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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sukkois Drasha




A 100% true story -- This year in preparing for Sukkois I had one of those days where everything went wrong:

1) The new Schach mat we bought was the wrong size. It looks like the Chassidim packing the Schach in Jerusalem were smoking bsomim at the time. So we needed to go back to the store in Boro Park to exchange it.

2) The second Schach mat, the one we were not planning on replacing, disintegrated in our hands as we unpacked it from last year, requiring that we run out and buy a second Schach mat.

3) We discovered that my Bashert, Feige Breinah, accidentally threw away our Sukkah lights after Yuntif last year, requiring us to run out and buy solar power LED lights for our Sukkah this year.

4) Finally, as we stood around our Sukkah, installing the two new Schach mats and the new lights, my einikel, Feivel Yisroel Shmuel Eliyahu Rabbah (AKA "The Little Pisher") announced that he smelled diarrhea. It turned out that Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah, who was standing outside with us, had decided to leave a Rabbinic deposit right next to the Sukkah, which we inadvertently all stepped in.

Between the two new Schach mats, the new lights, the Lulavim and Esroigim sets, and my new Teva sandals that I had to throw out, this Yuntif has already cost me $500. And I haven't even make Kiddush yet!

I am afraid to think of what else will have happened by the time I klop Hoishaines.

Ah Gutten Yuntif.



Sukkois Drasha

On this holiday, the yuntif of Sukkois, we wave fresh fruit at the sky for seven days, and eat in an open air beehive. We cap it off by dancing cheek to cheek with a bunch of bearded men. (I have a date with a talmid named Yerachmiel; I hope I get lucky!)

According to Chazzal, Sukkois is the time when Moshiach will come. And according to Reb Hai Goyn, it is the holiday when you are supposed to separate yourself from the secular world. He cites as proof the fact that you are forced to take off so many work days right before end of year reviews, you might as well start polishing up your resume.

The RI holds that Sukkois is actually a celebration of homosexuality. When Klal Yisroel were preparing for the long winter, planting in the fields by day and sleeping in huts at night, at the end of a long day they would sit down bichavrusa (in pairs) and study a little Talmud. One minute they are on daf yud baiz, amud alef, and the next minute they are on the floor, committing Mishkav Zachor. And who can blame them? I get excited by a gevaldik Toisfois myself!

The RI cites various Sukkois practices as proof for his position:

- We wave our phallic lulavim on the faces of all the other men, boasting about how ours is the biggest in the shul;

- Alongside our lulav is our esroig, where the gemarrah tells us that the more bulbous and full of veins, the better;

- We commit a sadomasochistic act with a handful of willow branches;

- We dance around the Toirah with other men, our fingers firmly entwined with others' hot, sweaty, hairy hands.

However, most Rishoinim disagree with the RI, referring to his rather abrupt departure from his position as director of the all boys Orthodox summer camp in Northern Lithuania (although they settled out of Baiz Din, so no one can prove a damn thing).

The RIF points to the beauty of the Sukkah celebration as a unique mitzvah within Yiddishkeit. Fresh fruit. The outdoors. Many Rishoinim hold that you should live in the Sukkah for eights days. It says in the Gemmarah that Rish Lakish would move into the Sukkah, and use it as an excuse for not having to deal with his mother in law all week. Rav Ashi, on the other hand, insisted that his mother in law sleep in the Sukkah, and take one or two of the kids with her.

The Sukkah offers many opportunities to be Hiddur Mitzvah, to go above and beyond the letter of the commandment. It is customary to decorate the Sukkah with pictures and other decorations. (Vooz iz givehn plastic fruit, anyway? I understand the Reform decorate their Sukkahs with shrimp.)

According to Rabbeinu Tam, it is actually a Mitzvah Dioraisa to buy Christmas decorations in January at fifty percent off, to be used in decorating the Sukkah the following year: Flashing lights. Ornaments. Candy canes. Indeed, one year the Vilna Goyn decorated his Sukkah with a nativity scene he bought for six dollars.

There are other things that one can do with a Sukkah. A Braisah brings down a story of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, who, as a teenager, had the roof removed from his family's minivan and replaced with schach, so that he could drive down to the beach and be mekayaim the mitzvois of pleasuring his girlfriend and eating in the sukkah at the same time. What a tzaddik!

Yet the most beautiful element of Sukkois, and the aspect most shrouded in mystery, is the mitzvah of esroig. I still can't figure it out. It looks like a lemon. It smells like a lemon. It even tastes like a lemon. But it costs as much as heroin. How come it is easier to buy fresh peaches from Antarctica than it is to buy an esroig at a reasonable price?

And how many times in your life have you heard of esroig jelly. I bet you have heard of it all your life, but have NEVER seen it. You know why? Imagine this boast to your friends and neighbors: "I took 100 esroigim that last week retailed for a total of $5,000, mixed them up with a little sugar and pectin, and now it's worth about $1.50." Really impressive.

For this reason, I have a personal minhag. Two days before Sukkois, I buy 5 pounds of lemons in the supermarket, take them home, and then take a baseball bat to them. After about ten minutes of beating the crap out of them, I have plenty esroigim for myself and the kinderlach, and sell the remainder in the shul. With the extra money I buy some cologne, so I can smell nice for my dancing partner on Simchas Toirah night.

Ah Gutten Yuntif You Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, September 28, 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 upcoming election – Mitt JOSEPH SMITH Romney or Barack HUSSEIN Oibama. I gave him my Psak: I told him to vote for Ahmedinijad as a write in candidate. He may be a Soinay Yisroel, but at least he’s entertaining.

-- 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.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Monday, September 24, 2012

Special Bonus Drasha: On Teshuvah



On Teshuvah


In the interest of Tefillah, Teshivah, and KEEPING YOU SANE OVER THE MANY HOURS IN SHUL, I am posting an extra bonus Drasha.


There is a famous story in the Zoihar Hakadoish that describes the ritual in Shamayim whereby the Ain Soif delivers an annual report immediately prior to Roish Hashanah before a joint session of the Sefirois, the Malachim, the Tzaddikim, and the Neshsamois of the unborn. The Zoihar also reports that one year, during this annual gathering, Hakadoshboruchhu noted that the world was expected to have a peaceful year, without any additional persecution directed at Klal Yisroel. Suddenly, the spirit of Nosson HaNavi shouted out, “You lie!” towards the Aimishteh. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon forcibly removed Nosson HaNavi from the room, and after numerous apologies to the Reboinoisheloilum and his Chief of Staff, the Buddha, he was banished to Eretz Yisroel, where he is fated to spend all of eternity as one of the guys who do random ticket inspections on Egged busses.

There is also a Medrish in Medrish Tanchuma that talks about the annual PYW (Pumbedisa Yeshiva World) Awards. One year Rava was honored with the “Chiddush of the Year” award for his “Yeyush Shehlo Mida’as Loi Havei Yeyush” insight. As he was standing at the Shtender to accept his award, Rav Huna burst onto the Bimah and screamed out to the crowd of Yeshivah-Yingeleit, “Sure, Rava, your Chiddush was okay. But Rav Ashi really deserved the award for his ‘Yoim Toiv Shaynee Shel Goliyois Does Not Apply In Antarctica’ Chiddush. No offense, Dude.” After being booed off the Bimah and having a sandal thrown at his head, Rav Huna apologized for his outburst and blamed his behavior on the Besomim-laced mead he had been drinking all day, and also on the fact that he had not been adequately molested by his Rebbe when he was a teenager.

Finally, there is a famous story in a Gemarrah in Gittin that describes the detailed ruling associated with the Bavel Open, the annual sporting contest where leading Rabbis would throw turbans at each other across the Bais Medrish in Sura. The Gemara notes how one year Rav Chisda was disqualified in the quarterfinals against Rav Pappa by the line judge, Mar Zutra, when he threatened to “ram his turban so far up Mar Zutra’s ‘Bor’ that Mar Zutra would have to make an Eirev Chatzayrois every time he needed to go to the bathroom on Shabbos-Koidesh.” He later explained that he had been misunderstood, and that he really meant that Mar Zutra would need to make an Erev Tavshilin before eating on a Shabbos following a Yoim Toiv. But Rav Chisda finally apologized to Mar Zutra after Rav Shayshess threatened to make him pay a fine of thirty thousand zuzim and three goats. Shoyn.

I share this collection of stories as we engage in the spiritual exercise known as Teshuvah – repentance. Every year, after a full twelve months of being Mezaneh with hot shiksas -- at least in your mind you Minuval, after eating pork or shrimp or lobster, or cottage cheese that’s not Cholov Yisroel, Chass V’Sholom, or after murdering your neighbor for 12 dollars in loose change, cutting up his body into little pieces, and burying the pieces in the backyard between the rose bushes and the apple tree, near where you once buried the bunny rabbit that your cat had killed just to shut your children up already, Reboinoisheloilumdammit…. Ummm…sorry. After a year of committing Aveirois, you get in front of Hakadoshboruchhu, and ask Him for forgiveness.

But, as in the famous stories in the Gemarrah and the cosmic history recorded in the Zoihar, you must ask yourself, “Is my Teshuvah sincere? Do you mean it when you say “Selach Lee Kee Pushahtee”, “Forgive me for I have sinned”, and by implication, you will never do it again? Are you in fact sincere in your Teshuvah, or are you simply reciting a medieval liturgical formula, simply biding your time until the Chazzan finishes reciting the sections where the Aron Koidesh is open, so you can finally sit down and rest your aching feet already?

RAMBAM addresses this question in Hilchois Teshuvah of Mishnah Toirah. He notes that sincerity is a prerequisite for real Teshuvah, and he advises all his followers “MiSpharad Ad Mitzrayim”, from Spain to Egypt, to engage in penitence through prayer and acts of mortification, such as fasting and self-flagellation. He states, however, that the Jews of Eastern Europe should, quote, “not bother doing Teshuvah, as Hakkadoshboruchhu can never grant forgiveness to people who have names like Yankel, Berrill, Shprintze and Chraindie, and sing songs with the lyrics ‘Ai Digi Digi Dai’”.

The RAMBAN, living in the golden age of Kabbalah, writes that Teshuvah can only be achieved when the Sefirois are aligned, with Kesser, Chochmah, Chessed, Netzach, and Yesoid on one side, and Binah, Da’as, Tiferess, Gevurah, and Malchus on the other. In that way, the cosmic aspects of the Aimishteh are in perfect balance and may collectively engage in the act of forgiveness in the human realm, as well as participate in a pick-up basketball game.

The MAHARAL, however, disagrees with the RAMBAN, and suggests that before writing his opinion, the RAMBAN must have popped some of the pain killers he always carried in his medical bag for house calls. He suggests that real Teshuvah emanates from purposeful introspection joined with concrete actions. He points to the liturgical reference in the Nesaneh Toikeff on Roish Hashanah and Yoim Kippur “Oo’Seshuva, Oo’Sefillah, Oo’Tzedakah Ma’Avirin Ess Roiyah Hagezeyrah”, “And repentance, and prayer and charity deter the evil decree.” The MAHARAL notes that the juxtaposition of the three words connected by the term “and” highlights the underlying belief that the actions cited must be combined – It is not enough to commit Teshuvah OR Tefilla OR Tzedakah. But to have real impact, they must be committed by a human being as complementary acts of repentance emanating from the soul, prayer emanating the heart, and charity emanating from the bank account (Ed. Note: Preferably in a check made out to “Yeshivas Chipas Emmess”).

The Abudraham argues farkhert, that repentance is an inner process, enabled by inward contemplation, prayer, and uniting with the Reboinoisheloilum through Hisboidedus. But he notes that Teshuvah is quite separate from Tzedakah, stating that “The act of giving Tzedakah is an outward gesture, absent the soul. Nu, Bernie Madoff gave lots of Tzedakah, and trust me, you don’t want to be where he is going.”

So when we examine the words of Chazal, we discover a range of ideas centered on the notion of exorcizing sin from the soul, of sincere Teshuvah as inner commitment. Even prayer is not a substitute for inward change – at best it is a catalyst. This point is clear when we examine the actual words of the liturgy. On Yoim Kippur we spend hours in the Viduy, the Jewish form of “confession”. But do we say “I sinned, I committed Act Aleph, Act Baiz, or Act Gimmul?” No, you ignoramus! We frame our confession in the form of the plural collective: “Ashamnu”, “Al Chaiyt Shechatahu Lifanecha” – “We have sinned”, “(We repent) for the sins which we have committed before You.” The listed sins are formulaic, and include many sins that most of us would never commit, unless we got really lucky. So reciting the formulas cannot be equated with personal repentance. Rather, Viduy, listing and repeating these sins again and again and again, is itself an act intended to inspire a mood, to incite an action, to encourage a behavior. It is like porn, but for Yoim Kippur.

So how else can we ensure sincerity in our Teshuvah? I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Issur Zalman Meltzer, the Even HaEzel, was once walking home from the Central Synagogue in Slutsk when he was accosted by a group of three Communist youths. “Rabbi”, they teased him, “Who were you just praying to – the boogieman?” They then held Reb Issur Zalman down and forced him to listen to the first two chapters of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. With every word he heard, Reb Issur Zalman became more incensed. When the brutes finally let him go and turned around to walk away, Reb Issur Zalman attacked them from behind. Using his Masechta Baba Kamma, he crushed the skull of one of his assailants, killing him instantly. He used his Yoireh Dayah to break the jaw and knock twelve teeth out of the mouth of the second assailant. And as the third assailant ran away, Reb Issur Zalman threw his Mikraois Gedoilois at him, hitting his spine, and crippling him for life.

That night the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. “Issur Zalman”, Hakadoshboruchhu called. “What do you have to say for yourself?!!”

Reb Issur Zalman replied, “Oy, Aimisteh, I am so sorry. I did not mean to really hurt those boys. But all that talk about the redistribution of wealth really upset me.”

“No, you schmendrick” the Reboinoisheloilum retorted. “I am not upset that you killed one of those thugs and mortally wounded the others. But you let my holy Toirah fall on the floor. And for that you will lose your Christmas bonus this year!”

“That’s ok,” Reb Issur Zalman said, his ears turning red with anger, “as long as you share it with the underprivileged Proletariat hordes, you Opiate of the Masses!”

Rabboisai, real Teshuvah is not easy. If it were, we would not have ten days dedicated to repentance, as well as many long hours in shul that perhaps could have been better been spent learning Toirah, doing Maiysim Toivim, or surfing porn. But our mission at this time of year is to become better human beings. But we cannot become better people simply through empty apologies, no matter how many times they are repeated, and wherever they are repeated – even in Shul or on Oprah.

When we talk about Teshuvah, we are talking about real change, which is ultimately a function of humility. We must realize that we are all fallible, especially you, you Michutziff. We are all simple grains of sand passing through the winds of time. As written by the Paytan, “Kee Heenay KeChoimer BeYad HaYoitzer”, “We are like clay in the hands of the potter.” And only when you realize your true insignificance will you be able to undergo real Teshuvah, real change, and perhaps become a bit more tolerable for the rest of us.

Gmar Chassima Toivah, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Yoim Kippur Drasha



Yoim Kippur Drasha

You good for nothing Minuval, you have sinned all year long, and now you are going to pay for it!

From Kol Nidrei at sundown until the blowing of the Shofar, you will be cramped into an overcrowded room surrounded by unshowered, unshaven men whose empty stomachs are growling louder than the chazzan. But look at the bright side: at least you get your exercise. Between the frequent and incessant beating of your chest and the four instances of full kneeling, you have become a Moslem Tarzan. Shkoiyach.

Chazzal spent many, many hours contemplating the true meaning of Yoim Kippur, while awaiting the horses to reach the finish line. There is a famous machloikess (rabbinic debate) in Yuma on the subject between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. Bais Shammai holds that the true commandment of the Toirah is that you should sin all year long, and then repent on Yoim Kippur. Bais Hillel, on the other hand, holds that you should strictly avoid sin all year long, and then enjoy a nice honey glazed ham right after Kol Nidrei. Of course, this is one of the fourteen instances when we hold like Bais Shammai (along with such critical issues as not using toilet paper on Shabbos and the infield fly rule.)

The Reshoinim struggled to define the metaphor by which we can understand how the Jewish People should look upon a single day in which they can redeem themselves for past mistakes and plan for the next year without the aid of a good tax advisor or financial planner.

According to the Rabbeinu Tam, Yoim Kippur is like an all day telethon, where the Aimishteh is raising funds and support for the coming year, and you are asked to contribute of your soul. The ROISH disagrees, using the same metaphor, but reversing it. Says the ROISH, YOU are hosting the telethon, and are appealing to the Rebboinoisheloilum for his support, and you refuse to go off the air until He is ready to write you a check. (And if He pledges 75 dollars or more, you'll send Him an autographed CD of Luciano Pavoratti in concert.)

The RIF holds that the true metaphor for Yoim Kippur is that of the annual performance review. Hakkodoshboruchhu is your manager, and at review time, He reaches out to your colleagues, your superiors, your subordinates, and your clients, soliciting feedback on your performance. He looks at your numbers. He checks how often you have been absent or late to shul. He then synthesizes the information and decides your fate. Will you be terminated? Will you get a raise? Will you get a better bonus? Will you get a hot new secretary?

But how can you protect yourself as the Aimishteh's employee? How can you best ensure a positive year? According to the Pas Akum, this metaphor explains one of the age old questions, which is: Why does Sukkois so closely follow Yoim Kippur? Say the Aimishteh decides to terminate you. What can you do? Can you prove wrongful dismissal? Says the Pas Akum, we stand before Hakkodoshboruchhu four days after Yoim Kippur and wave our phallic looking palm branches at heaven as if to say, "if you terminate me, I'll sue you for sexual harassment!" And in the current politically correct environment, even He has to be careful.

We prepare for this holiest day of days with the greatest degree of sobriety. We set aside Ten Days Of Atonement for spiritual introspection. We say Selichois, special prayers beseeching the Aimishteh for forgiveness. We blow the shoifar, which is intended to strike an internal chord of repentance. And we wave a live chicken over our heads.

In the time of the Second Temple, there was a great debate over this strange practice. The Prushim (Pharasees) held that before Yoim Kippur, every Jewish male should take a chicken by the legs, wave it over the heads of his loved ones, as if to absorb their sins, and then send the chicken off to slaughter. We have recently learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essenes, on the other hand, held that before Yoim Kippur every Jewish male should choke the chicken, if you know what I mean. Given that the Essenes are not doing too well these days, I guess that was the wrong approach.

There is a famous story of Rabbi Chaim MiVerlozhin. Reb Chaim was traveling from town to town in Inner Mongolia, trying to raise money for his Yeshiva's IPO. When Yoim Kippur came, Reb Chaim went to the only shul in town just in time for Kol Nidrei. "We're sorry," he was told, "but you can't get in without a ticket." Not having purchased a ticket in advance, Reb Chaim was sent away, denied the opportunity to daven on Yoim Kippur in a minyan.

The next morning, as Reb Chaim went downstairs in the small hotel in which he was staying, the host greeted him saying, "Rabbi, please join us. The missus just made up a huge breakfast, including a fresh batch of muffins." Reflecting on his experience the night before, on his rejection at the shul and at the prospect of having to daven for the next sixteen hours by himself, Reb Chaim took off his yarmulke, sat down at the table, and began to serve himself.

That night, the Aimishteh came to him. "Reb Chaim," the Aimishteh said, "why did you sin today?"

"I'm sorry, Aimishteh. I was so drained by the ticket thing I just had to grab a bite to eat," Reb Chaim responded.

"No, you fool," the Aimishteh replied. "Why did you let all that nice bacon go to waste?"

Repentance, and sin, are somewhat in the eye of the beholder. So when you are standing before the Melech Malchei Hamelachim at Neilah, don't just mouth the words; picture it as a conversation, one on one. Before you beg for forgiveness, establish rapport. Tell a couple of jokes. Ask the Aimishteh how He's doing. Ask about the wife and kids. Sure He's busy, but a little brown-nosing never hurts.

Gmar Chassima Toivah, You Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, September 13, 2012

SPECIAL BONUS DRASHA: Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Birchas Hachama and Roish Hashanah



SPECIAL BONUS DRASHA: Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Birchas Hachama and Roish Hashanah


This week I respond to a shailah from a Minuval who did not even have the courtesy to reach out to me directly, but rather sent a random e-mail to a bunch of Shkutzim from his shul, in the hopes that either I or the Reboinoisheloilum would somehow answer his plea. Clearly he never heard of Wikipedia. But luckily for him, one Sheygitz in his crew knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who once received Metzitzah Bipeh from my Shviger's Sheytelmacher. So, like the Urim V'Tumim, I am able to answer his ignorant question.

Josh S. asks:

"Birchat Hachama commemorates the return of the sun to the exact location that it was in when the world was created. Since we are celebrating this next week, it seems that the world was created in the Spring. So why is Rosh Hashanah in the fall? Doesn't Rosh Hashanah mark the number of years since creation? Was the world created in the fall or spring.?

"Ideally, I'd like a serious answer but those of you who know Rav Pinky, I'll take his response as well. Thanks."

First of all Yehoishua, you Minuval, who are you to decide what a "serious" answer is? Do you have Smicha from a fine Rabbinic institution like I do? Have you spent years learning Toirah and doing Mitzvois, preparing yourself for a lifetime of serving Klal Yisroel, like I have? Or have you spent the best years of your life watching television, with your hand at the ready on your "special" fleisch remote control, if you know what I mean, with the hope that someday, somehow, there will be another "wardrobe malfunction" so you can spill your seed and delay Moshiach's arrival for the rest of us?

With regard to the essence of your question, I must first challenge your underlying assumption. Where, exactly, does it say that Roish Hashanah is the day that celebrates the creation of the world? There is absolutely no – that is ZERO – notion in the Toirah SheBichsav that identifies the festival that we celebrate as Roish Hashanah to be a commemoration of the creation of the world. Farkhert! The Toirah tells us, "U'Bachoidesh Hashviyi Be'Echad La'Choidesh Mikrah Koidesh Yihyeh Lachem, Kol Milechess Avoidah Loi Sa'Asu, Yoim Teruah Yihyeh Lachem" (Bamidbar, Chuff Tess, Pasuk Aleph). "And on the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy day; you shall do no work; it shall be a day of Teruah (Shoifar blowing)." There is nothing about the creation of the world! On the contrary, the Toirah speaks of the seventh month!" And if you lookelsewhere throughout the entire Toirah SheBichsav you will find no other reference to such a commemoration, I promise you -- Not in the Chamishei Chumshei Toirah, not in Neviyim, not in Kesuvim, and not in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Further, we are all familiar with the first Mishnah in Maseches Roish Hashanah that says, "Arba'ah Roishay Shanah Haym…Be'Echad Be'Tishrey Roish Hashana La'Shanim." "There are four New Years… On the first of Tishrei is the New Year for counting the years." Some may be familiar with the second Mishnah in Roish Hashanah as well: "Be'Arba'ah Perakim Haoilum Nidoyn…Be'Roish Hashanah Kol Boyay Haoilum Oivrin Lifunuv Kivnei Maroin." "At four junctures the world is judged…On Roish Hashanah all who walk the earth pass before Him like members of a flock." Do you, Professor Genius, see any reference to the creation of the universe in these words?

So, it is clear from our Mishnah that the festival we call Roish Hashanah, perceived as the "New Year", is a late Bayis Shaynee "Rabbinic" understanding. And it is not even clear when the notion of the commemoration of the creation of the universe even came into being. So why does the Mishnah give such emphasis to Roish Hashanah in the first place? Well…we all know that...ummm…Reb Yehudah HaNasi was prone to creating the occasional religious holiday so he could get an extra day off from work to play golf without having to take another vacation day.

However, it is certainly clear in the Gemarrah that many of the Amoraim shared the Mesoirah from Moishe on Sinai that there is great cosmic significance to the Yuntif that we all celebrate as Roish Hashanah. Indeed, according to a Medrish in Vayikra Rabbah, Rabbi Chiya held that Roish Hashanah does indeed commemorate the original date of the creation of the world. And while everyone in his neighborhood spent both days of Roish Hashanah in shul doing Teshuva and davening for Kapparah, Rabbi Chiya spent both days going through the papers in his office, the garage, and the attic trying to find the warrantee so that he could renew it, just in case the world stopped functioning properly over the course of the coming year.

Rabbi Zayrah, however, held farkhert. According to the Medrish, Rabbi Zayrah believed that the notion of Roish Hashanah marking the creation of the world, is, in Western Aramaic dialect, "Narishkeit", unquote. For, his logic goes, "no one was around to see the creation of the world. So how can we know when it was created? Tell me that, huh?" Rabbi Zayrah was of course considered one of the more arrogant of the Amoraim, along with Rabbah, and that stuck up schvantzel Reb Chisda.

So what does Roish Hashanah commemorate? Says Rabbi Zayrah, Roish Hashanah does indeed commemorate an event of enormous significance – It celebrates the birth of the Reboinoisheloilum. And, the Medrish tells us, to celebrate Hakadoshboruchhu's birthday, Rabbi Zayrah would always bring a Carvel cake to shul to make Kiddush on right after the Haftoirah. According to Reb Hai Goyn, it was a standard Carvel ten inch party cake. However, according to Reb Sherirah Goyn, it was a Fudgie The Whale cake. He cites as proof the fact that Rabbi Zayrah was the Assistant Rabbi at the only gay synagogue in all of Pumbedisa.

Rav Puppa, in a Gemarrah in Makois, offers more detail on the Aimishteh's birth and upbringing. He cites a Braisah that notes that the Reboinoisheloilum was born in Scarsdale to parents named Jeff and Susan. And, Rav Puppa notes, Jeff wasn't even Jewish, though Hakadoshboruchhu was raised according to His mother's religion, went to Sunday school, and was even Bar Mitzvahed at the local Reform Temple.

So the notion of Roish Hashanah as marking the creation of the world is Nisht Azoy Pashut.

With regard to Birchas HaChama, the blessing over the alignment of the sun, let me first make a complete disclosure: I LOVE THIS MITZVAH! This is my favorite of all the 613 Mitzvois, even ahead of Pru Urva on Friday night with my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, her twin sister, and a young goat. Why do I love this Mitzvah so much? Because to me, it is very similar to Kiddush Levanah, just instead of looking like an idiot and howling at the moon once a month, you only have to do this once every twenty-eight years or so. And if you do it really well by, according to the Mechaber of the Shulchan Aruch, staring into the sun, you never have to worry about doing it again, since you will go blind as a bat.

So what does Birchas HaChama commemorate? Is it the creation of the world? Of course not – it is the creation of the sun! And when was the sun created? Well, according to my reading of Beraishis – perhaps you have a different Girsah – the sun was created on the fourth day of creation. But unless you are a literalist like Reb Yoiseph Elyashiv, Reb Pinchas Sheinberg, or Rev Pat Robertson, you cannot take the notion of days literally, so we have no idea when, exactly, in the history of the universe by our current measurement of time the sun was created. So Chazzal, in their wisdom, their commitment to finding every opportunity to celebrate the partnership between Klal Yisroel and the Aimishteh, and their desire to make a killing on knock-off sun glasses imported from China, fixed a time and set a tradition to recognize a return to the original alignment of the earth with the sun, the planets, the stars, and the colony on New Caprica prior to the Cylon invasion.

Rabboisai, this leads us to a far more important question than when to be Mevoirach the Chama or whether to charter a plane if it is a cloudy day and you cannot see the sun. This brings us to an essential question of philosophy. (Please note: Stupid people are now dismissed from my shiur, as you might hurt yourself on the next few paragraphs.) What is Halacha? Is it fixed in time? Or does it evolve as we gain new scientific and philosophical understandings of the world?

This is the core of a famous Machloikess between the RAMBAN and the RAMBAM:

According to the RAMBAN, all of Toirah was given to Moishe Rabbeinu on Sinai. This included Toirah SheBichsav, Toirah SheBaalPeh, and Dianetics By L. Ron Hubbard. This included not only the Mitzvois as they are written in Tanach, but also the Mesoirah that follows. In essence, Halacha both begins, and in some way, ends at Sinai. And all of the Halachois cited in the Mishnah and the Gemarrah, all of the Machloikoisim and Halachic debates of the last 2000 years reflect an effort to remember and preserve the Laws which were given over, in their entirety, to Moishe Rabbeinu by the Reboinoisheloilum Himself. How do we define the notion of "work" which we are not supposed to do on Shabbos Koidesh? Hakadoshboruchhu told Moishe. What is the minimum size of a Lulav? The Aimishteh already answered that one. Can I use a remote control on Yuntif for my new 52 inch LCD HDTV? Moishe learned the answer, too. We just have to tease it out of the body of Toirah which captures all that he received from the Melech Malchei Hamelachim.

The RAMBAM, on the other hand, holds that Halacha only begins at Sinai. Moishe Rabbeinu was given the Toirah by the Aimishteh, but that only represented a base set of tools. Over time Klal Yisroel developed new understandings and traditions, as times changed and circumstances changed. They were exiled to Bavel from Eretz Yisroel and had to develop a new interpretation of the first half of Yishayahu, who vowed that Yerushalayim would never be destroyed. They were exposed to Persian notions of theology, and that changed how they understood the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum. They learned Greek philosophy and science, and that further evolved their understanding of the world. They were exposed to mystical notions, and that further refined their perception of the relationship between the Reboinoisheloilum, Klal Yisroel, and the universe. They had new inventions and new questions, for which they employed their best efforts to answer, based on the Toirah, their historical traditions and their evolving world view. They were also introduced to the Indian Kamma Sutra, and boy! did they try out all those new positions!

And as we have evolved our understandings, our Halacha and our practices changed and evolved, sometimes through conscious decisions, sometime as a result of changing dynamics, such as socio-economic factors and community circumstances. Many of us live in wonderful Yiddisheh communities, Boruch Hashem, and would never think of eating Gevinas Noitzrim, non-Kosher cheese. But it is well known that Rav Soleveichik, not too many years ago, used to eat Kraft. Mamesh. We all force ourselves to eat a Kazayis of horseradish at the Seder. But many peopleare aware that Rav Aroin Kutler, a generation ago, used to eat iceberg lettuce for Marror. This is the Emmess. We diligently check all of our Shabbos snack foods for an OU heckser, an OK, a CRC, or, ChassV'Sholom, for a Chuff-K. But, as some are aware, Reb Moishe Feinstein used to sit at his table every Friday night after Benching, and read the Algemeiner Journal while eating Rolets Pork Rinds. This is a Maiseh Shehoya, really.

So, according to the RAMBAM, Halacha and our relationship with the Aimishteh are not just what has been handed down to us, but they are also what we make of them. Every generation is a partner to this relationship, as is every member of Klal Yisroel. Even you, Yehoshua, even if you are groisseh Mechutziff.

So, as you Daven on Roish Hashanah for hours on end, do it because you are linking with your brethren and sisteren to celebrate the Reboinoisheloilum's creation of the world, whether or not we have the exact date and time right. After all, the Tanaim and Amoraim had a much more primitive understanding of the universe than us. We, on the other hand, are enlightened and liberated. We have science and technology. We have modern medicine. We have advanced forms of art. And we have a refined and developed economic system that, because of our financial and social progress and deep understanding of the behavior of markets could never possibly fail under own ignorance, stupidity, and greed.

A Chessiva V'Chasima Toivah, you Minuval.

Roish Hashanah Drasha



Roish Hashanah Drasha

I have recently returned to the Bais Medrish in my Yeshiva, where our talmidim are studying twenty-two hours a day in preparation for the Yomim Noraim (High Holidays), as well as for their upcoming Real Estate license exams.

This week we will celebrate and embrace Roish Hashanah, the New Year, pray for forgiveness of our past sins, and moan about the need to pay extra for seats when we are already spending too much as it is on annual synagogue membership.

In a famous Mishnah in Masechta Roish Hashanah, Rabban Gamliel asks why synagogues charge for seats on the High Holidays -- shouldn't they embrace all who attend services and not put up any potential barriers to their participation? In the Gemarrah, Rav Pappa builds on this question, pointing out that Jewish communal responsibilities also include Yeshiva tuition, kosher food and paying off the annoying schnorrers who show up at our doors uninvited. So why must shuls engage in Lifnei Iver and chase away any returnees to the faith?

Toisfois offers a gevaldik answer to this question, based on lessons we learn from Yaakov and Eisav. As Eisav returns from a day of hunting empty handed and hungry, Yaakov tricks Eisav into surrendering his birthright by giving him a bowl of lentil soup in exchange. Says Toisfois, we must choose to be like one or the other -- either fiscally bankrupt like Eisav, or morally bankrupt like Yankif Avinu. And clearly most shuls in our day choose the latter.

This rabbinic shakuvetaria (discourse) very much helps to define and capture the essence of our existential quandary at this time of year. The question really is: why do we have one special point in the year for repentance and renewal; are we not always encouraged, and even invited, to improve ourselves, or to at least make a healthy donation? Indeed, what is the nature of the choice that confronts us? How does Roish Hashanah help us along a new path?

(And an additional key question is: why was I assigned THAT seat, next to that guy I can't stand, and so far from the aisle that I may as well pee in my pants during mussaf?)

The classical answer is that the sound of the shoifar-- the ram's horn -- is intended to awaken within us our innate desire to embrace the Aimishteh through repentance and the fulfilling of Kol HaToirah Kooloh. Clearly, whoever came up with this response never heard the shoifar blown in the Yeshiva where I received Smicha (rabbinical ordainment), where, to insure that each shofar note is 100% koisher, they repeat the blows again and again. And again. And again. It's enough to make the Rosheshiva himself pray to Yushka for salvation.

Reb Hai Gaon offers an alternate answer, suggesting that Roish Hashanah is like a woman getting a facial. Sure she can put on makeup every day, but the act of spending eighty-five dollars to get her pores cleansed makes the meeskeit at least FEEL prettier.

Rabbi Akiva Eigar points to the three central themes of the Roish Hashanah liturgy as providing the answer: Malchiyois, Zichroinois, and Shoifrois. Malchiyois represents the father, Zichroinois the son, and Shoifrois the holy ghost. Of course, Reb Akiva is known for his secret affinity for Catholicism and his attraction to hot nuns.

But the Chassam Soifer points to the same three themes. He says that Malchiyois, the theme of the Kingdom of heaven, is like your father, who, no matter how successful you have become, is always ready to tell you what a disappointment you are. Zichroinois, the theme of heavenly remembrance, is like your mother, who, no matter how old you are, will always remind you of how you used to wet your bed. And Shoifrois, the theme of the sound of the shofar, is like your mother-in-law, whose constant talking and picking and nagging and complaining leaves a mind-numbing, deafening ringing in your ears.

Of course, we set the pattern for the coming year on Roish Hashanah. My alter zeidey used to tell me not to sleep on Roish Hashanah because that would cause me to have a farshlufinah year. I have always taken that lesson to heart. Consequently, I have a personal minhag to ride my bashert, Feigah Breinah, like a shtender in the afternoon of Roish Hashanah, in order to guarantee a new year with LOTS OF HOT ADULT ACTION. All the while, the einiklach and kinderlach are out poisoning the fish with leftover challah from last week.

It is also critical that our Teshuvah be sincere and complete, not like your usual insincere prayers, you Vilda Chaya, when you anxiously await the guy who knows all the sports scores to show up at shul. We need to commit to renouncing sin in our everyday lives in order to be true Bnei and Bnois Toirah. A few suggestions for the coming year:

-- Stop buying from Macy's. Macy's sells shatnez, and if you continue to buy there, someone may mistakenly assume you are buying shatnez, and believe it is okay to buy shatnez too.

-- Start using your 500 dollar set of Shass more. If not for learning, at least for the benefit of lifting those heavy books. Reboinoisheloilum knows, you can stand to lose a few pounds.

-- Don't let your wife distract you from Toirah. You should seek every opportunity to go into the other room and pick up a Chumash, or go to your weekly shiur. Watching your twelve kids so your wife can have a ten minute break and go to the Bais HaKeesay is no excuse for Bittul Toirah!

-- Grow your payiss to be long enough to have monkeys swing from them. You never know when you'll be at a Chassanah at the zoo and you'll have the chance to be Mesamayach the Chussen and Kallah.

-- Next time you sneak out for a little traifus, remember to make a Shehakol on your pork. After all, the Aimishteh created it too.

-- When you are in the middle of being mezaneh with your wife, instead of delaying your passion by thinking of baseball players, think of famous Chassidic masters instead. Unless, of course, you get excited by bearded men with shaved heads. In which case, stick with the baseball players.

In taking these measures, we will greet the new year with a deeper commitment to making the world a better place and embracing all mankind, in order to maximize our tax deductions, improve interest rates in the coming year, and bring peace between the Eskimos and the Mongolians.

A Chessiva V'Chasima Toivah, you Minuval.

Parshas Nitzavim



Parshas Nitzavim

“Atem Nitzavim Hayoim Koolchem Lifnei Hashem Eloikaychem, Roishaychem, Shivteichem, Zikneichem, Veshoitreichem, Kol Ish Yisroel. Topchem, Neshaychem, Vegerchah Asher Bekerev Machanechah, Mechoitayv Aytzim Ad Shoiyayv Maymechah.” “Behold you are standing here before Hashem your Deity, your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel. Your children, your women, and the stranger which is amongst your camp, from the woodcutter to the one who draws your water.”

So begins this week’s Parsha, as we rapidly approach the end of Sefer Devarim, and mentally prepare ourselves for the many hours spent in Shul over the coming holidays, praying to the Reboinoisheloilum for a positive future, asking Hakadoshboruchhu for forgiveness for our past sins, and pleading with the Aimishteh to help us survive the many hours of amateur Chazanus, self righteous speeches, high pressure financial appeals, and poorly ventilated body odor emanating from multiple congregants sittings within a radius of ten seats.

When looking at this Parsha, Chazal posed many key questions that are still keeping us awake at night:

Rabbi Akiva asks in a famous Medrish: Why does the Toirah refer to Klal Yisroel as “standing”? He answers that the Parsha actually refers to anyone who has legs and is capable of standing, whether they are indeed standing or not. But the Toirah’s terminology comes to exclude people who have less than two legs and cannot stand on their own. Such people are either to be expelled from the Jewish People for ten generations, or traded to the Mariners for $50,000 in cash, a utility infielder in Double A ball, and a player to be named later.

A Gemarrah in Baitzah features a famous Machloikess between Abaya and Rava on this very Medrish. According to Abaya, the Medrish does not automatically exclude a member of Klal Yisroel who has no legs. Says Abaya, we are first required MiDioraisa to examine his assets, and if he is wealthy we consider him “as if” he has legs, and he is invited to return to the fold of Kehilas Yisroel in exchange for a large donation and a 20 percent restocking fee.

Rava holds Farkhert, suggesting that the requirement for legs must indeed be enforced quite literally. And he goes further: He cites a Braisah suggesting that Rabbi Akiva actually said that the Parsha excludes not only people who are missing a leg, but also excludes people who are missing toes. According to Rava, “Afilu Etzbah Achass”, “even the lack of a single toe,” disqualifies someone from Klal Yisroel. It also makes wearing Roman sandals or other open toed shoes a bit embarrassing.”

Reb Hai Goyn builds upon this theme, suggesting that while Rabbi Akiva’s use of the term ‘Etzbah” may indeed be interpreted as referring to toes, the word also refers to the more common use of the term, meaning fingers. Hence, the lack of any digit, be it on the hand or foot, can disqualify someone from Klal Yisroel. Says Reb Hai Goyn, “the Reboinoisheloilum blessed Klal Yisroel with generous noses. If a Jew is missing a finger and therefore cannot pick his sizeable proboscis, it is an insult to Aimishteh, as it is equivalent to a rejection of Ol Malchus Shamayim.”


A more critical question is the reference in the Passuk to “Vegerchah Asher Bekerev Machanechah,” “the stranger which is amongst your camp”. Rav Huna asks in Masechess Baba Metzitza, “Maiy Taimah”, “what is the reason that the Toirah talks about a ‘stranger’”? What’s pshat a “stranger”, which is universally understood to refer to a Gentile who lives amongst the Jews? Why would Moishe Rabbeinu include local Gentiles as he delivers his final address to Klal Yisroel? Is he some sort of self hating Jew?

According to Rav Papa, Moishe Rabbeinu was of course not a self hating Jew! He loved all Jews, especially hot divorcees. However, for tax purposes, Moshe also wanted to include the foreign workers who did all of the physical labor in the community. Rav Papa points to the end of the Passuk which refers to “the woodcutter and the one who draws your water.” Asks Rav Papa, “Can you possibly believe that this refers to a Jew?”

However, in the modern context, how are we relate to this notion of Gentiles living amongst us? In a situation of prolonged war and hostility, of distrust and the potential for violent acts, especially terrorism, how should we relate to the question of Goyim living in Eretz Yisroel? Was the Toirah wrong, in its assumption that there would be “Vegerchah Asher Bekerev Machanechah”? Is the Toirah “out of touch”? It the Toirah an anachronism that is not suited to the currently realities in which we all live, Chass V’Sholom? How can you suggest such a thing, you ignorant Minuval?

No. We are fortunate to be the chosen people, who can always turn to the eternal Toiras Emmes as our guide on contemporary questions of law, morality, ethics, medicine, business, science, and great dinner locations that cost less than $20 a person.

The RAMBAM addresses the particular topic of “Vegerchah Asher Bekerev Machanechah in detail in his Mishnah Toirah. According to the RAMBAM, Moishe’s inclusion of non-Jews in his speech indeed reflects a general assumption that Gentiles will always live alongside Jews in Eretz Yisroel. However, their residence is predicated on four conditions:

1) That they pledge loyalty to the chosen government, and not act in a hostile manner towards it, even if they are not always in agreement with it;

2) That they contribute to the security of the country by serving in its armed forces;

3) That they contribute to the finances of the country, without cheating on their taxes;

4) That they participate in the broader social fabric of their communities by having their children engage in public educational institutions.

In short, the provisions for their continued presence of Gentiles in Eretz Yisroel are exactly those conditions that are violated by the Ultra Orthodox of Israel every single day.

Rabboisai, I am reminded of a famous story about the Menachem Mendel of Cracow, who survived Europe and moved his Chassidic sect to Alabama in 1947. Menachem Mendel and his family survived the war by being hidden by their neighbor, Piotr Christianowics, underneath the floorboards in the Christianowics home, at great personal risk to Piotr Christianowics and his family.

One day, after the Nazis conducted a routine search of the area and had gone, Piotr whispered down to the floor, “Menachem Mendel, I am so sorry that all of this is happening to your people. I look forward to the day when you and I and our families can sit together and eat as free men.”

There was a pause. Then Menachem Mender quietly responded through the floorboards, “Don’t kid yourself, Piotr. I would never break bread with a Shaygitz.”

Rabboisai, like Klal Yisroel on that very day, many millennia ago, we too are standing before the Reboinoisheloilum at a critical juncture in our nationhood. We can either retreat into our shell of Jewish isolationism, or we can come to terms with the reality that we are fated to coexist with others. Gentiles, members of all other faiths and creeds, were also created by the Reboinoisheloilum. The details are not always easy – some people indeed are our enemies. But most people are not our enemies. Yes, it is not always easy to protect our interests and identify who our friends are. But as long as our Gentile neighbors are willing to live side-by-side in peace with us, are willing to pay retail, or are hot shiksas, then they are okay in the eyes of the Toirah, and they are ok by by me.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Close Shaves



Ask Rabbi Pinky: 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 Romney 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.