shlach

This week's parsha, Shlach Lecha, is one of the most confusing parshiyois in Kol Hatoirah Kooloh. Takkah, I had to read it three times to make sure it wasn't the latest issue of the National Enquirer. Or even worse, a medrish.

Moishe Rabbeinu sends twelve spies into Eretz Yisroel to determine the fertility of the land, the vulnerability of the local populations, and the volatility of interest rates. The Meraglim come back and claim at first that the land is fertile, but the locals are too intimidating. They later change their story to say that the land itself does not provide adequate sustenance. Why can't they make up their minds, those mishagayim? Only Yehoshua and Culayv are optimistic about Klal Yisroel’s ability to conquer the land.

Confusing point #1: What could these people have been thinking? I mean, why would Yehoshua and Culayv be interested in Eretz Yisroel? How about Madagascar? What about Miami Beach? Or Brooklyn?

Also, as the spies were surveying the Promised Land, why didn't the Meraglim note that the hotels are overpriced; the people are rude; it's hard to find a decent kosher meal in Tel Aviv; oh, and HALF THE POPULATION WANTS TO KILL YOU!!!!

Takkah, according to a medrish in Divrei Hayamim Rabbah, the Meraglim never even made it into the heartland. Unbeknown to Moishe Rabbeinu and the Bnei Yisroel, the spies secretly went down to Eilat and spent seven days on the beach ogling at the topless Scandinavian women.

Confusing point #2: When Klal Yisroel, those bahaimas, panicked and longed to return to Egypt, the Reboinoisheloilum decides to kill them all. Moishe Rabbeinu pleads for their lives by using a somewhat surprising argument: (Bamidbar, Perek Yud Daled, Possuk Tess Vuv-Tess Zayin) “... if you (the Aimishteh) shall destroy this People in a single instance, the nations (of the world) which have heard of you will say, 'The Aimishteh slaughtered this People in the desert because He was unable to bring them into the Land which he swore to them...'"

In other words, "What will the Goyim say?" What will the Goyim say?!!! Who does Moishe think he is – Bibi Netanyahu or Simon Peres? Since when does Moishe Rabbeinu worry about the Goyim? Since when does any Jew worry about the opinions of the Goyim, those anti-Semites? Why, as is well known, in the world to come, the GOOD Goyim will walk around all day holding onto my tzitzis. And the BAD Goyim are going to be my "bitches", since, according to the Ari Zahl, when Moshiach comes there will no longer be a prohibition of Mishkav Zachar (homosexuality).

No wonder Moishe was never let into Eretz Yisroel! If he likes the Goyim so much, he should learn to play golf and shave with a blade.

The RAIVID, when looking at this episode, suggests that Moishe was secretly trying to anger Hakkadoshboruchhu in order to be released from his contract. The Mesopotamians were offering him 50% more per year to be their leader, four weeks of vacation, plus unlimited use of the corporate magic carpet.

However, the RAMBAN holds that Moisheh made the defensive argument in earnest. And, remarkably, the Aimishteh ultimately relented and did not destroy Klal Yisroel (though He did raise management fees by 50 basis points).

What is going on here? I am reminded of a famous story in Gemarrah Yevumois about Rabbi Tarfun. Once, at the end of a three day yuntif, Rabbi Tarfun went to put out the last of his garbage bags. However, he found that all the garbage cans outside of his house were full. He was about to put the bags into the cans of his gentile neighbors, when his wife stopped him, and insisted that he get permission first. "Why?" he asked her, as she painted the toe nails of their thirteen daughters.

She responded, "you never know when you are going to need a gentile's help." And it came to pass that three weeks later, as he tried to assemble his children’s' new swing set, the gentile next door was the only person in the entire neighborhood who knew how to change the head of a socket wrench.

This theme is also addressed in a famous story in the Zoihar. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was sitting in the cave where he hid from the Romans for 14 years. After spending an afternoon meditating, Rabbi Shimon fell asleep. Using his deep Kabbalistic knowledge and the pureness of his soul, he summoned the presence of the Reboinoisheloilum. "What do you want, Reb Shimon? I'm on another call," Hakkadoshboruchhu asked.

"Aimishteh," Rabbi Shimon responded, "I am getting tired of living in this filthy cave. Can you please take me away from all this suffering, and reward me with land and wealth and lots of spare time for Toirah and day trading? Why do the Goyim have it so good, while I, one of your chosen few, continue to struggle?"

The Reboinoisheloilum paused for a moment, and then responded in a low monotonous tone that was little above a whisper. "Reb Shimon, how many people in the world are there?" He asked.

"Why, about six billion" Rabbi Shimon slowly responded.

Hakkadoshboruchhu continued. "And how many Jews are there in the world?"

Again, Rabbi Shimon answered, this time quickly, and with more confidence in his voice. "I would guess about twenty million."

The Aimishteh then raised His voice. "So do you think that in a world of six billion people, all reality revolves around the actions and the fate of 20 million people, three tenths of one percent of the global population? What kind of reefer are you smoking in that cave, you michutziff??"

So the truth is, whether we like it or not, world opinion does matter. This may not make sense to you, you amhaaretz, but neither does shatnez or yeshiva tuition.

It also doesn't make sense that after witnessing all the miracles of the exodus from Egypt, the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, and receiving the Toirah, Klal Yisroels continue to rebel against the Reboinoisheloilum at every turn. But they should get over it already, and so should you.

Life doesn't make sense. And if you don't like it, you can always quit the religion and convert to Catholicism. There are a lot more of them.

Also I hear the tuition is cheaper. Plus you are likely to make a little extra cash when the Church pays you off after abusing your children.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

=====
http://rabbi-pinky.blogspot.com/
http://stores.lulu.com/rapas