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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Parshas Vayigash




Parshas Vayigash

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayigash, we read of the culmination of the Yoisaiph Hatzadick story, where Yoisaiph Hatzadick exposes himself to his brothers, as well as to numerous underage bystanders.

Not long after, of course, Yankif Avinu is told that his beloved son Yoisaiph is indeed alive, ending his years of mourning. The Toirah is silent about how the wonderful news is told to Yankif. However, a famous Medrish tells us that the news was gently broken to Yankif by his granddaughter, Serach Bas Asher.

Serach Bas Asher was respected amongst her family as a talented singer and a musician. The Shfatim were concerned that breaking the news outright to Yankif would cause him to have a heart attack. So instead, they employed Serach to gently sing to her grandfather while playing the harp, and embed in her song the news that Yoisaiph was alive. The Medrish goes on to say that Serach’s reward for performing this great expression of Kibud Av VaAim was eternal life.

Unfortunately for Serach, her gift of eternal life was not accompanied by a matching gift of a trust fund or a professionally managed pension fund to support her financially. Consequently, she was dirt poor, and had to spend the next thousand years working as an exotic dancer in a Mesopotamian strip club.

Whatever became of Serach Bas Asher? There is a famous machloikess on this topic in a Gemarrah in Megillah.

-- According to Abaya, Serach prayed for the Reboinoisheloilum to end her life as she witnessed the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash and the descent of Klal Yisroel into the Babylonian exile.

-- According to Rava, Serach lived though Golus Bavel, returned to Eretz Yisroel with Ezra and Nechemia, and lived for several hundred more years. But as Sinas Chinum overtook Klal Yisroel in the years before the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, Serach could no longer withstand her role as eyewitness to all of Jewish history, and prayed to the Aimishteh to be taken to the Oilum HaEmmes.

-- However, according to Rav Shayshess, Serach Bas Asher is indeed still alive, and is currently living in Wisconsin, running an online porn site, SerachWILD.Com.

-- Rav Puppa concurs that Serach is still alive, but he insists that she is neither engaging in pornography, Chass V’Sholom, nor living in obscurity. Farkhert, he holds that she is leveraging her years of wisdom and experience to make the Reboinoisheloilum’s world a better place by engaging in public service, and is none other than Hillary Clinton. In addition, Rav Puppa holds that Joe Biden is really Culaiv Ben Yefuneh, Barack Oibama is actually Shloimoi Hamelech, and John Boehner is in reality Yeruvum Ben Nevut.

A different Gemarrah in Shabbos focuses on Yankif Avinu’s response to the revelation of Yoisaiph’s whereabouts. According to Rav Chisda, upon hearing the news that Yoisaiph was alive, Yankif looked up to Shamayim and recited Hallel “at having lived to see the handiwork of the Etzbah Eloikim.” However, according to Rabba Bar Bar Channa, Yankif Avinu first looked down to the floor and took a moment to reflect on the enormity of the information. Then he turned around and bitch-slapped Yissaschar and Zevulun in the head, and then kicked Naftali in the Schvantzlach.

RASHI, however, is not at all troubled by the confusion raised by the total lack of any real information in theis story. He states in Perek Chuff Baiz, Passuk Yud Aleph that the entire Parsha of Vayigash should not be taken literally anyway, but should be read as a complete metaphor… for Parshas Miketz, which makes even less sense than Parshas Vayigash. Consequently, every year at this time, to coincide with Chanukah, RASHI would take a break from writing his commentary and travel abroad to sample the new wines being developed in Sonoma County. He would stay at a boutique hotel in downtown San Francisco and take day trips to the wineries where he would drink enough, he writes, “until I can no longer tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabarnet, or between a woman names Chris and a cross-dresser named Christine.” Shoyn.

As we sit here in our modern world, how are we to relate to the entire Yoisaiph Hatzadick story, and, in fact, to the entire Yankif Avinu cycle? Did we even need the brave actions of Yoisaph Hatzadick to begin with? Would we not have been better off had Klal Yisroel not descended to Egypt? Why did Hakkadoshboruchhu have to put our ancestors through hundreds of years of suffering the stinging horrors and humiliations of slavery, only to return to Eretz Yisroel through bitter conquest? Could we not have just stayed there in the first place and survived the famine by taking government subsidies?

Indeed, this is a reflection of a broader existential quandary – linked to one of the ultimate questions facing Klal Yisroel: Why is our history so twisted and tinged with challenge and tragedy? If we are indeed the Aimishteh’s chosen people, could we not have had it a bit easier, like, say, the Norwegians? Who is at fault for our having such a convoluted and tortured fate?

According to Reb Yoisaiph Katski, this is indeed the fault of Hakadoshboruchhu Himself, Bichvoidoi UbiAtzmoi. He points to the Akeidah and notes that just as Yitzchak’s life is spared when a lost little lamb is sacrificed in his stead, the Reboinoisheloilum constantly looks at the world, is tempted to destroy it, remembers His oath to Noiach, and then uses Klal Yisroel as His punching bag to take out His frustrations.

Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah holds farkhert. According to Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah, the eternal fate of Klal Yisroel is of course not the Aimishteh’s fault! He loves us the same way a child lives his pet hamster. Rather, we should really blame all the ills of our lives on our parents: If they had only loved us a little more as we were children, and bought us that thing that we really wanted, and let us watch a little more TV, and helped us more with out homework, and not favored our younger brother, and had been less critical of our bisomim smoking friends, we would have been better adjusted and had all the needed confidence to succeed in our lives' endeavors. Yes, it is our parents who are at fault for the failure of our going down to Egypt, for us being exiled, and for all of our other failings. Indeed, the fact that we are 3,000 years old, still wet our beds, suck our thumbs, and are always looking for a handout proves that our parents never really cared about us!

However, according to the Reb Bezalel Kupkayk, our eternal fate is the fault of neither Hakadoshboruchhu nor of our parents. Rather, it is the fault of the liberal media. Case in point: Did we really have to know that Yoisaiph had actually been sold into slavery by his brothers, who then lied to Yankif Avinu and maintained the lie for the next two decades? Is it that big a deal? Every nation has its little internal arguments, and exposing this disagreement only plays into the hands of our enemies.

Similarly, we would never have been exiled from Eretz Yisroel if the liberal media was not always talking about how corrupt the kings of Israel were. They should really love the country, otherwise they should keep their mouths shut. Did the liberal media need to tell us that idolatry was introduced into the Bais Hamikdash by Shloimoi HaMelech and most of the other kings of Malchus Yehuda? These were a few isolated events, blown totally out of proportion. And so what if there were poor members of Klal Yisroel being ignored by their fellow man -- they were probably illegal immigrants anyway. And so what if there were widows and orphans -- they should have planned better for the future!

Yes, it was the liberal media that undermined the position of Malchis Bais David, the Malchus of the Chashmonaim, and later, the leadership of the Nasi in the post Temple period. Media vehicles such as CNN, ABC, National Public Radio, Kol Yisroel, Israel's Channel 10, Shmuel Aleph and Baiz, Melachim Aleph and Baiz, Yishayahu, Yirmiyahu and the other prophets, as well as the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. By the actions of the liberal media, our enemies have been strengthened and given constant reason to hate us and persecute us. Reboinoisheloilum-Damned-Liberal-Media!

I am reminded of a famous Machloikess in the medieval period. The RIF and the RAN got into a disagreement with the RALBAG and the RITVAH over who had the bigger shtender, Moishe Rabbeinu or Aaroin HaKoihain, the minuval. The RIF and the RAN insist that Moishe’s shtender was bigger, as we are told that Moishe was the greatest Navi that ever lived, and how can you imagine a Navi with an inferior shtender? The RALBAG and the RITVAH, however, refer to the fact that the descendents of Aharoin HaKoihain received the Kehunah as proof that Aharoin had a bigger shtender. After all, they argue, “only someone with a groisse shtender could have earned the right to appoint his descendants to the institutional leadership of future generations."

I would like to suggest a different approach. LeOilum, this debate isn’t really about the size of one's shtender. After all, size doesn’t matter, or so my Bashert, Feige Breineh, frequently reassures me. Rather, it is the scope of one’s influence that really counts. Moishe Rabbeinu was the greatest Navi, but his descendants were more interested in learning Toirah, and less focused on addressing the everyday needs of Klal Yisroel. By contrast, Aroin Hakoihain was indeed a minuval, what, with the designing of the Eigel and speaking Rechilus about Moishe. Yet his children were committed to serving Klal Yisroel, even if that meant giving of their private time, sacrificing commitments to their children, violating their marital vows, or taking of the collected wealth of Klal Yisroel. As a result, through their actions, they established the paradigm of the future religious leadership of Klal Yisroel.

Similarly, Yoisaiph Hatzadick and the cycle of stories that surround him do not represent some perfect era of Klal Yisroel’s history. On the contrary, they tell us that the nature of the relationship between Klal Yisroel and the Reboinoisheloilum is not at all clear. In fact, it is downright convoluted. Yet, what is crystal clear from the story of Yoisaiph is that the will of Hakkadoshboruchhu is best served when we hide our own identities, marry shiksas, work for the goyim, and abuse our brethren. Only then can we be in a strong position to help bring about the Geulah Shlaimah for all of Klal Yisroel. Bimayra BiYamainu. Umayn.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah Drasha




Chanukah Drasha

This week we celebrate Chanukah, the Yuntif in which the Jews defeated the Greeks in a struggle to preserve Jewish heritage from the onslaught of creeping Hellinistic cultural imperialism. We commemorate this great event, of course, by reenacting the joy, the lights and the gift giving of Christmas, extended over an eight day period.

(When I was a young bocher, we were so poor that my tahti used to give me potatoes for Chanukah. And I was lucky. The children next door used to get egg shells. Nowadays, poor orphans, Rachmanah Letzlan, can only get Playstation Three games to play on their 25 inch LCD TVs. Uchinvei.)

RASHI asks a penetrating question: Why do we even bother celebrating Chanukah, given all the bad that came out of the Chashmonaim, the Hasmonians:

- They ignored the legacy of Malchus Bais Dovid, the Davidic dynasty, and replaced it with their own;

- They replaced the priestly leadership of the descendants of Tzaddok, in place since the time of Shlomo Hamelech, with a competing strand of the priesthood;

- After one generation in power, they became the most despotic regime in the history of Jewish sovereignty;

- And they sanctified gambling in the form of the dreidel, a game I cannot win no matter how much I cheat.

Indeed, Chazal had such ambivalent feelings about Chanukah, they never gave the holiday it's own masechta (tractate) in the Talmud. So why should we care?

The Rabbeinu Tam answers that had it not been for the Chashmonaim, we would now all be wearing dresses and having sex with young boys.

The Rabbeinu Mordechai responds farkhert, that hallevai we should all be wearing dresses and sleeping with young boys. That sure beats pogroms, terrorism, and having to pay yeshiva tuition. He suggests, instead, that we celebrate Chanukah out of respect for our parents' generation, who, quite frankly, didn't know any better.

The RAMBAN takes a totally different approach. He suggests that Chazal instituted Chanukah solely to satisfy the powerful olive oil lobby in ancient times. In reality, Chanukah was the compromise. The lobby was pushing for a "Let's rub olive oil all over each other and go to the mikvah together" Yuntif, but it sounded a bit too Greek.

On this topic, the Sifsey Chachomim brings down a beatiful gemmarah in Nidah, which tells the following maaiseh shehoyo: Rish Lakish went ot the mikveh one day with the Raish Gelusa. While he was being toivel-zeyn (immersing himself in the waters) someone stole his clothing. Rish Lakish turned to the Raish Gelusa, "Can you lend me your cloak so I can go out and get replacement clothing?"

"I cannot lend you my cloak, but I would gladly rent it to you for 100 zuzum," the Raish Gelusa answered. At that point, Rish Lakish hit the Raish Gelusa on the head with a rock and walked away with his cloak AND his wallet. (The Raish Gelusa was later found by Nachum Ish Gamzu, who brought him over to Ben Drusoy's house to be revived with a little snack.)

The Sifsey Chachomim points out that while assaulting the Raish Gelusa was wrong, Rish Lakish was only responding to the Raish Gelusa's unreasonable demands. So rather than fault Rish Lakish in the story, we should hold him in great esteem and emulate his every action, especially with Goyim and the Reformed.

So too with Chanukah. Whatever wrongs were later done by the Chashmonaim and their descendants, they were responding to such travesties as hogs in the Bais Hamikdash and men in designer skirts. That the Aimishteh chose to make these future despots the heros of the day reveals His dark sense of humor, as well as his faithful commitment to seeing the Jews oppressed, even at the hand of their own.

The ARI ZAHL compares Chanukah to a Bris Milah. Like a Bris, Chanukah is achieved over a period of eight days. Like with the birth of a son, gifts are exchanged. And like with a Bris, we end Chanukah with some portion of us stripped away, taken by the Moyhel or the Toys-R-Us clerk, whichever the case may be. The ARI ZAHL's mystical explanation is that the eight day cycle is linked to cosmic activities involved in rescuing the lost holy sparks from the Tehom, in a effort to restore mankind and creation to their original purity.

In other words, they both make about as much sense as men wearing designer skirts.

Ah Gutten Yuntif, you Minuval

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Extra Bonus Drasha: On the Blessed Event




On the Blessed Event


I was on my way to the Lower East Side last Sunday when I decided to take respite from my journey and stopped to engage a roadside Kedaishah. Under other circumstances, my Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, would have responded by carving her initials on my Bris Milah with a Challah knife. However, given that following my brief encounter (at which, I should note, I left behind neither my staff nor my signet ring, only my Gold Card) I successfully completed my errand, and all was forgiven. And what, you may ask, was my task? Well, I went to the Lower East Side to pick up the gold-lame-and-sequin-covered Bentchers for the Bar Mitzvah of my Einikel, little Feivel.

What is the source of the Mitzvah of the Bar Mitzvah, and what is the Ikkar Mitzvah upon which we are Metzuveh? I bet you have wondered this your whole life, you ignorant Shaygitz, but never made an effort to ask because it would have required you to get up from the television for five minutes.

Well, the source of the Bar Mitzvah is discussed explicitly in a Gemarrah in Kesuvois. According to Rav Ashi, the Bar Mitzvah is conducted to commemorate the bond between the Reboinoisheloilum and Klal Yisroel. And the reason why it requires a boy to celebrate at the age of thirteen is Zecher L’Yishmael, to commemorate the age at which Yishmael, that other son of Avraham Avinu, had his Bris Milah. And we emulate the removal of Yishmael’s foreskin by emasculating our sons in front of an audience of 400 Shul-goers.

But Rabbi Chiya holds Farkhert: Making a thirteen year old Leyn in front of family, friends, and strangers is not at all like a Bris Milah, since the scars of Bris Milah heal within a week. Rather, Rabbi Chiya argues, a Bar Mitzvah is more like Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac. The fear and loathing of reading the Parsha in Shul and being corrected by a handful of self-righteous perfectionist misanthropes can only be compared to sending your own son to slaughter, only this time with a sushi bar and a Viennese table. And the resulting emotional scars indeed echo the deep psychological trauma that undoubtedly plagued Yitzchak Avinu throughout his entire life.

How is one required to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah? A different Gemarrah in Eiruvin notes that Rish Lakish, when not learning for twenty six hours a day in the Bais Medrish, supported himself by working as a photographer at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, divorces, and the occasional Baptism. The Gemarrah quotes Rish Lakish as saying, “Three is better than one, but six is better than three.” According to Reb Saadya Goyn, Rish Lakish was referring to Ma’aisei Biyuh on the weekend. But according to Reb Hai Goyn, Rish Lakish was referring to members of a band playing at a Bar Mitzvah, noting that “a one man band at a Bar Mitzvah is like a flat-chested woman. The equipment may work, but it’s never your preference.”

There is a Machloikess Reshoinim that emanates from this Gemarrah between RASHI, Toisfois, and the ROISH regarding how a thirteen year old boy should commemorate his Bar Mitzvah. Koolay Alma Loi Pligi, everyone agrees, that a Bar Mitzvah boy should mark his becoming a man by reading from the Toirah. So where do they argue? They debate regarding what should follow Kriyas HaToirah. According to RASHI, after successfully reading his Parsha, a Bar Mitzvah Bochur should go into the Bais Medrish to recite Hallel. According to Toisfois, a thirteen year old boy should follow up his reading of the Toirah by going to the kitchen to eat a hearty breakfast. But according to the Roish, after finishing his Maftir and Haftoirah, a Bar Mitzvah boy should be escorted from the main sanctuary by a group of his friends, singing and dancing, and should be led to the Yichud room for a half hour session with his Tahtee’s “special friend”, Bambi.

There is an interesting historical debate regarding another important Bar Mitzvah custom – the throwing of candy at the Bar Mitzvah boy. What is the source of this custom? According to the ARI ZAHL, the practice was established by the MAHARAM MiRothenburg during the persecutions of 1275 in order to beat away the dark Klipois from the body of the child, leaving only the Holy Sparks. However, according to Reb Moishe Cordovero, the custom of throwing candy was introduced by the RAMBAM during the recession of 1194 in order to drum up business by raising the level of diabetes in the community.

How much should one spend on a Bar Mitzvah? This question has been a source of deep Toirah discussion, Talmudic discourse, marital debate, and bankruptcy hearings for the past 700 years.

According to the Shulchan Aruch, a person should not spend more than would be required to feed guests “KeBaitzah”, about an egg’s volume of food. However, he believes that the Bar Mitzvah should be a celebratory event open to the entire community and neighboring communities, costing no less than two months of the average household income, as defined by the KY (Klal Yisroel) Index based on the average income of all Jews for the twelve months prior to the event.

The RAMAH, however, disagrees, referring to Reb Yoisaiph Karo, the Mechaber of the Shulkhan Aruch, as a “swarthy cheapskate”. The RAMAH holds that one is required to feed every guest “KeTarnegol”, a volume of food equivalent to the size of a chicken. In addition, the RAMAH points out, one must have at least one live band, or, at a minimum, a DJ accompanied by motivational dancers. As well, suggests the RAMAH, one is required to hand out Tchatchkees (“little toys from China” in English) to all of the children to bring home, so that their parents will be reminded to begin planning for their own blessed events by serving a one dollar box of pasta at every meal for the next year, except for Shabbos Koidesh, when they are permitted to serve Traif meat since it is a quarter of the price of Koisher. The cost of the Bar Mitzvah should be no less than six months of average household income according to the KY Index, or half of the family assets, whichever is the larger number.

Finally, the Mishnah Berurah holds that one must feed every guest “KeEigel”, a volume of food equivalent to a small cow. The food should be varied and should include no less than four courses, including fresh sushi served by a Mexican chef who sort-of looks Asian. Further, it is a Mitzvah to have a half hour of speeches and a video montage, so that the guests will have an opportunity to take a brief nap between courses. In addition to Tchatchkees, there is a requirement to have novelty photo booths and games for the children to play. There should also be adult activities for the parents and grandparents – a makeup artist for the women, so they can experiment with different eye shades and colors of nail polish, and lap dances for the men, preferably delivered by the hot Shiksa motivational dancers. The Mishnah Berurah also holds that it is a Hiddur Mitzvah, a preferred additional Mitzvah, to have jugglers, Chassidic guys who can dance with bottles on their heads, and elephants. The minimum cost is equivalent to half of the value of the family home or ten times Yeshivah tuition, whichever is the larger number.

I spent much time going through these Halachois with my own son, Reb Boruch Gedalia Pesachya Issur Simcha Schmeckelstein, regarding the planning of the Bar Mitzvah for my Einikel, Feivel Yisroel Shmuel Eliyahu Rabbah. My son, of course, is known by his Rabbinic acronym, the BIG PISS, while my grandson is known as the Little PISHER. After a detailed discussion of the religious laws, as well as a forensic review of our family finances, we determined to spend somewhere between the position of the Shulchan Aruch and the RAMAH. However, we agreed that the more important component of the Bar Mitzvah was the reading of the weekly Toirah portion.

To ensure that the Little PISHER would not feel excessive family pressure, we hired an outside Bar Mitzvah teacher. For $50 a lesson, he taught little Feivel the week’s Parsha. For an extra $25 a lesson, he taught him the Haftoirah. And for another $20 a lesson, he also taught Feivel the week’s New Testament reading, which is from Mark, Perek Chuff Baiz, where we read about how Jesus kills an abortion doctor, and how John The Baptist is reassigned by the Church to teach in a school for children that can neither speak nor write.

I am reminded of a famous Maiseh Shehoya. The Chernobler Rebbe, the Meor Einayim – Reb Menachem Nachum Twersky, was once delivering a Drasha on the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan, the chasing away of a mother bird before taking the baby birds to eat. The Toirah, of course, promises the same reward for this Mitzvah as the reward promised for honoring one’s parents. The Cherlobler suggested that the Mitzvois of Shiluah HaKan and Kahbaid Ess Avicha are comparable because they are two sides of the same coin: The purpose of a parent is to raise a child to become an adult, and we must respect that role, even once the children have left the nest. Suggested the Chernobler, “We make a Bar Mitzvah celebration to commemorate the children’s leaving the nest. This is a celebration for the benefit of the parents, for which they receive great joy.”

After Shul was over, a boy of thirteen came over to the Rebbe and asked, “Rebbe, why is the Bar Mitzvah a celebration for the parents when it is the son who does all the work?”

The Rebbe looked down at the boy, smiled warmly, and said, “Son, at your age, you have a lot of joy. You wake up in the morning, and you have joy. You are in front of your classroom, writing at the board, and you have joy, to your great embarrassment. You are riding in the school bus and feel a bit of a vibration, and you have joy, whether you want it or not. You even get a little joy when you look at the three hundred pound secretary in your Yeshiva. And when you are alone in your room and have a few minutes to yourself, you are overflowing with joy, I am sure. I know I was when I was your age – at least twice a day.”

The Chernobler continued. “But your parents don’t have all that much joy anymore. If they are lucky, they have joy maybe once a week. So if the Bar Mitzvah gives them a little more joy, it can only help the marriage. At least until their house is repossessed.” With that, the Rebbe went off to do vodka shots, fondle Mrs. Goldberg, and take a nap.

Finally, I would like to address one related Shailah that many of my Talmidim ask me. Whenever I discuss this topic, they ask, why do I only focus on the Bar Mitzvah of a boy, and never discuss a Bat Mitzvah? The answer is quite simple: Girls are not supposed to have big celebrations when they reach the age of Mitzvois. According to the RIF, the most a girl should have is a party when she gets her first… err… Oirach KaNashim. At that party the parents should serve hard boiled eggs and hand out feminine protection to all the girl’s friends as party favors. After all, if the Reboinoisheloilum wanted girls to have a big party, read from the Toirah, put on Tfillin, be counted in a Minyan, be required to Daven three times a day, get equal pay for equal work, have the right to vote, be allowed to drive, etc., He would have given them a penis.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess


Parshas Vayayshev



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Parshas Vayayshev

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayayshev, we read characteristic tales that reflect the great moral fabric of our ancestors. These stories include:

-- Yoisaif Hatzadik has repeated dreams of future domination over his brothers and his parents. His brothers express displeasure at these dreams. And who can blame them? Believe me: If your brother boasted that you would one day bow down to him, you would want to kick him in the Bris Milah too.

-- Yehuda fathers the family line that will result in Malchus Bais David, the Davidic monarchy. Of course, along the way he did have to sleep with his daughter in law, Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute on the road in order to seduce him. Maylah, after reading this week’s Parsha, I feel a lot less guilty about buying that French maid’s costume and riding crop from Fredericks of Hollywood for my Bashert, Feyga Breinah.

-- The Shvatim, completely fed up with Yoisaif Hatzadik’s undermining of their positions with their father, decide to kill Yoisaif. At the last moment they cast him into a pit and take his Kesoines Passim, his Coat of Many Colors, cover it with goat’s blood and bring it to their father, to whom they report that their beloved sibling was eaten by a beast. Yankif is inconsolable -- to the point of ceasing day trading for a full six hours!

A gemarrah in Soitah brings down a Beraisah quoting a question from Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah: “Are we, Klal Yisroel, really descendants of these people? I mean, seriously, is it possible we could be adopted? Please?!” Rabbi Elazar goes on to point out that he never in his life tried to kill any of his brothers or sleep with his son’s wife, though he once did grope his sister-in-law during havdalah.

What follows is a famous machloikess in the gemarrah surrounding Rabbi Elazar’s comments:

Rish Lakish holds that Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah found the activities of the Avois and the Shvatim quite disturbing, and felt that we should try to emulate the more positive aspects of their lives, such as Yosaif Hatzadik’s nice hair style, the Shvatim’s bargaining skills with Ishmaelite merchants, and Yehuda’s giving of generous tips to even the lowliest of roadside prostitutes.

However, Rav Huna holds farkhert: In reality all of the stories brought down in the Toirah do indeed reflect positive elements of our ancestors’ behavior, if only you understood the Toirah properly, you worthless minuval. He explains:

-- Yoisaif was a gadol amongst his brothers, and had true visions of his future exile and eventual ascent to power in Egypt. And in his dreams, his family members were not bowing down to him – rather, they were all picking up pennies from the floor.

-- The Shvatim were afraid that Yoisaif’s perceived arrogance would be a bad influence on their children, and therefore determined to strengthen their own families by kidnapping their brother. And their persistent lying to their father about Yoisaif’s fate was an attempt to Practice the mitzvah of Shiluach Hakan.

-- And Yehuda never, ever, ever, EVER meant in his life to go to a prostitute, chass vesholom. Unfortunately, in his business travels he was exposed to television, and after watching Lady Gaga on MTV he had a tremendous taiyvah. And instead of committing a Dioraisa by himself, if you know what I mean, he chose to do a DeRabannan with Tamar. What a tzadik!

Rav Huna cites proof for his position on the high moral integrity of the Shvatim. He notes that Yoiseph Hatzadik, after he had risen to lead the household of Potiphar, rejected the advances of Mrs. Potiphar. Says Rav Huna: this is because Yoiseph knew Kol HaToirah Kooloh and didn’t want to commit an act of Gilui Arayois – adultery.

But Rish Lakish retorts, citing a medrish in Beraishis Rabbah that says that Mrs. Potiphar weighed 400 pounds and had facial hair that made her look like Yassir Arafat. Rish Lakish also cites a different medrish in the Mekhilta that suggests while living in Potiphar’s house, Yoiseph Hatzadik spent ALL of his time on the weekends going shopping with Potiphar’s younger brother, Merlot, and had no interest in Mrs. Potiphar whatsoever. Rish Lakish concludes, “Rav Huna should spend more time tying his tzitzis rather than trying to reinterpret the basic pshat of Beraishis." Shoyn.

The gemarrah never settles this machloikess and the Rishoinim do not really talk about it. However, this machloikess is most famously addressed in the Likutei HaRABAM and in the Igroiss Penthouse.

Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah’s comments, and Rish Lakish’s understanding of them, raise a broader question about Yiddishkeit. There are many Halachois and Biblical incidents that stand in contrast to our contemporary sensibilities -- and even any against rational logic itself. A few halachic examples include: the halachois of mikvah, where due to Rabbinic invasion of the marital bedroom two weeks out of every month, men have to take matters into their own hands, if you know what I mean; the notion of animal sacrifice: killing an innocent animal for our own self serving purposes; the killing of an animal that has been the forced subject of bestiality; and the laws of Cherem, the complete decimation of the indigenous population during Kibbush Eretz Yisroel, including women and children.

Other examples include: the promotion of Dovid HaMelech and Shlomo HaMelech as role models and as the paradigmatic rulers of Klal Yisroel, even though Dovid was a murderer and Shlomo was an idolater whose despotism towards the northern tribes resulted in the breakup of the united monarchy; and the promotion of Aroin HaKoihain’s descendants as the priestly caste despite Aroin’s guilt in the Maiseh Ha-Eygel. How are we to relate to a faith that is founded upon many values that we do not necessarily share?

I am reminded of a famous Maaseh Shehoya. Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavicher Rebbe, was once walking to shul on Shabbos morning. It was cold that day, and Reb Shneur struggled to keep his hands warm. As he was crossing the street he noticed Malkah Shprintza, the childless woman who lived across the street. “Come over here so I can give you a bracha!” he called over to her. She walked across the street, and he greeted her by rapidly grabbing her behind and cupping a naked buttock in each freezing hand.

“Rebbe!” she screamed, “what are you doing?”

He replied “I am giving you a bracha: The Reboinoisheloilum should make you favored like Ruchel, fertile like Leah and cunning like Rivka.”

“What happened to Sarah Imainu?” Malkah Shprintza asked, suddenly enchanted by the grand Rebbe’s bracha.

Reb Shneur Zalman looked at her and smiled. “Meideleh” he said, “trust me, you don’t want to be like Sarah Imainu. She was crazier than my mother in law during a hot flash on Yoim Kippur!” With that, Reb Schneur rushed into shul just in time to do vodka shots.

So, just as the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, we have to be intelligently selective about how we understand, and apply, the foundational elements of the Toirah. Should we abandon the faith? No. But that does not mean that we should behave like brainless automatons.

In many ways, we practice Yiddishkeit not because of many of these foundational elements, but despite them. We coexist uncomfortably with these Halachois, stories and role models. We can choose to ignore them, or to embrace them. Just so long as we understand that the main gift of Hakkadoshboruchhu is free will.

However, you minuval, you may choose to reject free will -- in which case you should feel free to partake of every roadside prostitute, just like our ancestor Yehuda. And if you do, just remember to bring cash. Always bear in mind the timeless lesson of Yehuda: if you leave a prostitute your cloak, your staff or other forms of ID as payment, it is likely to come back and bite you in the ass.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

On Forgiveness

On Forgiveness


I wrote the below words on a plane, returning from a trip to Germany during the Aseres Yemai Teshuvah. I did not send them at the time because, frankly, I was very disappointed with the behavior of my Talmidim on Roish Hashanah: Everyone was constantly talking. The men were Davening without Kavannah. The women had their Sheytlach on lopsided. And all in front of Hakkadoshboruchhu, on His birthday no less! You should all be ashamed of yourselves!

Well, now, two months later, I have forgiven you. The Reboinoisheloilum probably hasn’t, but He seems to have His hands full, what, with the European economic crisis, the various civil uprisings in the Middle East, the NBA lockout, and Herman Cain’s harem.


I had the good fortune of being designated the Chief Rabbi of this year’s Oktoberfest in Munich, a hearty celebration of creation: The men celebrate the creation of beer by consuming excessive amounts of overpriced lager while walking around in Lederhosen, leather Gatkis held up by suspenders, looking like overgrown little boys. (This was Michael Jackson’s favorite annual holiday, they say.) And the women celebrate creation by prominently displaying the excessive cleavage with which the Aimishteh generously endowed them. “Boruch Oiseh Maisei Beraishis!”

It is odd to visit Germany during Tishrei, the month that begins with Roish Hashanah, includes Yoim Kippur, and ends with Sukkois. According to Chazzal, the book of life is written on Roish Hashanah, it is signed and sealed on Yoim Kippur, but it is only picked up by FEDEX on Shmini Atzeres. So nearly the entire month is dedicated to contemplating the past and repenting, as well as spending many, many hours in Shul to avoid having to spend time with your mother-in-law.

When visiting Germany at this time of year one cannot help but think about the broader theme of repentance and forgiveness, not the Teshuvah of an individual, but the repentance of a collective, of a whole society. Can a society which committed such extreme crimes truly repent? And at what point does forgiveness become manifest?
I must say that today’s Germany is a beautiful country. The people are largely very nice. Some of the architecture is magnificent. Germany is clearly the economic engine of the whole of Europe, propping up the Continent in its moments of crisis. And, if we are honest, it is a country whose actual sinners are no more. Any remaining Nazis from World War II are infirm, are in hiding, or are institutionalized at Saint Adolf’s Home For Retired Nazis, whiling away their time playing checkers.

So, in day to day in Germany you are highly unlikely to meet a person who has Jewish or Russian or Polish or Gypsy or Communist or Homosexual blood on his hands. In that sense, a chapter of history is over.

And let’s face it: They may have killed my grandparents and my aunts and uncles, but any society that produces the greatest beer in the world and eats soft pretzels for breakfast cannot be all bad…

So the notion of individual sin in Germany is no longer relevant. But yet, there is a collective legacy .

Truth be told, Germany is a society which has struggled to come to terms with its legacy. Reparations were paid in the billions to individuals and to the State of Israel (and continue to be paid). Germany is an anchor of support for the State of Israel in many quiet ways that are not well know, such as serving as the conduit for negotiations for Israeli soldiers being held captive, including Gilad Shalit. And, indeed, Jewish life has undergone a renaissance in many cities throughout Germany, especially in Berlin. In Munich, the new Jewish Cultural Center is a museum that houses the city’s central synagogue and is broadly celebrated for its architecture. This in a city that is famous for its grand architectural tradition, as well as its Beer Hall Putsches.

Not all is perfect of course. There are Neo Nazis. There are extensive business dealings with Iran and other countries that are not our friends. But one can say the same about any Western country. And if you are looking for places where Jew hating is a daily sport, you need not look beyond Mea Shearim, Bnei Brak, Williamsburg, or Boro Park.

And one must certainly contrast the German approach with the Austrian approach, where denial of complicity in the Shoah continues to this day. So on the whole, guilt has been acknowledged and repentance has been manifested. Teshuvah has been performed.

But is there forgiveness?

I recall a recent e-mail debate about whether the Yeshivah’s Kiddush Committee should participate in a boycott of certain brands of scotch that are either manufactured or bottled in a specific region of Scotland that is boycotting Israeli products. I was a strong advocate of the scotch boycott, though one detractor argued that if one buys German products, why shouldn’t they also buy these specific brands of scotch. So a debate ensued in which discussion of a contemporary issue morphed into a discussion of how one should relate to historical crimes. Do all of the reparations, all of the political and social measures, compensate for all of the loss of life? Can you put a price on loss of life and human suffering?

Which brings us to the exchange of Gilad Shalit for over 1,000 Palestinians prisoners, many with “blood on their hands”, personally guilty for some of the most heinous acts of terror of the last 15 years. Does the release of the planners of the Sbarro bombing and other such acts signal forgiveness, especially when there has been no Teshuvah? And yet, a price was paid as ransom. But would any of us argue in our right minds that forgiveness of prison sentences in this instance is in any way equal to the forgiveness of crimes committed?

So forgiveness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

When we contemplate our own repentance, we tend to focus on Teshuvah as an individual act for individual sins. But we should not forget communal Teshuvah as well. How often have we looked the other way within our own community when we knew of people cheating the government in areas like taxes and social welfare programs? How often have we ignored the silent victims of sexual and child abuse, because to address the issues face on would be a “Shanda for the Goyim”? How often have we fallen into the trap of arrogance or self-righteousness? “They persecuted us.” “We are only doing what others do.” “I put on Tfillin, I am Chosen, therefore I am exempt.”

Teshuvah, you Minuval, is not a simple formula,. It is not that the Klopping on the chest and the recitation of endless Al Chayts naturally guarantee forgiveness. These are formulas designed to create a state of ,mind, a sense of humility, as well as countless black and blue marks. But insincere words and deeds do not constitute Teshuvah.

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. The Kotzker Rebbe was once suffering from a toothache, so he went to visit the dentist. After the dentist performed a tooth extraction, he asked for a payment of fifty zloties. “I will give something even better than zloties” the Kotzker responded. “I will give you words of Toirah.”

So the Kotzker delivered a Drasha on the power of Kavanah and the seven levels of heaven, culminating in the secret formula for reaching Oilam Habbah, being rewarded in the World to Come.

“But Rabbi” the dentist said, “I am a Roman Catholic. I don’t believe in a word you said.”

“That’s OK” the Kotzker replied. “Neither do I.”

Rabboisai, Klal Yisroel is scarred by our collective history. Many of us struggle with keeping our historical legacy of persecution in perspective: The Romans, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Poles, the Cossacks, the Nazis, etc. We retain grudges and prejudices against individuals over communal crimes, in many cases long in the past. It is a part of our own collective identity. I am persecuted, therefore I am. But while we need to retain the lessons of the past, we mustn’t be trapped in it. Your mother-in-law may have given birth to your spouse, but you certainly don’t want her to move in and sleep with you every night.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Friday, December 02, 2011

On Current Events




On Current Events


Please excuse my mispellingz. I am writing this on my IPad as I sit here in Tahrir Square in Cairo, checking out all the hot Muslim Brotherhood meidlach wearing their hijabs. I am astounded at how they can believe that their drab cloth hair coverings are any more modest than the Sheytel of my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, which is made out of the actual real hair of Adolph Hitler’s granddaughter, coiffed in the 1970s style of Farrah Fawcett Majors by my wife’s trusted Sheytelmacher, Schprintze Guttenschtupp.

I have been out here for two and a half weeks with my comrades in arms, standing here in the cold, and the heat, sipping mint tea and eating baklawa when not running from the secret police. I have made many new friends: Mustafa, who is a lawyer with the Egyptian law firm Hussein Hussein Hussein and Goldberg; Abdul, who is a teacher in a high school earning seventy dollars a month and all the chick peas he can eat; Kareem, who is unemployed, loves American movies, and would like to marry a nice Jewish girl and move to Florida; and Anwar, who is a shopkeeper and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who constantly thanks me effusively for supporting their cause, and then tells me how and his friends will celebrate the joy and freedom of the new Egypt by dancing on my grave when I am dead.

Rabboisai, there is a famous story about the Vilna Goyn. He once was sitting in his Bais Medrish learning Hilchois Tashmish HaBackSeatOfTheCar when two Talmidim of the Yeshiva broke into a loud argument, disrupting the studies of the entire Yeshiva. “Shah, you Minuvals!” the Goyn called out. But his students would not stop bickering, and he called them into his office. As they sat down on either side of him, sulking, he poured himself a double shot of single malt Shlivovitz.

“So you Vilde Chayas” the Goyn asked, “what is so important that you had to disturb my learning just when I was getting to the happy ending?”

Yechiel, his Talmid Muvhak, responded. “I found the jacket that I am holding.” With both hands he held onto a black wool coat trimmed with linen.

The other student, Oivadiah, held onto the other end of the coat and shouted “no, I found it!” Oivadiah was a new student in the Yeshivah whose tan complexion made him stand out from all the other pale students.

Yechiel argued, “No, it only belongs to me!”

“No, it only belongs to me!” Oivadiah replied.

The Vilna Goyn grabbed the coat out of both of their hands and declared “I will decide who this belongs to!” The students were immediately silent. An intense heat emanated from the Goyn’s eyes as he looked first at one and then the other. The few moments felt liked an uncomfortable abyss of solitude. Suddenly the Goyn spoke, in a soft but stern voice. “This coat belongs to Yechiel.”

“But Rebbe,” Oivadiah responded, “how can you declare that the coat belongs to that Mamzer? The Mishnah teaches us that in such a case, you have to divide the garment between the two of us.”

“That is true,” replied the Goyn. “But you are Sephardic, so I simply don’t like you. Now walk out of my office before I hand you over to the Cossacks!”

Rabboisai, this beautiful Maiseh Shehoya illustrates the conflicting emotions felt by all of us in these challenging days. On the one hand, the Goyn knew full well the prescription of the first Mishnah in Baba Metziah, that an object in dispute, with a shared claim of possession and no other external evidence, must be divided equally between the two parties. And this rule is a Halacha LeMoishe MiSinai, handed down to Moishe Rabbeinu by the Reboinoisheloilum Himself during a commercial break during an episode of Glee. On the other hand, the Goyn resented all Sephardim ever since a Yemenite girl would not let him get to third base on their first date.

Such is our dilemma. As we observe the happenings in Egypt over he last several weeks, we cannot help but be pulled in opposite emotional directions. We are a People with a legacy that favors self determination, freedom of expression, and emancipation from authoritarianism. The Toirah reminds us many times that we must never forget that we ourselves were slaves in Egypt, and that the Exodus to freedom represented the culmination of our establishment as a nation and our covenant with Hakadoshboruchhu. (“Ani Hashem Eloikaichem Asher Hoitzaisee Esschem MaEretz Mitzrayim Lihyois Lachem Lailoikim.”)

Having said that, the Jewish national enterprise has been blessed by thirty years without a true existential threat, thanks to the stability ensured by the Mubarak regime. There has been respect for the peace treaty and collaboration on many security related issues. We may be at odds internally and externally about the ultimate disposition of the West Bank and Gaza, but the sudden uncertainties with the one country that represents the nexus of an existential military challenge to Israel has us all suddenly declaring “Palestinians Schmalestinians. Now we have REAL problems.”

Moreover, as members of Western countries, whether in the US, Canada, Israel, the Western Europe nations, or the Republic of Togo, we have all benefited from the geopolitical stability contributed by the Egyptian government in the global struggle against Al Qaeda, the fight against the spread of radical Islamist extremism, and the worldwide front against Shmuley Boiteach.

So we are all conflicted by our core empathy for national liberty juxtaposed against the very rational fear of the long term implications for the West and for Israel, and for what may follow, which could under an extreme outcome become a truly despotic regime echoing the tyranny of modern Iran. Moreover, if Egypt becomes a country which is closed to us, where will American and British college and yeshiva students studying in Israel go to buy cheap hash from Bedouins? That would truly be a crisis indeed!

With all of these deep challenges, we can be grateful that we are the Chosen People! Other nations would have to figure such things out for themselves, but we can turn to the Toirah for guidance and inspiration, as well as for Divine reasons to pay 50% extra for a basic meal.

The Toirah tells us about Yankif Avinu’s flight from his twin brother Eisav, and discusses his trepidation about remeeting him later in life. When that meeting occurs, Yankif Avinu prepares by surrounding himself by an outer ring of his concubines and their sons, with his wives and favored sons protected in the center. In the end, Yankif’s worst fears never materialize, as his brother embraces him and steals his wallet.

Whatever our personal preferences, on either side of the equation, it was never our place to determine the outcome of the political struggle in Egypt. This is a historic movement operating under its own momentum. We must remember one key notion: This issue was never really about Israel. As much as Israel and Jews have been scapegoated by both sides whenever it is most convenient, this is a political phenomenon that is about the aspirations for greater self-determination by the Egyptian People.

It may hurt you to hear this, you Mechutziff, but most of what goes on in the world is not about Klal Yisroel. We complain when we are blamed for the ills of the world. And then we complain when we are not at the center of attention. We complain when we are the victims of anti-Semitism, and then we complain when we are treated like all the other nations of the world. The Toirah often calls us an “Am Kshey Oireph”, a “stiff necked people”. But we are also a tremendously narcissistic nation. The Jews are like a woman in a low cut dress who is upset when people stare at her cleavage, and is equally upset when no one tries to sneak a peek.

So the current events, which have the potential to have profound and dramatic impact upon us, were never really about us. There was never anything that we did or could do to impact the phenomenon that resulted in regime change in Egypt.

But what we can do is determine how we respond, how we prepare, and how we react. Unlike our ancestors of 70 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 1,000 years ago, we are a strong nation which has taken its fate into its own hands. We are not victims to the events of the world, but active players in the ongoing historical narrative.

Like the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, we too hold our fate in our own hands. We should not cower in fear, but stand proudly as we walk cautiously into the future.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Parshas Toldois




Parshas Toldois

In this weeks Parsha, Toildois, we learn how truly disfunctional Yitzchak Avinu's family was. Indeed, the Parsha tells us about the lies, the deception, the struggle of brother against brother. I swear, Toldois sounds more like General Hospital than an account of our holy forebears.

Take the account of Rivka Imainu. We learn right away that Rivka was barren. This leads to an obvious question pondered by Chazzal as they were standing behind the mikvah, trying to sneak a peek through the cracks in the wall: Why is it that 75% of the Imahois were barren? That includes Sarah, Rivka, and Rachel. (Leah Imainu, on the other hand was so fertile she had to be fitted with a chastity belt with a combination lock to keep her out of trouble.)

According to Rabbeinu Tam, there was actually nothing physically wrong with these women. It is just that the Avois were very, very holy. They were studying Toirah 20 hours a day, sitting in the Bais Medrish holding hands with their Chavrusa, never realizing they should be home having relations with their wives or their girlfriends. What Kedushah!

Indeed, according to the Chassam Soifer, the reason the Imahois were constantly telling people that their husbands were actually their brothers is because they were love starved and were looking for a little action. And if they could shack up with a local king they might even get a nice bauble out of the deal.

However, according to the RIF, we should go with the Pashut Pshat, the simple interpretation of the Toirah. It really was Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu who asked their wives to make believe they were their sisters whenever they would meet a head of state. However, the real reason was not that they were afraid for their lives. Rather, it is because they were both pretty kinky and were titilated by the thought of sharing a mate with powerful individuals. He cites as proof a Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah that says that Avraham Avinu was a cross-dresser, and that Yitzchak Avinu once asked Rivka to wear a strap-on.

Like any good soap opera, Parshas Toldois shares with us the full range and volatility of human emotions across the broad spectrum of human experience. A famous Medrish tells us that halfway through Parshas Toldois Rivka was diagnosed with depression. And who can blame her? The Toirah tells us that the Aimishteh told Rivka Imainu "Shnay Goyim BaVitnaych -- Two gentiles are in your womb" (Beraishis, Perek Chuf Hay, Pussook Chuf Gimmul). Hey, it's bad enough you have to put up with them at work. If you were told you had two of them in your stomach, you'd need Prozac too!


Of course, the two brothers that were in Rivka's womb grew up to be Ya'akov and Eisav, who through their descendants make up the nations of Klal Yisroel and Edom. We learn so many lessons from them:

-- From Ya'akov -- we learn to take advantage of people who are weak
-- From Ya'akov -- we learn to lie to our parents, and in doing so, to disrespect them, and by inference, disrespect the Reboinoisheloilum as well
-- From Yaakov -- we learn to covet that which belongs to another
-- From Ya'akov -- we learn to steal
-- From Eisav -- we learn to kill.

So, basically, from Eisav, and especially from Ya'akov, we learn to violate all 10 of the 10 Commandments. Thank Hakkadoshboruchhu! All those nasty restrictions were beginning to cramp my style.

As they grew up, Eisav and Ya'akov became very different people. The Toirah tells us that Eisav became a great hunter and a man of the fields. But Ya'akov did not. According to a Gemarrah in Sotah, while Eisav went off to hunt, Ya'akov went off to study ballet. No wonder Yitzchak didn't want to give him his blessing.

In that same Gemarrah, Rav Yoichanan asks -- why is it that Yitzchak couldn't tell the difference between Ya'akov and Eisav, his own sons?

According to Reb Hai Goyn, Yitchak spent so much time studying Toirah and coaching the basketball team at Yeshivas Shame V-Ayver that he was never home to see his kids.

But the accepted answer, according to RASHI, is that Yitzchak was blind. Indeed, the RI adds, Yitchak's eyesight disappeared as a coping mechanism for the fact that Rivka put on 300 pounds after giving birth and started to wear a bad shaytl.

This reminds me of a Maiseh Shehoya. I was on a fundraising mission in the Bahamas for my Yeshiva, Yeshivas Chipas Emmess. My wife Feigah Breinah and I were going snorkling, since, as everyone knows, major donors can often be found examining coral in its natural habitat. Suddenly, as we were about to descend into the water, my bashert announced to me that she could not go in, as she had that second become a Nidah. And, she continued, it is dangerous to go snorkeling in such circumstances since sharks are all drawn to the smell of blood.

I was greatly troubled by this: How could something so repulsive to all men be attractive to the common shark. And, farkhert, how can something so attractive to a shark be repulsive to all men.

This is the essence of Parshas Toldois. Ya'akov, so unattractive to Yitzchak Avinu, was the pride, the favorite of Rivka Imainu. And it was only through their combined guile, their deception, that Ya'akov was able to fullfill Hakkadoshboruchhu's plan for the world by stealing the birthright from Eisav and with it the foundational line of descent from Avraham which carried the Aimishteh's promise of future greatness for Klal Yisroel.

Hence, the Reboinoisheloilum's master plan is far from the obvious day-to-day issues that we can see. You may think you know what is right and wrong, but the truth is you are a worthless minuval who doesn't even know the right bracha to say on a pumpkin pie, let alone the ultimate truths that drive the universe and the future.

So, the next time your bashert is a Nidah, don't hide from her, as would be your first instinct. Don't reject her as Yitzchak did Ya'akov, and possibly drive her into the arms of a local king. Embrace her. For what may disgust you today may actually be laying the foundations of future greatness for Klal Yisroel. Short of that, it might lead to a nice but messy quickie.

Ah Gutten Shabbos you Minuval.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Parshas Chayei Sarah



Parshas Chayei Sarah


I write this Dvar Toirah while on an international flight en route to an annual gathering in commemoration of this week's Parsha, Parshas Chayei Sarah. Thousands of people focus on the first half of the Parsha and gather in Chevroin every year to celebrate the burial place of Sarah Imainu. I, on the other hand, will be joining a group of people commemorating the second half of the Parsha, the marriage of Yitzchak Avinu to three-year-old Rivka Imainu, by traveling to Thailand to have relations with a group of underage girls.

This week's Parsha, of course, begins with the passing of our foremother, Sarah Imainu. RASHI tells us that Sarah died as a result of hearing that her husband, Avraham, had taken their only son to be slaughtered at the alter. The RAMBAM asks the question: Why should Sarah have been shocked? Where was her faith in the Rebboinoisheloilum? Was she not ready for the Aimishteh's test? Was she tempted by the Yetzer Harah, the Evil Inclination, to question her belief in the all knowing, rational and loving Hakkadoshboruchhu who expressed His divine love by suggesting that Yitzchak be grilled to perfection like ribs at a July 4th barbecue? Did she not want her son to be slaughtered, so he could die for all our sins? (OOPS, wrong religion. Sorry.)

Indeed, it was not Sarah who mentally snapped as a result of Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac, at the end of last week's Parsha. It was Avraham Avinu. According to a famous medrish in Beraishis Rabbah, this Parsha is testimony to that fact that Avraham completely lost his marbles after the Akeidah. Note the evidence of his nervous breakdown:

-- We are told, not once -- but twice, that Avraham bows down to the "Am Ha'aretz," the People of the Land, to express his humility and gratitude for their support (Beraishis, Perek Chuff Gimmul, Psukim Zayin and Yood Bayz). How can Avraham Avinu, our forefather, the man who discovered Hakadoshboruchhu, the man who invented string cheese and the iPad, prostrate himself before other human beings? Did he not realize that the only thing he should EVER bow down to was the Rebboinoisheloilum, the Melech Malchei Hamelliachim -- unless of course someone had dropped a quarter? However, the medrish quotes Rabbi Akiva as saying that at this point in his life, Avraham was so deluded and confused he would bow down to a cow every time he had a potato with a little sour cream on it. He would even bow down to his dry cleaner everytime he picked up his shirts.

-- Avraham Avinu barters to gain the right to bury his beloved Sarah in Meuras Hamachpeilah. Ephroin, the property's owner, gives Avraham the land and does not want payment. Avraham, however, insists upon counting out four hundred shekels of silver as payment to Ephroin. So what's pshat "payment"? Why didn't Avraham just chop off one his arms and present it to Ephroin, instead of giving away money for no reason? Maybe he should have given away his ATM card and his PIN code, while he was at it?

-- Avraham decides to send his manservant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son, Yitzchak. To secure his commitment, Avraham asks that Eliezer, his servant, put his hand "underneath Avraham's thigh." Wow. That is progressive. According to Rabbi Akiva, after the death of his wife, Avraham was so randy he was open to "all lifestyle alternatives." Indeed, there is a separate Braisah in Masechess Pesachim that suggests that following Sarah's death, Avraham Avinu joined a local S&M club, spent six months in a nudist colony, and made seventy five dollars a week posing for an art class at his local community college.

Avraham's mental state is of course balanced with the beautiful story of the discovery of Rivka. After being sworn to his commitment to find a wife for Yitzchak, Eliezer sets out on his quest. As he reaches a well, he decides that he will anticipate a divine sign: the appearance of a woman who will offer drink to both him and his camels. The RADAK asks the question: why did Eliezer choose a sign based on a woman's action, rather than a visual metaphor, such as a yellow ribbon on the woman's dress or a tattoo on the small of her back? The Toirah Temimah answers that, mamesh, Eliezer was indeed looking for such a sign: he was hoping that as the women bent down to fetch the water he would catch a glimpse of her cleavage. Says the Toirah Temimah, Eliezer had also committed to Avraham that the bride he would bring back to his master's son would have a Double-Daled cup.

Of course, all of these expectations were turned upside down when Eliezer saw Rivka for the first time. We are told specifically by the passook that Eliezer noticed her great beauty. We are also told that Rivka "was a virgin; she had known no man." An obvious question arises: why did the Toirah have to repeat itself -- wasn't this a redundant statement? RASHI tells us, however, that the local girls had strange sexual practices that enabled sexual activity without the surrender of one's maidenhead. (He really does say that, by the way. Look it up.) Who ever heard of such a practice amongst youth?!? But the RASHBAM disagrees. He suggests that the verse is telling us that while Rivka had not had a sexual relationship with a man, her femininity had been "totally awakened" as an active member of the LPGA tour, if you know what I mean.

And now the strangest part of the Parsha: nowhere in the Parsha are we told Rivka's age, but Rabbinic tradition has always deduced that Rivka was three years old when she was discovered by Eliezer and brought into Yitzchak's tent for consummation of their marital relationship. How can this be? Was Yitzchak some kind of pervert?

According to a Gemarra in Maseches Nidah, Yitzchak was indeed a pervert. Says the Gemarra, the reason that Yitzchak didn't marry until the age of forty is that as a counselor in Yeshivas Shame V'Eyver Basketball and Learning Camp, Yitzchak sexually abused three of his charges and spent the next twenty two years in prison. As proof, the Gemarra cites a Braisa that states that the reason Avraham insisted that Yitzchak, his son, not marry a local Canaanite woman was NOT because he wouldn't want one as a daughter in law. Adderabbah! It was because Yitzchak had to register with the local authorities as a convicted sex offender, and therefore no local woman was willing to date him.

But according to Rav Saadya Goyn, Yitzchak Avinu was no more perverted than any other man at that time. LeOylam, every man in those days married underage girls. As proof, he cites a medrish that says that Avraham Avinu married Sarah Imainu when she was one and a half, and Noiach married Mrs. Noiach when she was an aborted fetus.

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Yisroel Salanter once traveled to Siberia to attend a celebrity golf tournament. As customary, he lodged at the home of a local eskimo. When it came time to go to sleep, the eskimo said to Reb Yisroel, "Nu, Reb Yisroel, we have a minhag here when guests stay over: Please take my wife to sleep with for the night."

Reb Yisroel looked at him sternly and responded, "That is unacceptable! Aishess Ish is a Dioraisa. However, do you have any children I can sleep with instead?"

To which the eskimo responded: "Rebbe, I knew you were here for a fundraiser, but I did not know it was a Yeshiva Toirah Temimah event. Please forgive me!"

So, unfortunately, a scant few members of our community still like to keep up the tradition of Yitzchak Avinu. So next time you are tempted to poke fun at Penn State University, hold your tongue until you have investigated your own community.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you pervert.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On Life At Internet Speed




On Life At Internet Speed


I must share with you a bit of personal disappointment. I was in the running for a new role as the Menahel of a large religious institution - One on a grander scale than my Yeshivah, Yeshivas Chipass Emmess, with a bigger name and more recognizable global impact. I prepared for the interviews and discussions through extensive Toirah study. I reworked my resume, and participated in mock interview role plays. I engaged in Tefillah and Tzedakah. I even gave up Flexing the Flanken for a couple of weeks, if you know what I mean. But all to no avail.

Alas, it was Reb Ayman al-Zawahri who became the new leader of Al Qaida, and not me. Instead, I was offered the opportunity to serve as the Sandik at the Bris for Anthony Weiner's unborn child, but I was uncomfortable with the prospect of being charged with indecency for holding a little Weiner. So I opted to console myself by engaging in a three way with Sarah (Imainu) Palin and Michele Bachmann, while Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Moishe Katzav sat at the side, watching while reciting Tehillim and pleasuring themselves. Shoyn.

I share these tidbits with you as we are all swept up in the tide of information that overwhelms our society. Facebook. Tweeting. Blogging. Skype. E-Mail. One barely has time these days to engage in good old fashioned Loshon Harah and Rechiloos in Shul, at the Mikvah, or on line at the kosher Duncan Donuts on a Sunday morning.

How is one to function in a world where the old customs, practices, and behaviors break down, replaced by a new social order that is unfamiliar? How can we maintain age old traditions when the new generation speaks a different cultural dialect? How can we continue a communal Mesoirah when the fundamental understanding of the very nature of community is in the process of being redefined?

However, you Minuval, we are not the first generation to face such questions. Do you think that we live in such unique times, that all of history culminates in our day, and that Klal Yisroel never faced such challenges in the past? Do you think you are so special that the Toirah offers you no guidance, even about technologies that were not invented until last Tuesday? What kind of Am Haaretz are you anyway?

No. There is a famous Medrish that says that there were six worlds in existence prior to this one - Seven universes in total, seven eras of history, each one created after the previous world was destroyed. So this is not the first time we have faced this or any other challenge, you Mechutziff! Klal Yisroel subscribes to an eternal truth called Toirah, linked to the Reboinoisheloilum, the eternal Omnipresent, who exists outside of time and space. Everything that we experienced has happened before, perhaps not in the Oilum Hazeh, the world as we know it today, but at a different time and place. Perhaps not on earth, but in the Twelve Colonies prior to the nuclear attack by the Cylons, or on Planet Vulcan before its annihilation by the Romulan outcasts. It may have been a long, long time ago in a place far, far away, but we experienced it before.

Indeed, we are not living through the first "information revolution" since the giving of the Toirah on Har Seenai. For example, we traditionally do not refer to the Mishnah and Gemarrah as "Talmud"; we refer to them as Toirah Sheh Baal Peh, the Oral Law, since they were once exclusively passed down orally. It was at one time anathema to even consider putting Toirah Sheh Baal Peh into writing, since it was believed that this would harm the integrity of the transmission of Halacha, as well as take away good union jobs from the Amoraim, the guild charged with preserving the oral tradition. (Sadly, my Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, is a Karaite, and does not subscribe to the oral tradition, no matter how much I beg. Rachmana Letzlan.)

But the introduction of a new communications medium did not harm the integrity of Toirah Sheh Baal Peh. Rather, it democratized the Talmud, making it accessible to the masses: At first in manuscript form in the early and middle ages; then, in the Renaissance, printed on the printing presses of Europe; and later, in the 1940s, published in a serialized version in the Saturday Evening Post, right next to pictures sketched by Normal Rockwell, the week's Peanuts strip by Charles Schulz, and the latest anti-Semitic tomes of Henry Ford.

The Gemarrah itself cites a famous Machloikess on the decision to write down the Mishnah. According to Abaya, Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi, the Tanna Kamma, compiled the Mishnah in order to standardize Halachic traditions during a formative period in the history of Klal Yisroel. According to Rava, Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi compiled the Mishnah in order to standardize Halachic practices throughout the world's Jewish communities located across the globe – from Rome and Britannia in the West -- to Eretz Yisroel and Bavel in the Center -- to Persia and India in the East. According to Rav Puppa, Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi wanted to commit the Mishnah to writing so that he could get credit as the principal author, in order to earn royalties and secure the movie rights. But according to Rabbah, Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi canonized the Mishnah in order to impress a Mesopotamian stripper named Shayndel who he was secretly in love with.

In any case, the shift in format from oral to written served as a catalyst for increasing access to and fluency in our tradition. One no longer needed physical access to a center of study; one only needed to understand the language of the Talmud. Of course, this was not a trivial undertaking itself. The Talmud Bavli, the Babylonia Talmud, was edited in the Sixth Century CE with a light layer of redaction that added a modicum of structure, but was still a complex, meandering text written in the East Babylonian dialect of Aramaic. The Bavli had a special emphasis on prayer, holidays, and religio-legal issues. The Talmud Yerushalmi, compiled a century earlier under the duress of Roman persecution, had even less structure, and was written in the alternate Western dialect of Aramaic. The Yerushalmi was particularly interested in detailed laws related to the Land of Israel, such as Maaiser (tithing of crops) and Shmita (the agrarian sabbatical year). And the Talmud Koreani, compiled at the same time in Seoul during Samhan rule, prior to the invasion of the Goguryeo, was written in the Korean dialect of Aramaic, and had a particular focus on recipes for cooking dogs and cats.

The complexity of the Talmud was addressed head on by the RAMBAM, Maimonides, who in the twelfth century created a highly structured codification of Jewish law and beliefs, the Mishnah Torah, with the express intent of making Yiddishkeit more accessible to Klal Yisroel. His decade long achievement was celebrated within Klal Yisroel by the making of bonfires, in which some of his manuscripts were burnt by opponents. But the vast majority of scholars and communities welcomed his contribution, and his contribution is celebrated to this day in Israel during the annual "Maimunah", and in Iran on "National Turban Day".

The codification approach became the standard for Halachic transmission: The Arba Turim, the Shulkhan Arukh, the Mishnah Berurah, the Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh, Shmiras Shabbas Kehilkhesah, Conservative Judaism's "A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice", the Reform Movement's "So You Think You Are a Hooknose", and the Reconstructionist Movement's "The Jewish Law Handbook: Hundreds Of Cultic Practices to Complicate Your Life and Leave You Dazed and Confused".

So, indeed, as information has become more accessible, Klal Yisroel has thrived. In truth, the fundamental challenge does not lie in the existence of the new forms of media themselves, but in how the new forms are used. Are they used for willy nilly gossip? Are they used for Tifloos? Are they used for Pritzus? Are they used for Latzanus, Chass V'Sholom? (Such a phenomenon would be deeply condemnable!) Or are they used for sharing the wealth of Toirah learning, doing Maisim Toivim, acts of loving kindness, and selling useless trinkets to the Goyim at a hefty profit?

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. In the 16th century the followers of the MAHARAL MiPrague came to him one day, proposing that they burn down the local printing press, since they had learned that in addition to publishing the MAHARAL's commentary on the Baba Kama and his biography of Mar Zutra, the printer had also published the Kama Sutra. The MAHARAL was deeply troubled by the news, but was also steadfastly committed to the principle of free speech. So the MAHARAL objected to the proposal, but as a compromise, he suggested that his students steal samples of ALL the publications produced by the printer, so that he could review them in his study with his personal secretary, Ingrid Bar Zanzibar.

Rabboisai, history does not flow at a steady pace. There are long periods of stability, which for Klal Yisroel have often been periods of wretched stasis. (Think back to the existence of most of our Ashkenazic ancestors in the Pale of Settlement for hundreds of years, or to our Sephardic ancestors living a second class, insecure existence across the Ottoman empire.) But there are also periods of great leaps – social, national, and technological.

We are indeed living in such a period. It is quite natural that we crave the stability and predictability of the past, of a simpler time. But the nostalgic longing for the past is frequently illusory. Who would want to return to the period of the Czars and the Pogroms? Who would want to return to a time of immense, unfathomable poverty? Who would want to return to a time when everyone was isolated, when a person could not see beyond his Daled Amois, his immediate sphere? Who would want to return to a time of less transparency, a time without peer awareness, a time when only a select few could raise their voices, while the teeming masses were silent, for wont of the ability to make their voices heard? Who would want to return to a period when all the lights are out and the curtains are completely drawn during Tashmish HaMitah?

Rabboisai, in order to forge a better tomorrow, we must embrace the future rather than fight it. There are indeed risks associated with the information revolution, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. And indeed, even if one tries to fight the information revolution, he is destined to fail. Such is the same for many social and national issues. Like skilled sailors, we must master the inevitable strong tides to secure our own interests and ensure our own benefit. And, most important, we must retain perspective and foresight, so as not to expose ourselves and our Wieners.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval

Thursday, November 03, 2011

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



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


I am writing these words from my position in downtown New York. I have been sitting in sympathy with my brethren and sisteren at the Occupy Wall Street protest. I am looking at Marty now, carrying a placard calling for social justice. And Robin, banging drums. And Tommy, defecating behind a tent.

I have joined my colleagues in their cries for greater equality. I am not physically with them, of course, but I have a clear view of them from my perch in the Starbucks across the street from Zuccotti Park, as I sip from my Venti Triple Strength Upside Down Soy Chai Latte that only cost me $8.00.

I actually tried to sit with the Occupy Wall Street protesters three weeks ago, but it rapidly became apparent that there was a bit of a mismatch: I am a bearded Roisheshiva of an Internationally Renowned Rabbinic Institution, known for its Toirah Insight and commitment to Derech Eretz and Tikkun Oilum, who was recently enshrined into the Toirah Hall of Fame. And they are a bunch of homeless Mishugoyim protesting for…I am not quite sure we know what exactly.

It has indeed been a very busy year. I have been to protests in Oakland, Atlanta, Washington, and elsewhere. I have also been travelling the globe. In fact, I was in Libya up until a few weeks ago. Indeed, you may have seen me in one of the videos documenting Muammar Khadafy’s last hours on this earth. No, I am not the guy who pulled him out of the drain pipe. I am also not the guy who held him down on the hood of the truck. I am not one of the guys who kicked and pummeled him. I am not the guy who moved his head from side to side. I am not the guy who sodomized him with the barrel of an AK 47. I am not even the guy with the Yankees baseball cap who put three bullets in Khadafy’s head with his own 24 karat gold guy.

I am none of those. I am the guy who Skull-Mezanehed Khadafy after he was dead. (RASHI: Skull-Mezaneh = Biyuh with a human skull.) And do you know why? Because the late Muammar Khadafy screwed America, screwed the West, and screwed his own people simply because he could. So I Skull-Mezanehed him simply because I could. And I would do it again. (Yes, it is true. You thought that I am a 60 year old Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn, when I am in fact a 22 year old Libyan student from Misrata.)

Rabboisai, when I think of the current year of global protest in the United States, in Europe, in the Arab World, and even in Israel, I cannot help but be reminded of Klal Yisroel in the desert. There they were, the Dor of Yetziyas Mitzrayim, the Dor of Mattan Toirah, and every time they had a little problem, BAM!, all of the sudden they have to protest. What a bunch of Minuvals! No wonder the Reboinoisheloilum decided to let an entire generation pass before bringing the Jews into Eretz Yisroel – the last thing He needed there was perpetual conflict.

Rabboisai, when not traveling to the various Occupy Wall Street protests or travelling overseas, I have also spent significant time down south at the various Tea Party gatherings. And I have attended nearly every one of the Republican debates. I have still yet to decide how to cast my vote in the primaries. Who can choose between Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum? It’s a really tough decision! I may as well be asked to choose which is my favorite of the Arba Misois Bez Din – Skilah, Sraifah, Hereg, or Chenek. Whichever one you choose, the result is guaranteed to be dire.

Not that I am a big fan of President Baruch Oibama. Clearly he doesn’t understand macroeconomics. I guess they did not offer that class at his Midrassa in Indonesia.

In my travels I was also at the reception for the arrival of Gilad Shalit back to Israel. What a Naiss! Clearly Hakadoshboruchhu was directly involved in the freeing of Gilad! Because if the negotiations were in human hands alone, Israel would have given up at least 350 hard core killers as part of the 1,000 people traded, instead of only 300, including the masterminds and participants in the Sbarro massacre, the Park Hotel massacre and other such atrocities. Of course, if I had been the lead negotiator for Israel, I would have traded Gilad for a first round draft pick, $100,000 in cash, and four terrorists to be named later.

But, sadly, I did not get very many votes in the last Knesset elections. Even my own mother did not vote for me. What can I say? She has a thing for 80 year rabbis who wear turbans and large pairs of sunglasses.

Of course, if I were the lead negotiator for Hamas, I was have gotten them a better deal as well. I would have asked to get Denjmanjuk as part of the total package.

So it has been a very busy year of global discord. Everywhere one turns, there is social upheaval and unrest. America is at near double-digit unemployment. Europe is on the brink of economic collapse. Greece has even as part of its national austerity program decreased its government subsidy of KY jelly.

The current global political climate is reminiscent of one of the great Rabbinic debates of the eighteenth century. At the time, there was a great philosophical Machloikess between the Vilna Goyn and the Baal Shem Toiv. They were both responding to an implicit question raised by the ARI ZAHL in a previous generation. The ARI ZAHL identified the process of Tzimtzum as a cosmic explanation for the imperfections of the world, which was his approach to a fundamental question: Why did the Aimishteh create a world that is imperfect? If He was creating a universe ex nihilo, out of nothing, why did He create a world with pain and suffering and poverty, and social inequality? Why is the world fundamentally flawed?

The Goyn takes umbrage with the ARI’s question. According to the Goyn, the world is perfect, and “any suggestions to the contrary could only come from a rice eating Minuval who only created his own Siddur so he could sell more magical amulets and red bendella bracelets to the naïve superstitious Jewish camel jockeys of Tzfas.” Unquote.

The Goyn notes that the so-called imperfection of the world is addressed in an obscure RITVA commenting on a Toisfois on Misechta Sanhedrin, Daf Kuf Lamid, Amud Baiz, in which the RITVA notes that the earth is shaped like an pearl to ensure its perfection as it is orbited by the sun, and Hakadoshboruchhu committed to preserving the perfection of the earth in the Bris Ben Habesarim with Avraham Avinu, as well as through a complex credit default swap arranged through Lehman Brothers and MF Global. And anyone who fails to understand this is a complete Apikoiress.

The BESHT on the other hand acknowledges that the world may at first appear imperfect, “unless one is a dour Misnagid who is like a lemon from which all the juice has been squeezed”. However in order to see the true perfection of the Reboinoisheloilum’s creation, one must have six or seven vodkas to “clear the mind, loosen the senses, and serve as an emetic”.

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Yisroel Meir HaKohen was working on the galleys (the pre-print master copy) of Sefer Shmirah HaLoshon, doing a final review prior to publication. As he was reviewing Perek Yud Daled, Chapter 14, on the topic of Zrizuss, zeal, he realized that he dedicated an entire chapter advocating against laziness, while at the same time he was an able bodied person supporting himself through Kollel funds, welfare, and food stamps. He had tremendous pangs of guilt.

That night the Aimishteh came to him in a dream. “What is troubling you Chofetz Chaim?” the Reboinoisheloilum asked.

“Hakadoshboruchhu, I feel as if I am engaged in hypocrisy. Maybe I should go out and get a real job?” the Chofetz Chaim replied.

“Reb Yisroel, the world was designed according to a perfect plan. There are builders and fixers and painters and plumbers. There are hunters and there are gatherers. But your role is to write books like Shmiras HaLoshon.”

“I feel much better now” the Chofetz Chaim responded. “I now understand that my role in life is to spread wisdom through my writings.”

“Wisdom, Shmisdom” the Aimishteh said. “Your books put people to sleep. Insomnia is a devastating disease, and your books help real people catch up their rest so they can be productive members of society.”

“And what will be my reward?” Reb Yisroel asked.

The Reboinoisheloilum thought for a moment. “Your reward is that you will one day have a Yeshiva named after you that will be known for its extreme diligence. Its students will be known as Buchrim who upon the start of each Zman take one month to get off the first Daf, and upon their marriages take one month to get off the first nipple.”

“And is that good?” the Chofetz Chaim asked.

“As long as they do use their tongues right. You know, Shmiras HaLoshon.”

Rabboisai, the world is not perfect. But as long as we find a nice, warm, safe place to hide, we can hope to survive to another day.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Simchas Toirah Drasha



Simchas Toirah Drasha


This week we celebrate the conclusion of Sukkois and the completion of the annual cycle of Kriyas HaToirah by getting stinking drunk and dancing with members of the same gender.

Rav Moishe Chaim Luzzato asks: Why do we dance with other men, which is a clear violation of Lifnei Iver for Mishkav Zachor, an unacceptable temptation that may lead to playing “bury my Sukkah pole in your Schach,” if you know what I mean?

There is a famous machloikess that addresses this question. Reb Yisroel Salanter comments that the completion of the Toirah cycle is meant as an Ois, a microcosm, of Oilum Habbah. With the completion of the Chamishei Chumshei Toirah, we experience a moment that is a foreshadowing of Biyas HaMashiach and Oilum Habbah, the dawning of the Messianic era and the World to Come. As such, we know that when Moshiach comes, many of the Halachic restrictions of Oilum Hazeh will fall away. Just as Tisha Ba’Av will shift from being a day of somber mourning to our greatest day of celebration, Biyuh SheLo KeDarko with another man will shift from being an “abomination” to a “Mitzvas Asei SheHazman Grummah.” It will also be a great way to reward your Chavrusa for knowing all the latest dance steps to “Zara Chaya VeKayama.”

Rebbe Nachman MiBreslov proposes a similar approach. He suggests that we do not dance in celebration of completing the annual cycle of reading the Toirah, since in ancient times much of Klal Yisroel followed a triennial cycle, completing the Toirah in three years. Rather, Rebbe Nachman states that we dance with other men to signal the end of the long holiday season. He writes in his famous treatise Likutei MoHaran that “Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Toirah clarify the essential differences between men and women. At this time of year, while men are busy trying to eke out a living without being fired for missing work, building the Sukkah, preparing the Arba Minim, etc., their wives are constantly calling them with requests, such as:

-- ‘Reuvain, can you please pick up bok choi on your way home from work’

-- ‘Shimoin, I don’t think we have enough dessert for the fourth meal we are hosting; can you pick up some brownie mix?’

-- ‘Layvee, I have to stay late at the office; can you come home early to give the kinderlach a bath?’”

Says Rebbe Nachman, “If I can trade being called fourteen times a day by my wife and being incessantly hen-pecked in exchange for engaging in Mishkav Zachor with another man, I will gladly play catcher in Biyuh SheLo Kedarko with a big sweaty Yeshiva Bochur named Lazer.”

However, the Vilna Goyn suggests that Rav Moishe Chaim Luzzato and Rebbe Nachman MiBreslov probably spent a bit too much time hanging out at the Mikvah on Erev Yoim Kippur. He writes farkhert in Chuddushe HaGruh, “In Klal Yisroel, we don't have homosexuals. We don't have that in our Kehillah. In Yiddishkeit, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it.”

Instead, the Gruh points to the seasonal nature of Shaloish Regalim as the true reason we celebrate on Simchas Toirah. He notes that just as Peysach is Chag HaAviv – the Spring Festival, and Shavuois is Chag HaBikurim – the Harvest Festival, Shmini Atzeres -- and especially Simchas Toirah -- celebrate something critical in the calendric cycle of Klal Yisroel and of Kol HaOilam Kooloh in general.

To make his point, the Gruh cites a famous machloikess. The Tur asks, “What is the most important Aliyah during Kriyas HaToirah?

According to Reb Yoisaiph Karo, the most important Aliyah is Rishoyn, the first Aliyah, since it is the Aliyah reserved for the Koihayn, the representative of Klal Yisroel designated by the Reboinoisheloilum to bless His chosen People.

According to the Bais Yoisaiph, the most important Aliyah is the second Aliyah, the Aliyah of the Layvee, since he silently enables the holy activities of the Koihayn by washing the Koihayn’s filthy hands and smelly feet.

According to the Keseph Mishnah, the most important Aliyah is the third Aliyah, since it is typically reserved for the biggest tzaddik in the room. Or, more frequently, it goes to the guy who writes the biggest check to the shul, even though everyone knows he frequently schtupps his hot shiksa secretary while eating pork, and makes his money by selling variable mortgages to eighty year old widows who live off of Social Security.

However, the Shulkhan Arukh holds that the fourth Aliyah is the most important one. His reasoning: Unlike the first, second, or third Aliyahs, the fourth Aliyah is an RBI position. He is batting clean up, while the others simply have the responsibility of getting on base. He has to drive them home, an awesome responsibility. As proof, the Shulkhan Arukh cites the fact that the last Aliyah is typically reserved for a Bar Mitzvah boy or a light hitting shortstop. Or for a pitcher in the National League, Chass v’Sholom. These mamzerim are likely to get out anyway, so we may as well put them in a position where they can’t do any damage.

Continues the Goyn: On Simchas Toirah, we echo the external calendar and combine the completion of the Toirah cycle with the completion of the Major League Baseball season. Consequently, there is a strong Minhag for men to dance together and jump on top of each other in victorious celebration. There is even a Minhag amongst the Sephardim to pour champagne over each others’ heads, although us real Jews celebrate by drinking scotch and making Mei Raglayim in the Ezras Nashim.

I am reminded of a famous Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Elchanan Wasserman once took a break from the Simchas Toirah celebrations at his Yeshiva and ran home for a quick snack. When he arrived, the house was empty. No one was in the kitchen and no one was in the living room. He went upstairs, opened the door to his bedroom, and to his surprise, he found his wife Chraindie naked, rolling around in bed with the wives of his three Talmidei Muvhak, his leading student protégés. In shock, he asked his wife, “Voos Tootzuch Mit Der Gefilte Fish Party”?

His wife Chraindie responded, “Elchi, you are off in Yeshiva celebrating the end of the Toirah cycle, while we are here celebrating the end of our cycles.”

Pausing for just a moment, Reb Elchanan told his wife, “You are indeed an Eishess Chayil!” He then ran back to the Yeshiva, passed through the Bais Medrish amidst all of the Freilechin dancing and singing, and joined his three Talmidei Muvkak in his private study off the Bais Medrish. Together the four of them intently watched a playoff game on TV for the next hour and a half.

Ah Freilechin Yuntif, You Minuval.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sukkois Drasha




A 100% true story -- This year in preparing for Sukkois I had one of those days where everything went wrong:

1) The new Schach mat we bought was the wrong size. It looks like the Chassidim packing the Schach in Jerusalem were smoking bsomim at the time. So we needed to go back to the store in Boro Park to exchange it.

2) The second Schach mat, the one we were not planning on replacing, disintegrated in our hands as we unpacked it from last year, requiring that we run out and buy a second Schach mat.

3) We discovered that my Bashert, Feige Breinah, accidentally threw away our Sukkah lights after Yuntif last year, requiring us to run out and buy solar power LED lights for our Sukkah this year.

4) Finally, as we stood around our Sukkah, installing the two new Schach mats and the new lights, my einikel, Feivel Yisroel Shmuel Eliyahu Rabbah (AKA "The Little Pisher") announced that he smelled diarrhea. It turned out that Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah, who was standing outside with us, had decided to leave a Rabbinic deposit right next to the Sukkah, which we inadvertently all stepped in.

Between the two new Schach mats, the new lights, the Lulavim and Esroigim sets, and my new Teva sandals that I had to throw out, this Yuntif has already cost me $500. And I haven't even make Kiddush yet!

I am afraid to think of what else will have happened by the time I klop Hoishaines.

Ah Gutten Yuntif.



Sukkois Drasha

On this holiday, the yuntif of Sukkois, we wave fresh fruit at the sky for seven days, and eat in an open air beehive. We cap it off by dancing cheek to cheek with a bunch of bearded men. (I have a date with a talmid named Yerachmiel; I hope I get lucky!)

According to Chazzal, Sukkois is the time when Moshiach will come. And according to Reb Hai Goyn, it is the holiday when you are supposed to separate yourself from the secular world. He cites as proof the fact that you are forced to take off so many work days right before end of year reviews, you might as well start polishing up your resume.

The RI holds that Sukkois is actually a celebration of homosexuality. When Klal Yisroel were preparing for the long winter, planting in the fields by day and sleeping in huts at night, at the end of a long day they would sit down bichavrusa (in pairs) and study a little Talmud. One minute they are on daf yud baiz, amud alef, and the next minute they are on the floor, committing Mishkav Zachor. And who can blame them? I get excited by a gevaldik Toisfois myself!

The RI cites various Sukkois practices as proof for his position:

- We wave our phallic lulavim on the faces of all the other men, boasting about how ours is the biggest in the shul;

- Alongside our lulav is our esroig, where the gemarrah tells us that the more bulbous and full of veins, the better;

- We commit a sadomasochistic act with a handful of willow branches;

- We dance around the Toirah with other men, our fingers firmly entwined with others' hot, sweaty, hairy hands.

However, most Rishoinim disagree with the RI, referring to his rather abrupt departure from his position as director of the all boys Orthodox summer camp in Northern Lithuania (although they settled out of Baiz Din, so no one can prove a damn thing).

The RIF points to the beauty of the Sukkah celebration as a unique mitzvah within Yiddishkeit. Fresh fruit. The outdoors. Many Rishoinim hold that you should live in the Sukkah for eights days. It says in the Gemmarah that Rish Lakish would move into the Sukkah, and use it as an excuse for not having to deal with his mother in law all week. Rav Ashi, on the other hand, insisted that his mother in law sleep in the Sukkah, and take one or two of the kids with her.

The Sukkah offers many opportunities to be Hiddur Mitzvah, to go above and beyond the letter of the commandment. It is customary to decorate the Sukkah with pictures and other decorations. (Vooz iz givehn plastic fruit, anyway? I understand the Reform decorate their Sukkahs with shrimp.)

According to Rabbeinu Tam, it is actually a Mitzvah Dioraisa to buy Christmas decorations in January at fifty percent off, to be used in decorating the Sukkah the following year: Flashing lights. Ornaments. Candy canes. Indeed, one year the Vilna Goyn decorated his Sukkah with a nativity scene he bought for six dollars.

There are other things that one can do with a Sukkah. A Braisah brings down a story of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, who, as a teenager, had the roof removed from his family's minivan and replaced with schach, so that he could drive down to the beach and be mekayaim the mitzvois of pleasuring his girlfriend and eating in the sukkah at the same time. What a tzaddik!

Yet the most beautiful element of Sukkois, and the aspect most shrouded in mystery, is the mitzvah of esroig. I still can't figure it out. It looks like a lemon. It smells like a lemon. It even tastes like a lemon. But it costs as much as heroin. How come it is easier to buy fresh peaches from Antarctica than it is to buy an esroig at a reasonable price?

And how many times in your life have you heard of esroig jelly. I bet you have heard of it all your life, but have NEVER seen it. You know why? Imagine this boast to your friends and neighbors: "I took 100 esroigim that last week retailed for a total of $5,000, mixed them up with a little sugar and pectin, and now it's worth about $1.50." Really impressive.

For this reason, I have a personal minhag. Two days before Sukkois, I buy 5 pounds of lemons in the supermarket, take them home, and then take a baseball bat to them. After about ten minutes of beating the crap out of them, I have plenty esroigim for myself and the kinderlach, and sell the remainder in the shul. With the extra money I buy some cologne, so I can smell nice for my dancing partner on Simchas Toirah night.

Ah Gutten Yuntif You Minuval