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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Parshas Chukass




Parshas Chukass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Parshas Koirach

In this week's Parsha, Koirach, once again a portion of Klal Yisroel rebels against the Reboinoisheloilum's rule. A group led by Koirach challenges Moishe Rabbeinu's appointment as the Aimishteh's personal representative and business manager. After returning to their tents, Koirach and his minions are swallowed up whole into the ground.

How stupid are these mishugayim anyway? How many times do they have to be told that they should shut up and study Toirah instead of asking for food and the right to return to Mitzrayim to visit the pyramids and eat traifus? And how much abuse does Hakodoshboruchhu have to tolerate before he smites all the minuvals down like cockroaches with a strong hand, an outstretched arm, and a really big shoe?

I know you were asking these questions, you good-for-nothing amhaaretz, but they are actually stupid questions. I mean, we read this same Parsha every year. It hasn't changed since the Redactor compiled the text in Babylon -- OOPS -- I mean since the Aimishteh dictated the Toirah to Moishe on Sinai.

No, the real question isn't why the people keep on rebelling. Rather, it is: Why do we, and our wise Rabbinical predecessors, continue to look back at the generation of the Exodus as the paradigm of Jewish virtue, when in truth they were a bunch of vilda chayas? Compared to them, a band of marauding rabid water buffalo are cooperative.

Indeed, this paradox is highlighted in the following Maiyseh Shehoyo: In the late 1950s, the Bobover Rebbe was sitting in first class on an airplane next to the famous playwright Arthur Miller. The playwright observed the care and reverence with which the Bobover Chassidim escorted their Rebbe through the airport, got him settled on the plane, and checked on his well-being periodically. Miller turned to the Rebbe and asked, "Rabbi, how come it is that when I lecture at a university, a pillar of secular knowledge, I am treated casually by the students, even with disrespect, while you, teaching an archaic tradition, are treated with respect, almost as a beloved surrogate parent, by your followers?"

The Rebbe smiled, and replied, "It is very simple -- you, a secular person, tell your students that they are descended from monkeys, so when they look at you, they see a person one generation closer to their primitive ape past. We tell our students that they are descended from the generation at Sinai, so when they see me, they see a person one generation closer to the face to face encounter with the Aimisheh." Arthur Miller stroked his chin and thought for a moment. And then he responded, "That may be true, but I am sleeping with Marilyn Monroe, so who cares?" The Bobover Rebbe, recognizing that he had lost the argument, never traveled by airplane again.

The Tanna Kamma alludes to this question in a Mishnah in Maseches Nidah, Perek Gimmul. He suggests that the reason the Aimishteh enacted restrictions on "relations" with one's wife during her natural cycle (Zman Nidasa) is so that 50% of Klal Yisroel will always be so frustrated they will be ready to go to war over a missing paper clip.

However, The Zohar tells a tale of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai sitting around a campfire with his female students and giving them life advice. He said, "When your husband calls you an idiot, it is the best news you have had all day." This is understood as a reference to the Kabbalistic understanding of the relationship between the Aimishteh and Klal Yisroel. The Aimishteh is seen as the groom, and the Jews as the bride. And what what could be more natural, or even healthy, than occasional bickering, or even a good knock-down-drag-out argument over who takes out the garbage or whose turn it is to do the dishes. Or in the case of Klal Yisroel, dancing around the Eigel Hazahav while eating traifus. Rather than leading to divorce, this keeps the marriage vibrant and stimulates the senses.

I am reminded of my own wedding day to my Bashert, Feige Breinah. As I stood under the Chuppah waiting for her to join me, I wished that the earth would open underneath my feet, just as it had for Koirach. Would I be a good husband? Could I manage a strong Jewish household? Would I be able to consummate my marriage that night without the ritual twenty minutes of begging?

The moment of introspection was broken by my bride. As she walked down the aisle and circled me seven times, she softly whispered, "wipe that stupid look off your face; the video camera is running!!"

So a little tension between bride and groom is quite healthy. Klal Yisroel in the desert understood this, which is why they frequently rebelled, about leadership, about idols, about what to eat, and about leaving the comforts of Egypt.

In honor of the generation of the Exodus, we too must keep the vibrance and energy of the relationship with the Aimishteh alive. Consequently, we are compelled to eat the occasional traifus and watch the occasional game on Shabbos. We are supposed to have unclean thoughts and covet the property of others. For if we do not, we will fail to live up to the heritage of our forefathers.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ask Rabbi Pinky -- On Erecting a Tent on Shabbos

Ask Rabbi Pinky -- On Erecting a Tent on Shabbos


This week I address the critical question of Hilchois Shabbos.

Yoinoison Phey. writes:

"Dear Rabbi Schmeckelstein,

"Is it true that the Torah says you cannot wear boxer shorts on Shabbos for fear of making an ohel (ed.: tent) if you get a... well, you know?"

"Your Talmid, Onan"

Reb Yoinison,

Thanks you for asking such a serious question that elevates our mundane daily lives to great heights of Toirah, and allows us to deeply penetrate that dark and precious abyss that is Halacha.

Indeed, this issue is a shver inyun that touches upon several halachic questions addressed in the Gemarra, by the Rishoinim, and by Larry Flynt in last year's Hooters Holiday issue. I will try to give the topic its fair due. Questions touched upon include:

-- Binyan: Construction, such as erecting a tent on Shabbos Koidesh
-- Muktza: Using something for which it was not intended
-- Machshava, or intent: Such as, "what is the intent of the owner?"

This exact question is first asked in a Gemarra in Shabbos, Daf Zayin, Amud Aleph. To address this, Rabbah quotes a famois Braisah. According to the Braisah, Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azariah says that a person's body part cannot be counted in establishing a Reshus, an independent territorial domain. However, Rabban Gamliel holds farkhert -- that a body CAN serve as a Reshus. He holds that if someone throws a piece of bread on Shabbos and it lands on top of a woman's double-daled tzitz, it is considered to be in its own Karmelis and it cannot be moved, lest it be carried into Reshus Harabim, the public domain.

Rabbah goes on to note: Given that erecting a tent is an act of construction, and construction is a clear Dioraisa, an Av Melachah no less, "one must take any action to avoid such an occurence." Says Rabbah, Lechatchila, one must always wear a jockstrap on Shabbos, but BiDiyeved, briefs will suffice.

However, the Gemarrah clarifies: "Bammeh Devarim Amurim," when were these words said? Only when the tent is higher than three tephachim (ed.: each tephach is approximately four inches) from the ground, as below three tefachim, the tent would be part of the ground itself.

Abaya and Rava then argue over the implication. Abaya notes that as a person's supine body is at least three tephachim high if you include the torso as part of the tent, only a "little kleinickel man" would be below the three tephach high minumum, according to Abaya. Therefore, most men could not wear boxers. Rava, on the other hand, holds that the tent actually starts at the top of the body, above the torso so that the makom hamilah itself would have to be three tephachim high. Says Rava, "only a freak or the goyyishe porn star Johnny Wad Holmes would have to worry about this Dioraisa, so let's move on to more important things, like using a kli reviyi in making Hawaiian Punch." Shoyn.

So what is the correct position? There is a famous three way machloikess Rishoinim that addresses this. According to the RASHBAM, we hold like Rava, since most men enjoy wearing boxers, and we wouldn't want to deprive them of their Oineg Shabbos.

However, the RAN states that we hold like Abaya. However, the issue, according to the RAN, is not one of Boneh, or construction. Rather, it is an issue of muktza, or the inability to use an item on shabbos. Among the categories of muktza is Muktza Machmas Miyus, or something which is off limits because it is unseemly. And what can be more unseemly than a man's schvantzlach. Consequently, since they serve as the "house" for such gross things, boxers may not be used for any other purpose on shabbos.

But the TUR tells us that this is nisht azuy pashut -- it's not so simple. He notes that not all schvantzlach render boxers off limits -- just those that are K'Baitzah, the size of an egg; however, if they are only KaZayis, the size of an olive, they are considered too small to be offensive, and therefore using boxers is permissible.

But, what about intent? Even if one has a ridiculously large makom hamilah, or if his baitsim are KeBaiyah or even KeEshkoilis, he certainly has no desire to build a tent, so why should he be denied the pleasure of loose fitting cotton? What's Pshat?

There is a famous story about the Kutzker Ruv. The Kutzker was travelling through the fjords of Norway to raise money for his Chassidim. For Shabbos, he stayed in a lodge outside Oslo run by evangelical Lutheran supporters. On Shabbos morning, he woke up to the sound of a knock on the door, and who should be standing there, but Brunhilda, the six foot tall chambermaid. "Rabbi," the chambermaid said, "how can I make you feel more at home?"

The Kutzker responded, "back in Kutzk, on Shabbos morning, I always have a little herring and a shot after davening. Do you think it's possible to do the same here?"

To that, Brunhilda entered the room, closed the door, and said, "Rabbi, if you snack on the matjes for about twenty minutes, I will let you finish with a shot."

That afternoon, the Aimishteh came to the Kutzker Ruv in a dream. "Rebbe, how come you were mezaneh with the groissa shiksa this morning?"

"Rebboinoisheloilum," the Kutzker answered, "I am in freaking Scandinavia. I only wanted to have a little Oineg Shabbos."

"Well, next time," Hakkadoshboruchhu said, "just go whale hunting like everybody else around here, and leave the herring and the shot for the shtibul."

So despite having the proper intent, sometimes we can do something that is inappropriate. So my advice to you, Reb Yoinoison, is that while Halacha Lemaisah it might be okay to wear boxers, truth be told, it is not in the spirit of Shabbos. Wearing boxers is not Shabbosdick.

So it is best to stick with briefs. Although if you see an am haaretz wearing boxers, there is no reason to say anything -- since he is not a true Ben Toirah, he probably has small Schvantzlach anyway.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Monday, June 06, 2011

Shavuois Drasha




Shavuois Drasha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Yuntif, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess


Thursday, June 02, 2011

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Jewish Values


Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Jewish Values


I write these words as I sit awaiting my bail hearing.

I was… ummm… invited to give a drasha this morning by some rotten antisemmiten… errr… nice police officers, after offering to sell my neighbor’s kidney to a Tzaddik Gammur who was willing to pay $80,000 for it. And now, because of these Soinay Yisroel in blue, my neighbor, Rachmana Letzlan, who recently lost his job at the Chrysler factory, will never get the $500 I was going to pay him.

Indeed, I am often amazed at how the federal government invades the privacy of all of us Reboinoisheloilum-fearing-Americans. Hakadoshboruchhu-damned federal government! It’s that Barack HUSSEIN Oibama trying to legislate our every step. Oy, how I long for the civil liberties of the Cheney administration!

I share this story because of the many letters I have received in recent weeks regarding the unfortunate arrests of several Gedoilei HaDor, Bnei Toirah whose sole interest is serving Klal Yisroel, as well as investing in prime real estate property at a 20-plus percent return per year. Now they will be serving 10-20 years in a medium security Yeshiva with Chavrusas names Butch. For their sakes, I only hope they are part of the pro-Metzitza BiPeh crowd.

Among the shailahs asked was the following from Baruch Kuff, which arrived during the first nine days of the month of Av:

“It is fairly clear that during the 9 days routine laundering and washing are impermissible. But the Shulchan Orech seems to refer to washing involving clothing and the body. What about money laundering? During the 9 days we are permitted to do even new business if it would result in a significant monetary loss to not do the deal. What is the application to the Syrian community? Is there any significance to one of the towns having the name “Deal”? Is it true that there is an implied exception to Brooklyn?”

This is the only thing Baruch had to worry about Erev Tisha Ba’Av?! Well, I could not bother to answer his shailah at the time, because, frankly, on Erev Tisha Ba’av I was on the floor with my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, as she was busy having a quick Seudas Hamafsekess on a Baytzah…

Other shailahs related to the rabbinic profile of the accused: Shouldn’t we look past the alleged crimes of these men, given all of the good they have done for their communities, such as Chinuch, Bikur Choilim, and bringing pleasure to hot divorcees?

And finally, I received the following from a Talmid named Menachem Nun.:

“Dear Rabbi Pinky,

As an Orthodox Jew living in New Jersey, I was very upset recently at the arrest of several prominent Rabbis in an undercover sting operation. They stand accused of laundering money in various ways. So now I am deeply bothered that such holy men could do such a thing. Are we not supposed to be holier than the other nations and live by a much higher standard? Or were all the prophets right? Are we doomed to fail as a people because the bar is set too high? Or are we just fundamentally flawed human beings who are destined to fail miserably at every test Hakadoshboruchhu lays at our feet?”

Rabboisai, these are indeed the kinds of questions Chazal asked two thousand years ago when trying to understand the injustices and tribulations of their own world. A famous Medrish in Pirke De Rabbi Eliezer records a story of how Shammai and Hillel were once arrested for shoplifting from the local pork store in Jerusalem. Under questioning, Shammai claimed that he has stolen and eaten the pork to prevent a fellow Jew from committing a Dioraisa. Hillel, on the other hand, claimed that he has stolen the pork to feed his own family.

Asks Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman, “Why did Shammai and Hillel give different answers? Did they indeed each steal to meet different objectives?” Answers Rabbi Shimoin Ben Yehoitzadak, “One is Yankif Avinu, and one is Moishe Rabbeinu.” With that the Medrish changes topics altogether, and engages in a lengthy discussion about the multicolor spandex uniform worn by the Aimishteh as He led Klal Yisroel out of Egypt.

Asks the RAMBAN in the Mishnah Toirah, Hilchois Cure For The Common Cold, “What’s Pshat ‘One is Yankif Avinu and one is Moishe Rabbeinu’? Had Rabbi Shimoin Ben Yehoitzadak taken too much Nyquil at the time he made this statement?”

Answers the RAMBAM, the key difference suggested by the mention of Yankif Avinu and Moishe Rabbeinu is their physical relationship to Eretz Yisroel. Yankif, who lived much of his life in Eretz Yisroel, was Chayuv on the Mitzvois Hatlooyois Ba’aretz, the commandments linked to the Land of Israel. These include Shmita, Maisser Shaynee, throwing rocks at moving cars on Shabbos Koidesh, and burning down bus shelters with advertisements featuring scantily clad women. Moishe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, never entered Eretz Yisroel, so he had no obligations with regard to the Land, and hence viewed the Mitzvois as, in RAMBAM’s words, “polite suggestions, akin to wiping around the sink in an airplane lavatory for the courtesy of the next passenger.”

The RAMBAM explains that this means that Shammai was concerned about a member of Klal Yisroel eating pork in Eretz Yisroel, especially if it was not properly cooked. Consequently, he deemed it better that he should steal the pork and use it with a Shinui in order to turn a Dioraisa to a D’Rabbanan. (RAMBAM suggests that the Shinui that Shammai employed was to repackage the pork and sell it in his brother-in-law’s kosher butcher shop in Monsey.) Hillel, however, believed that feeding his hungry family was Doicheh any Halachic constraints on food consumption, even a Dioraisa like eating swine. Consequently, like Moishe, he viewed such proscriptions as voluntary.

RAMBAN, however, vehemently disagrees, suggesting that the RAMBAM’s turban was on too tight. According to the RAMBAN, the distinction between Yankif Avinu and Moishe Rabbeinu comes down to ethics and honesty.

Yankif Avinu, the progenitor of all of Klal Yisroel, the father of the twelve Shfatim, the husband of two hot sisters and their maidservants, was also a paradigm of dishonesty and poor ethics. Yankif’s brother Eisuv comes back from the field and asks for a bit of soup, and what does Yankif do? Does he give him Tzedakah? Does he help him relax by bringing him hot cocoa and popping a movie into the DVD? No! He sells Eisuv lentil soup in exchange for his birthright. Later, Yankif disguises himself in his brother’s clothing, misrepresents himself to Yitzchak Avinu, his poor blind father, and then steals the blessing intended for Eisuv. In essence, Yankif is a cheap con man willing to lie to his own father in order to make a buck. If your son behaved like Yankif Avinu, you Minuval, I guarantee you would either disown him, or send him to live with the Niturei Carta.

Moishe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, is a paragon of modesty. He is hesitant to approach Paroah because he is afraid his voice won’t be heard. He steadfastly stands up for Klal Yisroel as their solemn representative, even when Hakkadoshboruchhu is offering to wipe them out and establish a new Chosen People descended from Moishe. He delivers the Toirah, twice. In other words, he leads Klal Yisroel from Egypt and through the desert, at the expense of his own gains and benefits. And after a lifetime of selfless servitude, he is denied access to Eretz Yisroel because he had not filled out the proper visa form,

Says the RAMBAN, in the story in the Medrish, Shammai is like Yankif Avinu. He is willing to steal, and when confronted, lie about it. He is interested solely in the benefits of the here-and-now. He gives little thought to moral responsibility or the long term consequences of his actions or the example that he is setting for others. In other words, he is a groisseh Vilda Chaya.

Hillel, however, is an honest person in a difficult situation. His family is hungry? What should they eat? And when confronted with his actions, he does not lie. On the contrary, like Moishe Rabbeinu himself, he is willing to accept the consequences, even if they are disadvantageous to him. Says the RAMBAN, “Hillel, like Moishe Rabbeinu, is a bit of a schmuck, but I would be happy to let him date my daughter.” Shoyn.


It is at times like these that we have to ask ourselves fundamental questions: What does it mean to be a Jew when it comes to human behavior? What are Jewish Values? What is the definition of a Ben Toirah? Are honesty and ethical behavior fundamental to the Jewish notion of Bain Adam Lachavaeiroih, guiding principles to how man must behave towards his fellow man?

Clearly, the Medrish raises two significant archetypes that are fundamental to the Jewish sense of identity: Yankif and Moishe.

If we walk in the footsteps of Yankif, honestly is indeed selectively applied. Like Yankif, we may steal when it is convenient. We may be dishonest, even to our own parents. We may marry sisters and their hot shiksah maidservants. But we must be aware of the examples that we set and the consequences of our actions. Ten of Yankif’s sons kidnap the eleventh and sell him into slavery. They subsequently lie to Yankif, saying that their brother had died. And Yankif ends his life in exile, far away from his homeland, his investment properties, and the Canaanite buddies that he used to go out drinking with every Saturday night.

However, if we emulate the behavior of Moishe Rabbeinu, we take upon ourselves a mode of behavior that is characterized by integrity. Moishe does not lie to Hakadoshboruchhu or Klal Yisroel. His behavior towards the Egyptians is defensive, not aggressive. He is the conduit for the laws of the Toirah, includes laws against stealing, bearing false witness, coveting someone else’s precious possessions, and being Mezaneh with farm animals on Yoim Kippur.

What is the basis for the fundamental differences between Yankif and Moishe? We must of course remember that Yankif Avinu lived before Matan Toirasainu – before the giving of the Toirah. He lived before Yetzias Mitzrayim. He lived before the Mishkan. If the giving of the Toirah establishes the modern era for Klal Yisroel, then Moishe Rabbeinu was our first modern male, and Yankif was a primitive, a Neanderthal. In fact, according to Reb Saadya Goyn, Yankif stood at four foot two, was as hairy as an ape, and when he wasn’t lying to his father or stealing from his brother, he was busy drawing pictures on the walls of caves. And you expect honesty and ethical behavior from such a creature?

So, when I look at the alleged actions of the New Jersey and Brooklyn based defendants, or Bernie Madoff, for that matter, I do not see people touched in their souls by more than three thousand years of Jewish tradition. I do not see people informed by the Toirah that was given at Sinai and handed down through generations, shaped and defined as a guidebook towards living an ethical life alongside other human beings. On the contrary, I see the actions of primitive cavemen, who must satisfy their whims and impulses, even at the expense of others.

These people do not deserve our defense or our mercy. If anything, they deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, I would advocate leniency for each defendant, in exchange for one of his kidneys. And if he demonstrates good behavior, I will kick in an extra $500 for his legal defense fund.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval