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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Parshas Kee Seesah



Parshas Kee Seesah

This week's seminal parsha features the creation of the Eigel Hazahav by Aron Hakoihain, after Am Yisrael panics when Moishe Rabbeinu doesn't return after receiving the Luchois.

What were these am haratzim thinking? The Rebboinoisheloilum delivers them from Egypt with an outstretched arm, but Moishe hits a little traffic and POOF! "Let's worship Yushka Pandra!"

And Aron Hakoihain, the meshumid, why did he have to go so far as to create the Eigel? If the people needed to rebel, why not start slowly? First, start with some traifus. Maybe a nice lobster. Sure it's a big cockaroach, but in the midbar you take what you can get. Or maybe he should have distributed Skittles or Hostess Twinklies to Klal Yisrael.

But instead, straight to the Eigel. No wonder the Melech-Malchei-Hamlachim wanted to wipe out Klal Yisrael.

However, He chose to spare them.

RASHI quotes a Gemarrah in Sanhedrin that says that instead of striking the minuvals down on the spot, Hakkadoshboruchhu renders the punishment on all subsequent generations of Klal Yisroel. When any generation suffers a punishment, the Shchinah ensures that there will be an added element attributable to the Eigel.

Consequently, in our day, even in times of relative affluence and success, we continue to suffer the Chayt HaEigel. Current sufferings include frigid wives, Macaroons, Kiddush Levanah in the middle of winter, the wait to get into Le Marais on a Sunday night, and the fact that Woody Allen is a Jew.

Yet, despite his aveirah of inciting Klal Yisroel to worship the Eigel, Aron retained the Kehunah. Farvoos?

The common answer among Chazzal is that Aron was a tzaddik who was trying to distract and delay Klal Yisrael. Consequently, it was only natural the he remain in charge of filling the paper towel dispensers, sweeping up, and turning out the lights in the Koidesh HaKedoishim.

But the MAHARAL disagrees, declaring that is a whitewash to say that Aron was really a tzaddik. Says the MAHARAL, this makes about as much sense as waving a live chicken over your head to take away your sins.

Farkert. The MAHARAL feels that Aron was the ultimate Machiavellian figure who had clear aspirations to usurp the position of Moishe Rabbeinu. However, continues the MAHARAL, Moishe was smart enough to see this, and used it to his advantage. Moishe realized that every organization needs both a hero for leadership and vision, and a despot to keep everyone in line and "take the heat". And Moishe used Aron as that despot.

The political machinations are clear. What was the first thing Moishe did when descending from the mountain? He broke the Luchois that the Aimishteh had made with His own two hands. And what did Moishe do next? He recruited Aron and the Leviyim to slaughter 3,000 people. I personally would not have questioned Moishe's breaking the Luchois after that. Neither would you, you mechutzeff!

According to the RADAK, One of Moishe Rabbeinu's great aveiras was his obsession with looking good. Hence, he kept his farbissineh brother around to be his goon. That way he could keep up his good image and capture future book deals and licensing revenues. (I personally have a new Moishe Rabbeinu Chia Pet in my Bais Medrish.)

We can even see signs of Moishe's obsession with image in his discussions with Hakadoshboruchhu. Follwing the Chayt HaEigel, one of Moishe's pleas to prevent the destruction of Am Yisrael is that if the Aimishteh were to destroy Klal Yisrael, the Mitzrm would say that the Jews were delivered from Egypt only to be killed in the desert. In essense, Moshe's argument is: "What will the Goyim say." What will the Goyim say? Since when does a Jew, Moishe Rabbeinu no less, worry about Goyisheh public opinion? Who does he think he is -- Dov Hikind?

I am reminded of a Maisseh Shehoya, when I was a Talmud with my Rebbe, the Farbissineh Rebbe. Many years ago we were travelling by horse and buggy through rural San Francisco to raise money for his Yeshiva. When it became evening, we stopped at a local lodge to eat. "But Rebbe," I asked, "the lodge serves traifus. How can we eat here?" "Sha, you minuval!" the Farbissineh Rebbe patiently responded, "we can eat whatever we want, and then sneak out the door. As long as we don't pay for it there is no aveirah." Years later, the Farbissineh Rebbe recognized that his sin had caused a stinging punishment: He is currently exiled to the wilds of Quebec, not because of eating traifus, but because he didn't order the most expensive items on the menu.

Such is the fate of Moishe. Hitting the rock kept him out of Eretz Yisrael. But the Chayt HaEigel instigated by his minuval brother lost him his copyrights and much associated revenue on the Chamishay Chumshay Torah. Rachmana Litzlan.

Ah gutten Shabbos, you Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On the Performance of Teshuvah



On the Performance of Teshuvah


I come before you with Viduy, confession, for a sin I caused my entire Kehillah.

I was Davening Shacharis for the Amud last week, leading the prayer service in honor of the Yuhrtzeit for my long departed cat Baruch Shepatrani, when, as I was finishing Chatzi Kaddish immediately prior to Shmoineh Esrei, a fly landed on the Shtender at which I was Davening. Instinctively, I smacked hard on the Shtender, killing the fly. Unfortunately, this confused all 250 of my congregants, who as a result all recited Yaaleh VeYavoh, even though it was not Roish Chodesh or any other holiday. After Chazaras HaShatz half of the congregants began reciting Hallel. And ten members of the Kehilla ended up manically running home to build their Sukkahs, even though it is the middle of winter.

I mention this story out of a sense of guilt, guilt for causing the Reboinoisheloilum’s name to be said in vain by the entire Shul.

Guilt is a terrible burden. We are told of Moishe Rabbeinu that “Loi Kum B’Yisroel K’Moishe Oid”, no other person was ever able to achieve the greatness of Moses – The only man who ever saw God “Panim El Panim”, face to face. And yet the guilt associated with a minor transgression, the smiting of a rock instead of talking to it as commanded by the Aimishteh, was enough to keep Moishe out of the Promised Land, as well as deny him full pension benefits and healthcare for life.

Sin and guilt are strong components of our Jewish tradition. Guilt runs deep in the psyche. It is a part of the human experience and cycle of behavior: appreciation of wrongs we have committed, and their implications, in order that we may do Teshuvah, perform penitence for our wrongdoings.

And how does one do penitence?

BiZman SheBais HaMikdash Hayah Kayum, at the time that the Temple stood in Jerusalem, penitence was done through animal sacrifice. Someone would commit a sin – say, be MeChallel Shabboskoidesh, violate the Sabbath – and he would repent by engaging a priest to bring a Karban Chatusssss, a penance offering, on his behalf. He would also customarily tip the priest 20 Zuzim and an Apple I-Tunes gift card.

But after destruction of the Temple when we no longer have animal sacrifice, a man must commit penitence through prayer and fasting and the giving of charity. So, for example, if you, my dear reader, missed Zman Kriyas Shema, you should be Mispallel to Hakadoshboruchhu, fast next Monday, and buy three of my books at (and not the goddamned e-books either).

Bameh Devarim Amurim – When does this apply? When we are dealing with sins that are Bain Udum LaMakoim – sins that trespass on the precepts of the Reboinoisheloilum. Rules, so to speak, that are linked to the religious cult, but have no impact on other human beings. However, when we discuss Bain Udum LeChaveiroi – sins of man against his fellow man -- bringing a Karban or saying a few prayers is not enough. One cannot say “I am sorry” to Hakadoshboruchhu in order to be forgiven for his sins against another human being. That is like engaging in Tashmish HaMitah and not… errr… completing the Makeh BaPatish. It is an incomplete action – woefully inadequate.

A Gemarrah in Baba Kamma describes the formula of payments that one must make in order to compensate for damages to another human being. They are: Nezek, Tza’ar, Ripuy, Shevess, and Boishes – Compensation for 1) the actual physical damage caused; 2) pain and suffering; 3) medical expenses resulting from the damage; 4) the loss of time associated with the recovery; and 5) embarrassment and humiliation. Toisfois suggests that a sixth element should be added – compensation for being forced during recovery to stay home and watch Dr. Phil.

There are of course many types of sins, and many types of sinners. And there are also different kinds of guilt. The RASHBA identifies three kinds of guilt: The guilt of one who commits a crime; the guilt of one who enables a crime; and the guilt of the bystanders who do not help the victim and look the other way, even after the crime has been committed. According to the RASHBA, each of these archetypes must do Teshuvah.

There is a famous Gemarrah in Moed Katan that tells the story of a Maaseh Shehoya in Sura in ancient Babylonia. In the town of Sura, Reb Baruch was known among his Talmidim as a despot. In his Yeshiva, which had both boys and girls, her would violently abuse the boys by, among other things, kicking them in the schvatzlach. And he would sexually abuse the girls, by allegedly grabbing their…ummm…. Double Daked Tzitz, and doing things like going into their purses, pulling out their Nidah rags, and waving them at the boys in an effort to sexually humiliate the girls. He also perpetually used the abusive and foul Aramaic language instead of the Loshon HaKoidesh expected of someone of his stature.

One day Reb Baruch was brought before a Bias Din in which many of his Talmidim testified against him. He was, however, supported by many of the Amoraim, his rabbinical colleagues. He was ultimately exonerated of all of the charges, and the RCB (the Rabbinical Council of Babylon ) declared that , “The Bias Din determined that the overall portrayal of Baruch was false, and that many of the charges were great exaggerated or distorted… In light of the P’Sak of the Bias Din, we, the members of the RCB, wish Rabbi Baruch continued success as Rav and Educator.” Shoyn. What a Kiddush Hashem!

The only problem was that ten years or so later, the Judean Peoples Weekly published an expose on Rabbi Baruch, based on the testimony of many, many former students. An investigation by the Babylonian authorities ultimately led to Rabbi Baruch going to prison for 3 years. So, it turned out, all of the initial allegations against Reb Baruch were in fact true. The original Bias Din was completely mishandled.

The Gemarrah goes on to discuss the culpability and Teshuva of all of the members of the Bias Din and the Amoraim who supported Reb Baruch, as well as the impact of the findings on many of his Talmidim.

Of the members of the Bias Din, Reb Yoisaif did full Teshuvah. He dedicated the rest of his life towards rooting out abuse of children and young adults throughout all of Babylonia. Reb Aaron, upon learning of the tragic error of the Bias Din, expressed extreme regret and died shortly afterwards of a broken heart. And Reb Haman, whom the Gemarrah suggests was allegedly responsible for swaying the initial outcome of the Bias Din, made a public apology after much pressure, and acknowledged that mistakes were made in the trial and that the Bias Din was ultimately flawed since no members of the Bias Din were experts in abuse.

However, Reb Haman was later involved in another controversial Bias Din trial in which he had a personal conflict of interest. In addition, when a new Rosheshiva that he did not approve of was appointed at the Yeshiva in Sura, he led many Talmidim of the Yeshiva in Sura in saying Tehillim. Nice guy. According to a separately Medrish in Vayikra Rabbah, after 120 year, Reb Haman was sent straight to Gehennim, had a large skewer shoved up his male Erva, had an apple stuck in his mouth, and was roasted over a fire for 1600 years and served to Adolph Hitler for Christmas dinner.

The Amoraim, too, varied in their forms of Teshuva. Reb Yossi expressed regret in front of his congregation and oriented his own Yeshiva towards operating in a manner where no abuses would be tolerated. Reb Shmuel allegedly denied any knowledge of the case, even though he was a signatory of the RCB letter and was its Sgan Nasi. According to RASHI, Reb Shmuel had perhaps forgotten his involvement in the case. Maybe he smoked Bsomim every day before Shacharis (Duuuuude)? Otherwise, it would be hard to account for such a memory loss. Finally, Reb Binyamin not only did not do Teshuvah, he opened his home to Reb Baruch for an extended period after Reb Baruch’s conviction, and later performed Reb Baruch’s second marriage. The Medrish in Vayikra Rabbah reports that after 120 years, Reb Binyamin went straight to Gehennim and spent the next 1000 years performing Metzitza BiPeh on syphilitic, uncircumcised Romans.

And what of the Talmidim? Many went on to become the Gedoilim of the next generation, despite their traumas. But some, like Reb Shabtai, lost his faith, and instead of having the joy of learning Toirah all day, was forced to work in a Madison Avenue medical practice and make seven figures every year, Rachmana Litzlan.


Rabboisai, Klal Yisroel, and in particular Klal Yisroel in America, is going through its Catholic Church moment: All elements of the Orthodox community, from the Chassidic community on one end of the spectrum to the Modern Orthodox community on the other end, are being inundated by reported cases of sexual abuse of minors. But instead of confronting this scourge, much of the community continues to ignore it and has entered into a “circle the wagons” mentality, perhaps to protect their friends, perhaps to protect their institutions. Even the great Yeshiva University, which holds itself up as the paragon of modern thought, is hesitant to publicize an internal investigation about two of its former faculty, and as a result is on the brink of losing what little credibility it has left on this issue. Without casting the light of day on ALL the details, on identifying the guilty, on encouraging victims to step forward, there is no real Teshuvah.

And what of the victims --those who have stepped forward, and the many who have remained in the shadows? Where is their Nezek, Tza’ar, Ripuy, Shevess and Boshess? And even worse, what of the future victims? For sexual abusers of minors are serial predators, and every abuser left teaching in a classroom or working in a camp or other such institution is always seeking out more victims.

Rabboisai, a community and a Rabbinate that does not change its behaviors is a community and a Rabbinate that has not done real Teshuvah. They can Klop as many Al Chayts as they want. They can recite Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Dibarnu Dofi from today until tomorrow, but the Reboinoisheloilum will be as deaf to them as they are to the cries of the past and future victims. They can keep Shabbos and Daven three times a day and keep kosher and say as many Brachois as they want and learn Toirah Yoimum VaLailah – day and night -- but they are simply reciting Hakadoshboruchhu’s name in vain.

And as a result, like Moishe Rabbeinu, they too will never truly reach the Promised Land.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.


For those who are asking “What can I do?” here are a few ideas:

-- Contact the rabbi of your local synagogue and ask him/ her to call upon President Richard Joel of Yeshiva University to publish the findings of the current investigation in their entirely.

-- Contact the leaders of every Jewish movement, including Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Lubavitch, Satmar, etc. and ask them to speak up about the issue of sexual abuse in their communities. Communicate that sexual predators have the Halacha of Rodeph, and that the concern for Mesirah does not apply. We do not live in the Middle Ages. There is no excuse for cover ups. And anyone engaged in a cover up should be held accountable for the crime.

-- If you are a donor to any of these institutions, consider withholding any funding until a policy of transparency, support for victims, and collaboration with the authorities is put into place.

-- Parents: Please demand that your childrens’ schools do background checks on all school employees, including finger printing. If there is a credible suspicion or allegation about any teacher, that teacher must immediately be put on leave and out of contact with children. And appropriate legal authorities must be notified.

-- Every Orthodox (and non-Orthodox) Jewish school should have a program like the Aleinu Child Safety Institute’s Safety Kid program, and every Jewish camp should institute a program like the Aleinu Safe Camp program. For more information, go to

-- Additional resources may be found at

-- Finally, if you are personally aware of a case of abuse, please report it to the legal authorities as soon as possible. If the crime is beyond the statute of limitations, and the predator is in a position of access to children, please report the case to his employers. If they are unresponsive, please bring the case to the responsible Jewish media.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess


Thursday, February 07, 2013

Parshas Mishpatim



Parshas Mishpatim

This week’s Parsha, Parshas Mishpatim, is my favorite Parsha in Kol HaToirah Kooloh. It has everything: Laws, holidays, oxen, Moishe teaching Toirah, big feasts of Israelite elders, slaves with earrings, and men seducing hot Israelite virgins. And all of this culminates with the famous commitment of Klal Yisroel, “Kol Asher Dibber Hashem NaAseh VeNishmah” – “Whatever the Lord spoke we will do and we will listen.” Mamesh, with this kind of excitement, who needs YouTube or the Superbowl?

Of course, the Parsha is quite detailed and features many, many shailahs asked by Chazzal after drinking double espressos at Starbucks while waiting for their wives to come back from their weekly visits to the sheitelmacher.

One key question focuses on the collection of laws in the Parsha. In a Gemarrah in Brachois, Rav Huna asks: Why are all of the laws in this Parsha delivered in a seemingly random order? Laws about slaves lead to oxen, followed by ethical rulings (i.e. the treatment of widows) and religious injunctions (warnings sprinkled throughout against the worshipping of other deities). What’s Pshat?

In answer, Rav Chisda cites a Medrish that suggests that the jumbled order of the Mitzvois is related to the rambling discussions between Moishe Rabbeinu and Hakkadoshboruchhu as they… err… were enjoying some exotic bsomim they bought from a Bedouin in Sinai. Notes the Medrish, the whole time they were writing down the laws they were giggling non-stop and snacking on six boxes of Entenmann’s doughnuts while listening to Led Zeppelin in the background.

However, Rabbi Chananya holds farkhert. Chass V’Sholom Moishe Rabbeinu and the Reboinoisheloilum were using illegal substances! Rather, he brings down a Braisah that suggests that the Aimishteh suffers from ADHD. As proof, the Braisah notes the fact that the Jews, Hakkadoshboruchhu’s “Chosen People”, have been cast across the world for 2,000 years and, despite Divine promises, have never been able to settle down in one place for very long. Shoyn.

The RAMBAM asks an altogether different, and more disturbing, question. Noting the similarities between the laws in Parshas Mishpatim and many of the social and economic laws in ancient Near Eastern legal codes such as The Code of Hammurabi, the RAMBAM asks, “If these sets of laws are so similar, how can we believe that the Toirah is Divine and was in fact given to Klal Yisroel on Har Sinai?”

Commenting on this question, the Ibn Ezra suggests that, quote, “The RAMBAM is a total mechutziff, and if he were here today, I would Hakheh his Shinuv!” The Ibn Ezra goes on to protest that “Of course the Toirah is Divine. Look, the Goyim certainly copied these laws from us, just like the Muslims copied our prohibition on eating pork and the Pope copied our Yarmulkas. So what if Hammurabi lived 500 years before Moishe Rabbeinu? He undoubtedly used an ancient time machine to travel to the future and plagiarize the Toirah!” As proof he cites a Possuk from Sefer Dianetics, Parshas L. Ron Hubbard.

However, the RAMBAN suggests that the laws in Mishpatim were actually later added to the Toirah by “R”, also referred to by scholars as the Biblical “Redactor”, as he edited the final version of Shmois while in exile in Babylon. The RAMBAN also suggests that the entire story of the Bnei Yisroel crossing the Yam Suf was actually a source text that originally came from “S”, also known in Biblical Criticism circles as “Surfer Dude”, who is believed to have lived in Eastern Hawaii around 1700 BCE.

The MAHARAL disagrees, insisting that these laws were indeed written down by Moishe on Har Sinai. However, he holds that Moishe was acting at the suggestion of the Reboinoisheloilum who told him, “They are an Am Kshey Oiref. Please make up some laws that will keep them out of trouble.” But because of tight deadlines, Moishe did not have time to write new laws, and instead copied these laws off the Internet as “filler”.

Finally, the Vilna Goyn denies that there is any linkage whatsoever between Parshas Mishpatim and the Code of Hammurabi and other ancient Near Eastern legal codes. As an example, he points to the “seeming” similarities between the following:

-- The Toirah: “If men are fighting and one hurts a pregnant woman so that her fetus comes out, yet no harm follows, he shall be punished according to the will of the husband, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay a life for a life…”(Shmois, Perek Chuff Aleph, Possuk Chuff Baiz-Chuff Gimmel)

-- An ancient Near Eastern legal code: “If… strikes the daughter of a man and causes her to lose her fetus, he shall weigh and deliver thirty shekels of silver. If she dies, that man shall be killed” (Laws of Lipit Ishtar, ca 1930 BCE)

Says the Gruh, “Hey, these are common scenarios that any society would contemplate. I already accidentally caused the spontaneous abortion of three fetuses this morning alone!”

Perhaps the most fundamental question that we can ask about Parshas Mishpatim is how we should relate to these laws in our day. After all, so many of the Toirah’s rules reflect a different era, with different material concerns, social pressures and sensibilities. Do you and I have an ox? (To be honest, my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, has on more than one occasion told me that I am “hung like a buffalo”. Kenaiyna Harrah.) Do we have slaves, Jewish or otherwise? As best verbalized by the Pri Megadim, “Parshas Mishpatim tells us that we should not charge interest and that we should worry about the widow and the orphan, and twice states that we should not abuse the stranger that is in our land because ‘we were once strangers in the Land of Egypt.’ The next thing you expect the Aimishteh to do is raise taxes! Has He gone mad?”

The Tzitz Eliezer answers this question by suggesting that Moishe actually proposed these laws during an election year, but never had any intention of enforcing them. However, they were ultimately left in the Toirah as part of a budgetary compromise package with the Speaker and the Majority Leader of the Anshe Knessess HaGedoilah. And therefore we just have to live with them.

However, the Schvantz Mordechai suggests that these laws were put into place in order to address the disturbing shidduch crisis. If Klal Yisroel were to accept the presence of strangers in the land, the poor, etc., then there would be many more men available to marry Klal Yisroel’s growing number of educated, frum, unmarried women who are over-the-hill at the age of twenty-two.

I am reminded of a famous Moshal. There was once a king who lived on a very small plot of land. When his son grew old enough, he arranged a marriage with the zaftig princess of a neighboring kingdom because her father owned “great tracts of land.” But when his son refused to marry the girl next door, he disowned him, and adopted a local pauper, who was delighted to marry the princess and be in line to inherit a great kingdom. When asked how he could disregard his own genetic offspring, he answered, “I make the rules here. If my son doesn’t like it, he should start his own damn kingdom!”

Such is the nature of our special Bris with Hakkadoshboruchhu. Sure, some of these laws make no sense whatsoever, and you feel like a total schmuck doing them. But by subordinating your will to the Word of the Reboinoisheloilum, you demonstrate your faith and allegiance to Him. You demonstrate that His word is timeless, and rises above the day to day considerations of, so-called, modernische society. And you also give Him something to laugh about when He is off getting stoned with Moishe Rabbeinu.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.