THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Bechukoisai, we read about the reward and punishment promised us by the Reboinoisheloilum for fulfilling, or violating, His commandments. RASHI asks a pertinent question: Why does the Aimishteh offer us only ten quick Pesukim (verses) of promised reward, while He gives us three times that -- over thirty graphic Pesukim -- warning of harsh consequences? Aren’t we under enough pressure? What’s pshat, for Hakadoshboruchhu’s sake?
According to the Rabenu Tam, on the morning when this parsha was written, the Reboinoisheloilum was having a bad day. As the Medrish Rabbah tells us, when He was not busy studying Toirah, the Aimishteh kept Himself busy doing day trading. And on that morning, He had taken a strong position on a networking stock based on a rumor of a takeover, only to find out that there were serious accounting and reporting errors by the auditing firm of Goldberg, Aronowitz and Schwartz. So He wasn’t feeling that sympathetic to Klal Yisroel. And who can blame Him? Believe me, He lost more money that day than you earn in a whole year, you Minuval!
However, according to the RASHBAM, Hakadoshboruchhu had no ill will for Am Yisroel that day – or any day for that matter. No, says the RASHBAM, on the contrary -- the Reboinoisheloilum loves us! We are His beloved nation, His chosen, His betrothed. However, we learn from this Parsha that the Aimishteh is really into S&M. “I will smite you sevenfold for your sins” (Perek Chuff-Vuv, Pasuk Chuff Daled) is the Toirah's equivalent of Hakadoshboruchhu handcuffing us to the bed and whipping us with His tfillin.
As proof, the RASHBAM points out that the end of the section includes the Reboinoisheloilum telling us ,”Even with all this, with you dwelling in the land of your enemies, I will not despise you… to nullify my covenant with you… I will recall my covenant with your forebears … to be your Lord…” (Perek Chuff-Vuv, Pasukim Mem Daled – Mem Hey). According to the RASHBAM, the Aimishteh is telling us ‘stop crying, you little bitches – you know you like it rough. Let me rub the pain away with my velvet yarmulke.’
The Toisfois Yuntif, however, disagrees with the RASHBAM, who he refers to as a “groisse pervert”, pointing out that upon moving to Lithuania, the RASHBAM was compelled to register as a sex offender. Rather, says the Toisfois Yuntif, the Parsha teaches us that it is hard to be a Jew. If we look at all the Mitzvois Asey and Loi Sa’asey, they are hard to keep. Which comes more naturally to you on a Saturday morning? Turning on the TV and opening a beer, or getting into a suit, putting on a tie, and walking twelve blocks up a hill with your screaming kids only to sit next to some guy in shul who is shukkeling so much you would think he was going to drill a hole through the floor, when all the while his dandruff is the only thing coming between you and his unbrushed shabbos morning breath? Ich vais, how many of us can stand up to that challenge? Of course, we are all three times as likely to violate the commandment!
With this in mind, chazzal has over the years developed a series of strategies to increase the odds of our success, guaranteeing happiness in this life and in Oilum Habah, the World To Come. According to a famous Mishna in Perke Zayin of Pirkei Avois:
-- Rabbi Gamliel use to always carry extra money with him, so that whenever a beggar would come his way, we would always be able to be mekayaim the mitzvah of tezedakah
-- Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah always kept a fully stocked bar, so that he was always ready to perform the mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim
-- Rabbi Akiva was concerned that he would be too distracted to kiss the mezuzah every time he went into a room. So, after trying mezuzahs made of silver, gold, Jerusalem stone, pottery, and glass, he had one custom built that looked like his wife’s Erva, which he was always sure to kiss as he went into the room. Indeed, a Braisah in Nezikin tells us, after he put on a lot of weight in his later years, Rabbi Akiva discovered that if he spent a little extra time kissing the mezuzah, it made it much easier for him to get through the door.
However, the Baal Shem Toiv vehemently disagrees with this approach. According to the BESHT, “the Toirah is here to inspire us and guide our thinking, not to be taken literally.” Consequently, he points out, the mitvois in the Toirah should be viewed as “voluntary guidelines,” rather than laws, and the threats of punishment should be read as poetry for “spiritual contemplation purposes only”. He adds that to enhance one’s meditation on the text and Hisboidadus with the Shchina, his Chassidic followers should drink a minimum of five shots of vodka, while Mis-Nagdim should drink the same quantity of single malt scotch.
But the Vilna Goyn vehemently disagrees. He insists that you MUST take EVERY WORD in KOL HATOIRAH KOOLOH literally. In discussing Parshas Bechukoisai specifically, he notes that the Toichacha, the Rebuke and warnings of punishment, should be taken quite literally.
But the Goyn doesn’t stop there. He notes the references in the early Pesukim to Klal Yisroel’s divinely driven success on the battlefield: “And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall beside you by the Cherev. And five of you shall chase one hundred, and one hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall beside you by the Cherev” (Perek Chuff-Vuv, Pasukim Zayin – Khess). Pointing at the Pasuk, he insists that the use of the term “Cherev”, sword, MUST be taken literally. Consequently, says the Goyn, for AM Yisroel to maintain the favor of Hakadoshboruchhu, the Israeli army should follow Parshas Bechukoisai, set aside all of its advanced weapons, and arm its soldiers with swords ONLY. Any reliance on more modern weapons reflects a complete lack of faith, for which we should be banished “and sent back to Miami Beach” says the Goyn. Shoyn.
I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. The Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Shloimo Amor, was once in New York, attending an important business meeting at a Korean massage parlor. As he walked into his special “meeting room,” who should he bump into but the Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Israel, Yoina Metzger. After their respective happy endings, they sat down for coffee. They began to engage in a machloikess as to whether or not someone in New York may drink the tap water due to the risk of ingesting microscopic crustaceans. They both cited Toirah sources, Rabbinic teachings, and the broad body of Halachic tradition. It became clear that Rabbi Amor had the better constructed teshuvah. At that point Rabbi Metzger blurted out, “ you may be better at reaching a Psak Halacha, but I am a much more accomplished felon!” He went on to cite his indictment for illegally accepting free hotel stays.
Rabbi Amor responded sharply, “no, you michutziff, I am the more accomplished felon. Just because my wife and son have been indicted for arranging the beating of my daughter’s boyfriend, it doesn’t mean I am innocent! I instigated the whole thing!”
At that, Rabbi Metzger stroked his beard slowly, and then exclaimed, “at least I don’t eat rice on Pesach, you shaygitz!”
So we should certainly take the Toirah literally. I know I do. In fact, after Shabbos this week, I plan to go home and emulate the Parsha by handcuffing my bashert to the bed and whipping her with my gartel.
Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess