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THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
On Schar V'Oinesh (Reward and Punishment)
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.”
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
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess