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Thursday, July 28, 2011

On the role of the Reboinoisheloilum


On the role of the Reboinoisheloilum


Every day we recite the Az Yashir, the Song of the Sea”, an ancient poem that celebrates the defeat of the Egyptian forces following the exodus of Klal Yisroel from Mitzrayim. As Klal Yisroel escape from Egypt, they are pursued by the Egyptian authorities -- Pharaoh, the military, and the SEC -- for engaging in a complex pyramid scheme. The Jews pass through the Yam Suf/ Red Sea/ Reed Sea unharmed, while the Mitzrim are swallowed into the water, those Shkutzim. Now let’s eat.

The Egyptians, we are told by the Toirah, are punished by the Aimishteh for their cruelty to generations of Jews. Unlike the pagan mythological pantheon who engage in fanciful battles divorced from the realm of humanity, the Reboinoisheloilum of Klal Yisroel is directly involved in human history. He personally engages in delivering justice and vengeance, smiting and wreaking havoc to the enemies of Israel. And to the Jews, He delivers salvation and mercy. He is Omnipresent and Omnipotent. He is all powerful. He has a barrel chest and six pack abs. He also makes a great guacamole, and has a 72 inch 3D TV. He is perfect!

So here’s the problem, you Mechutziff: As we have seen again this month, there are many terrible things that happen in this world. If indeed we believe that all of fate rests in the hands of Hakadoshboruchhu, that He is truly engaged in the activities of Our World, we are compelled to ask ourselves the following question: What The Hell Is He Doing?!

Exhibit A: Just imagine this: A group of innocent teenagers are happily attending a summer camp in Norway. With no rhyme or reason, a madman comes and slaughters 68 of them.

Exhibit B: Leiby Kletzky. Need I say more.

Exhibit C: This is true: I recently found my Bubbe on the online Hall of Names of Yad Vashem; her name was registered there by an acquaintance in the 1950s, who likely made a concerted effort to register the names of all the people she knew who had perished. However, my Alter-Bubbe and my schoolgirl-aged aunt never made it into the database: Apparently they didn’t have time to set up a Facebook account on their I-Pads while the Nazis were busy setting fire to the rickety wooden Shul in the Shtetl in which all the Yidden of the town were forcibly gathered.

Rabboisai, if the Reboinoisheloilum was a head of state, we would impeach Him. If He were a lawyer, we would disbar Him. If He were a child, we would take him to myriad psychologists. And if He were an adult, we would lock Him away where He could no longer cause any harm to Himself or anyone else. However, He is the Melech Malchei Hamlachim, Hakadoshboruchhu, so we continue to pray to Him.

But it is only fair and rational, and appropriate, that we ask ourselves at a broad theological/ philosophical level – What is He up to? Has He gone insane? Or is there some sort of master plan that you cannot possibly comprehend, you Minuval?

We of course are not the first to contemplate such questions. CHAZAL, sitting in their yeshivas around pressed board wooden tables with fold out metal legs, contemplated the very same questions. They looked to the Toirah and their own predecessors for guidance and inspiration. Some, like the RAMBAM, also turned to works of Moslem and Greek philosophers for answers. Others, like Moishe DeLeon, looked at traditional and contemporary mystical tradition. And a few, like the Ari Zahl, dropped acid and spent hours on end looking at their hands breathe.

Our Rabbinic predecessors indeed struggled with these very same issues. Their words are immortally captured in their Teshiuvois, their Sefarim, their various blogs and wikis, and on the walls of the men’s room stalls in Sura, Pumbedisa, Kutsk, Brisk, and elsewhere, right next to the notes that say, “For a good time, call Chanie”.

According to Reb Saadia Goyn, Hakadoshboruchhu is indeed a loving and benevolent Diety directly involved in Oilumainu, our world. He loves all mankind and all of His other creations. However, He believes in rules, and those that do not follow the Divine rules unfortunately trigger the (relatively minor) punishments warned of by the Reboinoisheloilum in His Toirah, in all of His benevolent mercy. For example:

-- If someone commits a murder, then he is Chayav Misah, and will unfortunately be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone worships Avoidah Zarah, Chass V’Sholom, then he is Chayav Misah, and, sadly, will be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone engages in “unnatural” acts, say, Mishkav Zachor, then he, his lover, their families, and everyone they ever knew, will lovingly be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone turns on a light on Shabbos Koidesh, Chass V’Sholom, a modern day Toldah of an Av Melacha, then he is Chayav Kurayss, and his family will mercifully be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone wears Shatnez, the combination of wool and linen, then he and his family will one day be benevolently wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone eats Kitniyois on Pesach, then he is Chayav on a Chashash of eating Chometz, and he and his family will one day be gloriously wiped out for all eternity.

So when a small portion of Klal Yisroel adopted Reform Judaism, Communism, Socialism, Zionism, and some of the other “isms” of the early 20th century, they triggered merciful destruction on all of Klal Yisroel. The Aimishteh surely watched with tears streaming down His eyes as my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother, and my twelve year old Aunt were burnt alive, along with most of the Yidden from their Shtetytl. But what could He do?

Hey – we got off easy, thanks to His benevolence. A remnant remained. It could have been worse: The dinosaurs ate insects and shellfish and never recited a Bracha, and look at them today…

The RASHBA also believes that the Reboinoisheloilum is involved in the world, but has a slightly different emphasis. According to the RASHBA, Hakadoshboruchhu is not benevolent. The suffering in our world is the direct result of the Aimishteh’s basic sadism and dislike of people. He is a misanthrope with a bit of an inferiority complex. Sure, He created human beings, but they are whiny and rebellious, and every so often He just feels like he needs to smite them because it makes Him feel better about Himself.

The RAMBAN takes an approach which is similar to that of Reb Saadia, though his explanation is informed by his great Rabbinic scholarship, along with his experience as one of the top OB-GYNs in medieval Spain. He suggests that the Shchinah actually loves all of mankind. She is our Creator, our Parent, our Spouse. However, once a month, for about a week, the Aimishteh starts to feel achy and bloated and uncomfortable, and then goes on a total rampage against all who come across Her path. But when the seven days are over She is back to normal. Just don’t say anything about Her weight, Chass V’Sholom.

Reb Akiva Eiger, takes a completely different approach. Reb Akiva holds that there is no conscious Deity involved in human affairs. Citing the Zoihar, Reb Akiva describes Hakadoshboruchhu as a powerful, universal Force. The Reboinoisheloilum is akin to a flower in your garden. He is alive and organic, but sits in the background like a pretty decoration that gets tended to in your spare time. However, some creatures, like the bees, are in tune with the Aimishteh, and mine Him for His pollen to make their honey. And man’s role, like that of the bees, is to understand the true nature of Hakadoshboruchhu and synchronize our existence to his reality, while stinging everyone and everything else that gets in our way.

However, the Meor Einayim, the Alter Chernobyler Rebbe, has a more counterintuitive understanding of Hakadoshboruchhu. Says the Chernobyler, LeOilum the Reboinoisheloilum is in fact a conscious being, involved in the daily affairs of mankind. And He is not so focused on the strict details of the Toirah. Punishments, shmunisments. “Live and let live”, He likes to tell the angels when they go out for cocktails every Friday night, after a long week of running the world. The problem is that the Aimishteh has been in the role for a long time, has taken to showing up late, leaving early, and taking too many long lunches. He has become distracted and lost focus, and it is probably time for us to get someone new in the role. But it is a very difficult role to fill. However, we do have some discussions with a few candidates scheduled for next week, and at least a couple of them look promising…

Rabboisai, it is clear that these and the many other explanations of the role of the Reboinoisheloilum in the world – including those that deny the very existence of Hakadoshboruchhu – are never fully satisfying. There is no model that fully and rationally explains the world. There is suffering and doubt. But there is also happiness and occasional sentiments of fulfillment.

As we struggle with this issue, we must also wrestle with the corollary question of how we should behave in a world where we do not, and cannot, ever understand the role of the Reboinoisheloilum. Are we created Betzelem Eloikim, in the Image of the Divine, and compelled to act accordingly? How can we possibly do that if we are incapable of knowing His will.

(“Yet”, you argue, “the Toirah is the source of knowing His will”. Hmmm. You may be right. I will keep that in mind the next time I bring animal sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdash right after attending a good public stoning. Ignorant schmuck.)

At best, we can do three things:

1) Continue to seek the ultimate truths. We will never find them, you Minuval, but like in a kosher luxury cruise, the voyage is more important than the destination.

2) Seek to control our own destinies, individually and collectively. In the absence of clear Divine guidance, it is our best bet for creating our future as we would like it to materialize.

3) Go out for some nice Traifus every once in a while. The Reboinoisheloilum may destroy your lineage for all eternity. But He is probably going to do that anyway.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Parshas Matois




Parshas Matois

In this week's Parsha, Matois, Klal Yisroel strives to emulate the benevolent, merciful, forgiving nature of the Reboinoisheloilum by slaughtering all the nations of Midian.

Like last week, we are faced with a question regarding Klal Yisroel's relationship with Midian: How is it that the nation of Yisro, the man who helped develop Am Yisroel's legal system, so soon became a mortal enemy to be pillaged and plundered, killed to the last man, with all its wealth taken away? According to the Mei Menuchois, the Toirah here is coming to teach an important lesson to lawyers: they are to pledge allegiance to the legal system, but are then encouraged to exploit it, abuse it and devour it like locusts, so long as they are not disbarred.

However, the Sifsey Chachomim focuses on an even more fundamental question on the Parsha: Why, after Klal Yisroel killed all the adult males of Midian, did Moishe Rabbeinu insist that they kill all the adult females as well?

According to the Baal Haturim, Moishe's motivation was that he was a mysogonist. Indeed, a Gemarra in Nedarim attributes to Moishe the Halacha that women can never enter the inner areas of the Bais Hamikdash, not because they were banned from bringing sacrifices, but because of the strict MEN ONLY rules in the Temple's health club.

But the RAN disagrees, referring in his commentary to the Baal Haturim as "Shvantz for Brains." The RAN holds that Moishe Rabbeinu actually loved women, perhaps a little too much. He cites a medrish that says that the reason it took Moishe so long to return to Klal Yisroel from Sinai was that he went three blocks out of his way, where no one he knew would see him, to buy "marital aids." Indeed, the RAN holds that Moishe had the adult women of Midian killed because they "lacked passion", and he didn't dare risk making the Israelite wives any more frigid than they already were, chass v'sholom.

But according to the MAHARAL, Moishe ordered the killing of the Midianite women for as grand a reason as to help Klal Yisroel finally reach the Promised Land.

Klal Yisroel was originally supposed to enter Eretz Yisroel in a matter of weeks after receiving the Toirah on Sinai. However, every time the Jews had a spare moment to make some progress toward reaching The Land, their wives always came up with new chores for them to do. "Moishe, fold the laundry, the Aimishteh can wait." "Aron, go next door to borrow the lawn mower. I don't care if we are moving our tent tomorrow. TODAY the place looks a mess." "Kulayv, watch the children for the next three hours while I get my nails done." "Yehoishua, you can't meet Moisheh to discuss conquest strategy this afternoon; we have a guy coming in to give us an estimate on redoing the kitchen."

Since Moishe didn't want the males of Am Yisroel to become any more whipped than they already were, he had all the Midianite women put to death.

I am reminded of a famous story told of the ARI ZAHL. He was once addressing his students in Tzfas, expounding on new, insightful interpretations of the Zohar, and using his deep understanding of the interrelationships of ten Sefirot to bring about the coming of the Moshiach and end Israel's state of exile.

Suddenly, the back door of the Bais Medrish opened, and his eight year old son Pesachya stuck his head in. "Tahti, come home quickly, Mommy needs you right away!" Fearing some horrible disaster, the ARI ended his treatise mid-sentence and ran home. His wife anxiously greeted him at the door. "I need you to do car pool. Shayndl next door is sick, and I have an appointment with the Shaytelmacher." The ARI held his temper and faithfully picked up his daughter Fruma from day camp.

That night the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. "ARI, you were about to crack the code and bring about Israel's redemption. Why did you choose your wife over the Moshiach?"

"Aimishteh," the ARI answered, "if the Moshiach doesn't come now, he'll come soon. Maybe in ten years, maybe in one hundred, maybe in one thousand. And then we will sit at Your throne and joyfully worship You. But if I piss off my wife, she'll make me miserable for all eternity." The Aimishteh praised the ARI's wisdom and rewarded him by bringing a plague that ended the ARI's life.

In our day we too are confronted by a similar choice: Lifelong dedication to the Reboinoisheloilum, or splitting loyalty between Him and a wife. Many spiritual groups have different approaches to managing this challenge. The Moslems marry many women in order to counter the aggregation of power by a single wife. The Episcopalians and the Reform allow their wives to become clergy and manage the family's relationship with the Aimishteh, thereby freeing up time for the husbands to play golf. And the Catholics don't marry, but take matters into their own hands, or into the hands of their alter boys, if you know what I mean.

But a true Ben Torah accepts his fate, secure in the fact that while his wife wastes her time on such insignificant tasks as supporting the family, paying the rent, filling out school registration forms, planning carpool, packing school lunches, cooking, cleaning, and worrying about birth control, he is off doing the Aimishteh's work by learning in Kolel and contemplating his reward in the World to Come.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Parshas Pinchass




Parshas Pinchass

This week's Parsha, Parshas Pinchass, is named after me. After all, Moishe Rabbeinu certainly had Ruach Hakoidesh and could easily foresee the day, 3500 years in the future, that a full bearded white man wearing a long black coat and big, black felt hat would use electronic pulses to share deep insights on the words of the Reboinoisheloilum with people like you – minuvals who need an occasional five minute break from surfing porn. Isn’t it obvious? No wonder Moishe Rabbeinu was always so optimistic about the future of Klal Yisroel!

Ironically, this week’s Parsha also opens with the celebration of Pinchass Ben Elazar -- the grandson of Aron Hakoihain, the minuval -- who at the end of last week's episode emulated the rich, warm, personal connection of the Aimishteh and Klal Yisroel by slaughtering an Israelite man and his Midianite girlfriend with a spear, initiating a plague in which 24,000 people died.

Reb Hai Goyn asks the question: Who were these 24,000 people? Was inter-dating such a widespread activity for the holy Dor Mattan Toirah? What’s pshat?

According to Rabbeinu Tam, the 24,000 included not only people who dated Midianite women, but also various cross-dressers, insurance salesmen, fundraisers, lawyers, and telemarketers.

But the Mordechai disagrees. He holds that none of the group who died in the plague were dating Midianite women. Rather, all were all members of Klal Yisroel who were also Amway representatives.

Yet the question about the centrality of Midianite women to this Parsha does fall away that easily. A Gemarrah in Chulin asks the question: Why was Moishe Rabbeinu immune to the plague targeted at all members of Klal Yisroel involved with Midianite women? Indeed, Moishe’s wife was the daughter of a Midianite priest!

Rav Ashi points out that we learn from this the halacha that while interdating is banned, intermarriage is acceptable, as long as the marriage represents a step up in social class. He goes on to point out that Midian was considered to be the creme de la creme of Late Bronze Age Near Eastern society. According to Rav Moishe Feinstein, in our age this ruling would apply to Episcopalians, Lutherans, and wealthy Republicans.

But Rish Lakish holds farkhert. He holds that interdating is not only acceptable, it is encouraged. And it is intermarriage that is not permitted, even when the woman converts. However, Rish Lakish notes, chazzal tell us that Mrs. Moishe was exempt from this restriction since even after her conversion she maintained several of her…err…goyisha practices, in particular one that I cannot get my bashert to do no matter how much I beg.

There is a medrish, however, which tells us that the plague did not really kill 24,000. Rather, only 4,000 people died. However, the Toirah improperly counted an extra 20,000 people who were projected to die during the remainder of the year. This, however, resulted in an accounting scandal and a significant decline in Market Value for which Moishe Rabbeinu was held responsible. And, according to this medrish, the real reason that Moishe was not able to enter the Promised Land was that as a result of this episode, he had to spend 25 years in a minimum security penitentiary for white collar crimes and pay $2 million shekels in fines and back taxes. Shoyn.

The M'EERIE asks a question on a different part of this Parsha: Why is the story of Pinchas juxtaposed with a listing of the clans of the tribes of Israel, followed by a discussion of property and inheritance rights highlighted in the story of the Bnois Tzeluphchud. In this story, the daughters of Tzeluphchud request the right to inherit their father's property, given that he had no sons to receive the inheritance. After consulting with the Aimishteh and several leading estate lawyers, Moishe Rabbeinu accepts their argument. So, what does one story have to do with another?

The Bais Yoiseph suggests that the Toirah put the stories together to teach us that if a parent dies and you argue over the inheritance with your siblings, you are allowed to drive a spear through their stomachs, as Pinchass did.

But the Nair Havdalah (born 1938; died 1969 at Woodstock of a heroin overdose) suggests that farkhert, the reason that Klal Yisroel, still in the desert at this point, were even focused on property and inheritance, even before entering Eretz Yisroel, is that they were beginning to process their mortgage applications. And the story of Pinchass tells us that whenever you prepare to purchase real estate, you should always show up to the closing prepared for the worst.

I, the RAPAS (Rav Pinky Schmeckelstein), would like to suggest an alternative explanation for the episodes being presented together. If we contemplate the logical result of the petition of the Bnois Tzeluphchud -- these young Bas Yisroels, Bais Yaakov girls I imagine, were instantly considered desirable. Even if they had one eye and seven arms between them, they were women who owned property, and that made them nice catches. This Parsha comes to teach us that this applies to Midianite women as well: A Midianite woman who eats pork, worships idols and is regularly mezaneh with farm animals is also desirable, as long as she owns property.

So if you are going to marry out, at least marry rich.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval

Wednesday, July 06, 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, Dominique Strauss-Kahn 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