BUY MY BOOKS AND YOU WILL BE GUARANTEED A PLACE IN OILAM HABAH (OR YOUR MONEY BACK!)
THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
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.