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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Parshas Yisro



Parshas Yisro

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Yisro, we read of the giving of the Aseres Hadibrois, the Ten Commandments, to Klal Yisroel. We are automatically struck with two obvious questions -- or at least they would be obvious to you if you were paying attention, you Minuval:

Question One: Why are there Ten Commandments? How come the Goyim get seven, in the Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the seven Noahite laws, but we get more? Did we really need more? Were we required to PAY MORE!? (Frankly, I've got my hands full; these days I have to work twice as hard to embezzle...err… to make a living.)

Question Two: Why does the Parsha that features the essence of the Jewish faith, the giving of the Aseres Hadibrois, carry the name of a Goy? A priest no less? What, Moishe Rabbeinu was such a self-hating Jew he needed to make the Parsha sound more Goyyishe? Or were he and the Reboinoisheloilum smoking some kind of exotic bsomim on Sinai and not paying attention to what they were writing down?

I defy you to give me an answer, because whatever you say, you won't know what you are talking about, you Am Ha'aretz.

Regarding the first question, the RAIYVID points out that of the original Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the seven Noahite laws, two were completely dropped and do not appear in the Ten Commandments.

The first dropped mitzvah is the commandment not to eat the flesh of a living animal. The RAIYVID quotes a Mishna in Hoirayois that explains that this mitzvah was dropped because Moishe Rabbeinu didn't want to be seen as a hypocrite. Do you think he had time to start doing cooking when he was receiving the Toirah on Sinai? There he is, up on Har Sinai for forty days and forty nights, face to face with Hakkadoshboruchhu, and do you expect him to say, "excuse me Aimishteh, I have to go pop a pizza bagel in the Microwave -- please give me five minutes"?

Of course not. Moishe ate the flesh of living creatures, and he enjoyed it! And who can blame him -- while up on the mountain, the Reboinoisheloilum supplied Moishe with His delicious bounty. Birds flying around. Mountain goats. Grasshoppers. Aimishteh Almighty, just thinking about it makes my mouth water!

However, Moishe did use paper plates and plastic forks while eating because he didn't fully trust Hakkadoshboruchhu's Hashgacha (kosher certification). After all -- the Rebboinoisheloilum did create pigs too, as well as horses, frogs, and Skittles. Who is to say that the Aimishteh wouldn't slip a little bacon into Moishe's meal while Moishe was intensely carving out the Luchois. I mean, when it comes down to it, can we really trust Him?

The second dropped mitzvah is the commandment to establish a legal system. A Beraisah in Baba Kamma Sutra tells us that this commandment was dropped so that Moishe Rabbeinu could set up his father in law in a nice racket...err...I mean...engage Yisroi's expertise in crafting the legal system of Klal Yisroel. (According to a Medrish in Shmois Rabbah, Moishe was getting a 20% "mitzvah fee" on the contract, plus equity.)

So indeed, that leaves us with five mitzvois (7 commandments - 2 commandments = 5 commandments). Yet Klal Yisroel received Ten Commandments? That is double what everyone else received. What's Pshat?

This is explored in a famous machloikess in a Yerushalmi in Soitah.

According to Bais Shammai, Klal Yisroel, the Jewish People, received Ten Commandments because we are like the Rebboinoisheloilum's first born child. As such, we are entitled to twice the inheritance of everyone else, twice the Land, twice the money, twice the mitzvois, and twice the persecution. I personally would have preferred half the mitzvois, half the persecution, and a date with the Olsen twins, but please don't think I am complaining, chass v'sholom.

However, according to Bais Hillel, Klal Yisroel was actually only supposed to receive Toirah Sheh-Baal-Peh, the Oral Law, on Sinai, and nothing in writing, in order to ensure deniability in the event of an SEC investigation. So what happened? Well, Tzippoirah, Moishe's wife, had instructed Moishe to bring back souvenirs for the kids since he was going away on a long business trip. And given that he had two sons, he was planning to give each son one Lucha (tablet) with five commandments each. But when Moishe descended from the mountain things got a bit out of hand. Says Bais Hillel, we all would have been much better off if Moishe had come down with two T-shirts that said "My father spent 40 days and 40 nights face to face with the Rebboinoisheloilum, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!"

So that answers our first question. However, our second question still remains: How could the Parsha detailing Klal Yisroel's receiving of the Toirah have been named after Yisro? Eppis, Yisro is a Galach! (This reminds me of the Yeshivas that give winter vacation during Kratzmach week. It's a slippery slope, you know: one day it's teaching Gemarrah to girls, the next day it's Yushke Pandra.)

The RASHBA addresses this question. He says that the naming of the Parsha after Yisro comes to imply a critical mitzvah: Since Yisro was the father in law of Moishe Rabbeinu, and the Parsha that includes the Ten Commandments carries Yisroi's name, then an eleventh commandment must be implied: Thou shalt marry a Shiksa, so long as her father is socially prominent.

The RIF wholeheartedly disagrees: he says that if you want to marry a Shiksa, especially one who is hot, who cares about her father?

In our day, the RAPAS disagrees with both of them. That's me, by the way – Rav Pinky Schmeckelstein (one of my Einiklach once called me the Raw Piss, and I had to break one of his fingers). I say that both the RASHBA and the RIF were too busy thinking with their Bris Milahs.

The real reason why the Parsha carries Yisroi's name is to teach us an important lesson. Even if we keep the Torah, the Mitzvahs, Shabbos, Aishess Ish, we still don't get any of the credit. We get leftover Cholent on Tuesdays while the Goyim get lobster. We get persecution, they get membership in exclusive country clubs. We get Barbara Streisand and Dr. Laura, they get Angelina Jolie and Paris Hilton.

Shver Tzu Zeineh Yid.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ask Rabbi Pinky -- On Erecting a Tent on Shabbos



Ask Rabbi Pinky -- On Erecting a Tent on Shabbos


This week I address the critical question of Hilchois Shabbos.

Yoinoison Phey. writes:

"Dear Rabbi Schmeckelstein,

"Is it true that the Torah says you cannot wear boxer shorts on Shabbos for fear of making an ohel (ed.: tent) if you get a... well, you know?"

"Your Talmid, Onan"

Reb Yoinison,

Thanks you for asking such a serious question that elevates our mundane daily lives to great heights of Toirah, and allows us to deeply penetrate that dark and precious abyss that is Halacha.

Indeed, this issue is a shver inyun that touches upon several halachic questions addressed in the Gemarra, by the Rishoinim, and by Larry Flynt in last year's Hooters Holiday issue. I will try to give the topic its fair due. Questions touched upon include:

-- Binyan: Construction, such as erecting a tent on Shabbos Koidesh
-- Muktza: Using something for which it was not intended
-- Machshava, or intent: Such as, "what is the intent of the owner?"

This exact question is first asked in a Gemarra in Shabbos, Daf Zayin, Amud Aleph. To address this, Rabbah quotes a famois Braisah. According to the Braisah, Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azariah says that a person's body part cannot be counted in establishing a Reshus, an independent territorial domain. However, Rabban Gamliel holds farkhert -- that a body CAN serve as a Reshus. He holds that if someone throws a piece of bread on Shabbos and it lands on top of a woman's double-daled tzitz, it is considered to be in its own Karmelis and it cannot be moved, lest it be carried into Reshus Harabim, the public domain.

Rabbah goes on to note: Given that erecting a tent is an act of construction, and construction is a clear Dioraisa, an Av Melachah no less, "one must take any action to avoid such an occurence." Says Rabbah, Lechatchila, one must always wear a jockstrap on Shabbos, but BiDiyeved, briefs will suffice.

However, the Gemarrah clarifies: "Bammeh Devarim Amurim," when were these words said? Only when the tent is higher than three tephachim (ed.: each tephach is approximately four inches) from the ground, as below three tefachim, the tent would be part of the ground itself.

Abaya and Rava then argue over the implication. Abaya notes that as a person's supine body is at least three tephachim high if you include the torso as part of the tent, only a "little kleinickel man" would be below the three tephach high minumum, according to Abaya. Therefore, most men could not wear boxers. Rava, on the other hand, holds that the tent actually starts at the top of the body, above the torso so that the makom hamilah itself would have to be three tephachim high. Says Rava, "only a freak or the goyyishe porn star Johnny Wad Holmes would have to worry about this Dioraisa, so let's move on to more important things, like using a kli reviyi in making Hawaiian Punch." Shoyn.

So what is the correct position? There is a famous three way machloikess Rishoinim that addresses this. According to the RASHBAM, we hold like Rava, since most men enjoy wearing boxers, and we wouldn't want to deprive them of their Oineg Shabbos.

However, the RAN states that we hold like Abaya. However, the issue, according to the RAN, is not one of Boneh, or construction. Rather, it is an issue of muktza, or the inability to use an item on shabbos. Among the categories of muktza is Muktza Machmas Miyus, or something which is off limits because it is unseemly. And what can be more unseemly than a man's schvantzlach. Consequently, since they serve as the "house" for such gross things, boxers may not be used for any other purpose on shabbos.

But the TUR tells us that this is nisht azuy pashut -- it's not so simple. He notes that not all schvantzlach render boxers off limits -- just those that are K'Baitzah, the size of an egg; however, if they are only KaZayis, the size of an olive, they are considered too small to be offensive, and therefore using boxers is permissible.

But, what about intent? Even if one has a ridiculously large makom hamilah, or if his baitsim are KeBaiyah or even KeEshkoilis, he certainly has no desire to build a tent, so why should he be denied the pleasure of loose fitting cotton? What's Pshat?

There is a famous story about the Kutzker Ruv. The Kutzker was travelling through the fjords of Norway to raise money for his Chassidim. For Shabbos, he stayed in a lodge outside Oslo run by evangelical Lutheran supporters. On Shabbos morning, he woke up to the sound of a knock on the door, and who should be standing there, but Brunhilda, the six foot tall chambermaid. "Rabbi," the chambermaid said, "how can I make you feel more at home?"

The Kutzker responded, "back in Kutzk, on Shabbos morning, I always have a little herring and a shot after davening. Do you think it's possible to do the same here?"

To that, Brunhilda entered the room, closed the door, and said, "Rabbi, if you snack on the matjes for about twenty minutes, I will let you finish with a shot."

That afternoon, the Aimishteh came to the Kutzker Ruv in a dream. "Rebbe, how come you were mezaneh with the groissa shiksa this morning?"

"Rebboinoisheloilum," the Kutzker answered, "I am in freaking Scandinavia. I only wanted to have a little Oineg Shabbos."

"Well, next time," Hakkadoshboruchhu said, "just go whale hunting like everybody else around here, and leave the herring and the shot for the shtibul."

So despite having the proper intent, sometimes we can do something that is inappropriate. So my advice to you, Reb Yoinoison, is that while Halacha Lemaisah it might be okay to wear boxers, truth be told, it is not in the spirit of Shabbos. Wearing boxers is not Shabbosdick.

So it is best to stick with briefs. Although if you see an am haaretz wearing boxers, there is no reason to say anything -- since he is not a true Ben Toirah, he probably has small Schvantzlach anyway.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Thursday, January 17, 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
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Parshas Va-Eyrah



Parshas Va-Eyrah

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Va-Eyrah, the Aimishteh commands Moishe Rabbeinu to declare independence from the Egyptians and go to Eretz Yisroel, first and foremost so Am Yisroel can stop paying rent and begin to build up equity in their own homes. Moishe at first refuses, responding that he is an "Arel Sefasayim," someone with "uncircumcised lips."

Chazzal pondered at the meaning of this phrase. Pashut Pshat (the simple explanation) is that Moishe was using a metaphor for being shy and uncomfortable when speaking publicly, and was therefore not the best choice to serve as representative of Klal Yisroel.

On the other hand, a famous Medrish tells us that as a young boy, Moisheh was tested by the Egyptians regarding his greed. To prevent Moishe from being discovered as the future prophet of the global diamond industry, an angel pushed Moishe's hand onto a pile of burning coals. Moishe immediately drew his burnt hand into his mouth, scarring his tongue and leaving him with a speech impediment. (I must tell you -- I spent 6 years of my life trying to figure out this medrish. I imagine that someone must have fallen off an elevated chair dancing at a Chassanah and banged his head on the floor in order to come up with this one.)

According to a Gemarrah in Avoidah Zorah, Rava holds that Moishe is actually referring to the fact that he had a cleft palate. Indeed, Rav Ashi goes even further, suggesting that Moishe was also a hunchback. As proof, Rav Ashi cites a Braisah that says that though formally named "Moishe," his nickname was actually "Quasimodo."

Finally, Reb Hai Goyn suggests that Moishe, using the words "uncircumcised lips," was perhaps referring to certain "experimentation" in college with one of his gentile roommates, if you know what I mean, making him unfit to lead Klal Yisroel. But in the following Possuk (verse), the Reboinoisheloilum immediately made clear his "don't ask don't tell" policy, rendering the whole issue moot.

Beyond this dispute over semantics, there is a fundamental question which arises in this Parsha: If the Aimishteh loved the Jews so much, why didn't He just give us Egypt? We were running the place anyway. The Egyptians could have gone; there were twenty-one other Arab countries waiting to welcome them. And the Jews could have done really well with tour packages to the pyramids.

But instead, it was the Jews who were compelled to leave. Which leads to another, no-less-important, question. Moshe, instead of taking the Jews north, should have gone south. Was Moishe's compass broken, or was he simply suffering from heat stroke? Or did he drink too much at the Kiddush Club that week?

Klal Yisroel could have had the whole continent of Africa. Beautiful beaches, diamond mines, glatt kosher safari tours, giraffe meat in our cholent. But no. Moshe went north, to a desert wasteland. (I swear, sometimes I think that Moishe Rabbeinu's Tfillin were on a little too tight.) So we are now left with this tiny country with little more to offer than ceaseless geopolitical conflict, rampant corruption, and really rude hotel staff. (Thank the Aimishteh for the topless beaches in Eilat or I would never visit.)

And we are trapped in our current dilemma.

But rest assured, we are not the only ones to struggle with these thorny issues. The status of Eretz Yisroel is of course one of the key areas of disagreement between the RAMBAN and the RAMBAM.

According to the RAMBAN: Whoever is the most extreme, right wing, fundamentalist, xenophobic political figure in the country, he's our man. The government -- Labor, Likud, whoever -- they don't know what they're doing. Only by sheer force can we expel all the Arabs, as well as all the leftists and non-religious and anyone else we don't like, in order to build the society Hakkadoshboruchhu always intended. (That would leave about 200,000 people in the country -- which is about all He needs, apparently.)

RAMBAM on the other hand holds farkhert: We should give the Palestinians as much land as viably possible. All our Arab cousins want is a little bit of dignity and a little bit of land, so they can live their lives as we live ours, in harmony, side by side. Then we can develop a common economic zone, open our borders, and hold Israeli-Palestinian dance mixers every Saturday night. (I bid twenty dollars for a slow dance with Fatima, by the way.)

However, thankfully, the RAMBAN and RAMBAM do agree on one critical point. They both hold that in the event that a treaty is signed with an Arab country, a true Ben-Toirah is the first on line to get a visa in order to bring back souvenirs from the Shuk and show pictures to everyone in shul of himself sitting on a camel, visiting a local archaeological dig, and spending time with his new best friend, Fatima. And if he's lucky, she'll have "circumcised lips."

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Daas Toirah



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Daas Toirah


This week’s Shailah comes from a Talmid who uses as much Yiddish as the Satmar Rebbe on acid.

Harav Hagaon Rav Pinky

Whilst discussing Divrei Toyreh I have, on occasion, suggested that our great medieval Meforshim, when composing responsa and commentary on TaNaCh, may well have been influenced by contemporary events impacting Ehrliche Yidden dwelling in Western Europe (e.g. the Crusades, black death, unfair business practices, Shtupping Shikseh maids, etc.) Certain Menuval Rabbonim in my community (whom I do not hold by, Chass V'Shalom) inform me that I am mistaken, and frequently invoke the term "Daas Toirah". I like to think that I am an Erliche, Frimme Yid, but does this not smack of (Chass V'Shalom) Papal infallibility (which I am certain the Goyim must have somehow stolen from us).

A Gitn Shabbos from your Talmid,

Reb Kudish Shmiel


Reb Kudish,

Thank you for your insightful question that gets at the very heart of Yiddishkeit. After all, what else is the heart of our Heilikeh faith than the unfaltering belief in the rulings of our religious leaders, the Gedoilim. Men of wisdom and honor and valor. Men of intuition, able to unerringly answer questions on all topics, informed by their honed minds after studying the words of the Reboinoisheloilum, the teachings of CHAZAL, the lessons of the other Gedoilim, and the extensive library of responsa documented in Igrois Penthouse. Men of an essentially higher moral construct, like Moishe Rabbeinu. Men of a greater character, like Aaroin HaKoihain. Men who are hung like a horse, like Yankif Avinu.

Namely, men like me.

What is Daas Toirah? It is a term that, sadly, is not well known outside of Chassidic and Black Hat circles, unless you are an Ashkenazi real estate developer, a Moroccan mobster or a Gentile basketball player. It is the belief that Rabbis can grant wisdom and guidance with near infallibility on areas outside of the spheres of theology and Toirah scholarship.

What is it that gives the Gedoilim this wisdom? Why, it is the tens of thousands of hours spent studying Toirah, their minds shaped by the purity of the TANACH, the wisdom of the Gemarrah, the holy words of the Rishoinim and Acharoinim, and the mind-numbing-neo-paganism of the Zoihar. Their minds are molded and shaped and perfected by the words and ideas inspired by the Reboinoisheloilum and His pet hamster, Cuddles.

I literally cry for the Minuvals and their Minuveless wives for all of the time wasted consulting doctors and lawyers and financial advisors as they seek guidance, when all they have to do is come to me. My door is always open. Except when it is closed.

Why, just last week I had multiple inquiries from Talmidim asking for my Toirah-inspired guidance:

-- On Sunday, I had a man come to me to ask my advice on his investments. I suggested he buy stock in Artscroll: As soon as the entire country embraces the most ignorant form of Orthodoxy, he will make millions.

-- On Monday I had a woman come to me asking my opinion on whether she should divorce her husband after finding out he was having an affair. I advised her to remain married, but to raise her self esteem by evening the score. I then took her to the back of my 1987 Dodge minivan, tied her up with my Tfillin and Gartel, and practiced Shlugging Kaparois with her in the back seat.

-- On Tuesday I had a Talmid ask me who he should vote for in the Israeli elections – the Likud, Kadima, or HaBayit Hayehudi. I gave him my Psak: I told him to vote for United Toirah Judaism. Why waste money on silly things like defense, national infrastructure and education for the entire country when you can invest in tens of thousands of able bodied adult men studying Toirah all day and having twelve children each?

-- On Wednesday – I was consulted by a couple that is having trouble conceiving a baby, Rachmana Letzlan. I immediately put the woman on a regimen of fertility pills and hormone shots. I had them change their Mezuzahs (lucky I had a few extra lying around…). And I also prescribed that they be Mezaneh while facing Mizrach on Roish Choidesh when it falls out on Moitzee Shabboskoidesh on a Tuesday. When asked if the woman should go to the Mikvah earlier in the week, violating the Rabbinic addition of waiting seven clean days in order to catch her ovulation cycle, I explained that this is a YaHuraig V’Al Yaavor: Better that Klal Yisroel should cease to exist than to Chass V’Sholom be Oiver on this D’Rabbanan.

-- On Thursday I was asked by a Talmid for advice on a real estate deal. I strongly endorsed the opportunity to invest in parking garages in rural residential communities. When the Iranians drop the bomb on us we will all be heading to the hills and will need a place to park.

-- Finally, on Friday I was contacted by two parents who believe that their 12 year old son is being molested by his Rebbe and wanted to know if they should report the Rebbe to the authorities. I told them that they must be wrong: No person who has gone through a Smicha program can possibly be a child molester. It just couldn’t ever, ever happen. Never. And if by some teeny, tiny, miniscule chance the accusation is true, they should tell their son to stop complaining: Once he hits thirty years old he’ll never get that much action again.

-- On Shabboskoidesh, of course, I only responded to questions directly related to Lumdis. Nisht B’Shabbos Garedt, you know.

Some may say that Daas Toirah is dangerously close to the Vatican’s perception of Papal infallibility. Some may say that ascribing near infallibility to any human being runs counter to the Toirah, which portrays Moishe Rabbeinu, Aaroin HaKoihan, and Duvid HaMelech as having been imperfect human beings. Some would suggest that the very essence of the Gemarrah is the notion of debate, which is rooted in a balance between tradition and reason. Some would say that the devastation of the Jews of Europe, including many whose Rabbinic leadership encouraged them not to emigrate, is the greatest proof of Rabbinic fallibility. Some would say that the belief in the infallibility of Rabbis may lead to extreme heresies, including the belief in false messiahs (you know who I’m talking about…). Some would even suggest that the decentralized nature of Klal Yisroel, the lack of a central authority, is in fact one of our greatest elements of strength, encouraging a vibrant social and intellectual culture that is less prone to the corruption enabled by a single bottleneck.

But I say: Anyone who says such Shtuss is a complete ignoramus and we must excommunicate him from our community immediately. Unless he comes to my humble Central Park West apartment, makes a sizeable donation to my Yeshiva, and writes out a large check to the Rubashkin Defense Fund. And then I’ll be happy to offer him my counsel.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Bonus Drasha: Fifty Shades of Toirah



Bonus Drasha: 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
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Parshas Shmois



Parshas Shmois

This week’s Parsha is all about names. Big names and little names. That why it starts with "Ve-eyleh Shmois".

I remember a Rebbe I had in Cheder. He had such a name, Velvel. What kind of name is that? It sounds like a cross between a fabric softener and the latest car from Chrysler.

On the other hand, I was sitting in Shul the other day next to three guys named Brandon, Matthew and Corey. Maybe next week they'll bring their chavrusas Sting, Friar Tuck and Captain Kangaroo.

Names are important. We are told by the Zoihar that in the center of the Reboinoisheloilum's front garden, right next to the bird feeder, sits a tree that determines the names of every member of Klal Yisroel. Every moment that a Jew is born, a leaf blossoms on the tree, and on that leaf is the name of the new soul. Mazel Toiv. And when the leaf gets rained upon, the person is blessed with wealth and happiness. When the leaf dries on the vine, the person is stricken with sadness and melancholy.

And when the leaf falls off the tree, it means his e-mail address somehow gets on a spam list and he will be targeted with offers to refinance the size of his Bris Milah through multi-level marketing and hot shiksas named Amber.

The Zoihar also tells us that when one of these leaves is deformed, it means that the person will have a particularly silly name. Take me for example. My parents, with the best of intentions, gave me the name Pinchas. It sounds a bit like a side dish in a Mexican restaurant. Pinchas, of course, was also the grandson of Aharoin Hacoihain, the Minuval, who when he wasn't making the Eigel was busy rifling through Moishe Rabbeinu's personal effects.

Or, take the name of my bashert, Feige Breina. Silly name, I agree. But in Yiddish it means "can suck a golf ball through a garden hose." Boruch Hashem.

There are names that are acceptable to the Aimishteh: Adam, Aharon, Mark, Chaim, Eric, Josh, Jeff, Lenny, Moishe, Steven, and Shlomo.

Yet there are names that Hakkadoshboruchhu frowns upon: Douglas, Avigdor, Paul, Yerachmiel (too many syllables) and Scott. He especially dislikes transgender names. According to the RIF, the Reboinoisheloilum would rather a Rosheshiva show up to work in a bra and panties than a man should be named Leslie, Rene, or Adrian.

One thousand years ago the Cherem D'Rabbeinu Gershom laws were established, decrees adopted universally by Ashkenazi Jewry. These critical laws are still in place today, including: A man may have only one wife; one should not open up someone else's mail; a man may not divorce a woman without her consent. One of the lesser known decrees of Rabbeinu Gershom was the banning of androgynous names. As proof for his ruling, Rabbeinu Gershom specifically referred to Parshas Shmois. Commenting on the names of Shifra and Pooah, Rabbeinu Gershom suggested that the names of the Hebrew midwives in Egypt have been responsible for three and a half thousand years of gender confusion, which has led to cross dressing, male nurses, and womens’ prayer groups.

If you are not sure about a name, listen to the beginning of Parshas Shmois. That's why it’s called "Names." Reuvain. Shimon. Layvee. Yehudah. Yisaschar. Zevulun. Dun. Naftali. Gad. Asher. Menashe. Ephrayim. Binyamin. The names of the Shvatim, the twelve tribes, are the prototypical masculine names. They carry boldness and confidence, strength and vigor. They elicit images of broad shoulders and large, sweaty muscles. They ring with testosterone. The names are so gevaldik, it actually excites me a little, if you know what I mean.

I think I need to go sit in a nice, cold mikvah.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess