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THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
On Unity and Division in Klal Yisroel
I am writing a special Drasha for you this week in light of the current circumstances in Klal Yisroel.
I was eating a salad yesterday that I bought from a Glatt Koisher restaurant when I ran into one of my colleagues, Rabbi Herschel Schachter, who suggested that because there was broccoli in my salad, and broccoli may contain microscopic bugs, I am like Zimri Ben Salu HaShimoinee, leading to a perversion of Klal Yisroel. And only he, in the role akin to Pinchas Ben Eliezer, has the courage to halt my sinful actions by disemboweling me with a spear through my midriff.
I responded to Reb Herschel that by pointing out such an inconsequential Narishkeit, he is like Yeruvum Ben Nevat, splintering Israel into a separate communities, and in doing so is creating false idols reminiscent of the Kruvim on top of the Aroin HaKoidesh, only with larger Schvantzyls. And I suggested that Hakadoishboruchhu is destined to take His revenge on Reb Herschel and his male descendants, probably by ruining their Tzitzis in the washing machine and by making their Shmaasers wilt on Mitzvah night.
Rabboisai, we are living at a time when Achdus Yisroel Einenah, the unity of Israel is no more. Once upon a time Klal Yisroel stood united around Har Sinai to receive the Toirah from Hakadoshboruchhu. There was thunder. There was lightning. There was music. U2 opened, followed by Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Then came Lady Gaga and Lipa Shmeltzer. Then Joe Cocker and the Miami Boys Choir, followed by the Toronto Pirchei. And then Jimi Hendrix brought down the house with his psychedelic guitar rendition of "Zarah Chayah V’Kayamah".
After saying "Na'aseh V'Nishmah" Am Yisroel waited together for Moishe Rabbeinu to ascend the mountain, and stayed encamped at the base of Har Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. Klal Yisroel was connected as never before. Men learned Toirah all night. Women recited Tehilim. Kids played card games. The was hookah. Local Sinaitic Besomim were passed around, and lots of Leytzonois V’Simcha Dioraisa, A.K.A. LSD. Free love reigned. Six months later thousands of couples got married, Boruch Hashem. And three month after that thousands of babies were born, Kenayna Hurrah! It was a time of peace, love, and understanding, Man!!!
But not today. Look around at the divisiveness that defines Klal Yisroel:
The secular in Israel are trying to force their evil will upon the Ultra Orthodox by compelling the Chareidim to contribute to the State through participating in military or national service and pursuing employment. The Ultra Orthodox are resisting a change in the status quo and believe that due to their Toirah study and piety, they are entitled to have large families, be exempt from the army, refrain from secular education, and be supported by the State that most of them are ideologically opposed to.
The progressive Orthodox are trying to expand the role of women within traditional frames of reference, while the traditional Orthodox are opposed to innovation, and see such changes as outside the scope of tradition.
In Israel, the left seeks to make territorial concessions in exchange for a political arrangement with the Palestinians. The right seeks to preserve Jewish sovereignty over the traditional territories identified with ancient Israel.
We are at odds with each other as never before. There is tension. There is political debate. There are street demonstrations. There is name calling. And there are lots of discussions on Facebook, at least among the people who apparently have nothing better to do all day.
Is there not one thing we can all agree upon that unites us? Why cannot Klal Yisroel be perfectly united the way we were throughout our 4000 year history?
I mean... Of course throughout there might have been the occasional internal disagreement...
-- As noted above, the Kingdom of Israel in the north split from the Kingdom of Judah in the South. The Toirah suggests that political ambition led to the split. Biblical scholars suggest that the split resulted from exploitation, forced labor policies and other inequalities implemented by the HaMelech Shloimoih on the northern tribes of the Israelite confederation. I guess the wise King Solomon was not so Reboinoisheloilum-damned smart after all. And the Metzudas Tziyoin suggests that the north split off because they thought their cable bill was too high, plus they wanted a better selection of TV channels.
-- Within the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, there was an ongoing theological competition between the supporters of the Aimishteh, AKA Yahweh, and the supporters of the pagan pantheon. Even King Shlomo introduced idolatry into the Bais HaMikdash. But on the plus side, according to the Medrish Tanchuma, he also built a health club for the Koihanim within the Bais Hamikdash itself, which included cardio vascular equipment, a weight room, and a Svitz. But the Koihanim were always angry that they had to pay extra to use a trainer or get a massage.
-- Hillel must have thought that Shammai was a total ass. I mean, they disagreed on EVERYTHING, and Hillel typically won all the arguments. And yet, they sat together on the Sanhedrin as one of “The Pairs”, convening the institution on a daily basis. (A Yerushalmi in Brachois tells us that despite their differences, they were regular Sunday morning racquetball teammates, and they participated in a weekly poker game with Reb Elazar Ben Azariah, Elisha Ben Abuyah AKA Acher, and Ben Heyhey.)
-- Other famous “debaters” of the Talmidic period include Rabbi Yehuda and Reb Jose, Rav and Shmuel, and Abaya and Rava. To the best of my knowledge, none ever referred to the other as Koirach, although in a heated moment Rava did once say to Abaya, “hey, buddy, your wife looks like “a Persian howler monkey, and not one of the cute ones”.
-- RASHI, perhaps the penultimate commentary on the Toirah and a critical commentary on the Talmud, is ceaselessly debated and challenges by Toisfois, a broad school of scholars that followed in his footsteps in Western and Central Europe, some of who were his own grandsons. And did he express disappointment in their constant Minuvaldickah arguments on minutiae? Well, he might have, but he was dead. Kind of hard to debate or to deliver a Psak Halacha from the grave. Unless you are the Lubavitcher Rebber
-- The RAMBAN debates ceaselessly with the RAMBAM, considered by many to be the single most influential Jewish thinker since Jesus….errr…. since Rabbi Akiva.
And so on…
And what were these people debating about? Theoretical topics about the color of Moishe Rabbeinu’s Yarmulke? The number of goats that Yankif Avinu had? Whether the world is 6,000 years old or 6 billion years old? NO, YOU MECHUTZIFF! They were debating practical matters: What type of Tefillin should people wear -- RASHI or Rabbeinu Tam? What constitutes acceptable activities on Shabboskoidesh? What Bracha do you make on strawberry ice cream? Etc.
And in our own day we have considerable variation on core religious practices. For example:
-- Different Nusachichim of Davening/ variants of prayer – Between Ashkenaz, Sephard, Nusach Ari/ Lubavitch, Sephardi/ Edot HaMizrach, Roman, Yemenite
-- Yoim Toiv Shaynee Shel Goliyois versus one day of Yuntif in Eretz Yisroel
-- Chassidic practice versus Misnagdischeh practice
-- Kitniyois eaten by Sephardim
-- Gebruchts eaten by Misnagdim
So diversity is built into the culture of Klal Yisroel! There are different Minhagim. There are even different approached to Halachah. And to this the Gemarrah says, “Ilu V’Ilu Diverei Eloikim Chaim ”, alternate positions in a debate are all expressions of the living Reboinoisheloilum.
So if diversity is so inherent in our culture, why have contemporary debates deteriorated into pugilistic name calling and physical protests?
I am reminded of a Ma’aseh Shehoya. The Volna Goyn was once Davening for the Umid on the Yahrtzeit for his poodle. As he was about to recite Kedushah, a group of Chassidim came into the Shul to protest. The Gruh immediately stepped out of his Chazaras HaShatz and called the Czar’s police to arrest the Chassidim for loitering.
That night Hakadoshboruchhu came to him in a dream. “What did you have those Chassidim arrested?” asked the Aimishteh.
“Because they are perverting Your religion” replied the Gruh.
“MY RELIGION!?” screamed the Reboinoisheloilum. “Dude, I am a Hindu, for My-sakes. Plus I love the Payis.”
And from that day forth, the Goyn stopped persecuting the Chassidim and started persecuting the Reformed.
Rather than focusing on issues of true importance, the Jewish community has become self-absorbed as never before. Perhaps the existence of a modern State of Israel has exacerbated a hunger for political and economic power. Perhaps the advent of news and social media has created a quest on the part of some for controlling ideas, beliefs, and practices.
But we are not a group of former slaves camped out at Har Sinai waiting for the Good Word from On High. We have the power to think for ourselves. The Jewish ghetto of Eastern Europe is no more. And those that try to recreate it in our modern society are bound to fail, because there is not now, nor has there ever been, a singular Jewish doctrine. “Toirah Lo BaShamayim Hee.” “Ilu V’Ilu Diverei Eloikim Chaim.”
Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess