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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On the Rabbinic Calendar



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On the Rabbinic Calendar

This week I respond to a critical and timely Shayla:

Yehoinason K. writes:

Dear Rabbi Schmekelstein,

As one of your loyal Talmidim and Chasidim I would like to bring to your attention a discriminatory injustice.

I am a resident of Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, and until recently, I was able to share your beautiful words of Torah at my Shabbat Table with my wife and children.

We would often discuss your words for many hours. Once, we were so engrossed with your torah gems that we ended up being interrupted by my neighbor, Mohammad, who said: "Rabboysai – Higia Z'man L'Kriyas Shema Shel Shacharis". We weren't sure what he meant, but we notified the authorities immediately and had him targeted by the IDF the following day…

In any event, due to some inexplicable phenomena, your Parsha emails are coming to me a week late. Here in the Holy Land, we are a week ahead in the weekly Parsha, and therefore, we can no longer benefit from you Divrei Toirah. There are a few solutions to this problem.

1)You can forget the poor assimilated Jews in Galus and get on the right schedule as your brethren in the Holy Land.

2)You can appeal to the high Rabbinical courts to unify the reading of the same Parsha for all of Klal Yisroel.

3)You can prepare your Parsha email a week early and send it to me and other Chassidim a week earlier than to the minuvalim in golus.

4)You can completely disregard this email and not respond at all.

Your humble talmid,

Reb Yehoinason

Reb Yehoinason,

Thank you so much for your inspired question. I am delighted that at least one of my Minuval Talmidim has the fortitude to go on the Internet and ask me such a Shayla, WHEN INSTEAD HE SHOULD BE BUSY STUDYING TOIRAS MOISHE RABBEINU!

Incidentially, your Maiseh Shehoya about your neighbor Muhammad is indeed Mechavayn to a famous Machloikess in Maseches Eiruvin. According to Rav Ashi, if your Palestinian neighbor interrupts your Shabbos meal with religious or fundraising solicitations, you should target him for military action. This is the position that you cite. However, Rabbi Meir holds that you should expel him from his home, and confiscate all of his belongings except for his Tzitizis and his AK-47. But Reb Yossi holds Farkhert – That you should unilaterally give him your living room and second bedroom, in the hopes that he will let you eat dessert in peace.

In truth, we hold like none of these positions. As brought down by Toisfois, we treat him with respect, because unbeknownst to him -- and to your wife -- you are secretly dating his sister, who is capable of making such noises in the throes of passion that it could cause the walls of Jericho to fall. Shoyn.

I break your question into its constituent parts:

-- How does Jewish prayer, liturgy and contemporary Jewish practice bind Klal Yisroel into a unified whole?

-- The conflict between the weekly Toirah reading in Eretz Yisroel and Chutz La’Aretz is the result of the celebration of a second day of Yuntif outside of Israel, which puts the global Jewish calendar out of synch. So, what’s Pshat with Yoim Toiv Shenu Shel Goliyois anyway? Isn’t that about as stupid as nipples on men?

Rabboisai, once upon a time, in an era when the Bnei Yisroel were closer to Hakkadoshboruchhu and chronologically closer to Zman Matan Toiraseinu, we would worship the Reboinoisheloilum by slaughtering sheep in his honor and paying the Koihain to sprinkle blood on the Mizbayach while dressed like the Moslem Halal butcher in Chevroin, adorned all in white and looking like a big tampon, Chass V’Sholom.

However, beginning with the Golus in Bavel, and growing throughout the creeping corruption of the priestly institutions during the course of Bayis Shaynee, the role of Kriyas HaToirah and Tefillah grew. And with the destruction of the Second Temple, prayer and other individual religious practices completely succeeded Karbanois (and also saved the lives of numerous innocent sheep, pigeons and red heffers).

Through Tefillah, Jewish worship was democratized. The Jewish form of worship was whisked out of the monopolistic hands of corrupt Koihanim, and instead was placed into the caring, always just, fair, and completely balanced hands of our rabbinical leadership. You know, the ones who employ blackmail to squeeze the ever-tightening vise of kashrut certification, who systematically ignore sexual abuse of children when it is inconvenient, who distribute vials of “holy oil” in exchange for political donations, who embrace ignorance in place of intellectual pursuit, and who passed the religious ruling that compels you to…errr…flog the flanken two weeks out of every month. Yes, those balanced and even handed guys.

As a result of this process, worship was no longer something that took place only within the context of the Bais Hamikdash or in the proximity of the Koihain. The service of the Aimishteh became increasingly embedded in our everyday lives. With all our actions, our words, our thoughts, we sanctify His Name. When we sit and eat at our table, when we conduct commerce in the market, when we ogle His creations in a strip club, we celebrate His glory. Incidentally, this is why I deduct ALL my daily activities on my annual tax return. Boruch Hashem the IRS honors the “Contribution of Bodily Fluids” as a religious expense.

And since all of Klal Yisroel has used this form of worship as our common language for two-thousand years, this is what binds us as a People, religiously and culturally. Yes, my beloved Talmid, your attending Shul every Shabboskoidesh is not just an opportunity to sit in the back with your friends, talk sports and business, and check out the hotties in the Ezras Nashim, you Michutziff! It is your contribution to the unity of Klal Yisroel. Shkoiach! Your mother should be proud!

With regard to the second part of your question, it has been customary for communities outside of Eretz Yisroel to keep two days of Yuntif instead of one, in case word of the breaking of the new moon is delayed in arriving to Bavel from Eretz Yisroel. There are some who would have the gall to suggest that such a practice is an anachronism since:

1) Klal Yisroel has long ago adopted the calendric calculations of Hillel (not, not that one, but his great, great, great, great grandson) to determine our calendar, thereby negating the necessity to manually spot the moon, determine the state of the month, and forward the news to the Jewish masses;

2) There are no longer any Jews in Bavel, save Saddam Hussein’s accountant and Ahmad Chalabi’s allergist; and

3) If we really wanted to allow time for news of the new moon to be passed via manual signals to all the far-flung contemporary Jewish communities, such as the Kehilas in the United States, Argentina, and Australia, we would need to institute celebrating Yuntif for an extra six days instead of adding just one day.

But celebrating the extra day in Chutz La’aretz is a critical Mesoirah that can never be cancelled, no matter how insanely idiotic it is.

This indeed was a subject of discussion in the famous Disputation at Barcelona between the RAMBAN and Pablo Christiani in 1263. The public debate before the Spanish royal court featured the convert-to-Christianity Pablo Christiani challenging the RAMBAN on a number of topics including the interpretation of specific verses in Yishayahu and the status of the Messiah as discussed in the Talmud. He also challenged the RAMBAN on the notion of Yoim Toiv Sheni Shel Goliyois, asking, “Reb Moishe, if it plays no practical purpose in the current age, why wouldn’t Judaism simply excise the custom from the body of Halacha?”

The RAMBAN, who had been withstanding all of Christiani’s taunts for hours, took a deep breath and glared at the former-Jew-turned-Dominican-Priest. “Reb Feivel,” the RAMBAN said, using Pablo Christiani’s Jewish name. “You are now a priest in the Church of Yushka. Is that correct?”

“Of course!” Christiani replied proudly.

The RAMBAN continued. “And you have taken a vow of chastity, is that also correct?”

“Yes” Christini answered, his voice beginning to reveal annoyance. “So what is your point?”

“Well,” the RAMBAN answered, “you are no longer using your Makom HaMilah. Why don’t you just excise the useless appendage from your body?”

Pablo Christiani, having lost the Disputation, subsequently displayed his remorse by having the RAMBAN expelled from Spain.

So of course Yoim Toiv Sheni Shel Goliyois plays no purpose whatsoever in the modern day. However, this is a tradition that is fixed in the religious practice of the majority of Klal Yisroel. According to the Netziv, we should address the occasional calendar conflicts by embracing the Halacha of Acaharei Rabim Lehatois – we should follow majority rule, and since the majority of Klal Yisroel keeps two days of Yuntif, people in Eretz Yisroel should keep two days as well. That way they too can get twice the Kedushah, twice the Brachois, and twice the opportunity to relax during the long, lazy Yuntif afternoon and use their Makom Hamilahs to get a little hot adult action with their wives while their kids are happily playing outside.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Parshas Shmini

Parshas Shmini




I have been asked by many of my Minuval talmidim why I publish reruns of Divrei Toirah I have shared in the past. I point out every time to these Meshugaim that if you do not complain to the Baal Koiray every week about rereading a Parsha you just heard last year, then you should not complain about these Divrei Toirah.

Incidentally, if you must know the truth, the reason why you are not receiving a new Dvar Toirah this week is because you did not Daven with the proper Kavvanah last week. Hakadoshboruchhu was watching your every move, you Vilda Chaya. He saw you joking around with your friends in Shul and sneaking a peak into the Ezrass Nashim to check out the visiting talent. He also saw you eat that sucking candy without making a Bracha, you Chazer. Consider this a warning. The next time you violate the Toirah, the Aimishteh may send transcripts of your Facebook conversations with some hot shiksa to your wife. You may not fear the Reboinoisheloilum, but I know you are terrified of your Ballhabuster.


 Parshas Shmini

 In this parsha, Shmini, we read about traifus. Lots of it. Pigs. Camels. Flying insects. Eagles. Bottom-dwelling-non-finned-non-scaled-fish. Reboinoishelolum, it makes my mouth water! In fact I am currently lobbying the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the RCA, the OU, YU, JTS, the UJA, the ADL, the JCRC, the JDL, AIPAC, the WZO, the JNF, ARZA, the HUC, the Kof-K, the Triangle-K, and Amit Women to officially change the name of the parsha to "Parshas Mouthwatering". So far I have only heard back from two organizations: the Triangle-K, which wants to negotiate pricing, and the HUC, which thought the name of the Parsha actually is "Parshas Mouthwatering".

 According to the RIF, the enactment of traifus restrictions is one of the ultimate tests of being a member of Am Yisrael. After all, it must be delicious! Indeed it is fair to assume that the Aimishteh created all of the taboo creatures with the delicious traifus-goodness baked right in. He must have taste-tested it too, to make sure he got the recipe just right.

Oy, what I wouldn't give to be a goy right now, so I could have no rules or restrictions! I would walk right into the local McTraifus, with my girlfriend Christine O'Reilly by my side, and order a bacon double lizard burger with deep fried owl, and wash it down with a vanilla milk shake. Actually, as long as I am immune from all of the commandments spelled out in the Toirah, make that my boyfriend Philip O'Reilly. We would eat the night away, and then go back to my place to worship Avoidah Zara, shave off our sideburns, and put on some shatnez.

But alas, Shver tsu zein a Yid, being a Jew comes with a price. WE have a covenant with the Reboinoishelolum: We follow His rules, and keep His mitzvois, His chukim, and His mishpatim. And as a reward, we get to spend our entire lives being persecuted.

However, what happens when we don't follow the rules? The parsha tells us of one such occurence. Aron Hakoihain's good-for-nothing sons offend the Aimishteh and get burnt to a crisp. But what was their aveirah?

RASHI cites one suggested explanation, that Nadav and Avihu had all the best of intentions: they simply added on to the Avoidah, because they thought it would be a nice thing to do. In other words, they were guilty of Baal Toisiph, and the Reboinoisheloilum struck them down for trying to be Hiddur Mitzvah. Hey, please remind me of this next time I want to spend an extra ten dollars on an Esrog!

But according to Toisfois, the brothers were minuvals who were horsing around in the Mishkan. There they were, doing the Avoidah, when Nadav thought it would be hysterically funny to dump the contents of the Kiyore on Avihu's head. Avihu responded by taking the Urim V'Tumim and smacking Nadav in the face, causing him to fall backwards into the Tayvah holding the Luchois. This got the Kruvim angry've seen Raiders of the Lost Ark -- you know what happens next.

However, the Vilna Goyn, looking elsewhere in the parsha, suggests that given the references to traifus at the end of the parsha, Nadav and Ahvihu must have been using the Mizbayach to barbecue ribs, anointing them with a Mesopitamian Smokey Grill marinade, on sale at the local supermarket as a two for one special. But he is uncertain if the brothers were punished for eating traif ribs, or simply for overcooking them.

The RAMAH vehemently disagrees with the Goyn. He insists that cooking and eating traifus, even in the Mishkan, does not bring about a chiyuv of missah, just so long as whatever was cooked and eaten conforms with the same halochois in place for the Korbonois. He cites a Braisah in Yevamois that says the brothers had fully and successfully cooked their meal. But after eating they brought out a cake from which Avihu's wife had cut out a small wedge, "just to taste". Consequently they were chayuv missah for having brought a dessert with a mum into the Koidesh HaKedoishim.

In my humble opinion, I respectfully submit that the Goyn and the RAMAH have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. A maiseh shehoyo: When I was a young talmid I experimented with traifus, in the spirit of "Oiseh Maiseh Beraishis"; I felt compelled to sample all of His creations. Including dumplings. As I washed my first bites down at the Chinese restaurant, I waited. Would I be struck down by a bolt of lightening? Would I choke to death on a clump of traifus? No! The Aimishteh left it up to me to make my choices and live with them.

So did Nadav and Avihu, those minuvals. They saw the signs written on the walls of the Mishkan, yet chose to ignore them and paid the ultimate price. When will they ever learn? As the spring season arrives, we should all keep the bitter lessons of Nadav and Avihu in mind: Always keep the room well ventilated when grilling indoors.

 Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Shmini Shel Pesach Drasha: Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Death and the Afterlife



Shmini Shel Pesach Drasha: Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Death and the Afterlife


Richard G. asks: On Yom Tov, a time of holiday and celebration, what kind of simcha is it to say Yizkor? Or does it have to do with fundraising?

Richard G.

Reb Richard,

Thanks very much for your insightful question. But before I address your question, I must ask YOU a shailah: So, what kind of Yiddesheh numen is Richard, anyway? Are you so ashamed of your heritage that you have to wave your arms at the world as if to say, "I AM A SHAYGETZ! PLEASE LET ME INTO YOUR COUNTRY CLUB!?" Have you no shame, you mechutziff? I haven't seen such self-hate since Moishe Rabbeinu married a shiksa in the desert! I guess your Hebrew name of Reuven or Yerachmiel was a bit "too Jewish" for you. Let me ask: Have you also had a nose job? Did you have a new foreskin grafted onto the tip of your Schvantzl?

For your sake, I hope that at least your wife engages in certain "goyishe practices" that I have been begging my wife to do for years, if you know what I mean. At least that would make it all worth it…

Nisht gerferlach.

You indeed touch upon a profound topic that is deeply rooted within the Jewish tradition. Your question, more than anything else, is about Klal Yisroel's attitudes towards death and the notion of an afterlife. How are we to understand the end of life from a Yiddesheh perspective? How should a shtarkah Yid relate to end of life, be it of a stranger, a friend, a loved one, or one's own life? Beyond receiving an inheritance, cashing in on a life insurance policy, or taking over a deceased's coveted seat in shul (right near the aisle, out of sight from the Rabbi), how else should we view the impact of the Great Inevitable on out lives? Is there an afterlife? You know, easy questions…

Of course, we look to the Toirah for this wisdom. In Toiras Moishe, we can see multiple characterizations of the moment of death. They include:

-- Avraham Avinu: "VaYigvah VaYamuss Avraham BeSayvah Toivah Zakain VeSaveyah VaYahaseif El Amuv." – "And he expired and Avraham died, with good fulfillment, old and satisfied, and was gathered to his people." (Beraishis, Perek Chuff Hay, Pasook Khess)

-- Yankif Avinu: "VaYokhal Yaakov LeTzavois Ess Bunuv VaYe'esoif Ragluv El HaMitah VaYegavah VaYayasaif El Amuv." "And Yankif finished issuing directives to his sons, and he gathered his feet into the bed, and he expired, and he was gathered to his people." (Beraishis, Perek Mem Tess, Pasook Lamud Gimmel)

-- Moishe Rabbeinu: "VaYumuss Shum Moishe Eved Hashem Ba'Eretz Moiav Al Pi Hashem…Va Moishe Ben Mayah Va'Esririm Shanah BeMoisoih, VeLoi KuHatuh Einuv, VeLo Nuss Likhyeh." "And Moishe, the servant of the Reboinoisheloilum, died there in the land of Moiav, at the word (literally – mouth) of Hakadoshboruchhu…And Moishe was 120 years old at his death, and his vision did not fade and his strength had not gone. (Devarim, Perek lamed Daled, Pasookim Hey, Zayin )

I ask you, you mechutziff, what does the Toirah tell us about the afterlife? Nothing. Shoom Davar. Gornisht. Bupkis. All it says is "gathered to his people". That can mean anything. It can mean that he joins the dust in which all his people rest eternally; that he goes to Shamayim to eat the Levyasoin -- deep fried in beer batter – and washes it down with a nice Heineken; or that he gathers with his people at a Stones concert and drops acid. We do not know; it is not clear. (Mamesh, who wrote this stuff, anyway? Could He at least have taken some sort of writing class, or had a good editor do a quick review?)

In reality, we have to look to the later writings, to the Neviim and especially to the Kesuvim, to find a solid reference to the notion of an afterlife. However, since you are typically too busy drinking scotch during the Haftoirah, you Nevailah, I will not cite those references. Rather, I will focus on the writings of the Rabbis.

Chazzal were clearly troubled by the ambiguity surrounding death and the afterlife. As a consequence, they developed a very broad set of perspectives on Oilum Habah, fleshing out the idea of the World to Come, while at the same time taking out life insurance policies on all of their elderly relatives.

According to Chazzal, there are many things that entitle one to Oilum Habah. A Mishnah in Avois tells us, "If one saves a life, he gains a Chaylek (a share) in Oilam Habah." A Braisah in Eiruvin tells us, "If one checks the Eiruv before Shabbos, he gets a share of Oilum Habah, plus an option to buy five shares of Google at the average closing price of the last six months." And a Gemarrah in Kesubois tells us, "If a man brings his wife to her," errr…, "fulfillment before he achieves his, he is entitled to Oilum Habah. And if he is really lucky, sloppy seconds."

Essentially, the Rabbis aligned their views with the Pharasaic notion of an afterlife linked to reward and punishment. In their quest to understand the ways of the Reboinoisheloilum, they confronted the ultimate truism of life: Life is fundamentally not rational. And, Chazzal deduced, if life, and human society, and experience on earth, are not rational due to unfair individual fates, plagues, war, etc., there must be an unseen part of the equation that provides balance to the inequities of the fragile human experience. And if that balance is not in this life, Oilum Hazeh, it must exist in another dimension, Oilum Habah.

And who can say they were wrong, you minuval? You can't even tie your own shoes without reading the Shulchan Aruch! Meilah, there are many things in the world that are invisible to the human eye. If I told you a hundred years ago that our bodies are governed by DNA, strands which are shaped like double twisted staircases (or like Duvid HaMelech consummating his special "personal treaty" with Yehoinasan on HaMelech Shaul's couch) would you have believed me, you mechutziff? No, you probably would have checked my brain for Shatnez!

No. Rational thought, as represented by what we can observe with the naked eye, or, in the modern day, by science, can only take us so far. Science can explain to us the "how" and the visible. But it cannot explain to us the "why" and the invisible. Consequently, no matter how rational you think you are, you vilda chaya, you still don't have all the answers.

So Chazzal, struggling with these issues, built upon earlier ideas in Tanach and other insights (often borrowed from the wisdom of other cultures) to imbue in our tradition an appreciation for the unseen, a speculation about how everything in the rational universe, including humanity, is part of a greater whole. Much like a cholent, there are many ingredients mixed together and simmered in a crock pot for twenty hours, yet are individually recognizable as their original form when removed from the pot. Yet they contain the flavor, and contribute to the essence, of the entire recipe. And whether or not they are the meat or the potatoes or the barley or the beans, they all cause the same flatulence.

In considering this topic, Reb Shimoin Bar Yochai suggested that we are all connected to the Reboinoisheloilum through the Ten Sfirois, the ten attributes of the Aimishteh, which link on one end to the Ain Soif, the unknowable aspects of Hakkadoshboruchhu, and on the other end to the universe as we see it and experience it.

As the Kabbalists understood, within the Ten Sfirois, there are multiple factors in play that impact life on Earth. Picture the Sfirois as the Reboinoisheloilum's body – whatever happens in His body has an effect on the world. When there is a blockage between Din and Chesed -- BOOM! -- chest pains, which result in a earthquake in our world. If Bina gets hit, Chochma also hurts, resulting in a landslide or a plague. And when Keter has a headache, Yesoid doesn't function the way it used to when the Reboinoisheloilum was fifteen years old, if you know what I mean, resulting in erectile dysfunction for all of Klal Yisroel, chass v'sholom.

"So what does this have to do with attitudes towards death?" you ask, you impatient Neveilah. Well, when someone leaves this world, their essence returns to the broader whole. Yes, part of their essence is the observable matter, the physical body that becomes the dust in the ground and the nourishment in a worm's belly. But, in our tradition, we also acknowledge the unseen part of a person's essence. It is not clear what that means, whether after death one retains his individual identity or simply becomes part of a broader collective consciousness. But he exists in some other dimension. And, in our tradition, we acknowledge that unseen essence in numerous ways, including through the reciting of Yizkor.

So when do we recite Yizkor? Four times a year – on Yoim Kippur, Sukkois, Shavuois, and Pesach. Farvoos? We recite Yizkor to call upon the unseen essence of our loved ones in order to appease the Reboinoisheloilum, as embodied in the Ten Sfirois, so that we will enjoy the Aimishteh's benevolence. Or at least not be blown into little bits though global nuclear destruction resulting from Hakkadoshboruchhu's cosmic indigestion.

What does this mean? On Yoim Kippur, originally the only day when Yizkor was recited, after 20 hours of fasting the Reboinoisheloilum gets a little cranky. And who can blame Him? How do you feel by Mincha time, you Mamzer? So we pray on behalf of our dear departed to influence the cholent that is the collective, so that the Aimishteh's empty belly doesn't cause Him to crush us like ants because he finds our howling at dusk completely disingenuous.

On Sukkois, by the fifth day the Reboinoisheloilum is getting tired of eating his afternoon snack of pretzels and juice in the cold Sukkah. So we say Yizkor so that the chill within the Ten Sfirois does not translate into a chilly reception for Klal Yisroel. Similarly, on Shavuois we worry about the Amishteh's crankiness due to lactose intolerance. And on Pesach, we worry that Hakkadoshboruchhu is in a horrible mood because He is completely backed up. After all, He MUST be an Ashkenazi, and would certainly never eat Kitniyois!

With regard to your final question, about whether Yizkor is all about fundraising – such a suggestion is a total shandah! You should be ashamed of yourself, you minuval! However… as you are preparing for Yizkor you should always remember Yeshivas Chipass Emess, especially by buying copies of my book at:

to donate to your shul. After all, what better way to guarantee a spot in Oilum Habbah?

Ah Gutten Yuntif, You Minuval.

Ask Rabbi Pinky: Al Sfiras HaOimer




Ask Rabbi Pinky: Al Sfiras HaOimer

Baruch Ata Idon’tknow,

Heywhereareyou Melech HaOilum,

Asher Kideshanu BeMitzvoisav Vetzivanu,

Al Sfiras HaOimer.

HaYoim Shmoinah Esrei Alaphim U’Masayim Chamishim Yoim,

SheHaym Alpayim Shaish Maois Va’Sheva Shavuois, VaEchad Yamim LaOimer.


Unlike you, you Minuvals, I have not lost count of the Oimer, ever since I was a Kleinikel. I count Sefirah with a Bracha every day, never missing except for that one time in college when I got lucky with that hot shiksa (Boruch Hashem for tequila!). But, thankfully, I was able to count Sefirah the next morning without a Bracha, as I was putting on my Tefillin in Christine’s apartment.

Which brings us the Shailah I address this week:
Yoineh Vuv asks:

“Rav Pinky -- May a woman shave her Makom HaErva during Sefirah?”
Yoinelah – This is a Gevaldikkah Shailah! You are Mechavayn to the exact question asked by the RALBAG, the great Medieval Talmidist, Mathematician, and dispenser of at-home Brazilian services to the housewives of Avignon, France.

Before I address your Shailah, Halacha Lemaiseh, I would like to address the overall topic of Sefiras HaOimer.

What is Sfiras HaOimer? We know that from the perspective of the Toirah, we are required to count seven weeks from Pesach to calculate the start of Shavuois, Zman Matan Toirasainu. According to Rabbi Yoichanan, cited in a Braisah brought down in a Gemara in Makkois, this is because 49 days is the length of time required for matzah constipation to be flushed out of the system, so we can be fully prepared for the lactose intolerance brought on by cheesecake on Shavuois. But according to Rabbi Yishmael, as mentioned in a Tosefta in Moiaid Kattan, seven weeks is the amount of time it takes for a man to be able to come home from a hard day’s work without having to worry about his wife waiting at the door, barking orders at him about bringing those last three pieces of stray Pesach china up to the attic.

The Oimer was originally grounded in the agrarian cycle of Eretz Yisroel. Later, it came to represent the period of time between Yetzitas Mitzrayim, the Exodus, and the giving of the Toirah. But of course it has also taken on a whole latter day symbolism of semi-mourning. A Gemara in Avoidah Zorah tells us that during Sefirah, we mourn the deaths of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva. There is, however, a machloikess as to why they died.

According to Rav Huna, they died of a plague brought upon them because they lacked Derech Eretz – they did not respect each other. They insulted each other with harsh words and dismissive language, the kinds of things you do all the time, you good-for-nothing Minuval Vilda Chayas.

However, according to Rav Sheyshess, Rabbi Akiva’s students actually died fighting in the failed Bar Kochba Revolt, the second rebellion against the Romans from 131-135 CE. Rabbi Akiva is quoted in the Yerushalmi in Tainis as pronouncing Bar Kochba to be the Moishiach (this is true, by the way). Many of his students enlisted to support the military effort, and to get the government sponsored tuition assistance needed to pay for Rabbi Akiva’s Yeshiva, Yeshivas Ohr HaMaskoiret.

Finally, Rav Puppa holds that the students died in an unfortunate accident. LeOilum, in reality, the Reboinoisheloilum only put in an order to kill 1,000 students. But due to a programming glitch in Hakadoshboruchhu’s Persecution Trading System (PTS), the kill off swelled to 24,000 dead before the system’s safeguards kicked in. A similar thing happened in 1938, but due to a weak regulatory environment, the safeguards did not automatically kick in until there were much heavier losses in the market.So, to commemorate the deaths of so many of Rabbi Akiva’s Talmidim, we take upon ourselves some of the rituals of mourning.

There was great debate amongst the Rishoinim about which Sefirah-related proscriptions an individual should follow. During Sefirah:

-- The Roish would not shave

-- The Ran would not bathe, except on Erev Shabboskoidesh

-- The RIF would not go to the bathroom. This also enabled him to save a lot of money on food and toilet paper.

These differences of Minhag are reflected in the various Sefirah practices in place in the modern Yeshiva World:

-- In Yeshivas Punuvitch in Eretz Yisroel, the Talmidim do not attend live musical performances

-- In the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, the Talmidim do not listen to music, live or recorded

-- In Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim in Queens, the Talmidim do not read or write or speak to each other; they just say Tachanun all day and play with the buttons on their little Hatzalah walkie talkies

-- In Yeshivas Toiras Yoisiaph Smith in Utah, the Talmidim do not drink coffee or smoke cigarettes, and are not Mezaneh with more than three of their wives on any given night.

With regard to your specific Shailah, Reb Yoineh, this is linked to a Pesak of Reb Moishe. Reb Moishe ruled that while the laws of Sefirah requires a man to abstain from shaving as a sign of mourning, if someone makes his Parnassah in the professional world, and his situation requires him to be well groomed, then he is allowed to shave. Notes Reb Shmiel Kalbasavua: We can apply this same rule to women as well. A woman should not shave her Erva during Sefirah. However, if she is required to be well groomed for professional reasons, for example, is an exotic dancer or a Victoria’s Secret model, then she is indeed allowed to shave.

Reb Yoiseph Katski is even more Meikel. He agrees that in principle, a woman should not shave her Erva during Sefirah. However, this should not in any way interfere with any aspect of her life, professional or personal. States Reb Yoisaiph, “If a woman’s overgrown forest is harming her normal patterns of marital activity because her husband cannot find a path through the trees in order to launch his canoe, then she is indeed entitled to clear a path to the lake, though must be careful not to engage in complete deforestation.” Unquote.

Rabboisai, the laws of Sefirah are not simple ones. And too many people in our community do not pay the proper attention to observing this wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the Aimishteh by counting to forty nine and looking like a vagrant. At a cosmic level, Oimer makes us closer to the Reboinoisheloilum by preparing us for the Kedushah of Kabbalas HaToirah. How does the Oimer do this? I admit that I cannot tell you exactly. But this is a point of Mesoirah – it is our tradition of 3,500 years, handed down over many generations, as a Halacha Le-Art Scroll MiSinai.

Ah Gutten Yuntif You Minuval

Thursday, April 05, 2012

New Pesach Drasha




New Pesach Drasha


I am preparing this Drasha as I pack for my departure to serve as the officiating rabbi on a Pesach vacation. After resisting many such offers for years – hotels in the Catskills, Florida, Arizona, Cancun, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and Antarctica, I was asked to fill in for a colleague on one of these Pesach getaways. My good friend, Rabbi Shloimee Glandolowitzberg, was committed to a venue, but had to cancel at the last minute because he had something caught in his throat. So I will now serve as the official rabbi on the Roy Cohn Kosher LePeysach Gay Cruise to the Greek islands.

Strangely, the organizers have suggested that I come without my Basherte, Feigeh Breinah, insisting that I will have a lot more fun that way. So she will be with the Kinderlach and Einiklach, while I sacrifice by bringing Toirah to a community of Erlicheh Yidden. Indeed, I had originally declined the offer, since I was planning to be in Eretz Yisroel for Yuntif. I explained to the organizers that Pesach is Klal Yisroel’s celebration of exiting Egypt and traveling to Eretz Yisroel, which, as the Toirah tells us, is “Eretz Zuvass Chuluv U’Dvash”, “a land flowing with milk and honey”. But they responded that the cruise will be quite similar: It will be flowing with something that looks like milk, and something else that almost has the texture of honey, but comes out of a tube. I do not know what they mean, but I look forward to being Mekayaim a new Mitzvah!

In addition, they told me that there were some additional Minhagim on the annual cruise that I would find interesting. Apparently, instead of dipping only two times – Ein Mol In Zatlz Vasser, Un Ein Mol in Charoisess – they dip a third time, after the Afikomen and Chad Gad Yuh, and suggested that I might enjoy it. Again, I am not familiar with such a Minhag; perhaps it is a Sephardic custom. But I can certainly appreciate the Mesiras Nefesh of maintaining a local Minhag.

Pesach is a time of different behaviors and liturgy and cuisine. We spend more time preparing for Pesach that we do actually celebrating it. Great credit goes to our wives for their commitment to creating Butey Ne’eman BaYisroel, good Jewish homes. In my own home, my wife takes charge of all of the Pesach preparation. She does all the planning. She does all the shopping. And even if she does not do all of the cleaning herself, she makes certain it is all completed. What a Tzadeykess! I knew last Moitzee Shabbos she was preparing to turn the entire kitchen over for Pesach when, immediately after Havdalah, she began ironing her Gestapo uniform. By the time we had Kashered the stove, the sink, and the counters, put all the Chometz dishes away, and brought down all of the Pesach dishes from the attic, I was ready to throw myself against a electrified barbed wire fence.

But, as we know, Pesach is not simply a personal or a family celebration. It is a communal one. Ashrenu that in our generation we can embrace Pesach in a way that previous generations could not. Why, a hundred years ago our great grandparents certainly had Matzoh, Marror, wine and Charoisess. Perhaps they had a little chicken or meat, some potatoes and eggs, and if their were Misnagdim, Kneidlach. Our grandparents and parents may have already had some semblance of Koisher LePesach cakes and cookies. But we in our generation have a much greater variety of choices. Koisher LePesach mustard. Koisher LePesach rolls. Koisher LePesach beer. And my favorite: Koisher LePesach breakfast cereal. During the rest of the year we make do with all of the Goyyishe cereals, as long as they have a proper Hashgacha, of course. But on Pesach we are Zoicheh to eat breakfast cereals that are made Lishmah, expressly for Zman Chayruseinu. My favorite is Sugar Frosted Kikee-Ohs, although my Einikel Binyamin Soirer U’Moireh loves Choco Aleph Baizes.

It is an ironic thing, of course: These cereals cost $28 a box before Pesach, but the day after Pesach the stores cannot give them away. I heard that last year the local Toimchei Shabbos was collecting unopened Pesach food for the poor: Cans, Matzoh, cocoanut covered marshmallows, etc., but had a big sign on their collection bin, “No Kosher For Passover Cereals, Please. Our Recipients May Be Needy, But They Are Not THAT Desperate”.

But what we have done in our generation is not that different from the actions of our predecessors. “B’Chol Dor VaDor Chayuv Udum Lirois Ess Atzmoh Ke’Iluh Hoo Yutzuh MiMitzrayim.” “In every generation, a person is required to view himself as if he (himself) escaped from Egypt.” The strength of our tradition has been the ability of our nation to seek relevance in each generation and make the Yuntif, and the ideas it represents, “their own”. Sometimes those additions have resulted in additional guidelines and restrictions that we find a source of annoyance, such as Kitniyois. Sometimes those additions have added strictures that many of us ignore, such as Gebruchs. And sometimes those additions have made Jewish lives so intolerable that CHAZAL had to find a back door to nullify their impact, such as Chometz She-Avar Uluv Al HaPesach, which led to the institution of Mechiras Chometz, symbolic selling of Chometz to a Gentile.

Like with so many other examples in Yiddishkeit, every generation and every community has left its mark on our grand tradition. In doing so, we do not abandon the notion of the Divine to the distant, irrelevant, somewhat unknowable past, but seek to embrace the Divine in our own lives. We pursue active engagement with the Reboinoisheloilum to satisfy our own spiritual cravings, as well as to have an excuse to take a few days off from work at the beginning of Spring.

I am reminded of a Ma’aseh Shehoya. One year the Vilna Goyn was leading the Seder at his Yeshiva, surrounded by his family and hundreds of his Talmidim. He had just made Kiddush on the first cup of wine and began to recite the Hagaddah, “Kol Dichfin Yaysay V’Yaychol, Kol Ditzrich Yaysay V’Yifsach”, “All who are hungry should sit down and eat; all who are needy should sit down and partake of the Karban Persach.” At that point, a homeless man dressed in tattered clothing entered the Yeshiva dining room and pulled up an empty chair to the table.

“Sir, what do you think you are doing?” asked the Gruh.

“Well, Mr. Goyn, I am hungry and needy, and I am taking up your offer to join your Seder” responded the man.

“Schmuck!”, the Goyn screamed, “Do you think I really mean this stuff that was written over 1,500 years ago? Next thing you know, you will expect me to believe that 600,000 people left Egypt! How the hell could 600,000 males, plus their families, live in the desert for forty years?! What were the Jews, a group of people, of a bunch of camels?!!”

At that point the vagrant revealed himself to be Eliyahu HaNavi. “Reb Goyn”, he said, “you are indeed wise. The miracles did not really happen the way the Toirah and Hagaddah describe, but we celebrate them anyway, to give meaning to our everyday lives. But you have rejected someone genuinely in need, and for that you will be punished by being known throughout history as a heartless Misnagid who has about as much spirit in him as a twice squeezed lemon has juice.” The man then took away all of the Afikoman presents left under the tree and left the building.

That night, the Goyn was very disturbed. He was wrought with guilt and confusion. Finally, Hakadoshboruchhu came to him in a dream. “Goyn, what is the problem?” He asked.

“Your messenger Eliyahu HaNavi showed me tonight what a selfish person I am, and told me I will be punished for all eternity as a result.”

The Aimishteh laughed a hearty laugh. “Goyn, that was no Eliyahu HaNavi! That was the Baal Shem Toiv playing a practical joke on you. He even took all of your Afikoman Tchatchkees to sell in order to buy vodka for his followers.”

“You mean I am not punished?!!” asked the Goyn, relieved.

“Well, you are a cold Misnagid. That is punishment enough, since you can only see what is in front of you. But I guarantee that the Baal Shem Toiv is also punished, since he can only look under the surface and cannot see obvious truths in front of him. Until you learn to live together, you will both be lost.”

Excitedly, the Goyn asked, “And at that point, will we be Zoicheh to witness the Geulah Shelaymah?”

“Well, not exactly. But your respective descendants will happily go on Gay cruises together.” With that the Reboinoisheloilum departed the dream, and went off to visit with some worshipers at a Hindu temple.

So every generation finds new ways to instill spiritual meaning and relevance. For one generation, it was Kitniyois. For another, it was Gebruchs. For countless others, it was the development of new creative recipes and additions to the Pesach liturgy. And for some in our day, it is the recreation of “a land flowing with milk and honey”, hopefully using proper precautions, if you know what I mean. Ashrenu that in our generation Klal Yisroel can embrace Pesach in ever more creative ways!

Ah Zissen Yuntif, You Minuval.