Thursday, July 12, 2012
On the Twilight Years
THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
I had the occasion last Moitzee Shabbos Koidesh to meet several of my Talmidim at a Melaveh Malka. Besides the Freilichen singing and dancing, we had delightful yellowtail and spicy tuna, although the squid was a little stringy. (I know you are wondering how the Yeshivah could serve squid at a Melaveh Malka. According to the RAMAH one may eat squid and octopus even though they do not have fins and scales, since they neither have shells nor dwell on the ocean floor. However, they must be prepared in a separate pot and eaten with a separate fork. According to the Mogayn Avraham there is even a special Brachah for squid and octopus: “Al Achilas Scungeel”.)
In any case, I was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, to learn that these Talmidim read my Drashas every week but have not purchased my Seforim. A Shandah!
Minuvals: Do you think that I am writing Divrei Toirah and selling Sforim for my own good? The proceeds of my Sforim, in addition to paying off my bookie, are used to support my Talmidim in Yeshivah, provide a small stipend to the Buchrim in Koilel, subsidize the restoration of Kever Amalek in Eretz Kena’an, and purchase packages of EZ Wider, 1.5 inches, double gummed, at the local Sforim store, located right above The Jewish Press and across from the beef jerky.
Finally, I would like to remind all of my Talmidim that my Drashas are LeChatchila not meant to be read on an iPhone or other 4 inch screen, or even on a PC or an iPad. MY DRASHAS ARE MEANT TO BE PRINTED OUT AND READ IN SHUL, so that you can look smart sitting two seats away from that Schmuck who kills one tree a week printing out Drashas from Aish HaToirah, Toirah.Org, the Young Israel, and Vatican.Com on such critical Inyunim as why Moishe Rabbeinu never used dental floss on Shabbos and why Aroin HaCoihain always wore striped boxer shorts while performing the Avoidah in the Mishkan.
On the Twilight Years
“Al Tashlichainu Le’ais Ziknah, Kichlois Koichainu, Al Ta’Azveinu.” “Do not discard us in our old age; as our strength wanes, do not abandon us.” This phrase, familiar to us from Shma Koilaynu, is rooted in the words of Tehillim, Psalms, written by Dovid Hamelech after his son Shloimoi came by to visit and stole money to support his crack habit. This phrase was later inserted into the Tefillois of Slichois. Of course, in its inclusion into the Shma Koilaynu, the Passuk was transformed from the singular form to the plural.
There is a famous three way Machloikess between the MAHARAL MiPRAGUE, the Toisfois Yuntif, and the Tzemach Dovid about the proper Kavvanah, the proper intent, that one is meant to have when reciting this Passuk.
According to the MAHARAL, when reciting these words, we are supposed to be thinking about our individual selves, despite the transition of the paraphrase into plural form. This is because we are all aging as individuals, and will age in the future, and are pleading to the Reboinoisheloilum for divine assistance. Many men will lose their hair. Many women will have their Tzitzach sag so low to the ground they are in danger of stomping on their nipples every time they take a step. Many men will have erectile dysfunction so frequently that they will have the Bracha of Zoikaif Kefufim tattooed on their arms. Many women, after having a minimum of twelve children, will have their Ervas become so loose that they will be able to carry around their keys, their cellphones, a bagel, and a book to read on Shabbos Koidesh without being Chayuv for the Dioraisah of carrying in Reshus HaRabim, Chass V’Sholom.
The Toisfois Yuntif, however, holds that as we say this Passuk, we are supposed to be concentrating on pleading to Hakadoshboruchhu on behalf of all of Klal Yisroel. Here we are, a proud People, beaten down by all of the other nations, Yemach Shmum, as we pass through the millennia, ravaged by history. We were at eternity’s doorstop, says the Toisfois Yuntif, as our Moshiach arrived to bring about the end of time and initiate an eternity of Divine grace, Toirah, and free parking. However, our Moshiach was rejected by a rebellious clique, and now we await His second coming, as we celebrate Him by making Kiddush on red wine and taking the Eucharist every Sunday morning. Of course, the Toisfois Yuntif was a practicing Roman Catholic, so his Sheetah is not relevant to us, with the possible exception of the utopian vision of adequate street level parking in Oilum Habbah.
Finally, the Tzemach Dovid holds like the Toisfois Yuntif, that as we recite this Passuk we need to have in mind the well being of Am Yisroel. We are suffering the indignities of our collective longevity and feel forgotten after two thousand years of exile. Sure, we control world banking, the global media, and the diamond industry, and have absolutely cornered the market on Kemach Yoshon. And of course we have our own country after two thousand years. But it is filled with corruption and immorality, and is certainly not the redemption that we prayed for, what, with its young girls scantily clad in their long sleeve shirts and long skirts, invading the holy space of the true Shoimrey Emunah, tempting them with their coquettish ways. So we must throw stones and attack this evil amongst us in order to expunge it from our midst, or at the very least get it off of our side of the street, while continuing to pray on behalf of Klal Yisroel that the Aimishteh does not abandon us in our communal old age.
This Halachic debate is actually rooted in a historical question on the proper understanding of the strange story of Avishag HaShunamis. We are told at the beginning of Sefer Melachim Aleph about how Dovid HaMelech, in his deteriorated, elderly state, is given a young woman, Avishag HaShunamis, to keep him warm in his bed. However, we are told, “VeHana’arah Yuffuh Ad Meoid, VaTehee LaMelech Soicheness VaTeshursayhu, VeHamelech Loi Yudu’uh”, “And the young woman was very beautiful, and she became a companion to the king and ministered to him, and (but) the king did not know her.” (Melachim Aleph, Perek Aleph, Passuk Daled.)
There is a famous Machloikess in a Gemarrah in Makkois about what actually happened between Dovid HaMelech and Avishag. According to Rava, Dovid was disinclined to engaged in Znuss with his unmarried concubine because he was too busy studying Toirah. Rava cites a Braisah quoting Rabban Gamliel who insisted that his ancient ancestor Dovid HaMelech was absolutely obsessed with Daf Yoimi and studying Sefer Shemiras HaLashoin, and would ignore everything else: Young maidens in his bed, the occasional son trying to usurp his throne, the many rivalries between his multiple wives, and the all-you-can-eat buffet at the local Red Lobster.
Abaya, on the other hand, believes that Dovid had lost all interest in the Meidelach, but instead loved to spend time with his arms bearer, Horace, with whom he wrestled day and night, if you know what I mean, while poor Avishag had to retreat to bed alone every night with one of David Hamelech’s battery powered spear polishers. According to the RADAK, Klal Yisroel could hear Avishag’s solitary passionate outbursts all the way in Bais Lechem, Rachmanah Letzlan.
However, Rav Chisda holds Farkert. According to Rav Chisda, the term in the Passuk stating that Dovid Hamelech did not “know” Avishag is not to be understood in the traditional Biblical/ Rabbinic sense of not having intimate relations. Adderabbah! Rav Chisda cites a Medrish that suggests that Dovid HaMelech always had Tashmish HaMitah with Avishag immediately after reciting Shmoineh Esrei – that is three times a day during the week, four times a day on Shabbos un Yuntif, and five times a day (!) on Yoim Kippur. And the reason the Passuk says that Dovid did not know her is that he never, once, had an actual conversation with her, since, due to his age, he could only complete the Makka V’Patish when Avishag performed Metzitzah Bipeh on him. So whenever Dovid Hamelech asked Avishag a question about her family or the weather or her philosophical position on euthanasia or her perspectives on supply side economics, she could not respond because she always had a little something stuck in her throat.
It is without a doubt that Tehillim and the Toirah in general note the impact and ravages of time as part of the collective human experience. Klal Yisroel is portrayed as a nation passing through history, with heroes, leaders and other figures who are not deities or demi-gods, but who are frail, fragile human beings who are born, struggle throughout life, and then, if they do not die young through war or disease, reach the Oilum HaEmess after 120 years. This is part of the inescapable reality that is the human condition. The Zoihar ponders this idea, speculating on the basic nature of humanity. Why, asks the Zoihar, were humans and other living things made mortal, while rocks and other inanimate objects are designed to exist forever?
The Zoihar suggests that humanity’s basic nature is derived from the Sefirah of Yesoid, one of the ten Sefirois, elements of the Godhead, as described in Kabbalah, classical Jewish Mysticism. The Sefirah of Yesoid is responsible for channeling energy into the human world from the other Sefirois of Hoid, Netzach, and Tiferess. In the anthropomorphic understanding of the Divine Sefirois, Yesoid is also viewed as the equivalent of the Shvantsyl, the male Tashmish organ. (Note: This is absolutely true, but the way. Look it up, if you dare…) As such, Yesoid is associated with the organ that participates in a physical act that has an often challenging beginning, a typically pleasurable middle part, and a disruptive culmination, and is frequently followed by a quick cigarette and turning over and going to sleep. In other words, human existence is a reflection of the Divine, which has its own cadence of bio-cycles. While the Reboinoisheloilum is eternal, He embodies processes that involve a beginning, middle, and end, followed by a nap, and then, eventually, renewal.
The ARIZAL, however, takes this thinking one step further. The ARIZAL agrees with the Zoharic conception of humanity being a reflection of the Divine. However, he sees the human condition as in fact directly mirroring Hakadoshboruchhu. Let’s face it: Whether you are a Biblical literalist and believe that the world is 6000 years old, or someone with half a brain who understands that the universe is billions of years old, the Aimishteh is one old Dude. He probably has some grey hair at this point, or no hair at all. Maybe the Yesoid isn’t working quite the way it once did, and maybe at this point the Melech Malchei HaMelachim needs an afternoon nap. Maybe the reason that the Reboinoisheloilum seems to have forgotten the Jews from time to time is not because He is punishing us or trying to teach us a lesson, but because He is actually absent minded, and genuinely forgot about us (Hakadoshboruchhu knows, He has a lot of things to keep track of). Maybe pogroms happened for hundreds of years as He was taking naps, the Spanish Inquisition happened because He was having a pacemaker put in, and the Shoah happened because He was out for a few days (in Aimishteh time) to have His gall bladder removed. And the State of Israel was established after He took a sizable dose of Viagra.
Regardless, “Al Tashlichainu Le’ais Ziknah, Kichlois Koichainu, Al Ta’Azveinu,” just as we do not want to be abandoned in our old age, we should not abandon the Reboinoisheloilum in His twilight years. After all, He is the only Hakadoshboruchhu we’ve got. So we have to nurture the relationship and care for Him, visit Him a bit more often and remind Him to put on His pants. We should not expect Him to be the Aimishteh He once was, at least in our eyes, but have reasonable and realistic expectations about His capabilities and limitations. And most important, we should make sure that He does not sign over all His assets to our goddamned brother, since we need those funds to pay off our bookie and buy some more EZ Wider for rolling our Bsomim, so we can get nice and Freilichin at a future Maleveh Malka.
Ah Freilichin Shabbos, You Minuval.