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Friday, March 30, 2012

On Close Shaves




On Close Shaves


This week’s Shailah comes from a Groissah Minuval who is obsessed with small, vibrating electronic devices and their importance in keeping his wife satisfied.


My Dear Morah D'Asra Rav HaGaon Schmeckelstein,

Thank you so much for your words of inspirational Toirah D'Moishe Rabbeinu, Alav HaShalom.

I have a question regarding shaving. It has been brought to my attention that some electric shavers are not technically kosher. There is a website that I heard about -- -- and the site says I have to send in my shaver to be broken in order to be "kosher." The site offers the opinions of different Poskim about electric shavers. The Poskim differ on what is considered OK out of the box and what is not. It's enough to make my head spin 360 degrees and violently vomit green slime, preferably on a priest.

(I only know about the site from some random guy I met at the Mikvah; as a Ben Toirah I would never go on the Internet other than to wax my Makom HaMilah during my wife's two weeks of untouchability, which, coupled with her prior and post mood swings, leave me a window of about 3.5 hours a month to be Mekayaim the Mitzvah of Peru U'Rvu).

My wife prefers my cheeks to be smoother than my Einicle's bottom, so with much regret I cannot grow a full Santa type beard or even a scraggly Chabad one. There is only one shaver she likes me to use, and she complains that my five o'clock shadow irritates her skin if she ever touches me by accident, Chass V’Shalom. The shaver I use is not on the list of "acceptable" styles according to KosherShaver.Org. So the question is: Do issues of Shalom Bayis trump all, or not? Because anyone who has been married for more than 10 minutes can tell you that if your wife isn't happy, you won’t be either.

My itchy face anxiously awaits your Teshuva.

Your Minuvaldic Talmid

Menachem Mendel ( from the Kotzker side)

Sent from my iPad


Dear Reb Menachem Mendel,

Thank you for your very important, practical question. Finally, FINALLY one of my Minuval Talmidim asks me something critical, related to Halchah LeMaiseh. And this is a very important question: I am currently sitting in Geneva as part of a secret team trying to negotiate peace between the Israelis and the Iranians in order to avert a global nuclear holocaust. In my spare time, I am raising money for starving children in Africa. And I am working tirelessly to support the Santorum campaign, so he can go on to defeat that Islamic Fundamentalist—Reverend Wright Supporting--Israel Hating--Born Outside of the US—Communist--Socialist—Marxist--Tax Raising—Gas Price Raising—Auto Industry Bailing Out—Health Care Providing—Barack HUSSEIN Oibama.

But you have given me perspective: I will set aside all of my other activities so that I can answer your Shailah about whether your electric shaver is Koisher. Yes, that is an excellent use of my time.

But before that, I must ask you one question: You signed your note, “Sent from my iPad”. Is that a secret message to other iPad users? Is that intended to hint that you are a purchaser of the new Artscroll Shas iPad App that every Schmuck with a Yarmulke has sent me an e-mail about? Or is that a declaration of your commitment to surfing porn in bed, Chass V’Sholom? Which is it? Well, if your iPad cover is stuck to the screen, I guess we’ll know the answer…

In any case, to put it simply, your electric shaver is absolutely not Koisher. The exact reasoning is the subject of a Groisse Machloikess. The Tzitz Eliezer holds that an electric shaver is not kosher because it neither chews its cud nor has split hooves. But the Schvantz Mordechai holds that your shaver is Traifus Mamesh because it has neither fins nor scales. So eating your shaver is completely out of the question.

If, on the other hand, you are asking whether one may use an electric shaver to shave his face, well, that is an entirely separate Shailah. As you may be aware, the Toirah tells us explicitly, “Loi Tashchis Ess Payass Ziknechah, U’Payass Ziknum Loi Yigalchuh”, “You shall not destroy the corners of your hair, nor shall you shave the edges of your beard" (VaYikrah Yud Tess, Passook Chuff Zayin). This and similar Pesukim have traditionally been interpreted by CHAZAL as a proscription against shaving one’s face with a blade.

Of course, this was the subject of a debate in the time of the Mishnah. The Tannah Kammah holds that this Passuk indeed refers to shaving one’s facial hair. He made this Psak while visiting his parents at the Primate House in the Teveriah Zoo.

However, Rebbe Yishmael holds that Payass Ziknechah does not refer to one’s facial hair. Noting that the Toirah uses neither the term “Panim”, “face”, nor “Se’arois”, “hair”, Rebbe Yishmael holds that the word should not be read as “Zakahn”, meaning “beard”, but rather “Zakayn”, meaning “old person”. So the Passuk should be understood as commanding, “You shall not destroy the corners of your old people, nor shall you shave the edges of your old people”, meaning that you should not eliminate old people from your population, even though they drive at 5 miles per hour on the highway, argue in the supermarket about the price of a pack of gum, and take up valuable rent controlled apartment inventory. Rather, you should treat your elders with respect, especially if you are in line to receive a sizable inheritance.

The Gemarrah notes that we indeed hold like the Tanna Kammah, and cites a Braisah that tells us that Rebbe Yishmael stated his Sheetah when he was 106 years old and was being forced to enter a nursing home after kicking his home health aide in the stomach when she tried to change his adult diapers. (According to RASHI, that bitch had it coming to her. But according to TOISFOIS, Rebbe Yishmael was actually trying to dance for joy, since this was the first time a woman had touched his Schvantlach in 45 years.)

Many of CHAZAL speculate as to why the Toirah is opposed to a man shaving his beard. According to the Chazoin Ish, a beard is considered an integral part of a man’s body, so its removal is prohibited. He was also a prominent opponent of circumcision. In addition, he insisted that his wife never shave her legs. Only in his fourth year of marriage did he realize that he was married to a golden retriever.

The Sforno believes that a beard is intended to distinguish between a man and a woman. He of course lived in a part of Italy where a woman with a B Cup was considered to be large breasted, and where the Yeshiva Buchrim had long hair, had beautiful hourglass figures, and insisted on taking off each others’ Tfillin, slowly, if you know what I mean.

The RAMBAM holds that the reason one is not allowed to shave his beard is because it resembles the customs of Catholic priests, who are typically clean shaven. Of course, the RAMBAM lived in the Muslim world, so probably never met a Christian in his entire life. But he was renowned for aspiring to always distinguish himself from the Gentiles. He refused to eat white bread and mayonnaise, he never drank gin and tonics, he liked to fix his own car, and when his five year old son was kidnapped and held for ransom by a group of brutal pirates, he insisted on getting a 20 percent discount on the ransom as a “finders fee”.

Rabboisai, in our era of modern convenience and modern sensibilities, it would be quite easy to dismiss the call for intentionally damaging the blades of a brand new shaver as an asinine prescription based on medieval interpretations of an ancient cultic law that was never well understood in the first place. But many contemporary Poiskim believe that such sacrifice is indeed a modern manifestation of Karbanois, Biblical and Temple era animal sacrifice.

Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah holds that every new portable electronic device should similarly be damaged as a Zeycher LaMikdash. In fact, when he bought his first iPhone, he immersed it in the Mikvah and let it sit there overnight, and then posted the pictures it had taken underwater to his Kosher MILFs Facebook group.

Reb Yoisaiph Katzsky holds that all electronic devices, large and small, should somehow be “broken in” before use. He once smashed his 47 inch LCD panel TV over his own head in order to shatter the screen. He also proposed leaving his brand new car running for 12 hours in the garage, with his mother-in-law asleep in the back seat.

Rabbi Betzalel Kupkayk, however, believes that there is no requirement to damage an electric shaver, since its blades cannot cut beard growth without the use of an electricity powered mechanism. In short, the action that an electric shaver produces is akin to grinding, rather than cutting with a blade, which is why electric shavers can never provide a shave as close as a real blade, and are therefore Koisher to use LeMehadrin Min HaMehadrin Min HaMehadrin. However, rather than prescribe specific brands of electric shaver that are permissible, Reb Betzalel proposes the “Snatch Test”: If a man’s wife or girlfriend can use an electric shaver on her Makoim Erva -- a very delicate and mysterious place -- and get as close a shave as a blade, the shaver is traif. But if the shave is not as close as a blade, then the shaver is Koisher.

And to support the Frum community’s Halachic concerns on this topic, Reb Betzalel has set up his own free informational site, similar to the WWW.KosherShavers.Org site: His site is called WWW.KosherSnatch.Org. KosherShavers.Org offers a free service whereby people send in their shavers to have their blades inspected. However, KosherSnatch.Org gives instructions for how to conduct the Snatch Test at home, and offers a free service whereby people send in pictures of their wives’ and girlfriends’ shaved Snatches to be inspected. He posts many examples of the results of the Snatch Test on his site, which can be viewed for a subscription fee of only $4.95 per month. What a Tzaddick!

With regard to your second question about Shalom Bayis – making sure that your wife is happy, I suggest you use the services of another web site: WWW.AdequateSchvantzlach.Org. This is a site for Jewish men to send in pictures of their Schvantzlach for inspection. Men with large Schvantlach are encouraged to stand up to their wives. But men who suffer from small Schvatzlach and are incapable of standing up to their wives are advised to grow a bigger pair.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the Role of Women




On the Role of Women


There is a famous Maiseh Shehoya about RASHI Hakoidesh. One day, RASHI decided that he wanted to know who his Chavrusa would be in Oilum Habah. So he prayed to the Reboinoisheloilum for seven days. In the evening of the seventh day RASHI fell into a deep sleep. That night, the Aimishteh came to him and related the name and location of his future study partner. RASHI woke up excitedly the following morning. Immediately after breakfast he set out on a journey across Europe, beginning at his home in France, passing through Italy and what is today Austria and Hungary, and arriving in Romania in a city called Brasov; in all, a voyage of three weeks by horse and carriage. Upon his arrival in the town, RASHI began to look for his future study partner.

He first went to all the Bussay Medrish, but no one had ever heard the name of the man RASHI asked about. Then he went to the local Shuls. Again, no one had heard of the person. Finally, he checked into a lodge to stay overnight, and on a whim, asked the matron of the lodge if she knew the man that RASHI was seeking. Yes, she replied, she knew the man very well. She told RASHI that he could be found at a local stable. Excited, RASHI hurried off to meet his future Chavrusa, only to discover that the man spent his days cleaning the stalls of the animals.

Highly distraught, RASHI had a dream that night where he came face to face with Hakadoshboruchhu. "Why did you give me such a mediocre Chavrusa?" RASHI complained. "I am the great RASHI, interpreter of Toirah for generations of Klal Yisroel, and I should be partnered in Oilum Habah with a stable boy?!"

The Reboinoisheloilum responded. "You are indeed the great RASHI, the greatest commentator in all of the Yiddishe Velt, and who is sought regularly by scores of Jewish men. But the stable boy is hung like a horse, and is sought out regularly by Jewish women. You will make a great team."

Rabboisai, I share this story with you because, as you know, we are not all created the same. Some are taller and some are shorter. Some are smarter, and some are dumber than an overcooked Kishka. Some are attractive, and some look like the fungus on the bottom of Oig Melech Habashan's oversized foot. But together we make up the community that is Klal Yisroel.

But does this mean that we should all be treated as equals? Should I, a great Toirah scholar, have to pay the same amount of taxes as you, you Am Haaretz? Should you, my beloved Talmid, have to wait in line for a movie on 84th Street and Broadway for the same amount of time as a student from Yeshiva University, or, Chass V'Sholom, for the same amount of time as a student from the Jewish Theological Seminary?

These questions are similar to a discussion in a Gemarrah in Nidah, where Abaya and Rava have a Machloikess on why the Aimishteh created women. According to Abaya, women were created to support man's basic missions to study Toirah, work, and procreate. They are to cook, clean, passively perform Maisay Biyuh, and keep the damn children as far away from me as possible when I am trying to get some work done on my laptop. Abaya cites the Passuk where the Hakadoshboruchhu creates Chava as Adam's Eizer Kinegdo, his "helpmate," out of Adam's rib (Bereishis, Perek Baiz, Pussuk Chuff Aleph). Says Abaya, if women were intended to be our equals, Chava would have been created out of a more important body part, such as one of Adam's Schvantzlach.

But Rava holds Farkhert. He points to an earlier Pussuk – Bereishis, Perek Aleph, Pussuk Chuff Zayin – as proof that man and woman were created together, concurrently, and as such, are fundamentally equals. He notes that in his home his wife pays the bills, makes the Bracha on the Shabbos Challah, and likes to make Mei Raglayim while standing up.

So how is one to understand the complex nature of the role of women within a Jewish context given the conflicting Toirah and Halachic messages? How do we inform our attitudes and behavior from Toirah perspectives that on one hand tell us that "Hakol Oilim Laminyan Shivah, Afilu Isha"(Megillah, Chuff Gimmel), that everyone may be called to read from the Toirah including a woman, but on the other hand tell us that teaching women is the equivalent of Tiflus (Soitah, Chuff)? What's Pshat, for Reboinoisheloilum's sakes?

There are, of course, intense speculation and halachic prescriptions on this topic by Chazal. Commenting on the notion of women not reading from the Toirah due to "Kvoid Hatzibur," Reb Hai Goyn suggests that the Gemarrah was worried about a situation where a Maideleh is in Nidah on Shabbos Koidesh, Chass V'Sholom, and may bleed all over the Bimah, dyeing the cloth carpet red on Shabbos, resulting in an Issur Dioraisah of Tzoivayah.

The RAN, however, holds that the concern of "Kvoid Hatzibur" relates to the Chashash that a woman, while reading from the Toirah, might look up for a moment and be instantly attracted to the 60-ish, overweight, bearded rabbi in the dark suit standing at the front of the Shul, and might not be able to control her animal-like urges. This would cause the Kehillah great discomfort, as they witness the Baalas Koiray ripping off the rabbi's shirt to slowly stroke his manly Arba Kanfois with her right hand, as she begins to loosen his Gartel with her left. Then she would twirl his Payis in her fingers while stroking his beard, and begin to whisper the Leyning in his ear…

Errr… Well, I often worry about things like this when I am in the front of my Shul delivering a Drasha…

Perhaps Halachic Shakvetarya (discourse) is not the best source for understanding the basic nature of the role of women as envisioned in our heritage. Perhaps a better model may be viewed in the Zoihar. The Zoihar understands that the Aimishteh can be viewed through the prisms of ten different Divine Aspects, the Sfirois. Rooted in the Ein Soif, the indescribable hidden part of the Reboinoisheloilum, the Sfirois emanate like a tree. The outermost Sfirois are Yesoid, the foundation of Hakadoshboruchhu's activity in the world, and Malchuss, His kingdom. Malchus is most commonly known as the Shechinah.

According to the Zoihar, balance in the world was once maintained by a constant unity between Yesoid, viewed as the male aspect of the Aimishteh, and the Shechina, the female aspect. But from the time that mankind gained self awareness, as personified by the casting out of Adam Harishoin from Gan Eidan, Yesoid and Malchuss became separated from one another. Yes, in the cosmic view of Yiddishkeit, the natural, optimal state of male and female – man and woman – is to be in a fundamental state of balance and unity.

So we must ask ourselves: How did this natural partnership between male and female deteriorate into its current state?

According to Reb Moishe Chaim Luzzatto, man is to be blamed for the decline of the role of woman due to his insistence that his wife should stop freaking nagging him already about what to get Shaindel for her Bas Mitzvah. It's just a freaking party, for Reboinoisheloilum's sakes, to which Shaindel's parents invited five hundred of their closest friends.

But according to Reb Yoisaiph Gikatilla, the fault lies clearly with woman, and is the result of women wearing shaytels that are two sizes too tight.

The ARIZAHL agrees that the decline of the feminine aspect is the fault of woman, but states that her withdrawal from cosmic responsibility is the result of a complex organic process. Says the ARIZAHL – every Jewish Maydel is born perfect. She grows up in a Bayis Ne'eman B'Yisrael, maybe gets an education, Chass V'Sholom, and then marries her Chussin. Mazel Toiv! The problem is that the typical Jewish woman's brains are expelled from her body with her afterbirth. By about the third child, a Jewish woman is pretty much like that episode of Star Trek where Spock's brain gets taken out and Dr. McCoy has to guide him using a remote control. According to the ARIZAHL, in our generation, instead of a remote control, women are guided by the Bed, Bath, and Beyond catalogue, e-mail from Groupon, and Botox.

I am reminded of an early occurrence in my marriage to my Bashert, Feige Breinah. We had conceived our first child, Baruch Hamavdil, but had not yet reached the completion of the first trimester. We agreed not to share news of the impending event to avoid an Ayin Harah. Later that week, I was wished a Mazel Toiv by the shoeshine boy's cleaning woman. I had not told a soul. Feigeleh swore she had not either, but promised to find out who did. So she hired outside consultants to investigate the source of the leak. After tracking down various phone records, all signs pointed back to my mother-in- law, may she rest in peace, soon. As it turns out, whenever she visited our home, she would dip a pregnancy test in the toilet, measuring hormone levels in the Pish Vasser. Based on this, she diagnosed my wife's pregnancy, as well as my bran deficiency.

However, two years later, when we conceived our fifth child, Feigeh Breineh no longer cared about keeping the happy news secret. On the contrary, she publicly celebrated as soon as she found out about her pregnancy by ingesting a full bottle of sleeping pills.

So while man and woman begin their journeys through life with a clear head and a clean slate, the years leave their impact. Only very special people are able to maintain an optimal social and spiritual balance over an extended period of time, typically people that have a deep commitment to Toirah, an innate sense of their role in the broader cosmic reality, or are hung like a horse.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Daas Toirah




Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Daas Toirah


This week’s Shailah comes from a Talmid who uses as much Yiddish as the Satmar Rebbe on acid.

Harav Hagaon Rav Pinky

Whilst discussing Divrei Toyreh I have, on occasion, suggested that our great medieval Meforshim, when composing responsa and commentary on TaNaCh, may well have been influenced by contemporary events impacting Ehrliche Yidden dwelling in Western Europe (e.g. the Crusades, black death, unfair business practices, Shtupping Shikseh maids, etc.) Certain Menuval Rabbonim in my community (whom I do not hold by, Chass V'Shalom) inform me that I am mistaken, and frequently invoke the term "Daas Toirah". I like to think that I am an Erliche, Frimme Yid, but does this not smack of (Chass V'Shalom) Papal infallibility (which I am certain the Goyim must have somehow stolen from us).

A Gitn Shabbos from your Talmid,

Reb Kudish Shmiel


Reb Kudish,

Thank you for your insightful question that gets at the very heart of Yiddishkeit. After all, what else is the heart of our Heilikeh faith than the unfaltering belief in the rulings of our religious leaders, the Gedoilim. Men of wisdom and honor and valor. Men of intuition, able to unerringly answer questions on all topics, informed by their honed minds after studying the words of the Reboinoisheloilum, the teachings of CHAZAL, the lessons of the other Gedoilim, and the extensive library of responsa documented in Igrois Penthouse. Men of an essentially higher moral construct, like Moishe Rabbeinu. Men of a greater character, like Aaroin HaKoihain. Men who are hung like a horse, like Yankif Avinu.

Namely, men like me.

What is Daas Toirah? It is a term that, sadly, is not well known outside of Chassidic and Black Hat circles, unless you are an Ashkenazi real estate developer, a Moroccan mobster or a Gentile basketball player. It is the belief that Rabbis can grant wisdom and guidance with near infallibility on areas outside of the spheres of theology and Toirah scholarship.

What is it that gives the Gedoilim this wisdom? Why, it is the tens of thousands of hours spent studying Toirah, their minds shaped by the purity of the TANACH, the wisdom of the Gemarrah, the holy words of the Rishoinim and Acharoinim, and the mind-numbing-neo-paganism of the Zoihar. Their minds are molded and shaped and perfected by the words and ideas inspired by the Reboinoisheloilum and His pet hamster, Cuddles.

I literally cry for the Minuvals and their Minuveless wives for all of the time wasted consulting doctors and lawyers and financial advisors as they seek guidance, when all they have to do is come to me. My door is always open. Except when it is closed.

Why, just last week I had multiple inquiries from Talmidim asking for my Toirah-inspired guidance:

-- On Sunday, I had a man come to me to ask my advice on his investments. I suggested he buy stock in Artscroll: As soon as the entire country embraces the most ignorant form of Orthodoxy, he will make millions.

-- On Monday I had a woman come to me asking my opinion on whether she should divorce her husband after finding out he was having an affair. I advised her to remain married, but to raise her self esteem by evening the score. I then took her to the back of my 1987 Dodge minivan, tied her up with my Tfillin and Gartel, and practiced Shlugging Kaparois with her in the back seat.

-- On Tuesday I had a Talmid ask me who he should vote for in the Republican primary – Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum. I gave him my Psak: I told him to vote for Ron Paul. He may be a Soinay Yisroel, but at least he’s honest.

-- On Wednesday – I was consulted by a couple that is having trouble conceiving a baby, Rachmana Letzlan. I immediately put the woman on a regimen of fertility pills and hormone shots. I had them change their Mezuzahs (lucky I had a few extra lying around…). And I also prescribed that they be Mezaneh while facing Mizrach on Roish Choidesh when it falls out on Moitzee Shabboskoidesh on a Tuesday. When asked if the woman should go to the Mikvah earlier in the week, violating the Rabbinic addition of waiting seven clean days in order to catch her ovulation cycle, I explained that this is a YaHuraig V’Al Yaavor: Better to remain childless under another four years of Oibama than to Chass V’Sholom be Oiver on this D’Rabbanan.

-- On Thursday I was asked by a Talmid for advice on a real estate deal. I strongly endorsed the opportunity to invest in parking garages in rural residential communities. When the Iranians drop the bomb on us we will all be heading to the hills and will need a place to park.

-- Finally, on Friday I was contacted by two parents who believe that their 12 year old son is being molested by his Rebbe and wanted to know if they should report the Rebbe to the authorities. I told them that they must be wrong: No person who has gone through a Smicha program can possibly be a child molester. It just couldn’t ever, ever happen. Never. And if by some teeny, tiny, miniscule chance the accusation is true, they should tell their son to stop complaining: Once he hits thirty years old he’ll never get that much action again.

-- On Shabboskoidesh, of course, I only responded to questions directly related to Lumdis. Nisht B’Shabbos Garedt, you know.

Some may say that Daas Toirah is dangerously close to the Vatican’s perception of Papal infallibility. Some may say that ascribing near infallibility to any human being runs counter to the Toirah, which portrays Moishe Rabbeinu, Aaroin HaKoihan, and Duvid HaMelech as having been imperfect human beings. Some would suggest that the very essence of the Gemarrah is the notion of debate, which is rooted in a balance between tradition and reason. Some would say that the devastation of the Jews of Europe, including many whose Rabbinic leadership encouraged them not to emigrate, is the greatest proof of Rabbinic fallibility. Some would say that the belief in the infallibility of Rabbis may lead to extreme heresies, including the belief in false messiahs (you know who I’m talking about…). Some would even suggest that the decentralized nature of Klal Yisroel, the lack of a central authority, is in fact one of our greatest elements of strength, encouraging a vibrant social and intellectual culture that is less prone to the corruption enabled by a single bottleneck.

But I say: Anyone who says such Shtuss is a complete ignoramus and we must excommunicate him from our community immediately. Unless he comes to my humble Central Park West apartment, makes a sizeable donation to my Yeshiva, and writes out a large check to the Rubashkin Defense Fund. And then I’ll be happy to offer him my counsel.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Purim Drasha




Purim Drasha


Today we gather together to celebrate the most joyous of all the Jewish Holidays, the holiday of Purim. On this holiday, we celebrate the near destruction of the Jewish People and the exploitation of Esther's Hamalka's bisulta to enable their salvation by getting stinking drunk and trying to be mezaneh with our chavrusa when he himself isn't throwing up.

Chazal have often contemplated the deeper meaning hidden within Megillas Esther, the text that details the story of Purim. Why, they ask, is the name of the Rebboinoisheloilum not mentioned throughout the Megillah, while in contrast, Haman Harasha's name is mentioned so many times that people audibly bang their heads against the wall?

According to the RASHBAM, the Aimishteh refused to have his name attached to the story, as he was repelled by the Machiavellian activities of Klal Yisroel. Such actions include:

-- Mordechai saves the life of the king and doesn't even collect a cash reward (What's pshat with that?)

-- Esther curries the favor of the king by taking hold of his extended staff

-- Once victory is achieved, Klal Yisroel doesn't stop until they have murdered Haman's allies, hanged his sons, and raped his horses.

Says the RASHBAM, Hakkadoshboruch didn't need any of that, as He was still trying to live down the bad press from the whole ten plague thing.

The RITVA disagrees, noting that the RASHBAM dropped too much bsomim when he was in college and was prone to flashbacks while in the Bais Medrish. The RITVA suggests that the reason that the Rebboinoisheloilum is not mentioned is that Megillas Esther is simply not originally a Jewish story. Noting the similarity of the names of Mordechai and Esther to the Persian diety names of Marduk and Ishtar, the RITVA offers that Purim was really adapted from a pagan Persian holiday where Persians would traditionally drink heavily, exchange gifts of food, and kill their wives and replace them with younger women.

But the Toldois Aharoin disagrees with both the RASHBAM and the RITVA. The Toldois Aharoin offers that the Melech Malchei HaMelachim didn't want his name included since He was completely upset by the fact that no one could ever get His name right. He cites a beautiful discussion from the Zoihar: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yoichai, sitting around a campfire with his followers, tells them that one must try to know the Ain Sof, the unknowable aspect of the Omnipresent, by giving it a name. "What would YOU call the Ain Sof?" he asks each of his followers,

One follower responds "Rebbe, I would call Him 'Fred' because that is a name I can relate to, since I once had a dog named Fred, and a dog is man's best friend.". Another follower says, "I will call Him 'Spike', because the Jewish People have a Bris with the Ain Sof, and that is what I nicknamed my Bris Milah when I was sixteen years old." And so they went around the circle.

When the last of the followers had spoken, Rebbe Shimon addressed them. "You idiots," he said, "you cannot give the Ain Sof a proper name! He is unknowable. I spend 13 years in a freaking cave just to teach schmucks like you?" When Rabbi Shimon calmed down, he told them that the Ain Sof should be called the Aibishter, meaning in Yiddish "The One On High." since, according to Rabbi Shimon, "as He is unknowable, one would have to be high to think you can know him."

As the rebbe's talmidim nodded in agreement, Rabbi Akiva joined the group, and, upon hearing, the topic, began to berate Rabbi Shimon. "You would call the Ain Sof 'Aibishter'?" Rabbi Akiva asked. "Everyone knows that He should be called 'Aimishteh', which means in Aramaic 'Where is He when you really need Him?"

Says the Toldois Aharoin, as the Aimishteh didn't want to get involved in the argument, he decided to adopt a low key approach in the Megillah.

I, the RAPAS, would like to offer a new answer to this question. The Rebboinoisheloilum's name is obscured from the Megillah so Klal Yisroel would know that some time we have to solve our own problems. We cannot rely on a deus ex machina, an external solution, heavenly or otherwise, to resolve the most challenging issues of our day. We must use our own intelligence and creativity to devise and implement our best alternatives.

Take for example the issue of peace between Klal Yisroel and the Arab world. Some would say that we should give up all of the West Bank in exchange for peace. Others would say that we should not give up one inch. I would like to humbly suggest that in exchange for real peace, we should be prepared to make sacrifices, even painful ones. However, it should be clear to all sides that not everyone will get what they want. But in the spirit of compromise, I am certain that we can reach an understanding. Consequently, while I am not certain what we should do with the West Bank, in exchange for real peace we should give Brooklyn to the Palestinians. And if calm prevails there, we can talk later about giving back other territories including the Five Towns, Teaneck, and Skokie.

Ah Freilachin Yuntif, You Minuval

Friday, March 02, 2012

On and Off The Derech




On and Off The Derech


I would like to share my great news with you as I bid farewell to my role as Rosheshiva of Yeshivas Chipass Emess. This will be my last Drasha, since I just made twenty million dollars on the stock market yesterday. Those shares I bought a couple of weeks ago have shot up, putting me on easy street. Yessirree! All the Mitzvois, I have been doing all these years, all those selfless acts designed to rescue the Holy Sparks from the Sitra Acha. My commitment to the Reboinoisheloilum has finally paid off, big time!

So no more wasting my time writing Toirah for ungrateful Schmucks like you in exchange for your meager pennies! Go get your Toirah from Aish, or Chabad, or Pat Robertson, or Joel Osteen or Glenn Beck for all I care... So long, suckers!

Oy Vey! My stock holdings just fell in value by twenty million dollars. Since I am totally without sin, it is as clear as day that Hakadoshboruchhu has decided to bring punishment on the innocent because of the Aveirois of you Mamzerim. Damn you all to Gehennim!

Ummm… needless to day, I was joking a minute ago when I called you Schmucks and Mamzerim. I was testing you, and you clearly passed the test. Congratulations, my beloved Talmidim!

Rabboisai, we live in a volatile world. Stocks go up, stocks go down. Regimes rise and fall. Yet Klal Yisroel is a constant. The Democrats hold the Presidency and the Senate, and the Republicans own the House and a majority in the Supreme Court, but Klal Yisroel is a constant. The Likud is in power today, and no one knows who will lead the next coalition. However, Klal Yisroel is a constant. Mubarak and Khaddafi are unchallenged autocratic rulers one day, and then sit in a cage, or in some hole somewhere hunted like an animal the next. Yet Klal Yisroel is a constant. The skies are sunny and clear one day, and we are pumping water from our basements and Bussay Medrish the next. But Klal Yisroel is a constant. My Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, on any given day may have a Taivah to be Mezaneh like a rhesus monkey, or, alternately, may have one of those combination locks from the Aron Koidesh on her Erva for the next week and a half. But Klal Yisroel is a constant.

What does it mean that Klal Yisroel is a constant? Is it because the Aimishteh has preserved us as His Chosen People? Yet, according to the Tzitz Eliezer, the Reboinoisheloilum tried his best to kill us in Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen, but simply failed because He ran out of quarters. And now He is trying to finish us off one bombing or missile or stabbing attack at a time.

Perhaps Hakadoshboruchhu preserved us as a form of public punishment and humiliation, as has been suggested over the centuries by numerous Christian theologians. Yet here we stand today as a people, strong economically relative to others, with our own State after two thousand years, with an outsized positive social and cultural influence well beyond our numbers. (And, you Minuval, can you PLEASE stop sending around those idiotic chain e-mails that proudly proclaim that Stalin, Khaddafi, Sarah Palin, and Shmuley Boiteach are all descendent of Jews. If these allegations are in fact true, it is a badge of shame, you moron!)

Many of us remain loyal to our heritage, yet only a fundamentalist buffoon refuses to recognize the human hand in the development of Yiddishkeit: From the formation of the Toirah from numerous texts written by multiple authors, to the gradual evolution of centralized monotheism at the end of Bayis Rishoyn and in Galus Bavel, to the emergence of Halacha through a long process of Biblical exegesis and philosophical debate, to the standardization of traditions and the creation of new practices and beliefs in the middle ages, to the adoption of the secret Kohanic handshake by the Planet Vulcan.

So, given the human role in the development of the faith, why do we even bother? Why don’t we just go after working out at the JCC on Saturday morning and eat some nice Traifus, perhaps some Chazer and overgrown cockroaches, washed down with some pig’s blood and a nice merlot? Maybe we should all marry hot Shiksas and worship that Sheygitz hanging from the Tzeylim in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, or the white bread and mayonnaise eating Goy worshiped by Michelle Bachmann? Or perhaps we should abandon religion altogether and believe in an eternity that is without meaning, save for survival of the fittest or simplistic feel-good humanistic mantras concocted by angry vegans on acid?

Schmuck, if you think it’s all complete bullshit, why are you even reading this?

I know you believe that you are the first Jew to ever ask such questions, and are enamored of your own brilliance. Shkoiyach! But, rest assured, you are a total ignoramus. From time immemorial Klal Yisroel has struggled with our faith, with our relationship to the Reboinoisheloilum, with the general nature of the Divine, and with our Jewish wives’ primal opposition to performing Metzitzah Bipeh once the glass has been broken under the Chupah.

So, the fundamental question is: Is Judaism worth preserving? Is there indeed some intrinsic value to Yiddishkeit that justifies our actions and sacrifices: economic, social, and – dare I say – historical? Or is our heritage simply the historical baggage of the Opiate Of The Masses, a theological and cultural handcuff that tells us what to eat, instructs us how to behave, and demands that we cut off the tips of our Schvantzyls? (Although in my case that still leaves nine and three quarters inches. No wonder Feigeh Breinah is always invoking the “gag reflex” defense.)

These were in fact fundamental questions raised by Chazal almost two thousand years ago. According to Rav, there is nothing worth preserving about Judaism, and we should walk away from it and let it die the deaths of the ancient religions of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, etc.

But according to Shmuel, Yiddishkeit is indeed worth preserving, if only because without Judaism, hot Shiksas would lose their “specialness”.

So it really depends upon whom we hold by, Rav or Shmuel. But if we hold like Shmuel, and believe that there is something about Judaism that should be preserved, then we need a model that offers existential meaning to us and is able to sustain our heritage for future generations.

I am reminded of a Mashal, a parable. There was once a family with three children. One day, the parents decided to go out to shop for a new three thousand dollar Sheytel. Before leaving , the parents instructed the children not to leave the house. An hour after the parents left the house, there was a fire, Rachmana Letzlan. The first child panicked and ran far away, never to be seen again. The second child went out looking for help, but got lost, and did not bring help until it was too late. And the third child followed his parents’ instructions to the letter, did not leave the house, and perished in the fire.

To what is this compared? To the three mainstream Jewish movements.

The first child is the Reform movement, whose efforts to modernize and restructure have left the movement without an essential core. Without an established educational platform, or core set of fundamental tenets, the movement is gradually disappearing, despite a grand tradition of innovation and scholarship, as well as the hottest female Rabbinical students around.

The second child is the Conservative movement. The movement prides itself on its thoughtfulness towards synthesizing tradition and reason – preserving a core loyalty to the Rabbinic process while embracing key aspects of modern sensibilities and scholarship. Yet years of centralization and ideological meandering have left it a confusing mix of competing philosophies, leaving all but its die hard membership confused and ambivalent. And if you don’t believe me, go and attend an average Conservative service on a Friday night – you are likely to find more Jews at a Klan meeting or a Hamas fundraiser.

Finally, the third child is the Orthodox movement. What can I say? Nearly every family has a child with special needs. The following is an absolutely true story: I recall in the late 1970s debating a friend outside my black hat Shul about who was a better baseball team, the Yankees or the Mets. Of course, the Yankees were two-time World Champions at that time, and the Mets were consistently the worst team in baseball, and I was a Yankee fan. However, my friend, the son of a well respected rabbi, tried to argue through the use of convoluted Rabbinic logic how the Mets were a far superior team. That is the weakness of Orthodoxy: Most are incapable of balancing their passion and commitment with logic and rationalism. As such, they support a grand monument – a broad and rich tradition built over millennia by a diverse set of creative and occasionally brilliant thinkers, living in both ordinary and extraordinary times – with a foundation made of ice cubes: One warm wind, one obvious and completely logical question, one misuse of power, or one indefensible action by an authority figure, and the monument often comes crumbling down for the impacted individuals because of Orthodoxy’s tenuous foundation.

Rabboisai, many of our colleagues have chosen to go “Off The Derech”, but that in itself is a term that has a multitude of meanings. To those who have decided to reject faith and any form of Jewish identify completely, I offer only the best of wishes. But to those who struggle with their Jewish identities – with the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum, with the significance of Halachic practice, with the meaning of their heritage to them, I can only offer six words of wisdom: “Black and White” and “Shades of Gray”. What’s Pshat, you complete ignoramus?

In a digital world, the world of computers and other such Narishkeit, the underlying principle is the binary choice. Any individual data point is defined by either a one or a zero, a yes or a no. This is the true world of “Black and White”. In other words – There is a Reboinoisheloilum who dictated the Toirah to Moishe Rabbeinu on Sinai, who took notes using a full package of Bic ball point pens he bought at Staples (it was 40 days and 40 nights, you know). Hakadoshboruchhu sits in Shamayim wearing Tefillin all day, learning Toirah and reading the Jewish Press and the Algemeiner Dzournal while deciding who to reward and punish by measuring who said what Bracha, who went to Mikvah, who Davened with Kavannah (with no regard for whether or not he cheated on his taxes), etc. At the same time, the Aimishteh plots ways to give Klal Yisroel full control of all of Eretz Yisroel, so there may be an eventual return of all of Klal Yisroel to live in a Jewish theocracy led by Malchus Bais David and a Kehunnah descendent of Tzadok Ben Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aaroin HaKoihain, the Minuval, where we can all slaughter sheep and goats and doves when we are not busy learning Toirah 23 hours a day. Or there isn’t, and it’s all a bunch of bullshit.

Then there is the world defined by “Shades of Gray”. In this world we have a tradition, but this tradition encompasses a wide spectrum of ideas. The tradition has changed and evolved over time; it has sought to define the Divine and how we should relate to Him/Her/It. It has been a living tradition, an Aitz Chayim, that has had to respond to the often traumatic circumstances of our collective history, and has spawned revolutionary ideas that have impacted the world, as well as incorporated innovations and influences from other cultures. How one relates to this complex, nuanced world is a very personal calculus. There are rulebooks: The Toirah, the Talmud, the Shulkhan Aruch, but in truth, their relevance is subjective: Only you or I can decide what has meaning to each of us, and what we choose to do or not to do. You can go out and eat pork today—I guarantee you that you will not be struck down by lightening.

Similarly, you can decide to believe in a Diety that is All-Knowing and active in the affairs in the universe, or one that is somewhat constrained in Its ability to directly impact our world, as imagined by Lurianic Kabbalists (that is the circle of the ARI ZAHL, you ignoramus). Or you can believe in God as a force of nature, as envisioned by Einstein. Or in none at all. Or anywhere in between.

As well, it is within your power to decide what laws to subscribe to. If you believe that you relate to the All Knowing Reboinoisheloilum by wearing the hair of a hot Shiksa, Gezunteh Hait. But don’t do it because you are afraid of your husband or your father or your father-in-law or your brother or your sister or your children or your neighbors. Do it because it has relevance to you. The same goes for Tefillah, Shabbos Koidesh, Kashrus, and Shiluach Hakan.

Rabboisai, ours is a diverse tradition, defined in nuanced “Shades of Gray”. If Judaism offers no meaning to you, then absolutely walk away. Life is too short. But if there are elements that you personally find relevant, or which address a longing for spiritual fulfillment, then the heritage of your ancestors may offer answers, though not in the simplistic, binary, “Mickey Mouse” form in which many of us were raised.

I am reminded of a famous story about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was once planning his Messianic mission when one of his aides brought in a secular Jew for a one on one meeting. “How can I help you?” the Rebbe asked.

“I would like to ensure my reward in the world and the next” the Jew answered.

“Then you must pray three times a day and keep the Sabbath, your wife must light Shabbos candles and go to Mikvah, and you must drink a lot of chilled vodka” the Rebbe replied.

“But I am not prepared to alter my lifestyle” the man responded.

“Then you should make a sizeable donation to Lubavitch International” the Rebbe said. “And I will take care of everything else. Guaranteed.”

The man then took out a big wad of cash, and handed the Rebbe twenty thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills.

That night the Lubavitcher Rebbe took Rebbetzin Chaya Mushke and a few members of his inner circle out to celebrate. They all had the $9.95 all-you-can-eat special at the Red Lobster in Crown Heights, where the Rebbe passed around lobster claws as Shirayim. They then went back to 770 and topped off the night with vodka shots, as the Rebbe’s followers sang out “Yechi Moreinu VeRebbeinu Melech Hamashiach”, declaring him the Messiah King.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.