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Friday, December 20, 2013

Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Tefillah BiTzibbur (Communal Prayer)



Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Tefillah BiTzibbur (Communal Prayer)

Rav Pinky,

I need the benefit of your wisdom and experience.

We have recently started a Hashkama minyan in my shul, much to the Rav’s dismay. I personally wonder why we should spend 3 hours doing what only takes 1.5 hours, unless of course you are talking about being fruitful and multiplying.

My question to you, Rav Pinky: Is that extra hour and a half spent in the main minyan bitul Torah?

Thank you for your help in clarifying this troubling question.

Your talmid,

Reb Yankel

Dear Reb Yankel,

Thank you for your critical and insightful question.

Eppis, Tefillah BiTzibbur is a tremendously important and misunderstood mitzvah, so I am glad at least one of my talmidim asks about it, instead of the usual shailah about apikorsus or sexual innuendo, chass ve’sholom. Sadly, there is too much focus on sex in our Dor. When you are sitting in your house, and when you are traveling on your way. When you lie down, and when you get. Too much. It’s dirty. Ichh! Now I need to go the the mikvah with some 300 pound cholent-fressers to get the thought out of my mind…

Now, I would actually characterize your question into a couple of subordinate questions: Does length really matter? And is a little variation good for the relationship? Err… I mean… When it comes to davening, do we care how long the davening is? And how should we consider the occasional aspiration to be Poiraish Min Hatzibur, separating oneself into a different Kehillah, spinning off as a Hashkama minyan, or a chulent-kugel minyan, or a woman’s minyan chass v’sholom, or a “young marrieds” minyan, or a youth minyan, or a gay minyan, or a local chassidishe shtibul, or a Sephardic minyan, etc.

To answer these questions, we will of course begin by looking to our Avois in the Toirah for the principal clues. I ask you, when Avraham Avinu stopped at Ur Hakasdim to daven Shacharis, was it a quick, meaningless Shacharis, like you do everyday, you miserable minuval? Or did Avraham take his time to put on his Tefillin, have the proper kavannah, recite the Karbanois, and make sure not to skip anything? When Yitzchak Avinu davened Mincha, did he mumble through Tachanun? Or did he make sure to say every word, especially when referring to himself during Shmoineh Esray? Did Yankif Avinu, while studying in Yeshivas Shame V’Eyver, skip an occasional Maiyriv to spend a bit more time on the basketball court or to surf porn or the Internet? Or did he daven with Yiras Shamayim even though it was nine o’clock at night and he was missing his favorite TV show? What kind of vilda chaya are you to ask such questions anyway?

No. Tefillah has always been the cornerstone of Yiddishkeit. Even in the desert, Moishe Rabbeinu led Klal Yisroel in Tefillah BiTzibbur. A Medrish in Shmois Rabbah describes the beauty when all of Klal Yisroel surrounded Har Sinai, shuckling in unison during the Shmoineh Esray. There they stood, united in kavvanah, at the height of their communal holiness. Indeed, according to the Medrish, the Aimishteh planned to bring about the redemption right there on the spot, erasing the need for forty years of wandering the desert and for Kibbush Eretz Yisroel. But just as Hakkadoshboruchhu was about to reveal himself, someone in Kehilas Yankif broke wind, offending the Reboinoisheloilum and the rest of the congregation, thereby delaying the Geulah for many millennia.

Even during the period of the Malchuss Bais Duvid, Tefillah was the essence of Klal Yisroel’s relationship with Hakkadoshboruchhu. Sure, there were Koihanim who brought sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdash for spare change; but their trade was established because, nebech, they studied for too many years in yeshiva and couldn’t hold down a real job. So it was either karbanois or selling cell phones.

But for the rest of Klal Yisroel, there was davening. Why else did Duvid HaMelech write all those Tehillim? Not to write silly poetry, you MeChutziff! What do you think he was -- some kind of left-wing homosexual Arab loving college educated self-hating Soinay Yisroel? No! He was a groisseh tzaddik, and when he wasn’t busy studying Toirah, he was cutting off Philistine foreskins (except for when he was busy being Mezaneh with the wives of his generals.) Yes, even back then, Klal Yisroel, Kehilas Yankif, regularly reached out to commune with the Reboinoisheloilum through the fundamentally mystical act of prayer, as well as through IM.

So what is the essence of Tefillah? Tefillah is more than just an act of individual unity with Hakadoshboruchhu. Were it only that, there would be no special inyun, no higher value, to the notion of Tefillah BiTzibbur. But Tefillah is also about the joining of the voices of Klal Yisroel. Essentially, it is about the power of community.

As a communal act, prayer is not only about the recitation of liturgy. It is also about acts of prayer, the trappings including:
-- Having a Shaliach Tzibur lead Shacharis
-- Having a chazzan schlep on and on and on during Mussaf until you are ready to ingest that cyanide pill sewn into your Talis Katan
-- Having some Bar Mitzvah boy read from the Toirah while three sadists in the minyan drool in anticipation as they wait for him to make a mistake so they can correct him in the ultimate act of Toirah-inspired humiliation.

But Tefillah is also about the social exchanges within a congregation. After all, throughout the Galus, as much as Klal Yisroel preserved Yiddishkeit, Yiddishkeit preserved Klal Yisroel. While our ancestors were cast across the furthest reaches of the globe, scrounging about for a living and to find some solace from millennia of persecution, they were able to maintain their unique identities through the institution of Tefillah in the Bais HaKnessess, the synagogue. Now, if all they had done during davening is daven, I assure you that you and I would now be speaking Latin or Arabic while sleeping with hot shiksas. However, they also used their time to build strong social bonds during davening by discussing chiddushim on Toisfois, linkages for business, insights on sports, perspectives on politics, and assessments of the talent on the other side of the Mechitza. Tefillah -- and in particular talking during davening -- became the cornerstone for the survival of the Jewish People.

Consequently, whenever the is a lull in the action – silence between aliyas, a pause while waiting for the Chazzan to recite a Bracha, an insignificant or boring part of the davening, it is a mitzvah for a Ben Toirah to talk to his neighbor in shul and perpetuate the social bonds that are the essence of Klal Yisroel. Indeed, according to the RAMBAM in Hilchois Tefillah, when one talks during davening, it is as if he has saved a life. Consequently, the RAMBAM holds that talking during davening is a Chiyuv Dioraisa, a requirement mandated by the Toirah.

As such, we all know that one must be Marbim BeMitzvois, one must spend as much time as possible engaged in fulfilling the commandments. So given the importance of davening, the longer the better, and one should always include a healthy dose of talking. And on Shabbos, a day we are charged with sanctifying, we should must add special sanctity to morning Tefillah by speaking extensively throughout the davening with other members of the Tzibbur.

I am reminded of a famous story about Rabbi Yitzchak Meyer Alter, the first Gerrer Rebbe. The Rebbe was once traveling to collect funds for the sect’s Shaytel G’Mach. One night he stayed in a lodge run by a older Polish woman and her three adult daughters. As it was time to retire for the evening, the woman asked the Rebbe, “Rabbi, would you like anything before I turn in for the night?”

The Rebbe responded, “Well, you should turn in at once, but I would like for your three daughters to come and visit me in my bedroom.”

Shocked, the woman asked, “All three daughters! How can a devout man like you have such bad intentions?”

The Rebbe smiled and looked the woman right in the eyes. He then spoke, “Let me ask you, when you cook, do you cook for only yourself, or for the entire lodge?”

“The whole lodge of course, guests and all” she whispered tersely.

“My good woman, if I go back to my room by myself, I will end up bringing joy to myself. Why should I not share the joy with all three of your daughters?”

Satisfied at the answer, the woman asked to go back to the Rebbe’s room as well, to which he agreed on the condition that she would wear a bag over her head. Shoyn.

Now, with regard to your other shailah regarding establishing a second minyan, Chazzal are very much divided on this topic. According to a Yerushalmi in Orla, “anyone who splits up a congregation, it is as if he brought about the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Or even worse, drank a cup of coffee without a Hashgacha.” However, according to the Roish, commenting on a Gemarrah in Nezikin, “A community must maintain a multitude of congregations just as a rich man maintains a multitude of oxen.” So which position is correct?

On this I would like to offer a very practical solution. You should explain to your rabbi that a Hashkama minyan is not an effort to take away from the centrality of the main minyan, but represents an attempt to broaden the appeal of the shul to a wider target audience. Who knows, maybe some guy who lives in the neighborhood, eats traifus and sleeps with farm animals will find out about the early minyan, attend one day, and do a full and complete Teshuvah. And who is your rabbi to stand in the way of a lost soul returning to the fold of Yiddishkeit?

If that doesn’t work, you can also donate a couple hundred dollars to the rabbi's discretionary fund. Throughout the millennia of Diaspora, that's always helped too.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, December 13, 2013

On the role of the Reboinoisheloilum



On the role of the Reboinoisheloilum


Every day we recite the Az Yashir, the Song of the Sea”, an ancient poem that celebrates the defeat of the Egyptian forces following the exodus of Klal Yisroel from Mitzrayim. As Klal Yisroel escape from Egypt, they are pursued by the Egyptian authorities -- Pharaoh, the military, and the SEC -- for engaging in a complex pyramid scheme. The Jews pass through the Yam Suf/ Red Sea/ Reed Sea unharmed, while the Mitzrim are swallowed into the water, those Shkutzim. Now let’s eat.

The Egyptians, we are told by the Toirah, are punished by the Aimishteh for their cruelty to generations of Jews. Unlike the pagan mythological pantheon who engage in fanciful battles divorced from the realm of humanity, the Reboinoisheloilum of Klal Yisroel is directly involved in human history. He personally engages in delivering justice and vengeance, smiting and wreaking havoc to the enemies of Israel. And to the Jews, He delivers salvation and mercy. He is Omnipresent and Omnipotent. He is all powerful. He has a barrel chest and six pack abs. He also makes a great guacamole, and has a 72 inch 3D TV. He is perfect!

So here’s the problem, you Mechutziff: As we have seen again recently, there are many terrible things that happen in this world. If indeed we believe that all of fate rests in the hands of Hakadoshboruchhu, that He is truly engaged in the activities of Our World, we are compelled to ask ourselves the following question: What The Hell Is He Doing?!

Exhibit A: Just imagine this: A group of innocent children are happily attending school in Newtown, Connecticut. With no rhyme or reason, a madman comes and slaughters 20 of them, and six of their teachers.

Exhibit B: Nechemya Weberman. Need I say more?

Exhibit C: This is true: I recently found my Bubbe on the online Hall of Names of Yad Vashem; her name was registered there by an acquaintance in the 1950s, who likely made a concerted effort to register the names of all the people she knew who had perished. However, my Alter-Bubbe and my schoolgirl-aged aunt never made it into the database: Apparently they didn’t have time to set up a Facebook account on their I-Pads while the Nazis were busy setting fire to the rickety wooden Shul in the Shtetl in which all the Yidden of the town were forcibly gathered.

Rabboisai, if the Reboinoisheloilum was a head of state, we would impeach Him. If He were a lawyer, we would disbar Him. If He were a child, we would take him to myriad psychologists. And if He were an adult, we would lock Him away where He could no longer cause any harm to Himself or anyone else. However, He is the Melech Malchei Hamlachim, Hakadoshboruchhu, so we continue to pray to Him.

But it is only fair and rational, and appropriate, that we ask ourselves at a broad theological/ philosophical level – What is He up to? Has He gone insane? Or is there some sort of master plan that you cannot possibly comprehend, you Minuval?

We of course are not the first to contemplate such questions. CHAZAL, sitting in their yeshivas around pressed board wooden tables with fold out metal legs, contemplated the very same questions. They looked to the Toirah and their own predecessors for guidance and inspiration. Some, like the RAMBAM, also turned to works of Moslem and Greek philosophers for answers. Others, like Moishe DeLeon, looked at traditional and contemporary mystical tradition. And a few, like the Ari Zahl, dropped acid and spent hours on end looking at their hands breathe.

Our Rabbinic predecessors indeed struggled with these very same issues. Their words are immortally captured in their Teshiuvois, their Sefarim, their various blogs and wikis, and on the walls of the men’s room stalls in Sura, Pumbedisa, Kutsk, Brisk, and elsewhere, right next to the notes that say, “For a good time, call Chanie”.

According to Reb Saadia Goyn, Hakadoshboruchhu is indeed a loving and benevolent Diety directly involved in Oilumainu, our world. He loves all mankind and all of His other creations. However, He believes in rules, and those that do not follow the Divine rules unfortunately trigger the (relatively minor) punishments warned of by the Reboinoisheloilum in His Toirah, in all of His benevolent mercy. For example:

-- If someone commits a murder, then he is Chayav Misah, and will unfortunately be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone worships Avoidah Zarah, Chass V’Sholom, then he is Chayav Misah, and, sadly, will be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone engages in “unnatural” acts, say, Mishkav Zachor, then he, his lover, their families, and everyone they ever knew, will lovingly be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone turns on a light on Shabbos Koidesh, Chass V’Sholom, a modern day Toldah of an Av Melacha, then he is Chayav Kurayss, and his family will mercifully be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone wears Shatnez, the combination of wool and linen, then he and his family will one day be benevolently wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone eats Kitniyois on Pesach, then he is Chayav on a Chashash of eating Chometz, and he and his family will one day be gloriously wiped out for all eternity.

So when a small portion of Klal Yisroel adopted Reform Judaism, Communism, Socialism, Zionism, and some of the other “isms” of the early 20th century, they triggered merciful destruction on all of Klal Yisroel. The Aimishteh surely watched with tears streaming down His eyes as my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother, and my twelve year old Aunt were burnt alive, along with most of the Yidden from their Shtetytl. But what could He do?

Hey – we got off easy, thanks to His benevolence. A remnant remained. It could have been worse: The dinosaurs ate insects and shellfish and never recited a Bracha, and look at them today…

The RASHBA also believes that the Reboinoisheloilum is involved in the world, but has a slightly different emphasis. According to the RASHBA, Hakadoshboruchhu is not benevolent. The suffering in our world is the direct result of the Aimishteh’s basic sadism and dislike of people. He is a misanthrope with a bit of an inferiority complex. Sure, He created human beings, but they are whiny and rebellious, and every so often He just feels like he needs to smite them because it makes Him feel better about Himself.

The RAMBAN takes an approach which is similar to that of Reb Saadia, though his explanation is informed by his great Rabbinic scholarship, along with his experience as one of the top OB-GYNs in medieval Spain. He suggests that the Shchinah actually loves all of mankind. She is our Creator, our Parent, our Spouse. However, once a month, for about a week, the Aimishteh starts to feel achy and bloated and uncomfortable, and then goes on a total rampage against all who come across Her path. But when the seven days are over She is back to normal. Just don’t say anything about Her weight, Chass V’Sholom.

Reb Akiva Eiger, takes a completely different approach. Reb Akiva holds that there is no conscious Deity involved in human affairs. Citing the Zoihar, Reb Akiva describes Hakadoshboruchhu as a powerful, universal Force. The Reboinoisheloilum is akin to a flower in your garden. He is alive and organic, but sits in the background like a pretty decoration that gets tended to in your spare time. However, some creatures, like the bees, are in tune with the Aimishteh, and mine Him for His pollen to make their honey. And man’s role, like that of the bees, is to understand the true nature of Hakadoshboruchhu and synchronize our existence to his reality, while stinging everyone and everything else that gets in our way.

However, the Meor Einayim, the Alter Chernobyler Rebbe, has a more counterintuitive understanding of Hakadoshboruchhu. Says the Chernobyler, LeOilum the Reboinoisheloilum is in fact a conscious being, involved in the daily affairs of mankind. And He is not so focused on the strict details of the Toirah. Punishments, shmunisments. “Live and let live”, He likes to tell the angels when they go out for cocktails every Friday night, after a long week of running the world. The problem is that the Aimishteh has been in the role for a long time, has taken to showing up late, leaving early, and taking too many long lunches. He has become distracted and lost focus, and it is probably time for us to get someone new in the role. But it is a very difficult role to fill. However, we do have some discussions with a few candidates scheduled for next week, and at least a couple of them look promising…

Rabboisai, it is clear that these and the many other explanations of the role of the Reboinoisheloilum in the world – including those that deny the very existence of Hakadoshboruchhu – are never fully satisfying. There is no model that fully and rationally explains the world. There is suffering and doubt. But there is also happiness and occasional sentiments of fulfillment.

As we struggle with this issue, we must also wrestle with the corollary question of how we should behave in a world where we do not, and cannot, ever understand the role of the Reboinoisheloilum. Are we created Betzelem Eloikim, in the Image of the Divine, and compelled to act accordingly? How can we possibly do that if we are incapable of knowing His will.

(“Yet”, you argue, “the Toirah is the source of knowing His will”. Hmmm. You may be right. I will keep that in mind the next time I bring animal sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdash right after attending a good public stoning. Ignorant schmuck.)

At best, we can do three things:

1) Continue to seek the ultimate truths. We will never find them, you Minuval, but like in a kosher luxury cruise, the voyage is more important than the destination.

2) Seek to control our own destinies, individually and collectively. In the absence of clear Divine guidance, it is our best bet for creating our future as we would like it to materialize.

3) Go out for some nice Traifus every once in a while. The Reboinoisheloilum may destroy your lineage for all eternity. But He is probably going to do that anyway.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, December 06, 2013

Serious Post: Recruiting Formerly Orthodox Participants for Harvard Medical School Study on Judaism & Mental Health‏

Serious Post: Recruiting Formerly Orthodox Participants for Harvard Medical School Study on Judaism & Mental Health‏



I have been asked by the medical academic team sponsoring this study to pass this along. This sounds like a highly worthwhile piece of research relevant to members of both the Frum and OTD/ Formerly Frum communities.




According to recent findings from the Pew Research Center, more than 50% of American Jewish individuals raised as Orthodox no longer affiliate as such. At present, my laboratory is conducting a 3-year longitudinal study to examine the interplay of spiritual/religious factors and mental health among Jews - regretfully, the scientific community is largely in the dark about relationships between these factors. One sub-aim of our study is to recruit 100 formerly Orthodox Jews (50 males and 50 females) - our intention is to study the specific stressors that this growing sub-group faces, with the hope of better understanding the religious changes they have and might continue to experience.

Participation in this study includes completing a series of web-based questionnaires and experimental tasks over a three-year period, as well as one phone-based interview. Any self-identifying Jewish individual who is 18 years or older and currently living in the USA or Canada is eligible, and participants can receive up to $45 compensation. The entire study can be completed anonymously without providing any identifying information.

To determine if you are eligible to participate in this study, or for more information, please visit longstudy/screen/consent.php or contact Devora Shabtai at

The success of this research is dependent on voluntary participation, so please forward this email to others whom may be interested in this study.

Thank you.

David H. Rosmarin, PhD
Assistant Psychologist, McLean Hospital
Instructor, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
115 Mill Street Belmont, MA 02478
Phone: 617.910.7790


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Parshas Vayigash



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 the Anti-Semites!

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
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, November 22, 2013

On Living in the Image of the Divine




I am rerunning this recent Drasha in light of the below article in today's New York Times.


On Living in the Image of the Divine

Moideh Ani Lifanecha Melech Chai VeKayam SheHechezarta Bi Nishmasi BiChemla Rabbah Emunasecha.

Thank you Reboinoisheloilum for returning me to normal life, after many weeks of intense interruption caused by the Yoimim Toivim that left me of the brink of being fired for missing so many days of work, for breaking my normal regimen, and for distracting all of my beloved donors… err … Talmidim from writing me checks… err… doing Mitzvois and supporting Limud Toirah.


I was delighted to hear Parshas Beraishis last week as we read that humankind, all of humanity, was created Betzelem Eloykim, in the image of the Divine. What does that mean?

According to Abaya, being created Betzelem Eloykim means that we were created very tall, very smart, very good looking, with the most beautiful perfectly curled Payis that one could ever imagine.

According to Rava, being created Betzelem Eloykim means that we were created to be intense and unpredictable, one day loving our children, and the next day smiting them with a plague or two, or a Schtickel famine. One day we speak of our undying commitment to our “bride” Klal Yisroel, and the next day we cut up her credit card, take away her car keys, and trade her to the Babylonians for $50,000 in cash, a utility infielder, and a nation to be named later.

But according to Rav Ashi, Abaya and Rava spent too much time at the “bummy” Shul and drank too many shots at Kiddush. Says Rav Ashi, mankind was created Betzelem Eloykim in the sense that we, mankind, were given free will. Unlike the plants and the animals, the other living inhabitants of this earth, we are not trapped to fulfill a very basic purpose as part of an ecosystem: To capture sunlight and convert it into energy, likely a plant. To consume plants in order to survive, like an herbivore. Or to eat herbivores while the National Geographic or Discovery Network cameras are rolling, like a carnivore. No, we have a purpose beyond our basic material needs. We have large brains. We have logic that allows us to exceed our animalistic kill-or-be-killed nature. We have opposable thumbs, and tools. We have writing and communications. We have the Internet. We have NPR. We have Sitcoms. We have Netflix. And some of us even have the Toirah.

We have the ability to build airplanes and grand buildings and write poetry and perform scientific research. We have the ability to do good deeds and help others. But we also have the ability to lie and cheat and steal. And kill. We have the ability to wage war against the guilty and the innocent, and to murder on an industrial scale.

And how do we determine what to do, as individuals, as part of a community, or as part of society as a whole? We have free will. Betzelem Eloykim.


It is no coincidence that we read Parshas Beraishis following the long cycle of the Yumim Toivim, including Roish Hashanah and Yoim Kippur. On these days, and throughout the entire Aseres Yemai Teshivah, we ask Hakadoshboruchhu for acceptance, despite our inherently imperfect human natures. And why should He listen to us? “Kee Anu Amecha, VeAtta Eloykaynu; Anu Banecha, VeAtta Avinu.” “Because we are Your nation, and You are our Lord; We are Your children, and You are our father.” We are human beings. We do not always live up to the Reboinoishloilum’s expectations. But nevertheless we want Him, we pray to Him, to accept us as we are. We are complex. We are not all alike. We have diverse human natures and preferences and habits. Why? Because we have free choice. Because we were created Betzelem Eloykim.

And where does free will manifest itself? Well I am hungry right now, and I can decide to go to the kosher pizza place around the corner, have two slices and a coke, for the total price of $25. Or I can walk three blocks to McDonalds, Chass V’Sholom, and feed myself, my wife, my children, and my Einiklach, for the same $25. I can chose to keep Shabboskoidesh. Or I can desecrate Shabboskoidesh, violating the Word of Hakadoishboruchhu and risk really pissing Him off by turning on a light switch, Rachmuna Litzlan. I can choose to go to sleep at night by counting sheep (Hoyshiyah. Esss.. Amecha.. U’Varaiych…….. Esss……….. .ZZZZZZZ), or I can put myself to sleep by kneading the challah while thinking about Miley Cyrus, Claire Danes, George Clooney, or Rabbi Shmuley Boiteach, if you know what I mean.

But all of these examples are Bain Adam LaMakoim; They relate to religious commandments, rules and customs between man and the Aimishteh. But what of Bain Adam LeChaveiroi, actions that are between man and his fellow man? Whether they are actions dictated by the Toirah, or common rules of basic humanity, of society? Again, we are guided by our fundamental nature of being created Betzelem Eloykim. We have free will. We have free choice.

Rabboisai, when we look at the Eseres Hadibrois, the Ten Commandments, it is easy to discern that they are roughly divided between Mitzvois Bain Adam LaMakoim, and Mitzvois Bain Adam LeChaveiroi. Klal Yisroel has the Toirah NOT ONLY to teach us how to relate to the Divine, but also to teach us the proper ways to engage with our fellow man. Kabayd Ess Avicha ViEss Imecha – Respect your father and your mother. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not covet the spouse of another. Do not covet the property of another. These are the basic foundations of a functional society.

One need not be a Chassidic Rebbe or a Rosheshiva (like me) or a Rebbetzin with a three thousand dollar Sheytel, or even to believe in an anthropomorphic Reboinoisheloilum who engages with humankind though history in order to appreciate the centrality of these basic societal laws. Yes, even an Am Haaretz like you, my beloved Talmid, understands that if we do not answer to a basic human moral compass, all of society will break down. And one need only look 70 or 80 years back in our collective Jewish history to understand what happens when all of society breaks down – when there is confiscation of assets and enslavement and forced division of families and rape and medical experiments on human beings and gas chambers and mass murder. Klal Yisroel, of all Peoples, understands the importance of an orderly and just society.

But let us say, for arguments sake, that all of society does break down? What happens? Well, as we know from Parshas Noiach, Hakadoshboruchhu was once so disgusted, He decided to destroy the whole world, save Noiach, his family, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the professor and Mary-Anne, and two of every kind of animal. But in the aftermath of the Mabul, the Great Flood, the Aimishteh makes a treaty and a vow never to destroy the world again. The Reboinoishloilum exercises His free choice to create the world. And then destroys the world. And then ultimately pledges to never destroy the world again.

Humankind may be flawed. Humanity may not always live up to Hakadoshboruchhu’s plans, but He is fundamentally committed to tolerance and acceptance. “Kee Anu Amecha, VeAtta Eloykaynu; Anu Banecha, VeAtta Avinu.”


Rabboisai, we are living in dark times. There is a plague impacting pockets of the Orthodox community, particularly in Ultra-Orthodox, Chareidi, circles.

When spouses differ on what color to paint their walls, they usually find a compromise. When they differ on what to name a new baby, they usually compromise or take turns, allowing one parent to name the child and assigning naming rights to the next child to the other parent.

But when spouses break up, and especially when the breakups are driven by religious differences, it has become all-too-common for a parent, typically the parent that has chosen to remain observant, to try to gain full custody of the children. Rather than seek compromise, common cause with their ex-spouse on ways to raise the children in a mutually acceptable fashion, they try to “steal the children”. They often do this by defaming the integrity of the former spouse, or his or her sanity, or his or her fundamental ability to serve as a functional parent. They are often supported financially by their own families and Chareidi communities, in an effort to “save the children’s souls”. They often even try to turn the children against the other parent.

Rabboisai, this is not an action that is Betzelem Eloykim, in the image of the Divine. Human beings have free choice, and even when we do not agree with such choices, we have to tolerate and accept them. Children have TWO parents biologically, and other than in extreme cases where the children themselves are in danger of physical or emotional harm, they are best off having two parents, even when the parents are no longer together.

Divorce is a painful experience – I have seen this up close. But seeking sole custody, denying access, poisoning the minds of the children, or publically defaming the name of the former spouse is NOT the fulfillment of ensuring Mitzvois Bain Adam LaMakoim. It is a terrible violation of Bain Adam LeChaveiroi.

We are living in dark times. We are living in an era when many in the Orthodox community, including many in the Orthodox leadership, have placed all of their emphasis on Bain Adam LaMakoim, and have set aside a basic commitment to Bain Adam LeChaveiroi. In the name of Toirah – but really in the name of maintaining their own hegemony and power and control – they are breaking up families; they are ignoring sexual abuse; they are causing humiliation and pain; they are even causing death.

Rabboisai, Judaism is not the exclusive purview of the Chassidic Rebbes or the Rabbis or the synagogue presidents. It is not the exclusive domain of the Askanim, the power brokers, or of the wealthy. WE WERE ALL created Betzelem Eloykim, in the image of the Divine.

Rabboisai, we are living in dark times. Judaism has a cancer. It is time to take Judaism back.


This Drasha was written in memory of Deb Tambor A’H.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Doing Business With Israelis



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Doing Business With Israelis


This week I respond to a critical issue which is on everybody's mind. Especially if your name is Achmed.

Yankel P. writes:

"Dear Rabbi Pinky,

"One of the Ten Commandments in not to steal. However, in Israel it seems to be required to cheat your fellow Jew in every business transaction it is possible to conceive of. If the person to be cheated happens to be an American, not only is the requirement to cheat him, but to take immense pleasure in it and brag to all your friends how you tricked the American frier [ed: "sucker"]. My question is: Has the commandment not to steal been voided just in Israel, or all over the world?"

Well Yankele, my beloved Talmid, BOY do you have issues. But before I address your question, I did want to take a moment to apologize. You initially sent me your question several weeks ago, and then resent it this week when I did not post a response. Please understand: I get thousands of letters every week from confused Talmidim such as yourself, lost and troubled souls, looking for direction, and, usually, a handout. I simply cannot respond to all shailahs, what, with the football season winding down and the NBA season in full swing... err, I mean with all of my deep Toirah commitments that keep me busy from morning until night.

Your insightful question really touches on several issues, which I will address one at a time. Please allow me to restate and interpret your words:

- Why do Israelis have the moral scruples of a chimpanzee with an erection (chass v'sholom)?

- Why are they proud of their character flaws?

- Should I as a Jew see Israeli behavior as somewhat "normative," reflecting the Reboinoisheloilum's desire to evolve human interactions to the highest Madreigah, Or shall I set aside my naive view of Israelis as the culmination of human history, and see them as the spineless Minuvals they really are?

Clearly, modern Israeli actions are analogous to the behaviour of Klal Yisroel in biblical times. After all, Yankif Avinu stole the birthright of Eisav through blatant exploitation and the deception of Yitzchak, their father. The shvatim (twelve tribes) kidnapped their brother Yoiseph Hatzadik and collaborated in a plot to cover up their actions. According to a Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah, they also used to steal sugar packets in restaurants. Dovid Hamelech stole Bassheva, the wife of Uriah, and connived to have Uriah killed on the battlefield to cover up his misdeeds (principally, impregnating Bassheva. Didn't Dovid Hamelech, the brilliant soldier and statesman, ever hear of "protection," if you know what I mean?).

So we have a national heritage of thievery. Sure, on the other side of the equation we have a Moishe Rabbeinu, who felt guilty buying groceries that were on sale. But should we emulate him? If he was such a good role model, why wasn't he allowed into Eretz Yisroel? Obviously, there was a reason (because Aimishteh knows, He would NEVER do anything purely random, such as have my goyyishe-kup neighbor win the lottery, while I have to continue to serve Slurpees at 7-11 during the overnight shift in order to pay my kids' yeshiva tuition.)

So Israelis have this heritage, which they cultivate, in an ever focused effort to exceed even our forefathers in their criminality. In their business dealings they take what does not belong to them. Then they negotiate, supposedly in good faith, and, ultimately, renege on their agreements. And all the while they roll out the carpet of self pity: "We are a poor country... We have very few natural resources... We are surrounded by hostile neighbors... We were persecuted for 2000 years." No wonder the Arabs hate the Israelis. You hate them. I hate them. We should all hate them. After all, 500 million Arabs can't be wrong!

Indeed, the Israeli penchant for dishonesty is also grounded in other layers of Jewish history. A Gemarra in Babba Kamma tells us of the three instances in which one is allowed to steal:

-- For Pikuach Nefesh -- the preservation of human life,

-- For Shalom Bayis -- the sanctity of the household and maintaining good relations with one's spouse; and

-- To lower your tax burden.

In fact, there is a Braisah in Masechess Airuvin that tells us that Rabbi Akiva was once arrested for shoplifting, and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah was a kleptomaniac.

Interestingly enough, the key motivation for Israeli thievery is not what one would expect -- to profit at the expense of another. No, their instincts are far more base than that. In your own words, Yankele, "If the person to be cheated happens to be an American, not only is the requirement to cheat him, but to take immense pleasure in it and brag to all your friends how you tricked the American frier." What you describe does not sound like a habitual thief, who creeps stealthily though the night. Rather, it sounds like a teenage boy, who was just mezaneh for the first time, Rachmana Letzlan, and now has the share his news with all of his comrades.

I am reminded of a maiseh shehoya. Reb Chaim Vital, one of the noted students of the ARI ZAHL, was once in Salonika to speak at a UJA breakfast. After a long lecture on the topic of the relationship between the Shchinah, Klal Yisroel, the Sefira of Yesoid, and Hakkadoshboruchhu's collection of vintage cars, Reb Chaim went to the event organizer to collect his honorarium. But he was told, "Reb Chaim, we view your honorarium as YOUR contribution to our organization." Reb Chaim walked away with a smile on his face. But after the event was over and everyone had left, Reb Chaim jumped the event organizer on his way out of the building, beat him up and stole all the proceeds.

That night, an angry Rebboinoisheloilum came to Reb Chaim in a dream. "Don't be angry, Aimishteh," Reb Chaim said, "I'll give you your cut."

"It's not that,"Hakkadoshboruchhu replied, "it's that you forgot to also steal his wallet."

In Birchas Hamazon, the prayer after meals, many people add a line which is a prayer for the State of Israel, "Raishis Smichas Geulusainu," which roughly means "the dawn of our redemption." A similar line exists in the prayer for the State, recited in Reform, Conservative, and other fringe synagogues, such as Modern Orthodox. What motivates our support for Israel? Is is guilt? Is it some sense of loyalty? Is it a mutual identity? Is it the knowledge that Israel is the only country in the world where the local hot shiksas are Jewish?

Whichever it is (I personally believe it is the latter), we fool ourselves when we project our Messianic hopes and dreams not only on the historical advent of the modern State of Israel, but also on the character of its inhabitants. Make no mistake: Israelis are a bunch of Minuvals who smoke like chimneys, spit the shells of sunflower seeds on the public bus, wear sandals to weddings, and don't even know how to make a tie. When we lend them our trust, and then get disappointed when they steal, lie and cheat, then we get what we deserve. But we learn for the future...

So I am personally guided by an important rule of thumb: For Toirah and Jewish Sovereignty -- Israelis. For business -- Saudis, Qataris, and Egyptians, Germans, British, Belgians, Americans, Mexicans, Canadians, Apache, Tutsi, Eskimos, and Martians. But never an Israeli.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, November 15, 2013

On the Blessed Event



On the Blessed Event


I was on my way to the Lower East Side last Sunday when I decided to take respite from my journey and stopped to engage a roadside Kedaishah. Under other circumstances, my Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, would have responded by carving her initials on my Bris Milah with a Challah knife. However, given that following my brief encounter (at which, I should note, I left behind neither my staff nor my signet ring, only my Gold Card) I successfully completed my errand, and all was forgiven. And what, you may ask, was my task? Well, I went to the Lower East Side to pick up the gold-lame-and-sequin-covered Bentchers for the Bar Mitzvah of my Einikel, little Feivel.

What is the source of the Mitzvah of the Bar Mitzvah, and what is the Ikkar Mitzvah upon which we are Metzuveh? I bet you have wondered this your whole life, you ignorant Shaygitz, but never made an effort to ask because it would have required you to get up from the television for five minutes.

Well, the source of the Bar Mitzvah is discussed explicitly in a Gemarrah in Kesuvois. According to Rav Ashi, the Bar Mitzvah is conducted to commemorate the bond between the Reboinoisheloilum and Klal Yisroel. And the reason why it requires a boy to celebrate at the age of thirteen is Zecher L’Yishmael, to commemorate the age at which Yishmael, that other son of Avraham Avinu, had his Bris Milah. And we emulate the removal of Yishmael’s foreskin by emasculating our sons in front of an audience of 400 Shul-goers.

But Rabbi Chiya holds Farkhert: Making a thirteen year old Leyn in front of family, friends, and strangers is not at all like a Bris Milah, since the scars of Bris Milah heal within a week. Rather, Rabbi Chiya argues, a Bar Mitzvah is more like Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac. The fear and loathing of reading the Parsha in Shul and being corrected by a handful of self-righteous perfectionist misanthropes can only be compared to sending your own son to slaughter, only this time with a sushi bar and a Viennese table. And the resulting emotional scars indeed echo the deep psychological trauma that undoubtedly plagued Yitzchak Avinu throughout his entire life.

How is one required to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah? A different Gemarrah in Eiruvin notes that Rish Lakish, when not learning for twenty six hours a day in the Bais Medrish, supported himself by working as a photographer at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, divorces, and the occasional Baptism. The Gemarrah quotes Rish Lakish as saying, “Three is better than one, but six is better than three.” According to Reb Saadya Goyn, Rish Lakish was referring to Ma’aisei Biyuh on the weekend. But according to Reb Hai Goyn, Rish Lakish was referring to members of a band playing at a Bar Mitzvah, noting that “a one man band at a Bar Mitzvah is like a flat-chested woman. The equipment may work, but it’s never your preference.”

There is a Machloikess Reshoinim that emanates from this Gemarrah between RASHI, Toisfois, and the ROISH regarding how a thirteen year old boy should commemorate his Bar Mitzvah. Koolay Alma Loi Pligi, everyone agrees, that a Bar Mitzvah boy should mark his becoming a man by reading from the Toirah. So where do they argue? They debate regarding what should follow Kriyas HaToirah. According to RASHI, after successfully reading his Parsha, a Bar Mitzvah Bochur should go into the Bais Medrish to recite Hallel. According to Toisfois, a thirteen year old boy should follow up his reading of the Toirah by going to the kitchen to eat a hearty breakfast. But according to the Roish, after finishing his Maftir and Haftoirah, a Bar Mitzvah boy should be escorted from the main sanctuary by a group of his friends, singing and dancing, and should be led to the Yichud room for a half hour session with his Tahtee’s “special friend”, Bambi.

There is an interesting historical debate regarding another important Bar Mitzvah custom – the throwing of candy at the Bar Mitzvah boy. What is the source of this custom? According to the ARI ZAHL, the practice was established by the MAHARAM MiRothenburg during the persecutions of 1275 in order to beat away the dark Klipois from the body of the child, leaving only the Holy Sparks. However, according to Reb Moishe Cordovero, the custom of throwing candy was introduced by the RAMBAM during the recession of 1194 in order to drum up business by raising the level of diabetes in the community.

How much should one spend on a Bar Mitzvah? This question has been a source of deep Toirah discussion, Talmudic discourse, marital debate, and bankruptcy hearings for the past 700 years.

According to the Shulchan Aruch, a person should not spend more than would be required to feed guests “KeBaitzah”, about an egg’s volume of food. However, he believes that the Bar Mitzvah should be a celebratory event open to the entire community and neighboring communities, costing no less than two months of the average household income, as defined by the KY (Klal Yisroel) Index based on the average income of all Jews for the twelve months prior to the event.

The RAMAH, however, disagrees, referring to Reb Yoisaiph Karo, the Mechaber of the Shulkhan Aruch, as a “swarthy cheapskate”. The RAMAH holds that one is required to feed every guest “KeTarnegol”, a volume of food equivalent to the size of a chicken. In addition, the RAMAH points out, one must have at least one live band, or, at a minimum, a DJ accompanied by motivational dancers. As well, suggests the RAMAH, one is required to hand out Tchatchkees (“little toys from China” in English) to all of the children to bring home, so that their parents will be reminded to begin planning for their own blessed events by serving a one dollar box of pasta at every meal for the next year, except for Shabbos Koidesh, when they are permitted to serve Traif meat since it is a quarter of the price of Koisher. The cost of the Bar Mitzvah should be no less than six months of average household income according to the KY Index, or half of the family assets, whichever is the larger number.

Finally, the Mishnah Berurah holds that one must feed every guest “KeEigel”, a volume of food equivalent to a small cow. The food should be varied and should include no less than four courses, including fresh sushi served by a Mexican chef who sort-of looks Asian. Further, it is a Mitzvah to have a half hour of speeches and a video montage, so that the guests will have an opportunity to take a brief nap between courses. In addition to Tchatchkees, there is a requirement to have novelty photo booths and games for the children to play. There should also be adult activities for the parents and grandparents – a makeup artist for the women, so they can experiment with different eye shades and colors of nail polish, and lap dances for the men, preferably delivered by the hot Shiksa motivational dancers. The Mishnah Berurah also holds that it is a Hiddur Mitzvah, a preferred additional Mitzvah, to have jugglers, Chassidic guys who can dance with bottles on their heads, and elephants. The minimum cost is equivalent to half of the value of the family home or ten times Yeshivah tuition, whichever is the larger number.

I spent much time going through these Halachois with my own son, Reb Boruch Gedalia Pesachya Issur Simcha Schmeckelstein, regarding the planning of the Bar Mitzvah for my Einikel, Feivel Yisroel Shmuel Eliyahu Rabbah. My son, of course, is known by his Rabbinic acronym, the BIG PISS, while my grandson is known as the Little PISHER. After a detailed discussion of the religious laws, as well as a forensic review of our family finances, we determined to spend somewhere between the position of the Shulchan Aruch and the RAMAH. However, we agreed that the more important component of the Bar Mitzvah was the reading of the weekly Toirah portion.

To ensure that the Little PISHER would not feel excessive family pressure, we hired an outside Bar Mitzvah teacher. For $50 a lesson, he taught little Feivel the week’s Parsha. For an extra $25 a lesson, he taught him the Haftoirah. And for another $20 a lesson, he also taught Feivel the week’s New Testament reading, which is from Mark, Perek Chuff Baiz, where we read about how Jesus kills an abortion doctor, and how John The Baptist is reassigned by the Church to teach in a school for children that can neither speak nor write.

I am reminded of a famous Maiseh Shehoya. The Chernobler Rebbe, the Meor Einayim – Reb Menachem Nachum Twersky, was once delivering a Drasha on the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan, the chasing away of a mother bird before taking the baby birds to eat. The Toirah, of course, promises the same reward for this Mitzvah as the reward promised for honoring one’s parents. The Cherlobler suggested that the Mitzvois of Shiluah HaKan and Kahbaid Ess Avicha are comparable because they are two sides of the same coin: The purpose of a parent is to raise a child to become an adult, and we must respect that role, even once the children have left the nest. Suggested the Chernobler, “We make a Bar Mitzvah celebration to commemorate the children’s leaving the nest. This is a celebration for the benefit of the parents, for which they receive great joy.”

After Shul was over, a boy of thirteen came over to the Rebbe and asked, “Rebbe, why is the Bar Mitzvah a celebration for the parents when it is the son who does all the work?”

The Rebbe looked down at the boy, smiled warmly, and said, “Son, at your age, you have a lot of joy. You wake up in the morning, and you have joy. You are in front of your classroom, writing at the board, and you have joy, to your great embarrassment. You are riding in the school bus and feel a bit of a vibration, and you have joy, whether you want it or not. You even get a little joy when you look at the three hundred pound secretary in your Yeshiva. And when you are alone in your room and have a few minutes to yourself, you are overflowing with joy, I am sure. I know I was when I was your age – at least twice a day.”

The Chernobler continued. “But your parents don’t have all that much joy anymore. If they are lucky, they have joy maybe once a week. So if the Bar Mitzvah gives them a little more joy, it can only help the marriage. At least until their house is repossessed.” With that, the Rebbe went off to do vodka shots, fondle Mrs. Goldberg, and take a nap.

Finally, I would like to address one related Shailah that many of my Talmidim ask me. Whenever I discuss this topic, they ask, why do I only focus on the Bar Mitzvah of a boy, and never discuss a Bat Mitzvah? The answer is quite simple: Girls are not supposed to have big celebrations when they reach the age of Mitzvois. According to the RIF, the most a girl should have is a party when she gets her first… err… Oirach KaNashim. At that party the parents should serve hard boiled eggs and hand out feminine protection to all the girl’s friends as party favors. After all, if the Reboinoisheloilum wanted girls to have a big party, read from the Toirah, put on Tfillin, be counted in a Minyan, be required to Daven three times a day, get equal pay for equal work, have the right to vote, be allowed to drive, etc., He would have given them a penis.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

On the Twilight Years




I had the occasion last Moitzee Shabbos Koidesh to meet several of my Talmidim at a Melaveh Malka. Besides the Freilichen singing and dancing, we had delightful yellowtail and spicy tuna, although the squid was a little stringy. (I know you are wondering how the Yeshivah could serve squid at a Melaveh Malka. According to the RAMAH one may eat squid and octopus even though they do not have fins and scales, since they neither have shells nor dwell on the ocean floor. However, they must be prepared in a separate pot and eaten with a separate fork. According to the Mogayn Avraham there is even a special Brachah for squid and octopus: “Al Achilas Scungeel”.)

In any case, I was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, to learn that these Talmidim read my Drashas every week but have not purchased my Seforim. A Shandah!

Minuvals: Do you think that I am writing Divrei Toirah and selling Sforim for my own good? The proceeds of my Sforim, in addition to paying off my bookie, are used to support my Talmidim in Yeshivah, provide a small stipend to the Buchrim in Koilel, subsidize the restoration of Kever Amalek in Eretz Kena’an, and purchase packages of EZ Wider, 1.5 inches, double gummed, at the local Sforim store, located right above The Jewish Press and across from the beef jerky.

Finally, I would like to remind all of my Talmidim that my Drashas are LeChatchila not meant to be read on an iPhone or other 4 inch screen, or even on a PC or an iPad. MY DRASHAS ARE MEANT TO BE PRINTED OUT AND READ IN SHUL, so that you can look smart sitting two seats away from that Schmuck who kills one tree a week printing out Drashas from Aish HaToirah, Toirah.Org, the Young Israel, and Vatican.Com on such critical Inyunim as why Moishe Rabbeinu never used dental floss on Shabbos and why Aroin HaCoihain always wore striped boxer shorts while performing the Avoidah in the Mishkan.


On the Twilight Years

“Al Tashlichainu Le’ais Ziknah, Kichlois Koichainu, Al Ta’Azveinu.” “Do not discard us in our old age; as our strength wanes, do not abandon us.” This phrase, familiar to us from Shma Koilaynu, is rooted in the words of Tehillim, Psalms, written by Dovid Hamelech after his son Shloimoi came by to visit and stole money to support his crack habit. This phrase was later inserted into the Tefillois of Slichois. Of course, in its inclusion into the Shma Koilaynu, the Passuk was transformed from the singular form to the plural.

There is a famous three way Machloikess between the MAHARAL MiPRAGUE, the Toisfois Yuntif, and the Tzemach Dovid about the proper Kavvanah, the proper intent, that one is meant to have when reciting this Passuk.

According to the MAHARAL, when reciting these words, we are supposed to be thinking about our individual selves, despite the transition of the paraphrase into plural form. This is because we are all aging as individuals, and will age in the future, and are pleading to the Reboinoisheloilum for divine assistance. Many men will lose their hair. Many women will have their Tzitzach sag so low to the ground they are in danger of stomping on their nipples every time they take a step. Many men will have erectile dysfunction so frequently that they will have the Bracha of Zoikaif Kefufim tattooed on their arms. Many women, after having a minimum of twelve children, will have their Ervas become so loose that they will be able to carry around their keys, their cellphones, a bagel, and a book to read on Shabbos Koidesh without being Chayuv for the Dioraisah of carrying in Reshus HaRabim, Chass V’Sholom.

The Toisfois Yuntif, however, holds that as we say this Passuk, we are supposed to be concentrating on pleading to Hakadoshboruchhu on behalf of all of Klal Yisroel. Here we are, a proud People, beaten down by all of the other nations, Yemach Shmum, as we pass through the millennia, ravaged by history. We were at eternity’s doorstop, says the Toisfois Yuntif, as our Moshiach arrived to bring about the end of time and initiate an eternity of Divine grace, Toirah, and free parking. However, our Moshiach was rejected by a rebellious clique, and now we await His second coming, as we celebrate Him by making Kiddush on red wine and taking the Eucharist every Sunday morning. Of course, the Toisfois Yuntif was a practicing Roman Catholic, so his Sheetah is not relevant to us, with the possible exception of the utopian vision of adequate street level parking in Oilum Habbah.

Finally, the Tzemach Dovid holds like the Toisfois Yuntif, that as we recite this Passuk we need to have in mind the well being of Am Yisroel. We are suffering the indignities of our collective longevity and feel forgotten after two thousand years of exile. Sure, we control world banking, the global media, and the diamond industry, and have absolutely cornered the market on Kemach Yoshon. And of course we have our own country after two thousand years. But it is filled with corruption and immorality, and is certainly not the redemption that we prayed for, what, with its young girls scantily clad in their long sleeve shirts and long skirts, invading the holy space of the true Shoimrey Emunah, tempting them with their coquettish ways. So we must throw stones and attack this evil amongst us in order to expunge it from our midst, or at the very least get it off of our side of the street, while continuing to pray on behalf of Klal Yisroel that the Aimishteh does not abandon us in our communal old age.

This Halachic debate is actually rooted in a historical question on the proper understanding of the strange story of Avishag HaShunamis. We are told at the beginning of Sefer Melachim Aleph about how Dovid HaMelech, in his deteriorated, elderly state, is given a young woman, Avishag HaShunamis, to keep him warm in his bed. However, we are told, “VeHana’arah Yuffuh Ad Meoid, VaTehee LaMelech Soicheness VaTeshursayhu, VeHamelech Loi Yudu’uh”, “And the young woman was very beautiful, and she became a companion to the king and ministered to him, and (but) the king did not know her.” (Melachim Aleph, Perek Aleph, Passuk Daled.)

There is a famous Machloikess in a Gemarrah in Makkois about what actually happened between Dovid HaMelech and Avishag. According to Rava, Dovid was disinclined to engaged in Znuss with his unmarried concubine because he was too busy studying Toirah. Rava cites a Braisah quoting Rabban Gamliel who insisted that his ancient ancestor Dovid HaMelech was absolutely obsessed with Daf Yoimi and studying Sefer Shemiras HaLashoin, and would ignore everything else: Young maidens in his bed, the occasional son trying to usurp his throne, the many rivalries between his multiple wives, and the all-you-can-eat buffet at the local Red Lobster.

Abaya, on the other hand, believes that Dovid had lost all interest in the Meidelach, but instead loved to spend time with his arms bearer, Horace, with whom he wrestled day and night, if you know what I mean, while poor Avishag had to retreat to bed alone every night with one of David Hamelech’s battery powered spear polishers. According to the RADAK, Klal Yisroel could hear Avishag’s solitary passionate outbursts all the way in Bais Lechem, Rachmanah Letzlan.

However, Rav Chisda holds Farkert. According to Rav Chisda, the term in the Passuk stating that Dovid Hamelech did not “know” Avishag is not to be understood in the traditional Biblical/ Rabbinic sense of not having intimate relations. Adderabbah! Rav Chisda cites a Medrish that suggests that Dovid HaMelech always had Tashmish HaMitah with Avishag immediately after reciting Shmoineh Esrei – that is three times a day during the week, four times a day on Shabbos un Yuntif, and five times a day (!) on Yoim Kippur. And the reason the Passuk says that Dovid did not know her is that he never, once, had an actual conversation with her, since, due to his age, he could only complete the Makka V’Patish when Avishag performed Metzitzah Bipeh on him. So whenever Dovid Hamelech asked Avishag a question about her family or the weather or her philosophical position on euthanasia or her perspectives on supply side economics, she could not respond because she always had a little something stuck in her throat.


It is without a doubt that Tehillim and the Toirah in general note the impact and ravages of time as part of the collective human experience. Klal Yisroel is portrayed as a nation passing through history, with heroes, leaders and other figures who are not deities or demi-gods, but who are frail, fragile human beings who are born, struggle throughout life, and then, if they do not die young through war or disease, reach the Oilum HaEmess after 120 years. This is part of the inescapable reality that is the human condition. The Zoihar ponders this idea, speculating on the basic nature of humanity. Why, asks the Zoihar, were humans and other living things made mortal, while rocks and other inanimate objects are designed to exist forever?

The Zoihar suggests that humanity’s basic nature is derived from the Sefirah of Yesoid, one of the ten Sefirois, elements of the Godhead, as described in Kabbalah, classical Jewish Mysticism. The Sefirah of Yesoid is responsible for channeling energy into the human world from the other Sefirois of Hoid, Netzach, and Tiferess. In the anthropomorphic understanding of the Divine Sefirois, Yesoid is also viewed as the equivalent of the Shvantsyl, the male Tashmish organ. (Note: This is absolutely true, but the way. Look it up, if you dare…) As such, Yesoid is associated with the organ that participates in a physical act that has an often challenging beginning, a typically pleasurable middle part, and a disruptive culmination, and is frequently followed by a quick cigarette and turning over and going to sleep. In other words, human existence is a reflection of the Divine, which has its own cadence of bio-cycles. While the Reboinoisheloilum is eternal, He embodies processes that involve a beginning, middle, and end, followed by a nap, and then, eventually, renewal.

The ARIZAL, however, takes this thinking one step further. The ARIZAL agrees with the Zoharic conception of humanity being a reflection of the Divine. However, he sees the human condition as in fact directly mirroring Hakadoshboruchhu. Let’s face it: Whether you are a Biblical literalist and believe that the world is 6000 years old, or someone with half a brain who understands that the universe is billions of years old, the Aimishteh is one old Dude. He probably has some grey hair at this point, or no hair at all. Maybe the Yesoid isn’t working quite the way it once did, and maybe at this point the Melech Malchei HaMelachim needs an afternoon nap. Maybe the reason that the Reboinoisheloilum seems to have forgotten the Jews from time to time is not because He is punishing us or trying to teach us a lesson, but because He is actually absent minded, and genuinely forgot about us (Hakadoshboruchhu knows, He has a lot of things to keep track of). Maybe pogroms happened for hundreds of years as He was taking naps, the Spanish Inquisition happened because He was having a pacemaker put in, and the Shoah happened because He was out for a few days (in Aimishteh time) to have His gall bladder removed. And the State of Israel was established after He took a sizable dose of Viagra.

Regardless, “Al Tashlichainu Le’ais Ziknah, Kichlois Koichainu, Al Ta’Azveinu,” just as we do not want to be abandoned in our old age, we should not abandon the Reboinoisheloilum in His twilight years. After all, He is the only Hakadoshboruchhu we’ve got. So we have to nurture the relationship and care for Him, visit Him a bit more often and remind Him to put on His pants. We should not expect Him to be the Aimishteh He once was, at least in our eyes, but have reasonable and realistic expectations about His capabilities and limitations. And most important, we should make sure that He does not sign over all His assets to our goddamned brother, since we need those funds to pay off our bookie and buy some more EZ Wider for rolling our Bsomim, so we can get nice and Freilichin at a future Maleveh Malka.

Ah Freilichin Shabbos, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, November 08, 2013

Fifty Shades of Toirah



Fifty Shades of Toirah


I cannot believe I am about to share this with you, my beloved Talmid, but my conscience requires it.

I am the scion of a great Rabbinic family, whose commitment to Toirah goes back many generations. Through my descent from my great, great, great grandfather, the Kutsker Ruv, I am strongly committed to the practice of Shnayim Mikra VaEchad Targum, reviewing the weekly Toirah portion twice prior to Shabbos Koidesh. In truth, the vast majority of my contemporaries review the Parsha out of a simple Chumash, sitting in the Bais Medrish or on a train, or while looking at their iPhone Toirah App while waiting on line to pick up a dozen lottery tickets.

But not me. I have inherited from the Kutsker a grand tradition -- Shnayim Mikra VaEchad Targum must be performed using a Klaf, a literal Sefer Toirah, to bring about the true closeness between Klal Yisroel and the Aimishteh who hovers above us at all times.

It is with this background that I describe a unique episode that occurred last week. I was visiting the Bais Medrish of Chofetz Chaim in Queens, and was somewhat surprised at the haste with which the Talmidim abandoned the Bais Medrish in order to watch the men's gymnastics competition at Queens College. I was all alone. And I needed to complete my family Minhag, as Shabbos Koidesh was only one day away.

With no one in sight I approached the Aroin Koidesh, slowly pulling back the curtains to reveal a five foot Toirah peeking out at me, covered in a maroon velvet dress. I reached into the Aroin, at first teasing the taut embroidery, circling it slowly with my fingers. I then lightly put my hands around the Sefer Toirah, gently feeling around its curves, and slowly but delicately lifted it out of its location by its underside. As it became freed from its restraints, I brought the Toirah close to me, holding it near to my chest, the exhalation of my very breath depositing moisture on the tip of the velvet cover.

I hugged the Toirah in the crook of my arm as I slowly and cautiously carried it to the Bimah. This was a beautiful Toirah, soft to the touch, with a clean, earthy scent. After gently laying the Toirah down, I leaned over and kissed its center, its belly, feeling a little give as each of two scrolls parted slightly at my touch. As the Kabbalists tell us, as much as the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to give of its milk. And I sensed the longing of the Toirah to open itself to me.

With a slow but steady hand I began to remove the Toirah Deckel, the cover, tugging it up slowly as it willingly yielded to my touch, ultimately allowing it to fall to the floor. The Sefer Toirah was now completely exposed, save its belt, whose role was to modestly preserve the holy works of the Rebboinoisheloilum. The parallel rolled scrolls on either side were interlocked at the top and the base. My right hand drifted, lazily sliding from the top of the scroll to the belt, and I felt the smooth, cool, tightly wound parchment against my palm, which had begun to perspire slightly.

My hand reached the belt, the elasticized velvet sash linked at the center by a metal buckle. I unlatched the buckle with a deft flick of my finger, a move I had employed countless times before. I carefully slid the belt out from under the Toirah’s back, letting it, too, slide to the floor.

With its girding no longer in place, the scrolls parted softly. I gently nudged them apart, encountering little resistance. With a little more push on the handles, the scrolls opened for me completely.

A rush of excitement came over me as I saw my ultimate goal: The busy, curved black and white patterns of ink on parchment, a contrast that thrills me as much today as it did the first time I beheld a Toirah up close as a young Yeshiva Bucher.

I started by focusing on the first Aliyah. I took my Yad and gently followed the lines, right to left, right to left, right to left. The Toirah responded to every touch of my Yad, offering give when I applied slight pressure, heaving slightly up as I pulled my Yad back.

At that very moment, the world around us had melted away This was the Toirah’s purpose, this was my purpose – a delicate dance, a coupling of Toirah and Scholar.

The gentle interplay continued for nearly thirty minutes. As I completed the first Aliyah, the second Aliyah, the third… my focus on the Toirah intensified, and I found myself rushing to complete the Parsha, while trying to no go too fast.

As I neared the end of Shviyi, my concentration was broken, as one of the Yeshiva Buchrim reentered the Bais Medrish with a handful of tissues and proceeded to diligently wipe down his Shtender. He suddenly looked up and asked, “Why are you touching that Sefer Toirah?”

“It is my Minhag”, I exclaimed, suddenly feeling self-conscious. I tried to disguise my embarrassment and frustration, unsuccessfully.

The Bucher walked over to the Bimah and stared, first at me, then at the Toirah Deckel and belt on the floor, and finally at the Toirah itself. “But that Sefer Toirah is Passul!” he declared, as he ascended the Bimah and reached down to pick the velvet cover and belt off of the floor.

“But I must finish!” I insisted, my face growing redder by the minute.

The Bucher tried to push me aside, using his body to shove me out of the way. But my anxiousness had reached a fever pitch. Using my right arm I blocked the Bucher’s access to the Toirah. With my left arm, I reach for the nearest object I could find, in this case a copy of the Artscroll Siddur for the Baal Tefillah. I lifted the oversized volume and used it to strike the Bucher in the head, knocking him off of the Bimah. As he fell back, he struck his head on a copy of Mesilas Yesharim lying on the table next to the Bimah and fell to the floor, unconscious.

I took the next few minutes to hurriedly complete my session with the Toirah, breathlessly finishing my review of the Parsha with an awkward flurry. Pausing for a moment to recover, I then quickly redressed the Toirah, and gently placed it back in the Aroin Koidesh.

Shnayim Mikra VaEchad Targum. For some it is a burden. For others, it is a labor of love.


Undoubtedly some of my readers may have taken offense to my anecdote for its erotic echos. However, those readers are complete Neveilah ignoramuses. Yiddishkeit is filled with erotic imagery when describing Klal Yisroel’s relationship to Hakadoshboruchhu and to the Toirah, and to human relations between men and women. We see this throughout the Toirah. In Shir Hashirim for example, “Smoiloi Tachas LeRoishi, ViYiminoi Techabkaynee”, “Let his left hand be under my head, and his right hand embrace me.” (Shir Hashirim, Perek Baiz, Passook Vuv).

Or in many references in the Zoihar. One example:

"… just as a Lulav does not grow (and bear fruit) unless the male be planted by the female, so the Tzaddik cannot flourish save when husband and wife are united, when the male aspect of Tzaddik is united with the female aspect of Tzaddik, as with Avraham and Sarah" (Zohar, Bereshit 82a).

Ours is a religion for adults, male and female. But if you cannot handle the adult nature of the Toirah, I suggest you give up studying Gemarrah or performing Shnayim Mikra VaEchad Targum, and instead focus on reading The Little Midrash Says, or Mesilas Yesharim.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, October 31, 2013

On and Off The Derech



This week's Drasha is dedicated to Ari Mandel AKA Rachmuna Litzlan, an atheist ex Chussid who will be observing Shabboskoidesh and delivering a Shiur on Chassidus in order to raise money for Chai Lifeline. To donate, go to:


On and Off The Derech


I would like to share my great news with you as I bid farewell to my role as Rosheshiva of Yeshivas Chipass Emess. This will be my last Drasha, since I just made twenty million dollars on the stock market yesterday. Those shares I bought a couple of weeks ago have shot up, putting me on easy street. Yessirree! All the Mitzvois, I have been doing all these years, all those selfless acts designed to rescue the Holy Sparks from the Sitra Acha. My commitment to the Reboinoisheloilum has finally paid off, big time!

So no more wasting my time writing Toirah for ungrateful Schmucks like you in exchange for your meager pennies! Go get your Toirah from Aish, or Chabad, or Pat Robertson, or Joel Osteen or Glenn Beck for all I care... So long, suckers!

Oy Vey! My stock holdings just fell in value by twenty million dollars. Since I am totally without sin, it is as clear as day that Hakadoshboruchhu has decided to bring punishment on the innocent because of the Aveirois of you Mamzerim. Damn you all to Gehennim!

Ummm… needless to day, I was joking a minute ago when I called you Schmucks and Mamzerim. I was testing you, and you clearly passed the test. Congratulations, my beloved Talmidim!

Rabboisai, we live in a volatile world. Stocks go up, stocks go down. Regimes rise and fall. Yet Klal Yisroel is a constant. The Democrats hold the Presidency and the Senate, and the Republicans own the House and a majority in the Supreme Court, but Klal Yisroel is a constant. The Likud is in power today, and no one knows who will lead the next coalition. However, Klal Yisroel is a constant. Mubarak and Khaddafi are unchallenged autocratic rulers one day, and then sit in a cage, or in some hole somewhere hunted like an animal the next. Yet Klal Yisroel is a constant. The skies are sunny and clear one day, and we are pumping water from our basements and Bussay Medrish the next. But Klal Yisroel is a constant. My Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, on any given day may have a Taivah to be Mezaneh like a rhesus monkey, or, alternately, may have one of those combination locks from the Aron Koidesh on her Erva for the next week and a half. But Klal Yisroel is a constant.

What does it mean that Klal Yisroel is a constant? Is it because the Aimishteh has preserved us as His Chosen People? Yet, according to the Tzitz Eliezer, the Reboinoisheloilum tried his best to kill us in Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen, but simply failed because He ran out of quarters. And now He is trying to finish us off one bombing or missile or stabbing attack at a time.

Perhaps Hakadoshboruchhu preserved us as a form of public punishment and humiliation, as has been suggested over the centuries by numerous Christian theologians. Yet here we stand today as a people, strong economically relative to others, with our own State after two thousand years, with an outsized positive social and cultural influence well beyond our numbers. (And, you Minuval, can you PLEASE stop sending around those idiotic chain e-mails that proudly proclaim that Stalin, Khaddafi, Sarah Palin, and Shmuley Boiteach are all descendent of Jews. If these allegations are in fact true, it is a badge of shame, you moron!)

Many of us remain loyal to our heritage, yet only a fundamentalist buffoon refuses to recognize the human hand in the development of Yiddishkeit: From the formation of the Toirah from numerous texts written by multiple authors, to the gradual evolution of centralized monotheism at the end of Bayis Rishoyn and in Galus Bavel, to the emergence of Halacha through a long process of Biblical exegesis and philosophical debate, to the standardization of traditions and the creation of new practices and beliefs in the middle ages, to the adoption of the secret Kohanic handshake by the Planet Vulcan.

So, given the human role in the development of the faith, why do we even bother? Why don’t we just go after working out at the JCC on Saturday morning and eat some nice Traifus, perhaps some Chazer and overgrown cockroaches, washed down with some pig’s blood and a nice merlot? Maybe we should all marry hot Shiksas and worship that Sheygitz hanging from the Tzeylim in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, or the white bread and mayonnaise eating Goy worshiped by Michelle Bachmann? Or perhaps we should abandon religion altogether and believe in an eternity that is without meaning, save for survival of the fittest or simplistic feel-good humanistic mantras concocted by angry vegans on acid?

Schmuck, if you think it’s all complete bullshit, why are you even reading this?

I know you believe that you are the first Jew to ever ask such questions, and are enamored of your own brilliance. Shkoiyach! But, rest assured, you are a total ignoramus. From time immemorial Klal Yisroel has struggled with our faith, with our relationship to the Reboinoisheloilum, with the general nature of the Divine, and with our Jewish wives’ primal opposition to performing Metzitzah Bipeh once the glass has been broken under the Chupah.

So, the fundamental question is: Is Judaism worth preserving? Is there indeed some intrinsic value to Yiddishkeit that justifies our actions and sacrifices: economic, social, and – dare I say – historical? Or is our heritage simply the historical baggage of the Opiate Of The Masses, a theological and cultural handcuff that tells us what to eat, instructs us how to behave, and demands that we cut off the tips of our Schvantzyls? (Although in my case that still leaves nine and three quarters inches. No wonder Feigeh Breinah is always invoking the “gag reflex” defense.)

These were in fact fundamental questions raised by Chazal almost two thousand years ago. According to Rav, there is nothing worth preserving about Judaism, and we should walk away from it and let it die the deaths of the ancient religions of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, etc.

But according to Shmuel, Yiddishkeit is indeed worth preserving, if only because without Judaism, hot Shiksas would lose their “specialness”.

So it really depends upon whom we hold by, Rav or Shmuel. But if we hold like Shmuel, and believe that there is something about Judaism that should be preserved, then we need a model that offers existential meaning to us and is able to sustain our heritage for future generations.

I am reminded of a Mashal, a parable. There was once a family with three children. One day, the parents decided to go out to shop for a new three thousand dollar Sheytel. Before leaving , the parents instructed the children not to leave the house. An hour after the parents left the house, there was a fire, Rachmana Letzlan. The first child panicked and ran far away, never to be seen again. The second child went out looking for help, but got lost, and did not bring help until it was too late. And the third child followed his parents’ instructions to the letter, did not leave the house, and perished in the fire.

To what is this compared? To the three mainstream Jewish movements.

The first child is the Reform movement, whose efforts to modernize and restructure have left the movement without an essential core. Without an established educational platform, or core set of fundamental tenets, the movement is gradually disappearing, despite a grand tradition of innovation and scholarship, as well as the hottest female Rabbinical students around.

The second child is the Conservative movement. The movement prides itself on its thoughtfulness towards synthesizing tradition and reason – preserving a core loyalty to the Rabbinic process while embracing key aspects of modern sensibilities and scholarship. Yet years of centralization and ideological meandering have left it a confusing mix of competing philosophies, leaving all but its die hard membership confused and ambivalent. And if you don’t believe me, go and attend an average Conservative service on a Friday night – you are likely to find more Jews at a Klan meeting or a Hamas fundraiser.

Finally, the third child is the Orthodox movement. What can I say? Nearly every family has a child with special needs. The following is an absolutely true story: I recall in the late 1970s debating a friend outside my black hat Shul about who was a better baseball team, the Yankees or the Mets. Of course, the Yankees were two-time World Champions at that time, and the Mets were consistently the worst team in baseball, and I was a Yankee fan. However, my friend, the son of a well respected rabbi, tried to argue through the use of convoluted Rabbinic logic how the Mets were a far superior team. That is the weakness of Orthodoxy: Most are incapable of balancing their passion and commitment with logic and rationalism. As such, they support a grand monument – a broad and rich tradition built over millennia by a diverse set of creative and occasionally brilliant thinkers, living in both ordinary and extraordinary times – with a foundation made of ice cubes: One warm wind, one obvious and completely logical question, one misuse of power, or one indefensible action by an authority figure, and the monument often comes crumbling down for the impacted individuals because of Orthodoxy’s tenuous foundation.

Rabboisai, many of our colleagues have chosen to go “Off The Derech”, but that in itself is a term that has a multitude of meanings. To those who have decided to reject faith and any form of Jewish identify completely, I offer only the best of wishes. But to those who struggle with their Jewish identities – with the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum, with the significance of Halachic practice, with the meaning of their heritage to them, I can only offer six words of wisdom: “Black and White” and “Shades of Gray”. What’s Pshat, you complete ignoramus?

In a digital world, the world of computers and other such Narishkeit, the underlying principle is the binary choice. Any individual data point is defined by either a one or a zero, a yes or a no. This is the true world of “Black and White”. In other words – There is a Reboinoisheloilum who dictated the Toirah to Moishe Rabbeinu on Sinai, who took notes using a full package of Bic ball point pens he bought at Staples (it was 40 days and 40 nights, you know). Hakadoshboruchhu sits in Shamayim wearing Tefillin all day, learning Toirah and reading the Jewish Press and the Algemeiner Dzournal while deciding who to reward and punish by measuring who said what Bracha, who went to Mikvah, who Davened with Kavannah (with no regard for whether or not he cheated on his taxes), etc. At the same time, the Aimishteh plots ways to give Klal Yisroel full control of all of Eretz Yisroel, so there may be an eventual return of all of Klal Yisroel to live in a Jewish theocracy led by Malchus Bais David and a Kehunnah descendent of Tzadok Ben Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aaroin HaKoihain, the Minuval, where we can all slaughter sheep and goats and doves when we are not busy learning Toirah 23 hours a day. Or there isn’t, and it’s all a bunch of bullshit.

Then there is the world defined by “Shades of Gray”. In this world we have a tradition, but this tradition encompasses a wide spectrum of ideas. The tradition has changed and evolved over time; it has sought to define the Divine and how we should relate to Him/Her/It. It has been a living tradition, an Aitz Chayim, that has had to respond to the often traumatic circumstances of our collective history, and has spawned revolutionary ideas that have impacted the world, as well as incorporated innovations and influences from other cultures. How one relates to this complex, nuanced world is a very personal calculus. There are rulebooks: The Toirah, the Talmud, the Shulkhan Aruch, but in truth, their relevance is subjective: Only you or I can decide what has meaning to each of us, and what we choose to do or not to do. You can go out and eat pork today—I guarantee you that you will not be struck down by lightening.

Similarly, you can decide to believe in a Diety that is All-Knowing and active in the affairs in the universe, or one that is somewhat constrained in Its ability to directly impact our world, as imagined by Lurianic Kabbalists (that is the circle of the ARI ZAHL, you ignoramus). Or you can believe in God as a force of nature, as envisioned by Einstein. Or in none at all. Or anywhere in between.

As well, it is within your power to decide what laws to subscribe to. If you believe that you relate to the All Knowing Reboinoisheloilum by wearing the hair of a hot Shiksa, Gezunteh Hait. But don’t do it because you are afraid of your husband or your father or your father-in-law or your brother or your sister or your children or your neighbors. Do it because it has relevance to you. The same goes for Tefillah, Shabbos Koidesh, Kashrus, and Shiluach Hakan.

Rabboisai, ours is a diverse tradition, defined in nuanced “Shades of Gray”. If Judaism offers no meaning to you, then absolutely walk away. Life is too short. But if there are elements that you personally find relevant, or which address a longing for spiritual fulfillment, then the heritage of your ancestors may offer answers, though not in the simplistic, binary, “Mickey Mouse” form in which many of us were raised.

I am reminded of a famous story about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was once planning his Messianic mission when one of his aides brought in a secular Jew for a one on one meeting. “How can I help you?” the Rebbe asked.

“I would like to ensure my reward in the world and the next” the Jew answered.

“Then you must pray three times a day and keep the Sabbath, your wife must light Shabbos candles and go to Mikvah, and you must drink a lot of chilled vodka” the Rebbe replied.

“But I am not prepared to alter my lifestyle” the man responded.

“Then you should make a sizeable donation to Lubavitch International” the Rebbe said. “And I will take care of everything else. Guaranteed.”

The man then took out a big wad of cash, and handed the Rebbe twenty thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills.

That night the Lubavitcher Rebbe took Rebbetzin Chaya Mushke and a few members of his inner circle out to celebrate. They all had the $9.95 all-you-can-eat special at the Red Lobster in Crown Heights, where the Rebbe passed around lobster claws as Shirayim. They then went back to 770 and topped off the night with vodka shots, as the Rebbe’s followers sang out “Yechi Moreinu VeRebbeinu Melech Hamashiach”, declaring him the Messiah King.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess