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Friday, August 30, 2013

Parshas Nitzavim



Parshas Nitzavim

“Atem Nitzavim Hayoim Koolchem Lifnei Hashem Eloikaychem, Roishaychem, Shivteichem, Zikneichem, Veshoitreichem, Kol Ish Yisroel. Topchem, Neshaychem, Vegerchah Asher Bekerev Machanechah, Mechoitayv Aytzim Ad Shoiyayv Maymechah.” “Behold you are standing here before Hashem your Deity, your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel. Your children, your women, and the stranger which is amongst your camp, from the woodcutter to the one who draws your water.”

So begins this week’s Parsha, as we rapidly approach the end of Sefer Devarim, and mentally prepare ourselves for the many hours spent in Shul over the coming holidays, praying to the Reboinoisheloilum for a positive future, asking Hakadoshboruchhu for forgiveness for our past sins, and pleading with the Aimishteh to help us survive the many hours of amateur Chazanus, self righteous speeches, high pressure financial appeals, and poorly ventilated body odor emanating from multiple congregants sittings within a radius of ten seats.

When looking at this Parsha, Chazal posed many key questions that are still keeping us awake at night:

Rabbi Akiva asks in a famous Medrish: Why does the Toirah refer to Klal Yisroel as “standing”? He answers that the Parsha actually refers to anyone who has legs and is capable of standing, whether they are indeed standing or not. But the Toirah’s terminology comes to exclude people who have less than two legs and cannot stand on their own. Such people are either to be expelled from the Jewish People for ten generations, or traded to the Mariners for $50,000 in cash, a utility infielder in Double A ball, and a player to be named later.

A Gemarrah in Baitzah features a famous Machloikess between Abaya and Rava on this very Medrish. According to Abaya, the Medrish does not automatically exclude a member of Klal Yisroel who has no legs. Says Abaya, we are first required MiDioraisa to examine his assets, and if he is wealthy we consider him “as if” he has legs, and he is invited to return to the fold of Kehilas Yisroel in exchange for a large donation and a 20 percent restocking fee.

Rava holds Farkhert, suggesting that the requirement for legs must indeed be enforced quite literally. And he goes further: He cites a Braisah suggesting that Rabbi Akiva actually said that the Parsha excludes not only people who are missing a leg, but also excludes people who are missing toes. According to Rava, “Afilu Etzbah Achass”, “even the lack of a single toe,” disqualifies someone from Klal Yisroel. It also makes wearing Roman sandals or other open toed shoes a bit embarrassing.”

Reb Hai Goyn builds upon this theme, suggesting that while Rabbi Akiva’s use of the term ‘Etzbah” may indeed be interpreted as referring to toes, the word also refers to the more common use of the term, meaning fingers. Hence, the lack of any digit, be it on the hand or foot, can disqualify someone from Klal Yisroel. Says Reb Hai Goyn, “the Reboinoisheloilum blessed Klal Yisroel with generous noses. If a Jew is missing a finger and therefore cannot pick his sizeable proboscis, it is an insult to Aimishteh, as it is equivalent to a rejection of Ol Malchus Shamayim.”


A more critical question is the reference in the Passuk to “Vegerchah Asher Bekerev Machanechah,” “the stranger which is amongst your camp”. Rav Huna asks in Masechess Baba Metzitza, “Maiy Taimah”, “what is the reason that the Toirah talks about a ‘stranger’”? What’s pshat a “stranger”, which is universally understood to refer to a Gentile who lives amongst the Jews? Why would Moishe Rabbeinu include local Gentiles as he delivers his final address to Klal Yisroel? Is he some sort of self hating Jew?

According to Rav Papa, Moishe Rabbeinu was of course not a self hating Jew! He loved all Jews, especially hot divorcees. However, for tax purposes, Moshe also wanted to include the foreign workers who did all of the physical labor in the community. Rav Papa points to the end of the Passuk which refers to “the woodcutter and the one who draws your water.” Asks Rav Papa, “Can you possibly believe that this refers to a Jew?”

However, in the modern context, how are we relate to this notion of Gentiles living amongst us? In a situation of prolonged war and hostility, of distrust and the potential for violent acts, especially terrorism, how should we relate to the question of Goyim living in Eretz Yisroel? Was the Toirah wrong, in its assumption that there would be “Vegerchah Asher Bekerev Machanechah”? Is the Toirah “out of touch”? It the Toirah an anachronism that is not suited to the currently realities in which we all live, Chass V’Sholom? How can you suggest such a thing, you ignorant Minuval?

No. We are fortunate to be the chosen people, who can always turn to the eternal Toiras Emmes as our guide on contemporary questions of law, morality, ethics, medicine, business, science, and great dinner locations that cost less than $20 a person.

The RAMBAM addresses the particular topic of “Vegerchah Asher Bekerev Machanechah in detail in his Mishnah Toirah. According to the RAMBAM, Moishe’s inclusion of non-Jews in his speech indeed reflects a general assumption that Gentiles will always live alongside Jews in Eretz Yisroel. However, their residence is predicated on four conditions:

1) That they pledge loyalty to the chosen government, and not act in a hostile manner towards it, even if they are not always in agreement with it;

2) That they contribute to the security of the country by serving in its armed forces;

3) That they contribute to the finances of the country, without cheating on their taxes;

4) That they participate in the broader social fabric of their communities by having their children engage in public educational institutions.

In short, the provisions for their continued presence of Gentiles in Eretz Yisroel are exactly those conditions that are violated by the Ultra Orthodox of Israel every single day.

Rabboisai, I am reminded of a famous story about the Menachem Mendel of Cracow, who survived Europe and moved his Chassidic sect to Alabama in 1947. Menachem Mendel and his family survived the war by being hidden by their neighbor, Piotr Christianowics, underneath the floorboards in the Christianowics home, at great personal risk to Piotr Christianowics and his family.

One day, after the Nazis conducted a routine search of the area and had gone, Piotr whispered down to the floor, “Menachem Mendel, I am so sorry that all of this is happening to your people. I look forward to the day when you and I and our families can sit together and eat as free men.”

There was a pause. Then Menachem Mender quietly responded through the floorboards, “Don’t kid yourself, Piotr. I would never break bread with a Shaygitz.”

Rabboisai, like Klal Yisroel on that very day, many millennia ago, we too are standing before the Reboinoisheloilum at a critical juncture in our nationhood. We can either retreat into our shell of Jewish isolationism, or we can come to terms with the reality that we are fated to coexist with others. Gentiles, members of all other faiths and creeds, were also created by the Reboinoisheloilum. The details are not always easy – some people indeed are our enemies. But most people are not our enemies. Yes, it is not always easy to protect our interests and identify who our friends are. But as long as our Gentile neighbors are willing to live side-by-side in peace with us, are willing to pay retail, or are hot shiksas, then they are okay in the eyes of the Toirah, and they are ok by by me.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Parshas Kee Suhvoh



Parshas Kee Suhvoh

This week's Parsha, Parshas Kee Suhvoh, features the most acidic chapter in the entire Toiras Moishe: the Toichecha, or Rebuke, in which Moishe Rabbeinu lays out the negative consequences of Klal Yisroel disobeying the Rebboinoisheloilum. The punishments include death, insanity, poverty, exile, children taken away from parents, impotence, and significantly higher taxes.

Let's be perfectly frank -- You do not want to go to Shul this week to hear the Parsha! Stay home, put your feet up, watch a pay-per-view, do a little mitzvah with your wife, do a little work in the garage, unstop the toilets, change the cat litter, clean for Pesach eight months early -- anything to not have to listen to this Parsha. And if you do you go to shul, bring plenty of reading material.

Why, the stuff in this Parsha is so harsh, it can even get my mother-in-law to stop talking for a few minutes, Imirtza Hashem.

A Gemarrah in Baba Metzia cites a Braisa in which Rabbi Akiva asks: Why is Hakadoshboruchhu so damn angry at Klal Yisroel all the time? Rav Huna answers that when we were young, the Aimishteh once sent us to the store to buy eggs, but we never gave Him back all the change, and he has held a grudge ever since.

However, Rabbi Abba suggests that the Rebboinoisheloilum’s anger is linked to the definition of the Jews being the "Chosen People." Rabbi Abba cites the traditional view of Shir HaShirim in which the male Hakadoshboruchhu sees Klal Yisroel as the nation chosen to be His wife. And when a Jew is unfaithful and does something against a direct command, such as worshiping idols or eating fish and meat with the same plastic fork at a Kiddush, He gives in to His uncontrollable jealous temper and smacks us around a bit. Rabbi Abba goes on to say that we really did deserve it, and promise not to tell the neighbors how we got our black eye, just He should please not do it ever again.

Rabbi Abba quotes a beautiful Medrish that says that in the heavenly realm of the Aimishteh, where He sits on His throne of fire surrounded by angels playing harps, violins, flutes and accordions, as the human world recites this Parsha once a year, after each Passuk the Rebboinoisheloilum responds "One of these days Alice, one of these days! POW, right in the kisser!"

Rava disagrees. He suggests that indeed Klal Yisroel was chosen, but not as a wife. Rather, we were chosen to be a pet dog. And just like a pet dog, we require discipline whenever we go on the carpet. And we shouldn't complain, because if He ever really tires of us we might get dropped off at the local pound.

Abaye agrees that we are like pets. However, he suggests that we are more like a pet goldfish. We are surrounded by other fish, some larger and some smaller. We get fed once a day if we're lucky. We have little or no real interaction with our benefactor. Other fish are constantly nipping at out tailfins. There is poop on the bottom of the tank and algae building up on the walls. The filter breaks down once in a while. And the best we can hope for is that at the end of 120 years we will die a natural death and be flushed down the toilet. Says Abaye, this Parsha is the best reason yet to convert to Catholicism. The only reason he doesn't is because he would rather have someone nipping at his tails than fondling his fins, if you know what I mean. (Clearly Abaya had never met Motti Elon.)

Commenting on this Gemarra, Reb Saadya Goyn offers a completely different interpretation. He suggests that the Rebboinoisheloilum would never threaten Klal Yisroel with such hostility as we read in this Parsha. And neither would Moishe. Rather, it was the fault of one of Moishe's speechwriters. Moishe told him, "hey, I gotta make a speech, and make it dark." Moshe was referring to adding in some elements that would appeal to his constituency in the olive skinned tribe of Naphtali. But the speechwriter thought he meant thematically dark, and the rest is history. (Meyla, this is the same writer who, years earlier, when told by Moishe that he had seen a burning bush in the desert, thought that Moishe was telling him that he had spotted a hot red head skinny dipping at an oasis.)

The RAMBAM takes a completely separate approach. He suggests that indeed Hakkadoshboruch did mean to make the threats as written. And the reason He takes such a tough stand is that he is obviously a Republican. Look at the facts: He is tough on Law and Order, He takes a no-compromising stand against the Babylonians, and He favors using the death penalty as frequently as possible. Sums up the RAMBAM: the Aimishteh wants us to stop behaving like "stiff-necked Israelite Girly-men."

The RASHBAM disagrees, suggesting that the RAMBAN had probably taken to sampling items in his medicine bag when no one was looking. The RASHBAM holds farkert -- the Rebboinoisheloilum is actually a card carrying Democratic. As proof he points to the key social legislation mentioned elsewhere in this week's Parsha: The insistence that we care for orphans and widows, that we set aside a portion of our Maiser, our tithing, for their benefit (Welfare? In the Toirah? Am I reading this correctly?); The concern for the integrity of the legal system (What's pshat you can't give a bribe?); The recognition and care that we grant to the Gair, the non-Israelite/ non-Jewish resident who lives among us. The RASHBAM concludes that the harsh words of the Toichecha simply point out once again that, at the end of the day, Hakadoshboruchhu is a "pessimistic flip-flopper." To back up his point, the RASHBAM cites a Medrish which says that the Aimishteh didn't even split the sea during the exodus from Egypt -- It split through natural causes, but He has tried to claim credit ever since.

However, the RALBAG has a much simpler answer. LeOilum, he holds that the Rebboinoisheloilum did make all the threats mentioned in the Toichecha. And the reason that Hakadoshboruchhu speaks so harshly is simply because He is an anti-Semite. Let's examine the facts: He asks us to do the impossible and complains when we cannot achieve it; He treats us differently than He treats others; He singles us out for persecution; He casts us into exile and then gets angry when we assimilate; He gives us a geopolitical conundrum and places obstacles at every potential solution.

In short, the Aimishteh is an anti-Semite. He doesn't like Jews with our hook noses and penny counting, the horns on our heads, our control of the media, or our aspiration for setting up a world government. He in particular is angry at us for rejecting Christ, Mohammed, the Buddha, the Hindu Pantheon, and L. Ron Hubbard.

I am reminded of a famous story about the Dubner Maggid. One Shabbos afternoon he sat in shul surrounded by both children and adults as he regaled them for three hours with inspirational stories of the great sages, and shared wise parables that explained the cosmic, loving relationship between the Rebboinoisheloilum and Klal Yisroel. At one point a five year old boy asked him, "But mister Maggid, if Hakadoshboruchhu loves the Jews so much, why must we spend our lives in exile?"

At that, the Dubner Maggid stopped speaking. After a long, uncomfortable pause, he replied in a very low voice that was almost a whisper, "Oh shit. I never thought of that one." The very next day he shaved his long beard and opened up a shoe store.

Indeed, this week's Parsha highlights the complexity of religion and the price of faith. While some view their faith, and its rewards, with the cup half full, other view them as half empty. However, I think that they are both wrong. If you look at the chapter of the Toichecha, Perek Chuff Chess in Devarim, only the first 14 (of 68) Pesukim talk about the potential rewards of faithfulness. However, the VAST majority -- the next 54 Pesukim -- speak in awful detail of the potential punishments. So, rounding out the numbers, one should either see the cup at one fifth full, or four fifths empty. I personally don't like 5 to 1 odds against, so we may be betting on a different horse.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, August 09, 2013

Parshas Shoiftim



Parshas Shoiftim


Reading this week's Parsha, Shoiftim, left me confused and bleary eyed. So many topics to cover, so little time. True testimony. False testimony. True prophets. False prophets. Magicians. Conquest. Egla Arufa. Moishe Rabbeinu must have had one too many cappuccinos that morning. I suspect he might have even been on speed, Chass V'Sholom.

In this week’s Parsha, Moishe Rabbeinu tells us that a defendant can be convicted of a crime through the testimony of either two or three witnesses. But the Parsha tells us this law in two separate places. What's Pshat?

According to a Mishnah in Yuma, Moishe repeated himself because he was showing signs of early Alzheimer’s.

But according to a Gemarrah in Yevamois, the first mention of the rule about witnesses refers to legal testimony and the judicial system. But the second mention of the rule is brought down by the Toirah to teach us something not about law, but about marital relationships: While marital relations between two people, a husband and a wife, are sanctified in the eyes of the Aimishteh, He doesn't mind if every once in a while you bring in a third partner to "spice up the cholent."

Commenting on this Gemarrah, Toisfois points out that the second reference in the Parsha to the rule requiring two or three witnesses is juxtaposed to the rules of conquest: In the section immediately following the second mention of the rule, the Toirah tells us that when you conquer a foreign land, you should slay all the males, but keep the women and children for yourselves. Says Toisfois, the Parsha wants to teach us an important lesson: When you do have a third person join you in your marital relations, the Toirah suggests she be a hot shiksa. And the Toirah teaches this within the context of discussing military conquest so we will know that a little Bondage and Discipline is okay.

The RIF, however, holds, that a little S and M may be in order as well, as long as it does not lead to bloodshed, which would instantly raise up a Chashash of Nidah and spoil all the fun, Chass V'Sholom.

However, the Bais Yoiseph holds that the entire Gemarrah of Yevamois must have been written when the Amoraim were having a "bad day," and that Toisfois and the RIF were too busy thinking with their Bris Milahs.

The Bais Yoiseph holds that the reason the Toirah repeats itself on the rule about witnesses is to warn us that if we hire two false witnesses to testify in our favor during a tax fraud hearing, we should always hire an extra witness, just in case one of the witnesses turns states evidence. He brings as proof the whole, strange Halacha of the Egla Arufa.

As the Toirah states, if an unidentified dead body is found between two towns, and a murderer is not identified, the elders of the towns must sacrifice a lamb as part of a proclamation of the towns' innocence. According to the Bais Yoiseph, this is clearly a situation involving a cover up, and the Toirah is encouraging you to have some false witnesses up your sleeve who are willing to testify against some unwitting scapegoat.

But the Hesech Hadaas (B. 1280 -- D. ?) states that the Egla Arufa has no link whatsoever to any other topic in Parshas Shoiftim. Indeed, he holds that the Egla Arufa really belongs in Shmois, following the drowning of the Egyptian Army in the sea. He holds that the Egla Arufa symbolizes the random victimhood that characterizes human existence. The Jews in Egypt. The Egyptians in the sea. Klal Yisroel. Amalek. Midian. Basically, all of humanity. According to him, the Egla Arufa is a reminder that life is one big crap shoot. One day you are lying on the beach with a beautiful woman at your side. The next day you are stuck in some Bais Medrish studying Gemarrah with a bearded guy named Laizer who hasn't quite figured out how to use deodorant and who showers once a week whether he needs to or not...

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoyo. Many years ago I was traveling to China with my Rebbe, Rabbi Herschel Goldwasser. We were on a mission to determine if the messages in fortune cookies were written by a wise elder Kabbalist residing in inner Mongolia, or a seventeen year old complete ignoramus. As we traveled though the wilds of Lanzhou Province, we were approached by the army of the Communists, who were in the midst of their war against the Nationalist army. "Fight on our behalf, or die" we were told, the muzzles of their rifles pointed at our faces. I wanted to resist, but was reassured by my Rebbe that everything would turn out alright.

One evening, as the troops sat around the campfire drinking homemade slivovitz and eating General Tso's cocker spaniel, NPOJHARTHA began a Niggun. He sang slowly at first, and more loudly as the Communist troops learned the tune and joined in. After 45 minutes, Reb Herschel and I went to the side to Daven Maariv.

Suddenly the Nationalist forces launched a surprise attack against our comrades. But the spirit of Chairman Mao was upon us that day, and we repelled the capitalist dogs, routing them to the last man.

After the fighting subsided, Reb Herschel and I were imprisoned for cowardice, since we Davened in our bunker throughout the battle. I asked Reb Herschel, "Why does the Aimishteh punish us so? We were Davening, fulfilling His commandments, yet we are forced to suffer."

"Fool!" Reb Herschel Goldwasser responded. "Do you think He hears our prayers? We are in the middle of freaking nowhere, surrounded by a billion pagans. What do you think He has, radar?"

Just as we were randomly punished, so too the Egla Arufa is a response to a random crime against an anonymous victim. Not so that the Aimishteh is mollified, but so that we can feel a little less guilty after rummaging through the dead man's pockets and stealing his wallet and personal effects.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval!


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, August 02, 2013

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Making A Bracha Before Doing “The Mitzvah”



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Making A Bracha Before Doing “The Mitzvah”


Today I answer a Shailah from a beloved Talmid, Boruch H. Boruch H. writes:

“Rabbi Pinky,

“The Toirah’s first Mitzvah is Pru Urvu. How come we don’t have to make a Bracha every time we have (adult relations)?



Thank you so much for submitting such an insightful, Gevaldickah question. I hope that you have not written this question with your Gatkes down, waiting for my signal as to whether to make a Bracha before “going into action”. I have a long backlog of Shailois and Teshuvois I need to get to, so it may take a while. And please remember that according to the commercial, you should call your doctor if you have an… errr… Shverkeit that lasts more than 4 hours. Kenayna Hurruh.

There are actually two aspects to your question: The explicit Shailah and the implicit Shailah. The explicit question: Should one make a Bracha before being Mekayaim the Mitzvah of Tashmish HaMitah, with or without a ribbed Kishka skin? And the implicit question: What, indeed, is the first Mitzvah in the Toirah?

Well, I am pleased to say, in your question you were Mechavayn to a Shailah and subsequent Machloikess in the Gemarrah, amongst the Rishoinim, and between the Marx Brothers.

A Gemarrah in Kesubois discusses the Bracha made under the Chupah as part of the Kiddushin, the marriage ceremony:

“Baruch Ata Adoishem Eloikeinu Meleh HaOilam, Asher Kiddishanu B'Mitzvoisuv V'tzivanu Al Ha-Arayois, V'asar Lanu Ess Ha-Arusois, V'Hitir Lanu Ess HaNesuois Lanu Al Yeday Chupah VeKidushin. Baruch Ata Adoishem, MeKadaish Amoi Yisraeil Al Yeday Chupah VaKiddushin.”

“Blessed art Thou, Hakadoshboruchhu, our Reboinoisheloilum, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us regarding forbidden unions; Who forbade betrothed women to us, and permitted women who are married to us through canopy and betrothal. Blessed are You, Aimishteh, Who sanctifies His people Israel through canopy and betrothal.”

According to the Rish Lakish, this Bracha is said only one time in a relationship, during the marriage ceremony, as is the custom today, right before the Sheva Brachois under the Chupah, the breaking of the glass on the floor, and the…err…ummm…initial entry of the TamTam cracker into the plate of herring in the Yichud room, if you know what I mean, while everyone else is fressing down their appetizers and gossiping about the bride’s cleavage.

Abaya, however, holds that the Bracha is meant to be recited by a husband monthly, after his wife comes home from the Mikvah, as he is busy preparing for being Mekayaim the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu after two weeks of celibacy by banging his head against the wall.

Rabbi Zeirah holds that the Bracha is actually meant to be recited every time someone engages in Tashmish HaMitah. And, in fact, the Gemarrah notes that this was the Minhag in Sura, Pumbedisa, and North and South Dakota, and was indeed the Minhag throughout the time of the Gaoynim and into the period of the Rishoinim.

So why, in fact, is this not the Halacha today?

This issue was the topic of a major Machloikess Rishoinim, on the correct moment for reciting the Bracha. According to the RAMBAM, the Bracha of Al Ha-Arayois should be said by the man immediately prior to penetration of the woman’s Erva. As he writes in the Mishnah Toirah, “The man should have his Eyver standing as tall as the Sultan’s bodyguard protecting the door to the Sultan’s harem the day after Id Al Fitr.”

However, according to the RAMBAN, reciting a Bracha prior to entry is unacceptable, since if the man is unable to complete his… err… Hoitzu’uh, this would result in a Bracha Levatala, Chass V’Sholom. Instead, the RAMBAN suggests that the Bracha be said BiSha’as Mitzvah Mamesh, immediately before the man’s…err… Makeh BePatish, and that his wife should respond to the Bracha by screaming, “Oy Gevalt!” loud enough to wake up the Kinderlach in the next room.

The RASHBA, however, considers it improper to recite the name of Hakadoshboruchhu while in the midst of a Ma’aseh Biyuh. He holds, instead, that as the man is about to have his Makeh BePatish, he should scream out the traditional formula for betrothal, “Harrei Ahs MeKudeshess Lee KiDaas Moishe VeYisroel”, “Behold you are betrothed to me according to the laws of Moishe Rabbeinu and Klal Yisroel”. According to the RASHBA, his wife should then respond, “Reb Yid, you’re Mamish a Gadol BaYisroel!!”

The RITVAH, however, is opposed to using this formula, since, if the couple engaging in Tashmish HaMitah are a young unmarried couple, this would automatically cause them to be married in the eyes of the Aimishteh, and, if the woman had not gone to Mikvah before the Mitzvah, it would result in a husband committing an act of Znus with his impure wife, an Issur Dioraisa. Says the Ritvah, “Let’s not spoil the kids’ fun. Soon enough they’ll have the opportunity to be miserable like the rest of us.” Shoyn.

As the Rishoinim could not agree on the proper time for making the Bracha on Tashmish HaMitah, the Shulkhan Arukh Paskins that the Bracha need only be said on the wedding night, which is Halacha LeMaiseh. This position has become accepted in both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic world, -- even the RAMAH does not argue with Reb Yoisaiph Karo on this, although he does refer to him as a “horney little camel jockey”.

In our day, this Halacha still holds, although there has been recent debate among contemporary Poiskim about how to apply it in special circumstances. Reb Nechemya Weberman had a custom of saying the full Bracha the first time he molested each of his many underage female victims, but would not repeat the Bracha with each subsequent molestation, very much applying the Halacha as cited in the Shulkhan Arukh. He also recited a SheHechiyanu every time he put a lighter to the naked flesh of his rape victims. What a Tzaddick!

Reb Yehudah Kolko, however, did not use a variant of the betrothal Bracha before molesting each of his many underage male victims, but would only recite a SheHechiyanu every time he initiated sexual abuse of a new victim. Because of his position, he was criticized by some Rabbanim in Brooklyn for being too Meikel, too lenient.

Rabbi George Finkelstein would say the Bracha of “Zoikaif Kefufim”, “Who Makes the Bent Stand Erect”, before wrestling Yeshiva University High School students in his office, or grabbing them physically on the staircase or elsewhere in the building. But his Shitah is not considered authoritative since he was only associated with Yeshiva University and not a more prestigious Rabbinic institution.

Finally, Rabbi Baruch Lanner used two different Brachois, depending on the gender of the victim, and, interestingly, he would insist his victims recite the Bracha of choice instead of him. He would have each male student recite the Bracha of “Sheloih Usani Isha”, thanking the Reboinoisheloilum for not having made him a woman prior to Rabbi Lanner either kneeing or punching the boy in the testicles. And he would have each of his female students recite the Bracha “SheUsani Kirtzoinoi”, “For Making Me According to His Will”, prior to sexually molesting her. However, his Shitah was disavowed after he was sentenced to prison.


With regard to your initial question, referring to the “first Mitzvah in the Toirah”, it is in fact not clear that Pru Urvu is in fact the first Mitzvah. Shtayt in Pasook, “Beraishis Barah Eloikim Ess HaShamayim VaEss HaAretz”, “In the Beginning, the Reboinoisheloilum created the heavens and the earth” (Berashis, Perek Aleph, Pasook Aleph). Later in the Perek we are told, “VaYivrah Eloikim Ess HaAdam BeTzalmoi, BeTzelem Eloikim Barah Oisoi”, “And Hakadoshboruchhu created mankind; in the image of the Aimisteh he (mankind) was created” (Beraishis, Perek Aleph, Pasook Chuff Zazin). So, in truth, the first Mitzvah of the Toirah is to act in the spirit of being created “BeTezelem Eloikim”, in the image of the Divine. What does this mean?

According to the ARIZAL, the universe was emitted by the Aimishteh through a solitary act of creation known as Tzimtzum. As transmitted by the ARI’s Talmid Muvhak, Reb Chaim Vital, the ARI advocated that individual humans align themselves with the Creator by engaging in… errr… solitary acts of…ummm… emission, preferably on Roish Hashanah, in a public bathroom in Shul.

However, there was great debate around this essential notion. According to the Baal Shem Toiv, humanity is commanded, indeed expected, to emulate the Creator’s positive aspects by committing acts of loving kindness – For example, helping the needy, visiting the sick, and giving vodka to thirsty drunks. The Vilda Goyn holds, however, that humanity must emulate the creative aspects of the Reboinoisheloilum by building Shuls, erecting houses, and playing with Lego.

However, Kooley Alma Loi Pligi, everyone agrees, that being created BeTzelem Eloikim implies making the world a better place. The notion of creation precedes Matan Toirasainu -- the giving of the Toirah on Sinai -- for a reason: It is on a higher plane. More important than the broad array of complex Halachois, the institutions created around Toirah, and the titles bestowed to individuals based on Toirah knowledge are the notions fundamental to basic humanity, many of which are captured in the Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the Seven Noahite Laws: Do not kill. Do not steal. Establish a court system. Do not oppress. Do not hurt other human beings physically, sexually, or psychologically. Do not engage in massive cover ups for the sake of preserving a status quo, putting the needs of an organization above the needs of victims. Do not besmirch the names of victims in an effort to defend oppressors as part of an institutional “circle the wagons” mentality. Do not stand silently by while others engage in such behavior.

You know, little things like that.

Through proper and responsible behavior. Klal Yisroel should be Zoicheh to being able to go bed at night with the confidence that our children are safe from sexual predators in our schools, in our camps, and in our broader communities. Under those circumstances, we will be able to focus without distraction on doing The Mitzvah in our bedroom with our spouse or significant other, and perhaps having the opportunity to engage in Multiple Mitzvois in a single night. BiMehairah BiYamainu, Umain!

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval!


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess