BUY MY SFARIM TODAY, YOU MECHUTZIFF
THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Adding Kedushah To Our Daily Lives
This week I respond to a Shailah from Yoinasan Phey, a Talmid Muvhak who lives in Eretz Yisroel:
“Rebbe - this past Shabbos Kodesh I witnessed something in my shul that horrified me, shook me to my core, and made me grateful for the big thick Mechitzah that separates the men from the women.
“As the holy Sefer Torah was being returned to the Aron before Mussaf, everyone scurried to reach it to touch and kiss it. Forget the health warnings about spreading swine flu, at the same moment two men leaned in to kiss the Paroket and did so with no regard for the other's presence. Then, in pulling back, they noticed one another and in a state of Kedushah or stupor, they leaned back in and kissed one another. No long deep passionate kiss, but it was on the lips and more than just a "Good Shabbos" greeting.
“I know that YU hosted a session about homosexuals in our midst, but I always thought that they'd keep it in the bedroom. Except for Reform Jews who openly celebrate these things and eat traif on our fast days, I never expected I'd see something like this in my life, in Shul no less, and without it being attached to an e-mail solicitation for something I never ordered.
“What do I do?
“Your devoted talmid and chassid, Yoinasan.”
Dear Yoinasan Phey,
You have indeed raised a relevant issue, a Groisseh Shverkeit that seems to arise more these days than in the past. It is a large and pulsating Shverkeit, engorged, with a burning need to be addressed, either orally, or through a more intimate form of exchange.
Your Shailah of course relates to one of the burning topics of our day, the issue of Mishkav Zachar. It also relates to issues such as public displays of affection, public health and safety, and, potentially, the treatment of birds. (“The treatment of birds” you ask? Well, you Minuval, you suggested that two men were leaning in to “kiss the paroket”; if you were suggesting that they were jointly expressing affection to a parakeet, then, Dude – that’s really weird!)
Of course, the first reference that comes to mind, especially to a simple mind such as yours, is the very famous Pasook, “Ve’Ish Asher Yishkav Ess Zachor Mishkavei Ishah Toaivah Asu Shneyhem Mos Yoomusoo Demayhem Bum” (Sefer VaYikrah, Perek Chuff, Pasook Yood Gimmel), “And if a man lie with a man in the way one lies with a woman, they have committed an abomination, they shall be out to death, their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus, 20:13). (There is a similar Pasook also in VaYikrah, Leviticus 18:22.)
So, what should we conclude from this Pasook? Do we indeed have license to put someone who has committed such an act to death? Is such an act indeed considered an “abomination”? And if homosexuals are indeed not welcome in our community, how will we ensure that our Shuls and Bussey Medrish have nice curtains and drapes, not to mention glory holes in the Shtenders?
More importantly, the key question that one must ask here is: Is the prohibition as stated in the Toirah indeed still in effect? Halacha LeMaiseh – do we hold according to the sentiment expressed in the Pasook? After all, The Toirah was given over three thousand years ago to Moishe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai. A lot has happened since then: Two Bussey Mikdash built and destroyed. Malchuss Bais Duvid established at the start of Bayis Rishoyn and then lost. At the end of Bayis Shanee, the adoption of Pharasaic Judaism -- Rabbinic Judaism -- over the alternatives: Sadducean Judaism, Essene Judaism, Early Christianity, and Scientology. The development of Kabbalah, Jewish Mysticism, in the Middle Ages. Chassidism, less that 400 years ago. The State of Israel. The pet rock. And Shmuley Boteach. Do we really believe that this Pasook is still relevant?
After all, many Biblical injunctions have gone by the wayside. Since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, we no longer perform animal sacrifice. And according to the RAMBAM we likely never will again, even in the time of the Moishiach. We no longer have a concept of leprosy, though the topic is thoroughly explored in the Toirah. We no longer have the death penalty, Rachmana Letzlan. We also no longer have the institution of slavery, except while cleaning for Pesach. And, last I checked, we do not understand as literally the Pasook “Ayin BaAyin, Shain BaShain, Yad BaYad, Regel BaRegel” (Sefer Devarim, Perek Yood Tess, Pasook Chuff Aleph), “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand for a hand” (Deuteronomy, 19:21). Our understanding, interpretation, and implementation of the Toirah has indeed evolved.
And at the same time, we have made many additions to Yiddishkeit since Zman Mattan Toiraseinu. Our path for engaging with the Reboinoisheloilum was once centered upon Karbanois. But now we have Tefillah. And those Karbanois were exclusively brought by Koihanim, the descendants of Aroin Hakoihain, the Minuval. Now every person in Klal Yisroel, even an Apikoiress Mechutziff like you who can barely fold his Talis by himself, can speak directly to Hakadoshboruchhu. Plus we have real hair Sheytels, undoubtedly a great advance over the hair coverings our female ancestors used to wear in the desert.
(Incidentally, there is a famous Machloikess Rishoinim on this topic. According to Reb Zev-Voolf Vladivostok MiFrankfurt HaLeyvee, the ZVUV-FLY, Miriam HaNeviya and the other women of Klal Yisroel covered their hair in the desert with a cactus tree, and had monthly sittings with their local Cactusmachers to style their cactus pricks. But according Reb Shmuel Yehoishua MiSlovakia HaKoihain-Priest, the SHEIS-KUP, the women of Klal Yisroel covered their hair with Sheytels made of Erva hair, and styled their Sheytels with either lemon juice or tartar sauce.)
Yes, Judaism has evolved. Yiddishkeit is not simply a set of Pasookim in the Toirah, it is an ever developing philosophy. And that philosophy centers around being a “Goy Kadoish”, a “Holy Nation”.
What, exactly, does it mean to be a “Goy Kadoish”? It means that we recognize the Aimishteh in every action that we take, every moment of our lives. When we are about to eat an apple, do we devour the fruit like some unthinking Behaimah? No! Before we take a bite of the apple, we deliberately take a moment to make a Bracha and thank the Reboinoisheloilum. Similarly, we do not spend our entire week working so we can eat, eating so we can sleep, and sleeping so we can work. Farkhert – we set aside a day to acknowledge Hakkadoshboruchhu through prayer, Toirah, and single malt scotch.
So, in essence, Yiddishkeit is about adding sanctity to the mundane, adding Kedushah to all of our activities in order to rise above our basic animal nature. It is about substituting deliberation for impulse and sanctifying our existence, thereby acknowledging our respect for and relationship to the Eternal.
So, it would be easy, even simplistic, to say that throughout nature, Tashmish HaMitah is performed between a male and a female because THAT IS HOW OUR BODIES ARE DESIGNED. “Birds do it, Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it” (HaRav Cole Porter, ZTL). But, you Minuval, you are not an insect and you are not a Behaimah. You are a human being and a member of Klal Yisroel who is capable of deliberate action and thought, so you MUST add Kedushah, holiness, to your every action. And what better way to overcome your basic animal nature than by engaging in Mishkav Zachar.
So, rather than express discomfort at what you witnessed in Shul, you should seek opportunities to emulate such Kedushah. For example, the next time you are learning Gemara with your Chavrusa, hold his hand. Instead of shaking his hand on Shabbos-Koidesh, give him a kiss. And when you finish Davening Shacharis on a weekday, instead of taking off you own Tefillin you should take off each others’ Tefillin, slowly, and don’t stop there…
Indeed, there is a famous Machloikess among the Baalei Toisfois about Mishkav Zachar. According to the RASHBAM, Mishkav Zachar is a Minhag BeYisroel, but not a Halachic requirement. Says the RASHBAM, “A man is not Chayuv to swing that way, Chass V’Sholom. Plus it leaves more hot man-on-man action for me.” But according to Rabbeinu Tam, Mishkav Zachar is a Mitzvas Asei, and must be pursued at every opportunity, especially before breakfast. It was for this reason that Reb Yankif Ben Meir was nicknamed “Rabbeinu Tam” – “Rabbeinu Tasty”. (Yes, someone from Brooklyn will likely point at the spelling of “Tam” as Tuff Mem” versus “Tess Ayin Mem”. Congratulations! You passed second grade Hebrew class. Shkoiyach, you Mechutziff.)
So, Reb Yoinasan, the next time you witness two men kissing in Shul, try to contribute to the Kedushah. It will link you to Eternity, and might just help you resolve that engorged Groisseh Shverkeit.
Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.