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Friday, July 26, 2013

Parshas Eikev



Parshas Eikev

Rabboisai, I hope you have been saving up your money, because after this week's parsha, Parshas Eikev, you are probably going to need to spend some quality time with your analyst. That is because in Parshas Eikev, Moishe Rabbeinu reminds Klal Yisroel of all of their misdeeds in the desert: from complaining about desert conditions -- to the Eigel Hazahav, the Golden Calf -- to the Miraglim, the rebellion against the conquest of the Promised Land -- to the refusal to pay brokers' fees for the tent dwellings in the wilderness. The threat, as Moishe states, is that if Klal Yisroel doesn't behave, the Aimishteh will withhold rain from falling.

The Yayin Mevushal points out that this Parsha is the basis for the Kabbalistic view of Hakkadoshboruchu and Am Yisroel as being soul mates in an erotic male/ female relationship, with the Aimishteh designated the masculine role. He sophomorically notes that the Parsha clearly equates a long, indulgent build up of the Rebboinoisheloilum's happiness and satisfaction with an occasional liquid emission released from the sky.

Building upon this line of thought, the ARI ZAHL suggests that the male/ female dynamic is actually meant to be a husband/wife relationship. And pointing at this Parsha, he suggests that the frequent threats made by the Aimishteh against Klal Yisroel prove that He is a chronic wife abuser.

In a famous Gemarrah in Soitah, Rav Shayshess asks in the name of Rav Hamnuna in the name of Rav: Why does the Aimishteh always have to threaten Klal Yisroel-- why can't He simply emphasize the positive? Abaya responds that Moishe and the Reboinoisheloilum actually liked to tag team as good guy/ bad guy, based on something they once saw on an old episode of CSI. He suggests that the real reason Moishe was not allowed into Eretz Yisroel was that Hakkadoshboruchhu preferred to always play the bad guy role and didn't want to take turns.

However, Rava vehemently disagrees and suggests that Abaya should spend more time learning Toirah and less time watching cable television. Rava suggests that Hakkadoshboruchhu feels compelled to remind Klal Yisroel of their wrongdoing because of their damned short memory. They pray for emancipation, yet quickly forget the evils inflicted by the Egyptians prior to the Exodus. They pray for a Bais Hamikdash, but forget how when it stood it was a platform for abuse. They pray for a return of Malchus Bais Dovid, the Davidic monarchy, though forget how it was often a platform for corruption and idol worship.

Look at your own life, you worthless minuval. You pray for health, yet abuse your body. You pray for rain, then you complain about it. You pray for a loving, kind wife, yet would gladly give up an arm to be mezaneh with your hot shiksa secretary. You pray for peace and unity among all the Jewish People, yet the only people you hate more than Hamas and Ahmadinejad are that guy who sits two rows ahead of you at shul and that bitch two blocks away who wears tight jeans and a shaytl.

I am reminded of a maiseh shehoyo. I was recently traveling through the shtetl in Minneapolis, sharing Divrei Toirah for a nominal honorarium of 5000 dollars a speech, plus expenses. That Friday night, I found myself offering a vort at the local Conservative Synagogue. As I stood at the Bimah, I looked down at a congregation filled with women with yarmulkas and women sitting next to men, while behind me on the Bimah sat a female Rabbi and Cantor.

Upon my return to the Yeshiva, I mentioned my shock and horror to my rebbe, Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser, regarding the gross violations of modesty and the reversal of gender roles. He replied that we should not look upon the Conservative Movement with contempt; rather, we should view all of its congregants with love, as indeed we are all brothers and sisters, members of the tribe of Klal Yisroel, who standing together, side by side, received the Toirah from the Reboinoisheloilum at Har Sinai, and are forever united by that cosmic experience.

And, in his soft spoken voice, he added that if anything, we should feel pity, since they will all burn in the eternal fires of hell and have their living flesh devoured by maggots and scorpions because of their corruption of the Aimishteh's commandments, while we dance on their graves, doing the hora and the choo choo train conga line, and then dance on the graves of the other Jews who have committed abominations before Hakkadoshboruchhu, including: the Reform, the Conservative, the Chasidim, the Modern Orthodox, the ultra left wing, the ultra right wing, people who make more money than me, people who make less money than me, people with hotter wives than mine, people married to meeskeits, Woody Allen, all lawyers, all representatives of Amway, all people whose employers took government bailout money, and anyone who reads this Dvar Toirah.

So the key message of the warning in this Parsha is: though you have the best of intentions, you may as well give up now. Because after 120 years, there will be a limited number of people who get to sit alongside the Aimishteh in His throne. And I have no intention of giving up my seat for you, you minuval.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, July 19, 2013

Shabbos Nachamu Drasha



Shabbos Nachamu Drasha


We are standing here mere days after Tisha Ba’Av, the commemoration of all the unspeakable tragedies that impacted Klal Yisroel, including the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash in 587 BCE, the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 ACE, the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, and the Treifing up of the kitchen in Grossingers in 1966. Like our ancestors before us, we seek to make this a time of year for individual contemplation, collective mourning, a chance for group prayer, and the opportunity to check out all the hot shiksa cleavage on these sweaty summer days.

One constant of Klal Yisroel’s collective experience, reaching back to at least Second Temple times, is the aspiration and yearning for the Moshiach, the Messiah. In this context, the era of the Messiah is anticipated as the period when oppression of the Jews subsides, and, perhaps, when world history as we know comes to an end and the universal clock is reset at a new beginning. This anticipation reflects a spiritual and emotional response for those who have suffered persecution and general misfortune. It has also been the particular hope for the many of Klal Yisroel who are awaiting trial for embezzlement, have built up extensive credit card debt, or have engaged in pre-marital experimentation without using an… errr… kishka wrapper … and now have to explain to their Tatties and Mommies that there may be a little Einikel on the way.

This anticipation of the Moshiach, the longing and expectation, helped to justify in the minds of Klal Yisroel the actions, or inactions, of the Reboinoisheloilum in our deepest times of need. Why did Hakadoshboruchhu stand back and let our Bais Hamikdash burn, or let our people be murdered, or let our nation be expelled? Perhaps, one might suggest, He willed it as a punishment upon us for sinning. Of course, this idea poses dangerous philosophical and theological dilemmas: How can the Aimishteh, the fair and almighty, allow innocents – including children – to be slaughtered or tortured or expelled or sexually abused or punished in other terrible ways? Is He cruel? Is He uncaring? Is He impetuous and moody, like a four year old child?

Or, perhaps, is He indeed truly benevolent, but limited in His powers? As understood by Lurianic Kabbalah (the teachings of the Ari Zahl, you Minuval ignoramus), perhaps He exists within specific constraints and is not quite as almighty as your second grade Rebbe told you He was.

One reflexive approach of Jewish theology commonly interpreted the various tragedies of Klal Yisroel as “Chevlei Moshiach” – the birth pangs of the Messiah. The logic went as follows: As we in our era (whatever era it was) believe that the Moshiach is impending, the tragedies we face are a necessary suffering that paves the way for the Messiah. This explanation was used in the time of the RAMBAM, as it was in the time of the expulsion from Spain, as it was in the time of the Chmelnitzky massacres. Indeed, one Tanna was quoted in a Braisah in Sanhedrin as follows, “Amar Rabbi Yoichanan, ‘Im Ra’isa Dor SheTzarois Rabbois Baois Alav KeNahar, Chakeh Loi, SheNe’emar, “Kee Yavoi KeNahar Tzar Ve’Ruach Hashem Noisasah Boi,” VaSumich Lei, “U’va LeTzioin Goiel.”’” “Rabbi Yoichanan said, ‘When you see a generation that has suffered many troubles like (the flood of) a river, wait for him (the Messiah), as is written, “When suffering shall come like a river, and Spirit of Hashem shall be aligned against it,” which is followed by, “And the Redeemer will come to Zion.”’” (Sanhedrin, 98a).

So, the message is, the Moshiach is on his way, and we must bear the terrible suffering that will shortly come to an end. And yet, the Moshiach has never arrived. Or has it?

On order to answer this question, one must have a clear understanding of what, in fact, is the very nature of the Messianic era. This is Nisht Azoy Pushit, not so simple, you Minuval. There are many, many ideas and speculations as to what will constitute the Messianic era:

-- OPTION ONE: According to the RAMBAM, the Messianic era will be reached when the Jews regain their independence and all return to the Land of Israel, led by a Messiah king descended from the Davidic monarchy. This will usher in a period of global peace and harmony. This era will be followed by the “end of days”, when all will live in a disembodied spiritual existence.

-- OPTION TWO: According to the RAMBAN, the Messianic era will be the Shabbos-Koidesh of creation, after which will begin an era of spirit-infused physical existence.

-- OPTION THREE: According to the RASHBA, the Messianic era will start with a period when everyone in the world learns Toirah and performs Mitsvois. This will be followed by an era of pure spiritual bliss, which he compares to “perpetual acts of Maisei Beyuh with beautiful women.”

-- OPTION FOUR: According to Rabbi Yoisaiph Gikatilla, the Messianic era will be a period when we are no longer required to learn Toirah and perform Mitzvois. Rather, all that was forbidden before will now be permitted. Tisha Be’Av will change from a fast day involving mourning to a festival day involving excessive eating. Instead of eating Matzois on Pesach we will all eat Hostess Twinkies. And we will enter a era of pure joy where every man will be entitled to engage in Maisei Biyuh with 72 virgins, 7 strapping, well endowed Yeshivah Bochrim, and 3 nice fluffy goats.

-- OPTION FIVE: The MAHARAL holds quite like Reb Yoisaiph Gikatilla, except that instead of 72 virgins, he suggests that real Moshiach-tzeit will be like doing it with one very talented, very experienced, toothless Pupkeh.

-- OPTION SIX: The RIVAM holds that Moshiach-tzeit will neither be like engaging in Biyuh with one Nafka nor with 72 virgins. Rather, it will be like one man engaging with 7 beautiful women at once, with one woman reading to him from Tehillim, one woman serving as the remote control for the 3,000 channel, 65 inch HD television set, one woman sitting on the man’s face, one woman focusing on his Petzel, two woman focusing on his Schvatzlach, and the last woman available to run to 7-11 to get single malt Slurpies.

-- OPTION SEVEN: The ROISH suggests that the Messiah will be ushered in by the ascent of a skinny, bearded rabbi who will lead a new movement towards a more progressive embrace of the Reboinoisheloilum’s love and munificence, as part of a process that leads to global peace and prosperity.

Rabboisai, if we look at these various visions for the Moshiach, we can certainly understand the yearning of our ancestors: How could they, in their times of need, ever believe that they had reached the era of the Moshiach. However, in our day, many of these visions of the Messiah have indeed come to pass:

-- There is Jewish sovereignty for the first time in two millennia. In fact, we just got ourselves a new Supreme Court Justice. (In addition, there is also an independent State of Israel, although we would hardly term that as “Jewish sovereignty”, what, with its secular, Arab loving government, its busses and movie theaters running on Shabbos Koidesh, its efforts to draft poor helpless Yeshiva Buchrim into the army, its requirement for frum people to pay taxes, its naked women on bus station posters, and its forced integration of holy Ashkenazi and sinful Sephardi girls in State run religious schools. It’s like the Spanish Inquisition all over again.)

-- There are indeed periods of joyful bliss. In fact, last night, as I lay in bed, I had my Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, dance the Kazatske on my face while two billy goats grazed at the Gan Eden surrounding my Makoim HaMilah. If that’s not Moshiach-tzeit, you tell me what is!

-- There is indeed a man, a rabbi in fact, who has been put on this earth to bring love and kindness and peace. He has been known to perform miracles, and has brought many to believe in him. And when he suffers, it is so that the rest of us will be redeemed. Indeed, it is said that many of us are blind to The Truth, that the Messiah has indeed come, and his name is… Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Even greater than turning water into wine or loaves into fish or curing lepers (or whatever the New Testament miracles were – Hakadoshboruchhu knows I never learnt them in Yeshivah while I was growing up), Rabbi Shmuley performed the miracle of helping restore a burned out pedophile into an international icon. And all for the sake of… hmmm… money.

Yes, for many, the Moshiach has come, in the shape of prosperity. Unlike many of our ancestors who lived in filth and poverty, and turned to superstition for solace, we live in prosperity. We no longer need to look towards the idealized future for salvation. In fact, we no longer need the Aimishteh or the End of Days. We no longer need to help others, or think of the greater good. We no longer need to worry about investing in the long term, or making education more affordable, or fixing healthcare, or managing the deficit. We have it all today, in the form of nice new homes, shiny new cars, and wives with liposuction and $3000 sheytels, and that’s all that matters. What could possibly go wrong?

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, July 11, 2013

On Forgiveness



On Forgiveness


This has been a dark week for Klal Yisroel:

-- The stock market has been volatile.

-- Eretz Yisroel has been suffering a heat wave.


I have been searching for a Minyan of ten rabbis to pray for the future of Klal Yisroel, ten rabbis who are neither guilty of abusing children or covering up such abuses. But I cannot find them. I have found five so far, including one who is in prison for embezzlement, one who is a female rabbi ordained by Avi Weiss, and one who has converted out of Judaism and is now a practicing Buddhist. If you know of any rabbi who is truly pure, please send them my way. These days it seems that we can no longer assume on the moral purity of any rabbi.

All joking aside: I must make share some very serious thoughts on the actions and inactions of Yeshiva University. They have brought shame upon their university. They have brought shame on their alums. They have brought shame upon the enterprise known as Modern Orthodoxy. And they have brought shame upon all of Klal Yisroel.

It is said that the Greek enemy remembered at Chanukah is considered to be worse than the Persian enemy remembered at Purim. How so? The Persians only went after our ancestors' lives, while the Greeks went after our souls.

Apparently, the YU administration was complicit in destroying the souls of many children, and left permanently damaged people in their callous wake. To whom can they be compared? To the Greeks? To the Persians? To the Nazis? The harm they caused was perhaps not on the same scale, but the damage their have wrought will remain with us for generations.

When we pray on Tisha Ba'av, when we listen to Eichah and recite Kinois, let's not only focus on the enemy outside. The enemy inside -- Sexual abusers of children and those that enable them -- are no less an enemy.

Perhaps the Roman general was right in his assessment of the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem: Why expend the effort on attacking the Jews? Wait for them to destroy themselves.



I had the good fortune of being designated the Chief Rabbi of last year’s Oktoberfest in Munich, a hearty celebration of creation: The men celebrate the creation of beer by consuming excessive amounts of overpriced lager while walking around in Lederhosen, leather Gatkis held up by suspenders, looking like overgrown little boys. (This was Michael Jackson’s favorite annual holiday, they say.) And the women celebrate creation by prominently displaying the excessive cleavage with which the Aimishteh generously endowed them. “Boruch Oiseh Maisei Beraishis!”

It is odd to visit Germany during Tishrei, the month that begins with Roish Hashanah, includes Yoim Kippur, and ends with Sukkois. According to Chazzal, the book of life is written on Roish Hashanah, it is signed and sealed on Yoim Kippur, but it is only picked up by FEDEX on Shmini Atzeres. So nearly the entire month is dedicated to contemplating the past and repenting, as well as spending many, many hours in Shul to avoid having to spend time with your mother-in-law.

When visiting Germany at this time of year one cannot help but think about the broader theme of repentance and forgiveness, not the Teshuvah of an individual, but the repentance of a collective, of a whole society. Can a society which committed such extreme crimes truly repent? And at what point does forgiveness become manifest?
I must say that today’s Germany is a beautiful country. The people are largely very nice. Some of the architecture is magnificent. Germany is clearly the economic engine of the whole of Europe, propping up the Continent in its moments of crisis. And, if we are honest, it is a country whose actual sinners are no more. Any remaining Nazis from World War II are infirm, are in hiding, or are institutionalized at Saint Adolf’s Home For Retired Nazis, whiling away their time playing checkers.

So, in day to day in Germany you are highly unlikely to meet a person who has Jewish or Russian or Polish or Gypsy or Communist or Homosexual blood on his hands. In that sense, a chapter of history is over.

And let’s face it: They may have killed my grandparents and my aunts and uncles, but any society that produces the greatest beer in the world and eats soft pretzels for breakfast cannot be all bad…

So the notion of individual sin in Germany is no longer relevant. But yet, there is a collective legacy .

Truth be told, Germany is a society which has struggled to come to terms with its legacy. Reparations were paid in the billions to individuals and to the State of Israel (and continue to be paid). Germany is an anchor of support for the State of Israel in many quiet ways that are not well know, such as serving as the conduit for negotiations for Israeli soldiers being held captive, including Gilad Shalit. And, indeed, Jewish life has undergone a renaissance in many cities throughout Germany, especially in Berlin. In Munich, the new Jewish Cultural Center is a museum that houses the city’s central synagogue and is broadly celebrated for its architecture. This in a city that is famous for its grand architectural tradition, as well as its Beer Hall Putsches.

Not all is perfect of course. There are Neo Nazis. There are extensive business dealings with Iran and other countries that are not our friends. But one can say the same about any Western country. And if you are looking for places where Jew hating is a daily sport, you need not look beyond Mea Shearim, Bnei Brak, Williamsburg, or Boro Park.

And one must certainly contrast the German approach with the Austrian approach, where denial of complicity in the Shoah continues to this day. So on the whole, guilt has been acknowledged and repentance has been manifested. Teshuvah has been performed.

But is there forgiveness?

I recall a recent e-mail debate about whether the Yeshivah’s Kiddush Committee should participate in a boycott of certain brands of scotch that are either manufactured or bottled in a specific region of Scotland that is boycotting Israeli products. I was a strong advocate of the scotch boycott, though one detractor argued that if one buys German products, why shouldn’t they also buy these specific brands of scotch. So a debate ensued in which discussion of a contemporary issue morphed into a discussion of how one should relate to historical crimes. Do all of the reparations, all of the political and social measures, compensate for all of the loss of life? Can you put a price on loss of life and human suffering?

So forgiveness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

When we contemplate our own repentance, we tend to focus on Teshuvah as an individual act for individual sins. But we should not forget communal Teshuvah as well. How often have we looked the other way within our own community when we knew of people cheating the government in areas like taxes and social welfare programs? How often have we ignored the silent victims of sexual and child abuse, because to address the issues face on would be a “Shanda for the Goyim”? How often have we fallen into the trap of arrogance or self-righteousness? “They persecuted us.” “We are only doing what others do.” “I put on Tfillin, I am Chosen, therefore I am exempt.”

Teshuvah, you Minuval, is not a simple formula,. It is not that the Klopping on the chest and the recitation of endless Al Chayts naturally guarantee forgiveness. These are formulas designed to create a state of ,mind, a sense of humility, as well as countless black and blue marks. But insincere words and deeds do not constitute Teshuvah.

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. The Kotzker Rebbe was once suffering from a toothache, so he went to visit the dentist. After the dentist performed a tooth extraction, he asked for a payment of fifty zloties. “I will give something even better than zloties” the Kotzker responded. “I will give you words of Toirah.”

So the Kotzker delivered a Drasha on the power of Kavanah and the seven levels of heaven, culminating in the secret formula for reaching Oilam Habbah, being rewarded in the World to Come.

“But Rabbi” the dentist said, “I am a Roman Catholic. I don’t believe in a word you said.”

“That’s OK” the Kotzker replied. “Neither do I.”

Rabboisai, Klal Yisroel is scarred by our collective history. Many of us struggle with keeping our historical legacy of persecution in perspective: The Romans, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Poles, the Cossacks, the Nazis, etc. We retain grudges and prejudices against individuals over communal crimes, in many cases long in the past. It is a part of our own collective identity. I am persecuted, therefore I am. But while we need to retain the lessons of the past, we mustn’t be trapped in it. Your mother-in-law may have given birth to your spouse, but you certainly don’t want her to move in and sleep with you every night.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.