THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
A serious note before this week's Drasha.
This week, Steven Sotloff A"H was brutally murdered by ISIS. Following his death, we all learned that Steven was able to hide his Jewish religion and Israeli citizenship from his Islamic Fundamentalist kidnappers. He even secretly practiced his faith while being held hostage: He fasted on Yom Kippur while being held captive, telling his captors that he had no appetite on that day because he was unwell.
I am reminded of the famous legend of Rabbi Akiva, who, as he is being tortured to death, exclaims that he is finally able to complete one mitzvah he had never done before -- to die "Altz Kiddush Hashem", to die in an act of sanctifying the Divine.
No one knows whether the legend of Rabbi Akiva is historically true. But we need only look to Steven Sotloff, the many Israeli soldiers and civilians killed in the recent war, and the many American and other soldiers and civilians -- Jewish and Non Jewish -- who have lost their lives as the world quakes in the Kulturkamf of freedom versus tyranny and moderation versus extremism to understand this sentiment.
For those who believe in a Messianic era, may these be the last of the Chevlei Moshiach, the birth pangs of the Messiah.
For those who do not, may we see peace and coexistence across all of humanity -- all nationalities and religions. After all, we are all the children of God; we were all created in His image.
Parshas Kee Saitzay
In this week's Parsha, Kee Saitzay, we are warned against cross-dressing: "The garment of a man should not adorn a woman, and a man shall not dress in the smock of a woman, for it is blasphemous to the Aimishteh..." (Devarim, Perek Chuff Bayz, Pasuk Hay).
The Bais Yoiseph asks an obvious question: Why is the Toirah so damned uptight? He answers that Moishe Rabbeinu was clearly a terrible homophobe. Referring to a famous Medrish, the Bais Yoiseph suggests that Moishe's homophobia was due to Moishe's famous lisp, which was always perceived by others as a gay characteristic and for which he was always mocked at the gym.
However, the RAIVID disagrees vehemently. He points out that not all cross dressers are homosexuals, and that most homosexuals are not cross dressers. Indeed, the RAIVID himself always wore a long black Bekesheh, a Shtreimel, and an extra long Gartel whenever he went cruisin' for Yeshivah Buchrim.
Rather, the RAIVID cites a Medrish about Moishe which reports that while in exile in Midyan, the very heterosexual Moishe Rabbeinu once went into a bar and hit on someone with nice round buttocks, but, alas, the person turned out to be a guy. Says the RAIVID, that left Moishe with life-long hard feelings.
However, the Pri Megadin holds farkhert: he interprets a line in the Zoihar as suggesting that in Midyan Moishe Rabbeinu dated a man for six months, but was left bitter after a harsh breakup.
The Klay Yukkur suggests that the RAIVID and the Pri Megadin spent far too much time in the Mikvah together. Rather, to clarify the Toirah's strong antipathy towards cross dressing, he points to the proximity of the banning of cross dressing to a subsequent commandment stated in the Toirah. He notes that the Mitzvah immediately following is Shiluach HaKan, the biblical injunction decreeing that a mother bird must be chased from a nest before its eggs or babies are confiscated for culinary purposes. Of course, Rabbinic literature has always equated this strange law with the commandment to honor one's father and mother, since the Biblically promised reward for both is the same -- long life.
Commenting on the juxtaposition, the Klay Yukkur suggests that the Toirah is trying to tell us that we are required to honor our father and mother, even if one of them is a cross dresser. However, the Chayay Adam disagrees, holding that if your mother is a cross dresser you should still honor her, but if your father is a cross dresser he should be chased away with great haste.
I would humbly like to offer my own interpretation. The injunction against cross dressing is consistent with many other commandments raised in this Parsha which all deal with issues of human sexuality:
-- Laws of marriage and divorce
-- Laws of suspected wifely infidelity
-- Laws of premarital relations
-- A warning against marrying the wife of one's father
-- The commandment that one recently married should not go out to war.
I would like to suggest that Moishe Rabbeinu, standing on the mountain addressing Klal Yisroel for many days, summing up the wisdom and accomplishments of his 40 or so years of leadership, was feeling a "little randy", if you know what I mean. It was hot; women in the crowd were dressed in highly suggestive flowing sheets, and Moishe had only one thing on his mind. Who knows when the last time was that he had done his "special mitzvah." He was ready, and his Taivah was all he could think about.
Indeed, in the same Parsha, Moishe Rabbeinu also mentions the laws of bondage. Though these commandments refer to slaves, in Moishe's anxious state this set of rules may also have been particularly pressing on his mind.
And as he looked down into the crowd, the further Moishe looked in the distance the harder it was to distinguish between the men and the women. This upset him so much, he made up the anti cross-dressing legislation on the spot, so that in the future it would be easier to "check out the talent."
Indeed, a Medrish in the Sifre notes that Aroin Hacoihain, the Minuval, shared this very concern. Prior to his death, Aroin decreed that all Mishkan and Temple practices be performed with men and women separated. This was intended to make it easier for Coihanim performing the service to spot a hotty in the crowd, and then later pick her up by asking if she would like to play "hide the Korban Toidah" with him.
I am reminded of the early days of marriage to my Bashert, Feige Breinah. We had just been married, and two weeks into our marriage, when I suggested to my Bashert that we try accomplishing a Mitzvah in the backseat of the car while parked outside St Patrick's Cathedral, I was sternly told that while the suggestion was admirable, the timing was quite bad, for it was not "hunting season." I pleaded. I argued. I threatened to tell her father that while in Bais Yankif, her nickname was "Feige The Sword Swallower." All to no avail.
I stormed upstairs to take matters into my own hands, if you know what I mean. As I thought about this incident, I focused on the Biblical and rabbinic injunctions that bar marital relations at given times of the month. Who do they serve? Are they harmful or healthy for the relationship long term? Why does the Aimishteh even care, what, with the economy economy the way it is.
But I believe that the Toirah is trying to teach us a harsh lesson in this Parsha: You may be tempted to try on your wife's clothing, because, my Rebboinoisheloilum, she spends so much damn money on her wardrobe. However, cross dressing is strictly forbidden. Rather, Hakadoshboruchhu prefers that you direct your energies towards more critical efforts, such as chasing mother birds from their nests, so you can ensure for yourself a long life of frustration...err, wisdom and fulfillment.
Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess