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Friday, December 14, 2012

On Modesty

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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

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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

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