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Monday, March 25, 2013

Pesach Drasha



Pesach Drasha


I am preparing this Drasha as I pack for my departure to serve as the officiating rabbi on a Pesach vacation. After resisting many such offers for years – hotels in the Catskills, Florida, Arizona, Cancun, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and Antarctica, I was asked to fill in for a colleague on one of these Pesach getaways. My good friend, Rabbi Shloimee Glandolowitzberg, was committed to a venue, but had to cancel at the last minute because he had something caught in his throat. So I will now serve as the official rabbi on the Roy Cohn Kosher LePeysach Gay Cruise to the Greek islands.

Strangely, the organizers have suggested that I come without my Basherte, Feigeh Breinah, insisting that I will have a lot more fun that way. So she will be with the Kinderlach and Einiklach, while I sacrifice by bringing Toirah to a community of Erlicheh Yidden. Indeed, I had originally declined the offer, since I was planning to be in Eretz Yisroel for Yuntif. I explained to the organizers that Pesach is Klal Yisroel’s celebration of exiting Egypt and traveling to Eretz Yisroel, which, as the Toirah tells us, is “Eretz Zuvass Chuluv U’Dvash”, “a land flowing with milk and honey”. But they responded that the cruise will be quite similar: It will be flowing with something that looks like milk, and something else that almost has the texture of honey, but comes out of a tube. I do not know what they mean, but I look forward to being Mekayaim a new Mitzvah!

In addition, they told me that there were some additional Minhagim on the annual cruise that I would find interesting. Apparently, instead of dipping only two times – Ein Mol In Zatlz Vasser, Un Ein Mol in Charoisess – they dip a third time, after the Afikomen and Chad Gad Yuh, and suggested that I might enjoy it. Again, I am not familiar with such a Minhag; perhaps it is a Sephardic custom. But I can certainly appreciate the Mesiras Nefesh of maintaining a local Minhag.

Pesach is a time of different behaviors and liturgy and cuisine. We spend more time preparing for Pesach that we do actually celebrating it. Great credit goes to our wives for their commitment to creating Butey Ne’eman BaYisroel, good Jewish homes. In my own home, my wife takes charge of all of the Pesach preparation. She does all the planning. She does all the shopping. And even if she does not do all of the cleaning herself, she makes certain it is all completed. What a Tzadeykess! I knew last Moitzee Shabbos she was preparing to turn the entire kitchen over for Pesach when, immediately after Havdalah, she began ironing her Gestapo uniform. By the time we had Kashered the stove, the sink, and the counters, put all the Chometz dishes away, and brought down all of the Pesach dishes from the attic, I was ready to throw myself against a electrified barbed wire fence.

But, as we know, Pesach is not simply a personal or a family celebration. It is a communal one. Ashrenu that in our generation we can embrace Pesach in a way that previous generations could not. Why, a hundred years ago our great grandparents certainly had Matzoh, Marror, wine and Charoisess. Perhaps they had a little chicken or meat, some potatoes and eggs, and if their were Misnagdim, Kneidlach. Our grandparents and parents may have already had some semblance of Koisher LePesach cakes and cookies. But we in our generation have a much greater variety of choices. Koisher LePesach mustard. Koisher LePesach rolls. Koisher LePesach beer. And my favorite: Koisher LePesach breakfast cereal. During the rest of the year we make do with all of the Goyyishe cereals, as long as they have a proper Hashgacha, of course. But on Pesach we are Zoicheh to eat breakfast cereals that are made Lishmah, expressly for Zman Chayruseinu. My favorite is Sugar Frosted Kikee-Ohs, although my Einikel Binyamin Soirer U’Moireh loves Choco Aleph Baizes.

It is an ironic thing, of course: These cereals cost $28 a box before Pesach, but the day after Pesach the stores cannot give them away. I heard that last year the local Toimchei Shabbos was collecting unopened Pesach food for the poor: Cans, Matzoh, cocoanut covered marshmallows, etc., but had a big sign on their collection bin, “No Kosher For Passover Cereals, Please. Our Recipients May Be Needy, But They Are Not THAT Desperate”.

But what we have done in our generation is not that different from the actions of our predecessors. “B’Chol Dor VaDor Chayuv Udum Lirois Ess Atzmoh Ke’Iluh Hoo Yutzuh MiMitzrayim.” “In every generation, a person is required to view himself as if he (himself) escaped from Egypt.” The strength of our tradition has been the ability of our nation to seek relevance in each generation and make the Yuntif, and the ideas it represents, “their own”. Sometimes those additions have resulted in additional guidelines and restrictions that we find a source of annoyance, such as Kitniyois. Sometimes those additions have added strictures that many of us ignore, such as Gebruchs. And sometimes those additions have made Jewish lives so intolerable that CHAZAL had to find a back door to nullify their impact, such as Chometz She-Avar Uluv Al HaPesach, which led to the institution of Mechiras Chometz, symbolic selling of Chometz to a Gentile.

Like with so many other examples in Yiddishkeit, every generation and every community has left its mark on our grand tradition. In doing so, we do not abandon the notion of the Divine to the distant, irrelevant, somewhat unknowable past, but seek to embrace the Divine in our own lives. We pursue active engagement with the Reboinoisheloilum to satisfy our own spiritual cravings, as well as to have an excuse to take a few days off from work at the beginning of Spring.

I am reminded of a Ma’aseh Shehoya. One year the Vilna Goyn was leading the Seder at his Yeshiva, surrounded by his family and hundreds of his Talmidim. He had just made Kiddush on the first cup of wine and began to recite the Hagaddah, “Kol Dichfin Yaysay V’Yaychol, Kol Ditzrich Yaysay V’Yifsach”, “All who are hungry should sit down and eat; all who are needy should sit down and partake of the Karban Persach.” At that point, a homeless man dressed in tattered clothing entered the Yeshiva dining room and pulled up an empty chair to the table.

“Sir, what do you think you are doing?” asked the Gruh.

“Well, Mr. Goyn, I am hungry and needy, and I am taking up your offer to join your Seder” responded the man.

“Schmuck!”, the Goyn screamed, “Do you think I really mean this stuff that was written over 1,500 years ago? Next thing you know, you will expect me to believe that 600,000 people left Egypt! How the hell could 600,000 males, plus their families, live in the desert for forty years?! What were the Jews, a group of people, of a bunch of camels?!!”

At that point the vagrant revealed himself to be Eliyahu HaNavi. “Reb Goyn”, he said, “you are indeed wise. The miracles did not really happen the way the Toirah and Hagaddah describe, but we celebrate them anyway, to give meaning to our everyday lives. But you have rejected someone genuinely in need, and for that you will be punished by being known throughout history as a heartless Misnagid who has about as much spirit in him as a twice squeezed lemon has juice.” The man then took away all of the Afikoman presents left under the tree and left the building.

That night, the Goyn was very disturbed. He was wrought with guilt and confusion. Finally, Hakadoshboruchhu came to him in a dream. “Goyn, what is the problem?” He asked.

“Your messenger Eliyahu HaNavi showed me tonight what a selfish person I am, and told me I will be punished for all eternity as a result.”

The Aimishteh laughed a hearty laugh. “Goyn, that was no Eliyahu HaNavi! That was the Baal Shem Toiv playing a practical joke on you. He even took all of your Afikoman Tchatchkees to sell in order to buy vodka for his followers.”

“You mean I am not punished?!!” asked the Goyn, relieved.

“Well, you are a cold Misnagid. That is punishment enough, since you can only see what is in front of you. But I guarantee that the Baal Shem Toiv is also punished, since he can only look under the surface and cannot see obvious truths in front of him. Until you learn to live together, you will both be lost.”

Excitedly, the Goyn asked, “And at that point, will we be Zoicheh to witness the Geulah Shelaymah?”

“Well, not exactly. But your respective descendants will happily go on Gay cruises together.” With that the Reboinoisheloilum departed the dream, and went off to visit with some worshipers at a Hindu temple.

So every generation finds new ways to instill spiritual meaning and relevance. For one generation, it was Kitniyois. For another, it was Gebruchs. For countless others, it was the development of new creative recipes and additions to the Pesach liturgy. And for some in our day, it is the recreation of “a land flowing with milk and honey”, hopefully using proper precautions, if you know what I mean. Ashrenu that in our generation Klal Yisroel can embrace Pesach in ever more creative ways!

Ah Zissen Yuntif, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Friday, March 22, 2013

On and Off The Derech



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
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Friday, March 15, 2013

BONUS DRASHA: Ask Rabbi Pinky: Searching for Divine Wonders on Shabbos Koidesh



BONUS DRASHA: Ask Rabbi Pinky: Searching for Divine Wonders on Shabbos Koidesh

This week’s Shailah comes from a Minuval Talmid living in the great community of London, a place where classical Koisher British cuisine is only rivaled by the succulent creativity of Indian and Pakistani feasts, with their delectable mélange of diverse flavors and odors that recall what the Bais Hamikdash must have smelled like every week before Shabbos Koidesh.

Harav Hagoin Reb Pinky

I have a question none of the Menuval Rabbonim in Golders Green can answer (they keep saying it’s Assur – whatever that means), and I’m sure with all your learning you’d be able to help.

My Bashert “Yentyl with the Groisse Boobellech” bought me Eppes a Moderne Sach called a “Kindle”, something that helps you read. She bought it for me for a Hailiger St. Valentine’s Yomtiff present. My question is, am I allowed to read from it or to surf porn on Shabbos Koidesh, Rachmana Litzlan?

Please help me.

Your Talmid

Reb Mordechele


Oy, Reb Mordechele, I am so pleased and honored that you have graced me with this Shailah which your local Moireh D’Asra is not equipped to address. A chicken with a nick in its neck, he can handle. (“Traiffus!”) A psak on Nidah, he can deliver. (“No soup for you, two weeks!”) Even a complex understanding of Toirah, he can interpret. (“How is it that Avraham Avinu served his guests milk, butter and freshly slaughtered meat at the beginning of Parshas VaYayrah? Why, the milk was soy of course, and the butter was Pareve margarine!”)

But your Shailah calls for a more nuanced understanding of the roots of Halacha, and requires deep insight into the human condition. So who else could you reach out to besides me? After all, it was I who advised Sir Paul McCartney to once again marry a Jew, if only because her proud heritage and professional stature enable her to stand on her own two feet.
In any case, to address this question, we must break the Shailah down into its commensurate parts:

-- Shabbosh Koidesh – Can electricity be used?

-- Pornography – Is this a mortal sin, or a reward for putting in a long day at the office?

But first I must ask you a simple question about this St. Valentine’s Yuntif – Is this a Yuntif identified by the Gemarrah? I am not familiar with it. Is it from the Rishoinim? But they were too busy running from the Crusaders to declare a new holiday. So I guess this must be a Sephardic Minhag of which I am not aware. I am not sure why they would have created a Yuntif named after a mediocre Major League Baseball manager. But Nisht Gerferlech. Ah Gutten Yuntif to you!

(Of course, you are British and will not understand the reference to American baseball. Suffice it to say – It is a sport like cricket, only an individual game [match] lasts two hours instead of two days. It’s kind of like the difference between a quick Mussaf, and a Chazzan who Dreys on and on and on until you pray to Hakadoshboruchhu to open up the ground underneath your feet like He did with Koirach, Yemach Shemoi, so that the suffering can end already. So there is a much lower level of Tircha DeTzibburah. Shoyn.)

So your Zaftig Bashert wife purchased for you a Kindle, Eppis. On the one hand, you are concerned that this device runs on electricity, and may be Assur DeRabbanan to use on Shabbos Koidesh. On the other hand, the device itself is called a Kindle, and, of course, Licht Benchen, kindling candles in honor of Shabbos, is a Dioraisa. So certainly a Dioraisa outweighs a DeRabbanan. So Avadah, what greater Mitzvah can you possibly have than using a Kindle on Shabbos Koidesh?

Next, we must address the Shailah of pornography. There is a famous Machloikess in Masechess Baba Kama Sutra between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel on whether a Jew may look at pornography. According to Bais Shammai, pornography is never permitted, unless someone is located in a prison with a bunch of other men, in which case pornography is considered to be for “medicinal purposes”. But according to Bais Hillel, pornography is always permitted. The Gemarra goes onto explain: “Bameh Devarim Amurim?”, “When were these words said?”, when discussing a married man. But “Kooley Alma Loi Pligi”, everyone agrees”, that an unmarried man may look at pornography all day and all night. According to Rav Sheshess, “Toirah Loi BaShamayim Hee, You can try to make it Assur, but no one is going to listen to you anyway. So why bother.”

The Gemarra further cites the reasoning of Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. Says Rav Pappa, the reason that Bais Shammai holds that a married man may not look at pornography is because it might lead him to be Moitzee Zerah LeVatalah, it might lead him to spill his seed outside of coitus, Chass V’Sholom.

However, says Rav Pappa, Bais Hillel holds Farkhert “out of respect for marriage”. What does this mean? Rav Pappa says a beautiful Vort: When a newly married couple is alone in the same room, they see each other’s physical beauty, and they have a Taivah to engage in marital relations. It is a Mitzvah, and an enactment of the will of the Aimishteh. However, after a man and woman are married for twenty years, when they look at one another, they do not see each others’ physical beauty, even when their looks have been preserved. The man and woman look at each other and see the person whose flatulence they have smelled every night for the last twenty years. They look at one another and see tuition bills, tax bills, credit card bills, the upcoming Bar Mitzvah bills, bills for replacing the roof, car lease bills, wedding bills not too far in the distance, etc. They see aging, infirm parents and rebellious teenagers. They see the schmuck across the street doing construction, and the putz up the block who leases a new Lexus every two years.

So if looking at pornography helps a man forget his current woes and returns the Taivah for his wife, if only for six minutes or so, then it is not only NOT Assur, but it is a Mitzvas Asey SheHazman Grammah. (It goes without saying, of course, that since looking at pornography is a Mitzvas Asey SheHazman Grammah, women are exempt from this Mitzvah, and while their husbands are surfing porn on the Internet, women should be reciting Tehilim , baking rugelach, or being Mafrish Challah.)

Now I know that some of my Talmidim, the stubborn pain-in-the-ass ones, will not be convinced by my Psak. For them, they see Halacha through a black and white filter. So I would like to illustrate the flexibility of the Gedoilim in applying Halachic rulings to modern day problems. Yiddishkeit, of course, is not Roman Catholicism; ours is not a religion with a central doctrine filtered through an infallible Pope. Rather, Yiddishkeit is a decentralized structure in which legitimate Rabbinic figures may have differing opinions and Halachic positions, and yet they continue to coexist as a singular cohesive Klal Yisroel.

So let us look at the different approaches taken to address a not-uncommon challenge in everyday life. As we all know, one may not tear toilet paper on Shabbos Koidesh because of a Toldah of Koirayah. But what does one do if he forgets to tear toilet paper on Shabbos and does not have any tissues?

According to the Tzitz Eliezer, in such an instance one may tear toilet paper because of Kvoid HaBriyois, out or respect for the human dignity of the individual.

According to the Schvantz Mordechai, one must not tear the toilet paper, but may use the toilet paper without tearing it, depositing the soiled toilet paper in the toilet without tearing it off of the unused roll. Indeed, there is a famous Maiseh Shehoya about the Schvantz Mordechai. One Shabbos Koidesh, in his home in Bnei Brak, the Schvatz Mordechai forgot to set aside tissues or pre-cut toilet paper. When he woke up on Shabbos morning, he had to… ummm… do his morning Asher Yatzar. Since he did not have pre-cut toilet paper, he used the regular toilet paper, but did not remove the soiled toilet paper from the roll. But he also forgot to discard the paper in the toilet. So after redressing , he walked to Shul, inadvertently dragging along a 200 foot Charmin tail.

Because of this risk, there are a number of Gedoilim who in principle do not use either toilet paper or tissues on Shabbos Koidesh.

Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah goes outside to relieve himself, and has one of his Talmidim clean up after him.

Reb Yoisaiph Katsky, on the other hand, has a designated private area in his home where he goes to relieve himself, and his Drek is cleaned up after Shabbos Koidesh.

Reb Betzalel Kupkayk goes outside to relieve himself in obscure places, so that no one should Chass VeSholom step in his filth.

Finally, the Pooper Ruv occasionally relieves himself in obscure places in other peoples’ homes, much to the dismay of the Chief Rabbi’s family. VeHamayvin Yavin.

In other words, there is room for debate within Yiddishkeit. Ours is a religion of tolerance. So while your Ruv in Golders Green may not permit the use of a Kindle on Shabbos Koidesh, you should proudly use it for Oineg Shabbos, if only to prepare you for six minutes or so of Oilum Habbah with your Bashert “Yentyl with the Groisse Boobellech”.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

A Few Thoughts On Pesach Preparation



A Few Thoughts On Pesach Preparation

(Shamelessly lifted from my Pulitzer Prize winning Drasha on Parshas Emor)

Why do we prepare so intensively for Pesach? According to Rabeinu Tam, we commemorate slavery in Egypt by spending six hours marching up and down the stairs to the attic to bring down the Pesach dishes while our wives stand over us barking orders (those amharatzois).

Meanwhile, rachmana litzlan, our wives absolutely exhaust themselves watching the cleaning lady prepare for Pesach.

The RAMBAM in Mishnah Torah asks an incisive question: Instead of selling our chametz to a goy, why can't we just temporarily sell our religion to a goy? This way, he can have the opportunity to get the mitzvah of celebrating Yetzias Mitzrayim, while we get to eat a little traifus, paint easter eggs, and have relations with a hot shiksa for seven days (eight days in Chutz La'aretz). But the RAMBAM concludes that if a goy had to eat Matzah for eight days, he would end up hating the Jews even more than he already does.

In truth, why do we stop our Pesach cleaning at our abode and our cars? A Gemarrah In Masheches Peshachim daff chuff aleph, amud baiz asks: Why don't we clean out our bodies of the Chometz we pump into them 51 weeks a year? Indeed, Rav Ashi holds that this is the reason that bechorim fast Erev Pesach, and that to get the full mitzvah, people should stick their finger's down their throats during bedikas chometz.

But further in the Gemarra, Rav Yosi disagrees, saying that since the food is already eaten, we hold that food cannot be eaten a second time, so there is no such requirement. However, Rav Yosi does go on to tell a story of how one year he told his wife that he needed her help cleaning for Pesach, since halacha required him to expel ALL possible bodily fluids. And due to her extreme gullibility, she helped him three times that night. What an Aishess Chayill. Unfortunately, he slept through much of the seder the next night, so he never dared to do it again.

My personal belief is that celebrating Yetzias Mitzrayim is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with the einiklach. Beyond cleaning, you get the mitzvah of preparing the matzois and the ka'arah. During the Seder you are unified with all of Klal Yisroel in celebration. And after the Seder, while cleaning up, you lament the fact that your damn mother-in-law wasn't accidentally left in Mitzrayim.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess


Thursday, March 07, 2013

Parshas Pikudei



Parshas Pikudei

In this week's parsha, Pikudei, the Toirah tells us that the Eiphod made by Am Yisroel was knitted out of gold thread, Techailess, Argomon, scarlet yarn, and fine linen. (In fact I'm ready to convert to Yushka after all this Mishkan talk the last few weeks.) However, what is unusual is the rather graphic description of how the golden thread was manufactured. An obvious question arises: Why does the Toirah bother to tell us the graphic details of how to make the thread? Does the Aimishteh expect me to do this in my spare time? I can barely fold up my tallis by myself!

A gemara in Baba Basra discusses this and says that the Toirah uses this language to stress the male role in the Mishkan. If I only knew that there was sewing involved, I would have assumed that women had a critical role in preparations of the Mishkan. But since the possuk tell of "beating the gold...cutting it...working like a craftsman," I know that the real labor was done by men. Real men, who wore tallis and tefillin, learned sixteen hours a day, and still found time to work hard and make a living. The women simply had to do a little weaving, and didn't even get a mitzvah, since they were talking about reality TV the whole time. Shoyn.

But Maseches Bayuh (Baitzuh) brings down a medrish which offers a more complete version of the possuk. According to the medrish, as the Jews beat the gold, they developed a spool of thread that was long enough to circle the earth seven times. However, the amount of thread needed for all the sewing in the Mishkan was the length of one time around the earth. So what happened to the vast majority of the thread? Rav Chiyah holds that Aron Hakoihain, the minuval, used it for the Eigel Hazohov. But Rav Ashi holds that Aron embezzled it, using half to start a carpet business, and depositing the other half in a secret Babylonian bank account.

The Kutzker Rebbe had a beautiful interpretation of this possuk. The Kutzker would often tell his followers that we learn from this possuk that no matter how poor you are, even if you are a nomad living in the desert, you have to spend as much money as you possibly can to look better than your neighbors. If they wear Pierre Cardin, you wear Ralph Lauren. If they eat chicken on Shabbos, you eat roast beef. If they add on an extra room to their house, you knock down your own house and build the largest house on the block.

However, this possik remind me of a maiseh shehoya. Many years ago my more free spirited daughter, Bracha Levatalah, was knitting a yarmulkah for the goalie of the local yeshiva hockey team. I said to her, "Brachaleh, voos iz givehn a yarmulkah foon de shaygitz? First he will take the yarmulka, then he'll try to take your bisulta!" She then assured me that while this was the first yarmulka she was knitting for him, she had already made yarmulkas for six other members of the team.

Very troubled, I called my Rebbe, and told him I was concerned my daughter was becoming a pupke. He pointed out a story in the Zohar about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who felt that because he had seven daughters, each married to a great tzaddik, he was like a four cornered garment without tzitzis on it. This is understood to mean that any Ruv who does not have at least one promiscuous daughter has not ignored his family enough and has therefore not adequately met the needs of his congregants.

Happily, I returned home and asked my Bashert to make sure that my daughter went to live in the Stern College dorms, where she could put out as much as she wants without getting my neighbors talking.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess