THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
I am writing a brief introduction to weekly Drasha on my favorite Parsha in order to share some personal thoughts.
You know, one critical difference between Klal Yisroel and the Evanglical Christian community is the degree of literalism that the groups attribute to the Toirah. Historically, Evangelicals take every word in the Toirah literally: The world was created 6,000 or so years ago, there were Nephilim (giants), Chava was made from Adam’s rib, Yushka Pandra was resurrected from the dead, etc.
Klal Yisroel, on the other hand, are a bit less literal. When the Toirah says “an eye for an eye”, CHAZAL tell us that this is metaphorical, and the payment should be monetary. When the Toirah describes the sin of David HaMelech in arranging the death of Uriyuh Hachiti, CHAZAL tell us that the sin was washed away by other acts. When the Toirah makes no judgment on who a member of the Bnei Yisroel should marry – essentially, allowing us to marry any hot shiksa we want (even men may marry an Ammoniya or Moaviya, as in the case of Roos), CHAZAL spoils it for all of us by coming to tell us that, no, the Toirah wants us to marry another Jew, and enables conversion as a means of ensuring communal consistency.
So, in essence, we, in our aspiration for strict Toirah observance, do not follow the exacts words of the Toirah literally. Shocking! Even the Evangelicals are Frummer than we are!
We do make some exceptions, of course. I am writing these words during one of my regular trips to my apartment in Eretz Yisroel, in downtown Chevroin. Sure, there are only a few hundred of us surrounded by 150,000 Palestinians. But the Toirah tells us about how important Chevroin was to Avraham Avinu, and we must emulate, in a literal fashion, his commitment to the city.
But there are other aspects of Avraham’s life that we do not emulate as successfully. And some of these points exist in this week’s Parsha. For example, in Perek Yud Chess, Pasook Chess, we are told, “VaYiKach Chemah VeChalav OoVen HaBakar Asher Ussuh VaYitain Lifneihem VeHoo Oimaid Aleihem Tachas HaEitz VaYoichelu,” “And (Avraham Avinu) took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared and served it to (the three messengers of the Reboinoihseloilum), and he stood alongside them under the tree as they ate.”
OK Rabboisai. So what is the Pshat here? Avraham Avinu serves Traifus Mamish, Bussur Bichaluv, to his guests!!! So if we believe in following the actions of Avraam Avinu literally, then we should plan to wash down our Shabbos chicken with a glass of milk. I certainly plan to eat my cholent tomorrow with a chocolate milkshake.
Similarly, how should we think about the Akeidah? When I was younger, my son, Boruch Gedalia Pesachya Issur Simcha Schmeckelstein, also know as the BIG PISS, was once incessantly listening to his loud Rock and Roll music, Rachmana Letzlan. That night, Hakadoshboruchhu came to me and asked me to go slaughter my son. In the morning, I just assumed that this vision was metaphorical, and went to the doctor to adjust my medication. But if I decide to approach the Toirah more literally, then I should now look at the Akeidah as an example, and potentially as a legal defense. So next time my grandson, Feivel Yisroel Shmuel Eliyahu Rabbah, aka the Little PISHER, spends too much time on his X-Box, he’d better watch out…
And finally, I would like to point out how Avraham Avinu cast out Hagar into the desert when it was no longer convenient to the family to have her and Yishmael hanging around. Next time my Bashert, Feige Breinah, is in Nidah, Chass V'Sholom, rather than me hiding in the Beis Medrish for a week, I might just demand that my Bashert pack up her bags and leave the house, never to return again, as Avraham Avinu would undoubtedly have done.
This weeks Parsha, Parshas VaYayrah, features many critical fables, er..., I mean true stories that lie at the heart of Yiddishkeit. The Parsha includes:
- The birth of Yitzchak. The angels come down to visit Avraham bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Oops -- wrong story. The angels come to Avraham and tell him that a child will be born to him and his barren wife, Sarah Imaynu (our matriarch). Upon hearing the news, Sarah chuckles disbelievingly at the Aimishteh's promise to enable her to conceive.
An obvious question arises: why didn't the Reboinoisheloilum simply kill Sarah due to her disrespect? According to a famous medrish, Hakkadoshboruchhu had indeed decided to kill her, referring to her in an internal Heavenly memorandum as an "ungrateful wench". However, Sarah took out a "personal insurance policy" while living in the palace of the Pharoah -- or was it Avimelech (I always get confused between those two identical stories) -- playing "hide the kishka" with the Pharoah while Avraham pretended to be her brother. She made photocopies of critical incriminating evidence relating to Avraham, the Aimishteh, a missing $500,000 in cash, and several off-balance sheet liabilities, and left specific instructions to send the documents to the Canaanite Gazette should anything happen to her. Hey, she may have been barren, but she sure wasn't stupid.
- The exile of Yishmael. Sarah, who sounds more and more like my mother-in-law throughout this entire Parsha, decides that now that Yitzchak is born, there is no reason to have Yishmael hanging around smoking the family water pipe (according to RASHI, "bong" in Provence). So she orders Yishmael and his mother Hagar (the Horrible) to be cast into the desert.
Little did she realize, Yishmael was destined to be Father of the Arab Peoples. Those guys LOVE the desert! I know -- I saw Lawrence of Arabia. Twice. I once even had ice cream in a Bedouin tent in Beer Sheva, where a Bedouin Chief offered me two goats and a chicken for my eldest daughter, Bracha Levatala. He would have had a deal if he had only agreed to include his lucky pen.
Well, as a result of Sarah exiling Yishmael, the Arabs have had it in for the Jews ever since. This hostility has resulted in wars, terrorism, and high oil prices. Gee, thanks Sarah! Life wasn't complicated enough.
- The destruction of Sodom. Once again, the Aimishteh showed his mercy and lovingkindness by completely obliterating a population. To Avraham's credit, he tries to haggle for the life of the city. "If there are 50 righteous men...40...30...20...10." The RASHBA asks: why did the Aimishteh let Avraham go on haggling for twenty minutes if He knew the outcome was not about to change? According to the RITVA, this proves that haggling over price is a Mitzvah Dioraisa, a Biblical commandment, even if this means haggling over a Ben and Jerry's ice cream bar at a tourist stop in Nevada in August (trust me, this is a maisah shehoya). And Hokkodoshborochhu is undoubtedly proud of the fact that this is one mitzvah in which Klal Yisroel excels.
- The Akaidah -- the binding of Yitzchak. The Reboinoisheloilum commands Avraham to bring his beloved son to be sacrified at the alter. Avraham reveals his true leadership and intellectual independence by not questioning the order for one second.
A Gemmarah in Kesubois brings down a Braisah which quotes a Medrish referring to a Tosefta relating to a Mishnah commenting on a Possuk, which refers to a famous machloikess (Rabbinic debate) between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. Bais Shammai holds that the eagerness with which Avraham embraces the commandment to cook his son at the alter reveals his true identity: Hannibal Lechter. Bais Shammai cites as proof the fact that at the beginning of the Parsha, Avraham serves his surprise desert guests a meal of fava beans and a nice chianti. Bais Hillel holds farkhert; since the Aimishteh apparently loves to devour his own creations, he must be the true Hannibal Lechter.
On the episode of the Akaidah, the RAN asks: why would the Reboinoisheloilum ask Avraham such an unseemly request, to kill his own son; why doesn't He put Avraham to a cleaner yet equally challenging test, such as to pay retail? The RAN answers that Hakkadoshboruchhu wanted to once and for all scare the crap out of Avraham, and this was the best way, short of sending in ghosts to haunt his tent.
The Tzitz Eliezer, on the other hand, offers a beautiful interpretation. The ultimate challenge for a father, or a Rebbe, is to bear witness to the estrangement of a son. By bringing Yitzchak to the alter, Avraham had to overcome his fear of causing Yitzchak to hate him for the rest of his life (all two hours of it). The Aimishteh, too, risked alienating Avraham, the progenitor of the Chosen People. So the true challenge brought down in VaYayrah is of staying committed to one's idealogy, even at the risk of losing the loyalty of the successors of the next generation.
I too know this feeling. I was once away on business, traveling to Cancun to open up a new Bais Medris. That week, I asked my Talmid Muvhak (my principal student protege, also known in Yiddish as my "Bitch") to prepare my weekly Parshas Hashavua drasha. In his drasha, my Talmud Muvhak, Dr./Rabbi Sterling/ Shmiel Tyler/Tanenbaumowitz, shared with my beloved Talmidim his tendency towards Biblical Criticism; that is, ignoring the literal interpretation of the Toirah and trying to understand the underlying authorial strands and original Near Eastern context of the text. In short, he is both an Apikoress and a Minuval.
However, if Reb Sterling ever calls you to solicit funds, I strongly encourage you to take his call. Deep inside him is a lost Jewish soul. As SVP of Yeshivas Chipas Emmess, Sterling/ Shmiel is responsible for helping to keep our doors open, our lights on, and our students out on bail...I mean, in the Bais Medrish. Consequently, I beg of you, show him that glimmer of your true Yiddishe Neshama (Jewish soul). If he asks you for money, write him a bigger check than he asks for. If not for the Yeshiva, do it for him -- this might help bring him back to the true path. If not for him, then for yourself, you selfish good-for-nothing Mamzer.
And if not for yourself, do it for me; I'd like to open up a new Bais Medrish in Honolulu around Christmas time.
Ah Gutten Shabbos you Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess