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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Making A Bracha Before Doing “The Mitzvah”

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Making A Bracha Before Doing “The Mitzvah”


Rabboisai,

Today I answer a Shailah from a beloved Talmid, Boruch H. Boruch H. writes:

“Rabbi Pinky,

“The Toirah’s first Mitzvah is Pru Urvu. How come we don’t have to make a Bracha every time we have (adult relations)?

"Boruch"

--

Thank you so much for submitting such an insightful, Gevaldickah question. I hope that you have not written this question with your Gatkes down, waiting for my signal as to whether to make a Bracha before “going into action”. I have a long backlog of Shailois and Teshuvois I need to get to, so it may take a while. And please remember that according to the commercial, you should call your doctor if you have an… errr… Shverkeit that lasts more than 4 hours. Kenayna Hurruh.

There are actually two aspects to your question: The explicit Shailah and the implicit Shailah. The explicit question: Should one make a Bracha before being Mekayaim the Mitzvah of Tashmish HaMitah, with or without a ribbed Kishka skin? And the implicit question: What, indeed, is the first Mitzvah in the Toirah?

Well, I am pleased to say, in your question you were Mechavayn to a Shailah and subsequent Machloikess in the Gemarrah, amongst the Rishoinim, and between the Marx Brothers.

A Gemarrah in Kesubois discusses the Bracha made under the Chupah as part of the Kiddushin, the marriage ceremony:

“Baruch Ata Adoishem Eloikeinu Meleh HaOilam, Asher Kiddishanu B'Mitzvoisuv V'tzivanu Al Ha-Arayois, V'asar Lanu Ess Ha-Arusois, V'Hitir Lanu Ess HaNesuois Lanu Al Yeday Chupah VeKidushin. Baruch Ata Adoishem, MeKadaish Amoi Yisraeil Al Yeday Chupah VaKiddushin.”

“Blessed art Thou, Hakadoshboruchhu, our Reboinoisheloilum, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us regarding forbidden unions; Who forbade betrothed women to us, and permitted women who are married to us through canopy and betrothal. Blessed are You, Aimishteh, Who sanctifies His people Israel through canopy and betrothal.”

According to the Rish Lakish, this Bracha is said only one time in a relationship, during the marriage ceremony, as is the custom today, right before the Sheva Brachois under the Chupah, the breaking of the glass on the floor, and the…err…ummm…initial entry of the TamTam cracker into the plate of herring in the Yichud room, if you know what I mean, while everyone else is fressing down their appetizers and gossiping about the bride’s cleavage.

Abaya, however, holds that the Bracha is meant to be recited by a husband monthly, after his wife comes home from the Mikvah, as he is busy preparing for being Mekayaim the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu after two weeks of celibacy by banging his head against the wall.

Rabbi Zeirah holds that the Bracha is actually meant to be recited every time someone engages in Tashmish HaMitah. And, in fact, the Gemarrah notes that this was the Minhag in Sura, Pumbedisa, and North and South Dakota, and was indeed the Minhag throughout the time of the Gaoynim and into the period of the Rishoinim.

So why, in fact, is this not the Halacha today?

This issue was the topic of a major Machloikess Rishoinim, on the correct moment for reciting the Bracha. According to the RAMBAM, the Bracha of Al Ha-Arayois should be said by the man immediately prior to penetration of the woman’s Erva. As he writes in the Mishnah Toirah, “The man should have his Eyver standing as tall as the Sultan’s bodyguard protecting the door to the Sultan’s harem the day after Id Al Fitr.”

However, according to the RAMBAN, reciting a Bracha prior to entry is unacceptable, since if the man is unable to complete his… err… Hoitzu’uh, this would result in a Bracha Levatala, Chass V’Sholom. Instead, the RAMBAN suggests that the Bracha be said BiSha’as Mitzvah Mamesh, immediately before the man’s…err… Makeh BePatish, and that his wife should respond to the Bracha by screaming, “Oy Gevalt!” loud enough to wake up the Kinderlach in the next room.

The RASHBA, however, considers it improper to recite the name of Hakadoshboruchhu while in the midst of a Ma’aseh Biyuh. He holds, instead, that as the man is about to have his Makeh BePatish, he should scream out the traditional formula for betrothal, “Harrei Ahs MeKudeshess Lee KiDaas Moishe VeYisroel”, “Behold you are betrothed to me according to the laws of Moishe Rabbeinu and Klal Yisroel”. According to the RASHBA, his wife should then respond, “Reb Yid, you’re Mamish a Gadol BaYisroel!!”

The RITVAH, however, is opposed to using this formula, since, if the couple engaging in Tashmish HaMitah are a young unmarried couple, this would automatically cause them to be married in the eyes of the Aimishteh, and, if the woman had not gone to Mikvah before the Mitzvah, it would result in a husband committing an act of Znus with his impure wife, an Issur Dioraisa. Says the Ritvah, “Let’s not spoil the kids’ fun. Soon enough they’ll have the opportunity to be miserable like the rest of us.” Shoyn.

As the Rishoinim could not agree on the proper time for making the Bracha on Tashmish HaMitah, the Shulkhan Arukh Paskins that the Bracha need only be said on the wedding night, which is Halacha LeMaiseh. This position has become accepted in both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic world, -- even the RAMAH does not argue with Reb Yoisaiph Karo on this, although he does refer to him as a “horney little camel jockey”.

In our day, this Halacha still holds, although there has been recent debate among contemporary Poiskim about how to apply it in special circumstances. Reb Nechemya Weberman had a custom of saying the full Bracha the first time he molested each of his many underage female victims, but would not repeat the Bracha with each subsequent molestation, very much applying the Halacha as cited in the Shulkhan Arukh. He also recited a SheHechiyanu every time he put a lighter to the naked flesh of his rape victims. What a Tzaddick!

Reb Yehudah Kolko, however, did not use a variant of the betrothal Bracha before molesting each of his many underage male victims, but would only recite a SheHechiyanu every time he initiated sexual abuse of a new victim. Because of his position, he was criticized by some Rabbanim in Brooklyn for being too Meikel, too lenient.

Rabbi George Finkelstein would say the Bracha of “Zoikaif Kefufim”, “Who Makes the Bent Stand Erect”, before wrestling Yeshiva University High School students in his office, or grabbing them physically on the staircase or elsewhere in the building. But his Shitah is not considered authoritative since he was only associated with Yeshiva University and not a more prestigious Rabbinic institution.

Finally, Rabbi Baruch Lanner used two different Brachois, depending on the gender of the victim, and, interestingly, he would insist his victims recite the Bracha of choice instead of him. He would have each male student recite the Bracha of “Sheloih Usani Isha”, thanking the Reboinoisheloilum for not having made him a woman prior to Rabbi Lanner either kneeing or punching the boy in the testicles. And he would have each of his female students recite the Bracha “SheUsani Kirtzoinoi”, “For Making Me According to His Will”, prior to sexually molesting her. However, his Shitah was disavowed after he was sentenced to prison.

Shoyn.

With regard to your initial question, referring to the “first Mitzvah in the Toirah”, it is in fact not clear that Pru Urvu is in fact the first Mitzvah. Shtayt in Pasook, “Beraishis Barah Eloikim Ess HaShamayim VaEss HaAretz”, “In the Beginning, the Reboinoisheloilum created the heavens and the earth” (Berashis, Perek Aleph, Pasook Aleph). Later in the Perek we are told, “VaYivrah Eloikim Ess HaAdam BeTzalmoi, BeTzelem Eloikim Barah Oisoi”, “And Hakadoshboruchhu created mankind; in the image of the Aimisteh he (mankind) was created” (Beraishis, Perek Aleph, Pasook Chuff Zazin). So, in truth, the first Mitzvah of the Toirah is to act in the spirit of being created “BeTezelem Eloikim”, in the image of the Divine. What does this mean?

According to the ARIZAL, the universe was emitted by the Aimishteh through a solitary act of creation known as Tzimtzum. As transmitted by the ARI’s Talmid Muvhak, Reb Chaim Vital, the ARI advocated that individual humans align themselves with the Creator by engaging in… errr… solitary acts of…ummm… emission, preferably on Roish Hashanah, in a public bathroom in Shul.

However, there was great debate around this essential notion. According to the Baal Shem Toiv, humanity is commanded, indeed expected, to emulate the Creator’s positive aspects by committing acts of loving kindness – For example, helping the needy, visiting the sick, and giving vodka to thirsty drunks. The Vilda Goyn holds, however, that humanity must emulate the creative aspects of the Reboinoisheloilum by building Shuls, erecting houses, and playing with Lego.

However, Kooley Alma Loi Pligi, everyone agrees, that being created BeTzelem Eloikim implies making the world a better place. The notion of creation precedes Matan Toirasainu -- the giving of the Toirah on Sinai -- for a reason: It is on a higher plane. More important than the broad array of complex Halachois, the institutions created around Toirah, and the titles bestowed to individuals based on Toirah knowledge are the notions fundamental to basic humanity, many of which are captured in the Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the Seven Noahite Laws: Do not kill. Do not steal. Establish a court system. Do not oppress. Do not hurt other human beings physically, sexually, or psychologically. Do not engage in massive cover ups for the sake of preserving a status quo, putting the needs of an organization above the needs of victims. Do not besmirch the names of victims in an effort to defend oppressors as part of an institutional “circle the wagons” mentality. Do not stand silently by while others engage in such behavior.

You know, little things like that.

Through proper and responsible behavior. Klal Yisroel should be Zoicheh to being able to go bed at night with the confidence that our children are safe from sexual predators in our schools, in our camps, and in our broader communities. Under those circumstances, we will be able to focus without distraction on doing The Mitzvah in our bedroom with our spouse or significant other, and perhaps having the opportunity to engage in Multiple Mitzvois in a single night. BiMehairah BiYamainu, Umain!

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval!


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess


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http://rabbi-pinky.blogspot.com/
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Drasha

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Rabbi_Pinky

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Christmas Drasha

Rabbi Yoichanan Ben Zakai, in a Braisa brought down in Maseches Airuvin, asks: What is the true mitzvah of Christmas? Is it to share the joy, the festivities, the gift-giving, and the spirit of good will towards all men? Or is it to go to a matinee, pay half price, and stay the hell off the street until the goyim sober up?

This line of questioning echoes a story of Eliyahu Hanavi, as he faced down the priests of Baal on Har Carmel. As they each brought sacrifices and rejoiced in their Avoidah Zarah, Eliyahu chose to sit on the side and clip coupons, rather than participate. And when it came time to show the power of the Aimishteh, Eliyahu chose to consume all the priests with fire, rather than pay to provide refreshments for everyone.

According to the RAN, this story captures the essential dilemma of ambivalence we all feel at this time of year. All year long we function as a part of external secular society, with our own traditions and peculiarities accepted in an air of viva la differance. But at Christmas time we are not Battul BeShishim; we stand out as the minority that we are.

Yet, we needn't abandon this Yuntif entirely, given our myriad connections to it:

- Jesus was, of course, a Jew. Indeed, a medrish in Matthew Rabbah refers to him using a cell phone in a movie theatre and taking Mary Magdolyn on a shidduch date for drinks at the local Marriot;

- Christmas tree lights are a modern day expression on the ancient Germanic festival of lights commemorating the winter solstice. This, in itself, is partly reflected in the lighting of the Chanukah candles;

- Christmas is a celebration of...RETAIL. According to the RAMBAM's Mishnah Toirah, one of the key Mitzvois Asei SheHazman Gerammah is the raising of ALL prices by 20% between December 10th and December 24th. Boruch Hashem for Kratzmach -- this Yuntif pays for my kids' Yeshivah tuition! Indeed, all of my talmidim are encouraged to contribute to a Christmas fund for families who cannot afford toys, the Kratzmach Gemach, so that Jewish merchants will not suffer because the Goyim are in the middle of a recession.

- There is a famous Mishnah that states that just as Roish Hashanah is the New Year for the universe and Tu BiShvat is the New Year for trees, Christmas is the New Year for big, fat, bearded white guys. And I know many Rabbanim in our community who should therefore celebrate this Yuntif too.

There is a famous Maiseh SheHoya about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In an effort to raise money for vodka for his Chasidim one year, he dressed up as Santa Clause and stood in front of the local Bloomingdales, pretending to be from the Salvation Army. Who should walk by, but his archenemy, the Satmar Rebbe.

"So, Menachem-Mendel," the Satmar Rebbe declared in a loud voice, "Your movement truly has evolved into another religion."

"Not at all," the Lubavitcher Rebbe calmly replied. "We simply never miss an opportunity to find joy. What do you say you and I do a couple of shots, sing a niggun, and make-up underneath the mistletoe?"

The Satmar Rebbe was so upset by the confrontation that day, he insisted that all of his followers use reindeer meat in their cholent that shabbos.

Meanwhile, the Lubavitcher Rebbe raised enough money to keep his Chasidim drunk through the end of the month of Tayvais. That night, the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. "Rebbe," the Aimishteh said, "Have I not given you enough to celebrate in Yiddishkeit? Why are you and your followers embracing another religion?"

"But Hakkadoshbaruchhu," the Lubavitcher Rebbe responded, "we have not strayed from Yiddishkeit. It's not as if any of my Chasidim will ever embrace the concept of resurrection or anything like that."

So we have a lot more in common with Christmas than we originally thought. We should therefore neither ignore the holiday nor treat it with disrespect. Rather, we should treat it as the money making opportunity that it truly is.

Ah Gutten Yuntif, you Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Friday, December 21, 2012

Parshas Vayigash

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Vayigash

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayigash, we read of the culmination of the Yoisaiph Hatzadick story, where Yoisaiph Hatzadick exposes himself to his brothers, as well as to numerous underage bystanders.

Not long after, of course, Yankif Avinu is told that his beloved son Yoisaiph is indeed alive, ending his years of mourning. The Toirah is silent about how the wonderful news is told to Yankif. However, a famous Medrish tells us that the news was gently broken to Yankif by his granddaughter, Serach Bas Asher.

Serach Bas Asher was respected amongst her family as a talented singer and a musician. The Shfatim were concerned that breaking the news outright to Yankif would cause him to have a heart attack. So instead, they employed Serach to gently sing to her grandfather while playing the harp, and embed in her song the news that Yoisaiph was alive. The Medrish goes on to say that Serach’s reward for performing this great expression of Kibud Av VaAim was eternal life.

Unfortunately for Serach, her gift of eternal life was not accompanied by a matching gift of a trust fund or a professionally managed pension fund to support her financially. Consequently, she was dirt poor, and had to spend the next thousand years working as an exotic dancer in a Mesopotamian strip club.

Whatever became of Serach Bas Asher? There is a famous machloikess on this topic in a Gemarrah in Megillah.

-- According to Abaya, Serach prayed for the Reboinoisheloilum to end her life as she witnessed the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash and the descent of Klal Yisroel into the Babylonian exile.

-- According to Rava, Serach lived though Golus Bavel, returned to Eretz Yisroel with Ezra and Nechemia, and lived for several hundred more years. But as Sinas Chinum overtook Klal Yisroel in the years before the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, Serach could no longer withstand her role as eyewitness to all of Jewish history, and prayed to the Aimishteh to be taken to the Oilum HaEmmes.

-- However, according to Rav Shayshess, Serach Bas Asher is indeed still alive, and is currently living in Wisconsin, running an online porn site, SerachWILD.Com.

-- Rav Puppa concurs that Serach is still alive, but he insists that she is neither engaging in pornography, Chass V’Sholom, nor living in obscurity. Farkhert, he holds that she is leveraging her years of wisdom and experience to make the Reboinoisheloilum’s world a better place by engaging in public service, and is none other than Hillary Clinton. In addition, Rav Puppa holds that Joe Biden is really Culaiv Ben Yefuneh, Barack Oibama is actually Shloimoi Hamelech, and John Boehner is in reality Yeruvum Ben Nevut.

A different Gemarrah in Shabbos focuses on Yankif Avinu’s response to the revelation of Yoisaiph’s whereabouts. According to Rav Chisda, upon hearing the news that Yoisaiph was alive, Yankif looked up to Shamayim and recited Hallel “at having lived to see the handiwork of the Etzbah Eloikim.” However, according to Rabba Bar Bar Channa, Yankif Avinu first looked down to the floor and took a moment to reflect on the enormity of the information. Then he turned around and bitch-slapped Yissaschar and Zevulun in the head, and then kicked Naftali in the Schvantzlach.

RASHI, however, is not at all troubled by the confusion raised by the total lack of any real information in theis story. He states in Perek Chuff Baiz, Passuk Yud Aleph that the entire Parsha of Vayigash should not be taken literally anyway, but should be read as a complete metaphor… for Parshas Miketz, which makes even less sense than Parshas Vayigash. Consequently, every year at this time, to coincide with Chanukah, RASHI would take a break from writing his commentary and travel abroad to sample the new wines being developed in Sonoma County. He would stay at a boutique hotel in downtown San Francisco and take day trips to the wineries where he would drink enough, he writes, “until I can no longer tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabarnet, or between a woman names Chris and a cross-dresser named Christine.” Shoyn.

As we sit here in our modern world, how are we to relate to the entire Yoisaiph Hatzadick story, and, in fact, to the entire Yankif Avinu cycle? Did we even need the brave actions of Yoisaph Hatzadick to begin with? Would we not have been better off had Klal Yisroel not descended to Egypt? Why did Hakkadoshboruchhu have to put our ancestors through hundreds of years of suffering the stinging horrors and humiliations of slavery, only to return to Eretz Yisroel through bitter conquest? Could we not have just stayed there in the first place and survived the famine by taking government subsidies?

Indeed, this is a reflection of a broader existential quandary – linked to one of the ultimate questions facing Klal Yisroel: Why is our history so twisted and tinged with challenge and tragedy? If we are indeed the Aimishteh’s chosen people, could we not have had it a bit easier, like, say, the Norwegians? Who is at fault for our having such a convoluted and tortured fate?

According to Reb Yoisaiph Katski, this is indeed the fault of Hakadoshboruchhu Himself, Bichvoidoi UbiAtzmoi. He points to the Akeidah and notes that just as Yitzchak’s life is spared when a lost little lamb is sacrificed in his stead, the Reboinoisheloilum constantly looks at the world, is tempted to destroy it, remembers His oath to Noiach, and then uses Klal Yisroel as His punching bag to take out His frustrations.

Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah holds farkhert. According to Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah, the eternal fate of Klal Yisroel is of course not the Aimishteh’s fault! He loves us the same way a child lives his pet hamster. Rather, we should really blame all the ills of our lives on our parents: If they had only loved us a little more as we were children, and bought us that thing that we really wanted, and let us watch a little more TV, and helped us more with out homework, and not favored our younger brother, and had been less critical of our bisomim smoking friends, we would have been better adjusted and had all the needed confidence to succeed in our lives' endeavors. Yes, it is our parents who are at fault for the failure of our going down to Egypt, for us being exiled, and for all of our other failings. Indeed, the fact that we are 3,000 years old, still wet our beds, suck our thumbs, and are always looking for a handout proves that our parents never really cared about us!

However, according to the Reb Bezalel Kupkayk, our eternal fate is the fault of neither Hakadoshboruchhu nor of our parents. Rather, it is the fault of the liberal media. Case in point: Did we really have to know that Yoisaiph had actually been sold into slavery by his brothers, who then lied to Yankif Avinu and maintained the lie for the next two decades? Is it that big a deal? Every nation has its little internal arguments, and exposing this disagreement only plays into the hands of our enemies.

Similarly, we would never have been exiled from Eretz Yisroel if the liberal media was not always talking about how corrupt the kings of Israel were. They should really love the country, otherwise they should keep their mouths shut. Did the liberal media need to tell us that idolatry was introduced into the Bais Hamikdash by Shloimoi HaMelech and most of the other kings of Malchus Yehuda? These were a few isolated events, blown totally out of proportion. And so what if there were poor members of Klal Yisroel being ignored by their fellow man -- they were probably illegal immigrants anyway. And so what if there were widows and orphans -- they should have planned better for the future!

Yes, it was the liberal media that undermined the position of Malchis Bais David, the Malchus of the Chashmonaim, and later, the leadership of the Nasi in the post Temple period. Media vehicles such as CNN, ABC, National Public Radio, Kol Yisroel, Israel's Channel 10, Shmuel Aleph and Baiz, Melachim Aleph and Baiz, Yishayahu, Yirmiyahu and the other prophets, as well as the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. By the actions of the liberal media, our enemies have been strengthened and given constant reason to hate us and persecute us. Reboinoisheloilum-Damned-Liberal-Media!

I am reminded of a famous Machloikess in the medieval period. The RIF and the RAN got into a disagreement with the RALBAG and the RITVAH over who had the bigger shtender, Moishe Rabbeinu or Aaroin HaKoihain, the minuval. The RIF and the RAN insist that Moishe’s shtender was bigger, as we are told that Moishe was the greatest Navi that ever lived, and how can you imagine a Navi with an inferior shtender? The RALBAG and the RITVAH, however, refer to the fact that the descendents of Aharoin HaKoihain received the Kehunah as proof that Aharoin had a bigger shtender. After all, they argue, “only someone with a groisse shtender could have earned the right to appoint his descendants to the institutional leadership of future generations."

I would like to suggest a different approach. LeOilum, this debate isn’t really about the size of one's shtender. After all, size doesn’t matter, or so my Bashert, Feige Breineh, frequently reassures me. Rather, it is the scope of one’s influence that really counts. Moishe Rabbeinu was the greatest Navi, but his descendants were more interested in learning Toirah, and less focused on addressing the everyday needs of Klal Yisroel. By contrast, Aroin Hakoihain was indeed a minuval, what, with the designing of the Eigel and speaking Rechilus about Moishe. Yet his children were committed to serving Klal Yisroel, even if that meant giving of their private time, sacrificing commitments to their children, violating their marital vows, or taking of the collected wealth of Klal Yisroel. As a result, through their actions, they established the paradigm of the future religious leadership of Klal Yisroel.

Similarly, Yoisaiph Hatzadick and the cycle of stories that surround him do not represent some perfect era of Klal Yisroel’s history. On the contrary, they tell us that the nature of the relationship between Klal Yisroel and the Reboinoisheloilum is not at all clear. In fact, it is downright convoluted. Yet, what is crystal clear from the story of Yoisaiph is that the will of Hakkadoshboruchhu is best served when we hide our own identities, marry shiksas, work for the goyim, and abuse our brethren. Only then can we be in a strong position to help bring about the Geulah Shlaimah for all of Klal Yisroel. Bimayra BiYamainu. Umayn.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Friday, December 14, 2012

On Modesty

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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On Modesty

Rabboisai,

I am writing these words while on a trip to Africa, where have I traveled to provide a professional opinion on whether researchers have found, at long last, a kosher pig.

I traveled here initially by plane, then took a river boat into the depths of the continent, and finally traveled by elephant and on foot to the Munpuku province of the Republic of Zambia. There I found my sponsoring party, a research team from the firm of Cohen, Goldberg, Goldberg, Feinstein and Schvantzkup LLP, standing over a young swine.

A close look revealed that it had the expected split hooves, but what appeared to the simpletons as signs of cud chewing and regurgitation were in actuality the combination of a the Chazer chewing a pack of Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum while suffering from a simple case of reflux.
No big loss for Klal Yisroel -- The pig did not taste that good anyway.

I share this story with you as I tee up a very sensitive topic in our time. We all pray three times a day for the Reboinoisheloilum to bring about our redemption, or at least to bring a marvelous bounty on the farm this year, which will be incredibly useful to me in my two bedroom apartment in Boro Park. And to curry favor with Hakadoshboruchhu, we give Tzedakah, do Mitzvois, and in general engage in behavior that is conducive to our spiritual existence. This is why I wear a wool suit and long Bekesheh in 95 degree weather, and why my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, wears a $3000 Shaytel, and a thong made out of her grandfather's Tallis.

But what is the end result that Klal Yisroel really seeks from the Aimishteh? Do we actually want Him to descend to the earth, to take up residence in His temple in Yerushalayim Ir Hakoidesh? Do we really want Him to gather all of Am Yisroel from the four corners of the earth, including the lost tribes, which include the Bnei Menashe from India, the Bnei Dan from Africa, the Navaho from America, and the Taliban from Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or do we simply want Him to give us health, make us wealthy, give us a new 55 inch OLED television with direct access to Netflix and the Internet, and help us win in our upcoming defense against accusations of misappropriation of investment funds? In other words – are we, in our lives, embracing the Divine for cosmic purposes, or do we simply seek material benefits? Are we motivated by the Oilum Habah, or by the Oilum Hazeh?

This was the subject of a famous Machloikess between Rish Lakish and Rav Huna. As brought down in a Gemara in Baytzah, Rish Lakish suffered from a weight problem, Rachmana Letzlan. As he aged, he stomach grew, and when he turned fifty, his shul told him that they would charge him a double membership fee since he always took up two seats. According to Rish Lakish, this was a form of profiling and discrimination, and he refused to pay. Rav Huna, the President of the Shul, argued that Rish Lakish, while taking up two seats, was definitely Oiver on Baal Toisiph, likely Oiver on Baal Tashchis, and was probably a Baal Keri.

The essence of the Machloikess rested on the proper interpretation of the Passook, “Shma Bni Mussar Avicha, Ve-Al TiToish Toiras Imecha” (Mishlei, Perek Aleph, Pasuook Chess). “Listen my son to the instruction of your father, and do not abandon the teaching of your mother” (Proverbs, Chapter One, Verse Eight). Rav Huna understood the Passook as describing a man’s link to his tradition, his community, and common sense. Hence, Rav Huna felt that Rish Lakish was in error in taking up two seats in shul.

Rish Lakish had a different understanding based on an alternate reading of the Passook, applying alternative vowels and punctuation (substitutions highlighted): “Shma Bni, MOISAIR Avicha VE-AYL, TiToish Toiras Imecha.” “Listen my son, TURN OVER your father and the Reboinoisheloilum (to the authorities or your enemies); abandon the teachings of your mother.” In other words, one should pursue a course that is expedient to his individual needs, even if it stands in contrast to his heritage and common sense.

Shoyn.

The essential ambivalence between satisfying short term versus long term needs was addressed is a famous Toisfois in a Gemara in Nezikin. The Gemara talks about the penalties demanded from the owner of an ox who has gored someone’s mother-in-law. Toisfois ask why we even demand a penalty -- shouldn’t a man be pleased that his mother-in-law has been gored? Perhaps the man himself should be giving money to the owner of the ox, and not the other way around? By Toisfois answers in a Gevaldik fashion: LeOilum, of course the man is happy that his mother-in-law has been gored, but his wife probably isn’t. And since her husband is going to hear about it ad nausium for the next year, the ox owner is required to compensate him.

So we see that our choices and actions are often complex and layered. At times, what seem like a position of Anivus – humility, which is modesty in behavior – may in fact be a position of Gaivah, boisterousness and pride. And what seems like Gaivah may be the greatest act of personal humility in the history of mankind.
Take for example a man like Warren Buffett, who has such nicknames as “the Oracle of Omaha”, “ the Navi of Nebraska”, and “the Cornhusker Shaygitz”. He has committed to giving most of his billions away to charity, leaving a few single digit million dollars for his children, since he says that he does not believe in inherited wealth. You might think that this man is a great Annav – a man of modesty – who is also a Groisse Baal Tezekah. But you, of course, are a complete ignoramus. In reality, he is Rashah: He has not returned any of my calls asking for donations to the Yeshivah, and he has not condemned Ahmedinijad, the Turkish government, or the Democratic Party. So he must be an anti-Semite.

On the other hand, take the wearing of Sheytels by the Bnois Yisroel as an act of personal modesty. Sure, you might think that the wearing of a $3000 wig to cover one’s natural hair instead of using a $10 Shmata is an act of gross Gaivah. But you would be wrong. You might think that since wearing the hair of a Shiksa improves the aesthetic appeal of a woman, making her more attractive to men when she wears a Sheytel rather than less attractive, and that therefore a Sheytel is inconsistent with personal modestly. But this, again, highlights the fact that you are totally ignorant of the ways of the Toirah. No, a Sheytel is the greatest expression of Anivus. By wearing a Sheytel, a woman is signaling to the world that I, Ploinis Bas Ploinis, believe it is so important to cover my natural hair that I will do so even if it costs $3000 dollars and even if it makes no sense whatsoever.

Indeed, the Gemarra tells us that, “Darash Rav Avirah, BiSchar Nashim Tzidkaniyois SheHayoo BeOisoi HaDor Nigalu Yisroel MiMitzarayim,” “Rabbi Avivah explained that it was due to the merit of Jewish women that Klal Yisrael were rescued from Egypt” (Soitah, Daf Yu Aleph Amud Baiz/ Tractate Sotah, 11 B). How true and correct was Rav Aviyah! Although, truth be told, according to the Pnei Yehoishua, Rav Aviyah may only have been thinking with his Schvantzyl and was actually trying to get a little action from the Raish Gelusa’s wife while her husband was off traveling to Pumbedisa on business.

Consequently, we must emulate the actions of the Bnois Yisrael every day. Through our everyday actions we, too, must declare that we men are committed to the same kind of modesty exhibited by our wives and female neighbors. And how does one do that?

According to Rav Yoisaiph Katski, a man should emulate a woman’s modesty by copying her very actions! Men should wear Sheytlach just like women, which will address the multiple purposes of serving as Yarmulkes, covering up bald spots, and significantly improving the Gross Domestic Product of India. Also, if a large group of Jewish men have wigs, then Klal Yisroel will have many more candidates qualified to engage in secret assassination operations in Dubai.

However, Reb Shmiel Kalbasavua disagrees. He says that men wearing wigs is a Dioraisa of Beged Isha, men wearing women’s garments, and a DeRabbanan of Lifnei Ivair, since if a man sees another man with an attractive Sheytel on he may come to commit an act of Mishkav Zachor, or even worse, steal his Styrofoam head.

So instead, Reb Shmiel insists, a man should not replicate the exact action of wearing a wig, but instead should emulate the spirit of that action. Just as a woman exhibits modesty before the Amishteh by covering her immodest, Ervadikkah hair while at the same time enhancing her appearance with an ostentatious Sheytel, so too a man should behave in that spirit. Consequently, even though a man is wearing pants to cover over his Bris Milah and Schvantzlach as a sign of modesty before Hakadoshboruchhu, he should also don a strap-on over his pants as a sign of true Anivus. At least on Shabbos and Yuntif, if not every day, a man should never leave the house without an artificial Bris Milah anchored at his Garter and his Makoim Hamilah.

And if he is having company such as an important Roisheshiva, or if it is a special day such as Shabbos or Yuntif, the man may want to wear a special, larger SheytSchvantz ™ for the occasion, perhaps in black. And if he is going to a large secular gathering like a Knicks game or a Republican fundraiser, he may even want to enhance his appearance, say, by wearing a strap-on with a foreskin.

As well, this Psak may create additional Parnasah opportunities in the community. Just as women have their wigs regularly attended to by a female Sheytelmacher, so too a man should have his SheytSchvantz ™ regularly serviced. It is not clear however, if the Schvantzelmacher need be a man, or may be a women, which would be my preference, of course.

Rabboisai, we live in a time of moral confusion. When a rabbi is collecting money for a charity, but is really laundering money, we all have a problem. When a rabbi holds himself up as a global paragon for family values, for which he is reaping millions of dollars, and yet is the public defender of a (deceased) (alleged) pedophile, then we all have a problem. When fringe Ultra-Orthodox in Beit Shemesh are attacking innocent children walking to school, and the broader Ultra-Orthodox establishment remains silent, and even attacks the media for publicizing this travesty, then we all have a problem. When a rabbi equates a woman's singing at a military event with idolatry and directs soldiers to disobey orders, causing additional social fragmentation in Israel, then we all have a problem. When an unlicensed counselor of children is convicted by a jury of multiple counts of rape and child endangerment and he is defended by his community, starting with his prominent Chassidic rebbe, and is excused by members of his community who suggest that even if he is guilty, he should not go to prison, then we all have a big problem.

We have a problem because so many in Klal Yisroel are obsessed with Oilum Hazeh, expedient and short term considerations, rather than Oilum Habah. They cast the appearance of modesty, yet beneath their external facade they are filled with Gaivah and pettyness, with greed for money and influence at the expense of the law and social well being. That is the act of a kosher pig.

What is more important is that we as a nation exhibit Anivus, true humility, even when it is not convenient or easy or profitable or guaranteed to make the headlines, just like Moishe Rebbeinu on Har Sinai, Rabbi Akiva being tortured by the Romans, and Monica Lewinsky on the floor of the Oval Office.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Parshas Vayayshev

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Rabbi_Pinky

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Parshas Vayayshev

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayayshev, we read characteristic tales that reflect the great moral fabric of our ancestors. These stories include:

-- Yoisaif Hatzadik has repeated dreams of future domination over his brothers and his parents. His brothers express displeasure at these dreams. And who can blame them? Believe me: If your brother boasted that you would one day bow down to him, you would want to kick him in the Bris Milah too.

-- Yehuda fathers the family line that will result in Malchus Bais David, the Davidic monarchy. Of course, along the way he did have to sleep with his daughter in law, Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute on the road in order to seduce him. Maylah, after reading this week’s Parsha, I feel a lot less guilty about buying that French maid’s costume and riding crop from Fredericks of Hollywood for my Bashert, Feyga Breinah.

-- The Shvatim, completely fed up with Yoisaif Hatzadik’s undermining of their positions with their father, decide to kill Yoisaif. At the last moment they cast him into a pit and take his Kesoines Passim, his Coat of Many Colors, cover it with goat’s blood and bring it to their father, to whom they report that their beloved sibling was eaten by a beast. Yankif is inconsolable -- to the point of ceasing day trading for a full six hours!

A gemarrah in Soitah brings down a Beraisah quoting a question from Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah: “Are we, Klal Yisroel, really descendants of these people? I mean, seriously, is it possible we could be adopted? Please?!” Rabbi Elazar goes on to point out that he never in his life tried to kill any of his brothers or sleep with his son’s wife, though he once did grope his sister-in-law during havdalah.

What follows is a famous machloikess in the gemarrah surrounding Rabbi Elazar’s comments:

Rish Lakish holds that Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah found the activities of the Avois and the Shvatim quite disturbing, and felt that we should try to emulate the more positive aspects of their lives, such as Yosaif Hatzadik’s nice hair style, the Shvatim’s bargaining skills with Ishmaelite merchants, and Yehuda’s giving of generous tips to even the lowliest of roadside prostitutes.

However, Rav Huna holds farkhert: In reality all of the stories brought down in the Toirah do indeed reflect positive elements of our ancestors’ behavior, if only you understood the Toirah properly, you worthless minuval. He explains:

-- Yoisaif was a gadol amongst his brothers, and had true visions of his future exile and eventual ascent to power in Egypt. And in his dreams, his family members were not bowing down to him – rather, they were all picking up pennies from the floor.

-- The Shvatim were afraid that Yoisaif’s perceived arrogance would be a bad influence on their children, and therefore determined to strengthen their own families by kidnapping their brother. And their persistent lying to their father about Yoisaif’s fate was an attempt to Practice the mitzvah of Shiluach Hakan.

-- And Yehuda never, ever, ever, EVER meant in his life to go to a prostitute, chass vesholom. Unfortunately, in his business travels he was exposed to television, and after watching Lady Gaga on MTV he had a tremendous taiyvah. And instead of committing a Dioraisa by himself, if you know what I mean, he chose to do a DeRabannan with Tamar. What a tzadik!

Rav Huna cites proof for his position on the high moral integrity of the Shvatim. He notes that Yoiseph Hatzadik, after he had risen to lead the household of Potiphar, rejected the advances of Mrs. Potiphar. Says Rav Huna: this is because Yoiseph knew Kol HaToirah Kooloh and didn’t want to commit an act of Gilui Arayois – adultery.

But Rish Lakish retorts, citing a medrish in Beraishis Rabbah that says that Mrs. Potiphar weighed 400 pounds and had facial hair that made her look like Yassir Arafat. Rish Lakish also cites a different medrish in the Mekhilta that suggests while living in Potiphar’s house, Yoiseph Hatzadik spent ALL of his time on the weekends going shopping with Potiphar’s younger brother, Merlot, and had no interest in Mrs. Potiphar whatsoever. Rish Lakish concludes, “Rav Huna should spend more time tying his tzitzis rather than trying to reinterpret the basic pshat of Beraishis." Shoyn.

The gemarrah never settles this machloikess and the Rishoinim do not really talk about it. However, this machloikess is most famously addressed in the Likutei HaRABAM and in the Igroiss Penthouse.

Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah’s comments, and Rish Lakish’s understanding of them, raise a broader question about Yiddishkeit. There are many Halachois and Biblical incidents that stand in contrast to our contemporary sensibilities -- and even any against rational logic itself. A few halachic examples include: the halachois of mikvah, where due to Rabbinic invasion of the marital bedroom two weeks out of every month, men have to take matters into their own hands, if you know what I mean; the notion of animal sacrifice: killing an innocent animal for our own self serving purposes; the killing of an animal that has been the forced subject of bestiality; and the laws of Cherem, the complete decimation of the indigenous population during Kibbush Eretz Yisroel, including women and children.

Other examples include: the promotion of Dovid HaMelech and Shlomo HaMelech as role models and as the paradigmatic rulers of Klal Yisroel, even though Dovid was a murderer and Shlomo was an idolater whose despotism towards the northern tribes resulted in the breakup of the united monarchy; and the promotion of Aroin HaKoihain’s descendants as the priestly caste despite Aroin’s guilt in the Maiseh Ha-Eygel. How are we to relate to a faith that is founded upon many values that we do not necessarily share?

I am reminded of a famous Maaseh Shehoya. Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavicher Rebbe, was once walking to shul on Shabbos morning. It was cold that day, and Reb Shneur struggled to keep his hands warm. As he was crossing the street he noticed Malkah Shprintza, the childless woman who lived across the street. “Come over here so I can give you a bracha!” he called over to her. She walked across the street, and he greeted her by rapidly grabbing her behind and cupping a naked buttock in each freezing hand.

“Rebbe!” she screamed, “what are you doing?”

He replied “I am giving you a bracha: The Reboinoisheloilum should make you favored like Ruchel, fertile like Leah and cunning like Rivka.”

“What happened to Sarah Imainu?” Malkah Shprintza asked, suddenly enchanted by the grand Rebbe’s bracha.

Reb Shneur Zalman looked at her and smiled. “Meideleh” he said, “trust me, you don’t want to be like Sarah Imainu. She was crazier than my mother in law during a hot flash on Yoim Kippur!” With that, Reb Schneur rushed into shul just in time to do vodka shots.

So, just as the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, we have to be intelligently selective about how we understand, and apply, the foundational elements of the Toirah. Should we abandon the faith? No. But that does not mean that we should behave like brainless automatons.

In many ways, we practice Yiddishkeit not because of many of these foundational elements, but despite them. We coexist uncomfortably with these Halachois, stories and role models. We can choose to ignore them, or to embrace them. Just so long as we understand that the main gift of Hakkadoshboruchhu is free will.

However, you minuval, you may choose to reject free will -- in which case you should feel free to partake of every roadside prostitute, just like our ancestor Yehuda. And if you do, just remember to bring cash. Always bear in mind the timeless lesson of Yehuda: if you leave a prostitute your cloak, your staff or other forms of ID as payment, it is likely to come back and bite you in the ass.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess