THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
On the Reboinoisheloilum’s Relationship with Klal Yisroel
It has been a tremendously disturbing week on a national scale. The terrible news about the three boys found dead has ripped at the soul of Klal Yisroel in a way that has garnered national heart-rending. Perhaps it is because the terrible news comes after two weeks of waiting, and hope. Perhaps it is because people believed, even hoped, that worldwide Jewish recitation of Tehilim and lighting candles would have a tangible impact in our corporeal world.
And the tragic reality has led to sadness, anger, and many other emotions. For some, the news contributes to a broader theological dilemma. I addressed this in last week's Drasha:
But as much as one is driven to anger against the Divine and doubts of His existence -- myself included -- I would like to share another perspective.
I began this week visiting two Concentration Camps. I stood in the room where the original industrialization of mass murder occurred. I saw the remaining foundation of the first death camp building -- where victims were walked along a corridor of death, to climb a ramp, into gas trucks, where they were asphyxiated to death in 20 minutes, 200 at a time. I walked the remains of the crematoria, stepping on the green fields that have grown above the ashes of 200,000 of our ancestors.
In each of the Concentration Camps there was a memorial book. Guests are encouraged to write their thoughts, their names, and the dates of their visits.
My inscription was simple, in Hebrew: "Am Yisrael Chai". "The Nation Of Israel Lives".
Whatever our terrible history, or our troubling reality, we are still here. We are strong. We have our own country. We have seen many national and individual achievements. The State of israel and our communities around the world face many external and internal challenges. But we are still here, and are not going anywhere.
Am Yisrael Chai.
We live in a very confusing time. Our ancestors, may they rest in peace, lived much simpler lives. Most were poor. Most were uneducated. They worked very hard for the little they had. Some aspired to Toirah greatness, but most were satisfied with following the rules, the Halachah, as they understood it. Some sought input from local rabbis or prominent rabbis or itinerant rabbis. But most led simple lives – Davening three times a day, keeping Shabboskoidesh, not eating pork – no matter how inexpensive and tasty it was, and howling at the moon once a month.
Many had exposure to the Gentile world. Depending on the time and place, the relationship was largely commercial. We sold them eggs. We bought their produce. We ogled their hot farm girls. Occasionally anti-Semitism reared its ugly head, in business interactions, in interpersonal relations, or in pogroms. But our ancestors struggled through their simple, but imperfect lives. Until it all ended with a mighty, cosmic “wham bam thank you ma’am” delivered with a German accent.
Jump to today. The post Holocaust generation has become enamored of its own self-righteousness. The State of Israel has become confused by its own formidable strength juxtaposed with its continued vulnerability. Toirah has become not a luxury for the very few but the forced course of the many. The teachings of the itinerants have become mainstream, as people have embraced the eccentric as normative. The irrational and the mystical have too often won out over nuanced common sense.
Rabboisai, it is time that we have that talk I have been meaning to have with you.
Have you ever wondered why Klal Yisroel is still here? If our ancestors kept their loyalty to the Reboinoisheloilum, despite all the hardships, despite the poverty, despite the pogroms, what happened to the simple Biblical equation and contract with Hakadoshboruchhu: We keep His Mitzvois, and in exchange He does not send in the Cossacks, the Moroccans, the Crusaders, or send us to the gas chambers? And if the Aimishteh’s intent was to destroy us, once and for all, why can’t He just get it over with, for Reboinoisheloilum’s sakes? Why do we continue to exist as a People and a Nation? What does it all mean?
Even further: Why do we continue to worship Him? Why SHOULD we continue to worship Him? After the destructions, the expulsions, the massacres, the persecutions, the pogroms, and the Shoah, why should we offer Him our thanks? Does He really deserve our thanks? Does He deserve our praise? How can we in our right minds and good conscience declare “Hodoo LaShem Kee Toiv Kee leOilm Chasdoi”?
These fundamental questions are the core essence of the existential Machloikessin debated by Chazal, accompanied by side bets, smoking Bsomim, and late night runs to KFC for chicken nuggets and gravy to help take care of the munchies.
-- According to the ARI ZAHL, Hakadoshboruchhu is not directly involved in human affairs and cannot be held accountable for anything that happens, ever. He, or rather, It, is a complex entity made up of different forces, the Sephirois, which have their own interactions, elements and personalities, as well as limitations. Through the act of Tzimtzum – Divine withdrawal – the force that is the Aimishteh created a space for humanity to exist. In addition to housing humanity, that space has a gym, a pool, and a party room, though you typically have to reserve it a month or so in advance.
-- According to Reb Yisroel Salanter, however, the Reboinoisheloilum is indeed involved in the activities of the world. But He is not trying to kill us all, just to torture us. Reb Yisroel would often tell his Talmidim in Bais Medrish: “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport” (a quote from King Lear, you ignoramus). However, according to Reb Yisroel, Hakadoishboruchhu’s murderous rampages against Klal Yisroel are not without reason. We read in Tehilim Nun Tess (Psalms 59) a plea for deliverance from Israel’s enemy, and a curious plea to the Aimishteh: “Al TeHargaim, Pen Yishkachu Ami; HaNiamoi B’Chaylcha V’Horidaimoi, Maginaynu Adonoi.” “Slay them not, lest my people forget, make them wander to and fro by Thy power, and bring them down, O Lord our shield” (Pasook Yud Baiz, Verse 12).
According to Reb Yisroel, the Reboinoisheloilum is punishing Klal Yisroel for rejecting Christ, His Messiah, and we are destined to remain the “wandering Jews”, an example to all the nations of the punishments that await those who do not accept Christ as their Lord and who do not write checks to Jimmy Swaggart, contribute money to Joel Osteen, or engage in… errr… Biyuh Sheloi KeDarkoh with a local Catholic Priest who likes to give “private lessons” to naughty little boys. Reb Yisroel, of course, made this declaration as he was dating a red headed Hungarian beauty named Christine. He later foreswore this position, and insisted that Klal Yisroel was being punished for not drinking Cholov Yisroel endorsed by his Hashgacha.
According to Reb Levi Yitzchak MiBardichev, Hakadoishboruchhu is indeed trying to kill us all. He detests our arrogance and our money lending and our collecting of interest. He hates our political and social involvement, our pride in achievement, and self-absorption with which actors, models, athletes, politicians and other public figures are Jewish, or might have a Jewish parent, or might have once given Metzitza BiPeh to a Jew. He has had it up to HERE!
So, according to Reb Levi, the Aimishteh has decided to… ummm… have adult relations with us, and has employed Hitler, Stalin, the Cossacks, Ahmedinijad and all of our other tyrannical persecutors to hold His…. ummmm…Bris Milah throughout the process.* However, the Reboinoisheloilum is losing His touch. He is trying to destroy us all, but every time He gets close to wiping us out we get taken in by a nice Gentile family who raises us as their own and protects us, those anti-Semitin.
-- On the other hand, Reb Shomo Kluger holds Farkhert. According to Reb Shlomo, the Aimishteh is actually rewarding us for our loyalty! All of the nations who are evil and who deny His dominion and who are not MeKayaim the Sheva Mitzvois B’Nei Noiach are the ones who will suffer when they are sent to Gehenim to have their Schvantzels used as wicks in the Menoirah of the Third Bais Hamikdash and their Makoim Ervahs used as Bsomim holders. But we, Klal Yisroel, His chosen people, will all sit alongside the Reboinoisheloilum in Shamayim, partaking in His Toirah, eating of the Levyoson, and drinking shots of Schlivovitz. But to earn our seats at His table we must have all of our sins expunged from our records. So it is to our benefit that we are tortured and expelled and persecuted. Sticking our ancestors in the gas chambers was an act of Divine mercy and kindness. Thank you, Hakadoshboruchhu!
-- However, Rav Shimon Schkop holds that this question is not legitimate, as it is the product of Jewish self-obsession. Surely we have a history of being persecuted, suffering through oppression, pogroms, and outright massacres, massacres that defined cruelty in the twentieth century. And if indeed Jewish history were unique, we would have no right to thank the Reboinoisheloilum and praise Him and sing “Hoidu Lashem Kee Toiv Kee Leoilum Chasdoi”. If indeed we were singled out like no other nation, then we could truly conclude that the Aimishteh has made a mockery of us.
But the harsh reality is that we are not the only people, the only nation, the only ethnic group, the only religious group who has suffered – through both human hands and the cruel fate of nature. Here are a few examples:
-- In the middle ages there was the terrible Black death, the Bubonic Plague, during which 30% of China and 50% of Europe died, all in all 100 million people.
-- The Native Americans – a group that encompassed 100 million people before the incursions of Westerner settlers – lost over 90% of its population through massacre and disease.
-- The Turkish Genocide following World War One targeted not only Armenians, but Assyians and Greeks as well. The result was the murder of over 1,000,000 Armenians, 750,000 Assyrians (Assyro-Chaldeans), 350,000 Anatolian (Turkish) Greeks, and 70,000 Turkish Kurds, with many more dispossessed, driven from their homes, and sent into exile.
There are indeed many other examples. Why, in the last twenty years alone there have been genocides, in Bosnia Herzegovina and Rwanda. And there have been fearsome natural disasters.
So, what should we make of this, and how should this fact influence our own relationship to the Reboinoisheloilum?
I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Aharoin Kutler was learning in the Bais Medrish in Vilna with his father in law, Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer. One of his their students came running in declaring, “The Nazis are coming! You must run and hide.” Alarmed, Reb Isser Zalman began to gather his Gemarras and other Sefarim and run for shelter. But Reb Aharoin did not get up.
“Aharoin”, Reb Isser Zalman said, “Why aren’t you getting up to run into hiding with me?”
Reb Aharoin replied, “All my life I have wanted to be like Rabbi Akiva, who waited all his life to be Mekayaim the Mitzvah of dying Altz Kiddush Hashem.”
“Then you are a Schmuck” Reb Isser Zalman said. “Rabbi Akiva only knew of the Toirah Shebichsav and the early learnings of the Toirah She’Baal Peh. You, on the other hand have the benefit of much more wisdom: The Mishnah, the Gemarah, the Rishoinim, the Acharoinim, and most importantly, the writings of Charles Darwin. Even in a world permeated with Kedushah, we are still subject to the laws of Survival of the Fittest. So get your ass out of that chair before Adolph turns you into a lampshade.”
Recognizing his father-in-law’s wisdom, Reb Aharoin ran into hiding, and was later smuggled to America in a case of matjes herring.
Klal Yisroel are indeed the children of the Reboinoisheloilum, as are all other human beings. Yet our physical and cultural survival over the millennia is unique. We are not immune to the rules of nature or the evil impulses of mankind. But we are still here. We are like Hakadoishboruchhu’s teddy bear: He sometimes walks around with us under His arm, He sometimes drops us, and He sometimes forgets us. But we can still hope that when He goes to sleep at night He will tuck us in right next to Him, so that we can live to see another day.
Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval,
* Rashi: In Provantz – “God is fucking us, and Hitler, Ahmejinidad etc... are only holding His dick.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess