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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Parshas Vayigash

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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=== COMING SOON: IGROIS PINKY -- THE SECOND COLLECTION OF THE WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN ===

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Parshas Vayigash

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayigash, we read of the culmination of the Yoisaiph Hatzadick story, where Yoisaiph Hatzadick exposes himself to his brothers, as well as to numerous underage bystanders.

Not long after, of course, Yankif Avinu is told that his beloved son Yoisaiph is indeed alive, ending his years of mourning. The Toirah is silent about how the wonderful news is told to Yankif. However, a famous Medrish tells us that the news was gently broken to Yankif by his granddaughter, Serach Bas Asher.

Serach Bas Asher was respected amongst her family as a talented singer and a musician. The Shfatim were concerned that breaking the news outright to Yankif would cause him to have a heart attack. So instead, they employed Serach to gently sing to her grandfather while playing the harp, and embed in her song the news that Yoisaiph was alive. The Medrish goes on to say that Serach’s reward for performing this great expression of Kibud Av VaAim was eternal life.

Unfortunately for Serach, her gift of eternal life was not accompanied by a matching gift of a trust fund or a professionally managed pension fund to support her financially. Consequently, she was dirt poor, and had to spend the next thousand years working as an exotic dancer in a Mesopotamian strip club.

Whatever became of Serach Bas Asher? There is a famous machloikess on this topic in a Gemarrah in Megillah.

-- According to Abaya, Serach prayed for the Reboinoisheloilum to end her life as she witnessed the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash and the descent of Klal Yisroel into the Babylonian exile.

-- According to Rava, Serach lived though Golus Bavel, returned to Eretz Yisroel with Ezra and Nechemia, and lived for several hundred more years. But as Sinas Chinum overtook Klal Yisroel in the years before the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, Serach could no longer withstand her role as eyewitness to all of Jewish history, and prayed to the Aimishteh to be taken to the Oilum HaEmmes.

-- However, according to Rav Shayshess, Serach Bas Asher is indeed still alive, and is currently living in Wisconsin, running an online porn site, SerachWILD.Com.

-- Rav Puppa concurs that Serach is still alive, but he insists that she is neither engaging in pornography, Chass V’Sholom, nor living in obscurity. Farkhert, he holds that she is leveraging her years of wisdom and experience to make the Reboinoisheloilum’s world a better place by engaging in public service, and is none other than Hillary Clinton. In addition, Rav Puppa holds that Joe Biden is really Culaiv Ben Yefuneh, Barack Oibama is actually Shloimoi Hamelech, and Rahm Emanuel is in reality Yeruvum Ben Nevut.

A different Gemarrah in Shabbos focuses on Yankif Avinu’s response to the revelation of Yoisaiph’s whereabouts. According to Rav Chisda, upon hearing the news that Yoisaiph was alive, Yankif looked up to Shamayim and recited Hallel “at having lived to see the handiwork of the Etzbah Eloikim.” However, according to Rabba Bar Bar Channa, Yankif Avinu first looked down to the floor and took a moment to reflect on the enormity of the information. Then he turned around and bitch-slapped Yissaschar and Zevulun in the head, and then kicked Naftali in the Schvantzlach.

RASHI, however, is not at all troubled by the confusion raised by the total lack of any real information in theis story. He states in Perek Chuff Baiz, Passuk Yud Aleph that the entire Parsha of Vayigash should not be taken literally anyway, but should be read as a complete metaphor… for Parshas Miketz, which makes even less sense than Parshas Vayigash. Consequently, every year at this time, to coincide with Chanukah, RASHI would take a break from writing his commentary and travel abroad to sample the new wines being developed in Sonoma County. He would stay at a boutique hotel in downtown San Francisco and take day trips to the wineries where he would drink enough, he writes, “until I can no longer tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabarnet, or between a woman names Chris and a cross-dresser named Christine.” Shoyn.

As we sit here in our modern world, how are we to relate to the entire Yoisaiph Hatzadick story, and, in fact, to the entire Yankif Avinu cycle? Did we even need the brave actions of Yoisaph Hatzadick to begin with? Would we not have been better off had Klal Yisroel not descended to Egypt? Why did Hakkadoshboruchhu have to put our ancestors through hundreds of years of suffering the stinging horrors and humiliations of slavery, only to return to Eretz Yisroel through bitter conquest? Could we not have just stayed there in the first place and survived the famine by taking government subsidies?

Indeed, this is a reflection of a broader existential quandary – linked to one of the ultimate questions facing Klal Yisroel: Why is our history so twisted and tinged with challenge and tragedy? If we are indeed the Aimishteh’s chosen people, could we not have had it a bit easier, like, say, the Norwegians? Who is at fault for our having such a convoluted and tortured fate?

According to Reb Yoisaiph Katski, this is indeed the fault of Hakadoshboruchhu Himself, Bichvoidoi UbiAtzmoi. He points to the Akeidah and notes that just as Yitzchak’s life is spared when a lost little lamb is sacrificed in his stead, the Reboinoisheloilum constantly looks at the world, is tempted to destroy it, remembers His oath to Noiach, and then uses Klal Yisroel as His punching bag to take out His frustrations.

Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah holds farkhert. According to Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah, the eternal fate of Klal Yisroel is of course not the Aimishteh’s fault! He loves us the same way a child lives his pet hamster. Rather, we should really blame all the ills of our lives on our parents: If they had only loved us a little more as we were children, and bought us that thing that we really wanted, and let us watch a little more TV, and helped us more with out homework, and not favored our younger brother, and had been less critical of our bisomim smoking friends, we would have been better adjusted and had all the needed confidence to succeed in our lives' endeavors. Yes, it is our parents who are at fault for the failure of our going down to Egypt, for us being exiled, and for all of our other failings. Indeed, the fact that we are 3,000 years old, still wet our beds, suck our thumbs, and are always looking for a handout proves that our parents never really cared about us!

However, according to the RASTA, our eternal fate is the fault of neither Hakadoshboruchhu nor of our parents. Rather, it is the fault of the liberal media. Case in point: Did we really have to know that Yoisaiph had actually been sold into slavery by his brothers, who then lied to Yankif Avinu and maintained the lie for the next two decades? Is it that big a deal? Every nation has its little internal arguments, and exposing this disagreement only plays into the hands of our enemies.

Similarly, we would never have been exiled from Eretz Yisroel if the liberal media was not always talking about how corrupt the kings of Israel were. They should really love the country, otherwise they should keep their mouths shut. Did the liberal media need to tell us that idolatry was introduced into the Bais Hamikdash by Shloimoi HaMelech and most of the other kings of Malchus Yehuda? These were a few isolated events, blown totally out of proportion. And so what if there were poor members of Klal Yisroel being ignored by their fellow man -- they were probably illegal immigrants anyway. And so what if there were widows and orphans -- they should have planned better for the future!

Yes, it was the liberal media that undermined the position of Malchis Bais David, the Malchus of the Chashmonaim, and later, the leadership of the Nasi in the post Temple period. Media vehicles such as CNN, ABC, National Public Radio, Kol Yisroel, Shmuel Aleph and Baiz, Melachim Aleph and Baiz, Yishayahu, Yirmiyahu and the other prophets, as well as the Associated Press and Al Jazira. By the actions of the liberal media, our enemies have been strengthened and given constant reason to hate us and persecute us. Reboinoisheloilum-Damned-Liberal-Media!

I am reminded of a famous Machloikess in the medieval period. The RIF and the RAN got into a disagreement with the RALBAG and the RITVAH over who had the bigger shtender, Moishe Rabbeinu or Aaroin HaKoihain, the minuval. The RIF and the RAN insist that Moishe’s shtender was bigger, as we are told that Moishe was the greatest Navi that ever lived, and how can you imagine a Navi with an inferior shtender? The RALBAG and the RITVAH, however, refer to the fact that the descendents of Aharoin HAKoihain received the Kehunah as proof that Aharoin had a bigger shtender. After all, they argue, “only someone with a groisse shtender could have earned the right to appoint his descendants to the institutional leadership of future generations."

I would like to suggest a different approach. LeOilum, this debate isn’t really about the size of one's shtender. After all, size doesn’t matter, or so my Bashert, Feige Breineh, frequently reassures me. Rather, it is the scope of one’s influence that really counts. Moishe Rabbeinu was the greatest Navi, but his descendants were more interested in learning Toirah, and less focused on addressing the everyday needs of Klal Yisroel. By contrast, Aroin Hakoihain was indeed a minuval, what, with the designing of the Eigel and speaking Rechilus about Moishe. Yet his children were committed to serving Klal Yisroel, even if that meant giving of their private time, sacrificing commitments to their children, violating their marital vows, or taking of the collected wealth of Klal Yisroel. As a result, through their actions, they established the paradigm of the future religious leadership of Klal Yisroel.

Similarly, Yoisaiph Hatzadick and the cycle of stories that surround him do not represent some perfect era of Klal Yisroel’s history. On the contrary, they tell us that the nature of the relationship between Klal Yisroel and the Reboinoisheloilum is not at all clear. In fact, it is downright convoluted. Yet, what is crystal clear from the story of Yoisaiph is that the will of Hakkadoshboruchhu is best served when we hide our own identities, marry shiksas, work for the goyim, and abuse our brethren. Only then can we be in a strong position to help bring about the Geulah Shlaimah for all of Klal Yisroel. Bimayra BiYamainu. Umayn.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

On Financial Scandals and Klal Yisroel

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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THIS WEEK’S DRASHA IS SPONSORED BY THE MIZRAHI BAYIS SHUL IN TORONTO, IN HONOR OF THE ANNUAL MIKVAH AND SKINNY DIPPING FUNDRAISING BREAKFAST HOSTED BY YOISAIPH AND SOME OF HIS MENCHEN, AND FEATURING SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCES BY AVRIL LAVIGNE AND ALANIS MORISSETTE.



On Financial Scandals and Klal Yisroel


Dear Rav Pinky,

I am deeply troubled that a Jew would not only steal from Goyim, but also from fellow Yeeden such as Steven Spielberg, Elie Weisel, Yeshiva University, and Mort Zuckerman (OK, maybe Zuckerman is a stretch). I don't want to name names, chas v'shalom, but how can we continue living in the spirit of "Chaveyrim Kol Yisroyel" when we are faced with such deception and a Jew "made off" with other Jews’ money?


I am also concerned about the finances of Yeshivas Chipas Emmess. Are the Yeshiva's endowment funds in good hands? Can you assure your donors that there is nothing to worry about?


-Bewildered in Bergenfield


Dear Reb Bewildered,


What kind of Self-Hating-Anti-Semite are you anyway? Are you possibly suggesting that a Jew is involved in a terrible Shanda? Have you been seduced by the liberal media to believe that a member of Klal Yisroel has ANYTHING to do with the greatest Ponzi scheme in history, or, for that matter, that even ONE JEW was involved in the broader financial crisis which has brought all the Goyim… err… global economies… to their knees? Minuval!


First, I want to stress how serious this situation is. It is no joking matter. As I write this I am sitting at a table in the Yeshiva surrounded by various Shailois Ve’Tshuvois from the Middle Ages that debate how Klal Yisroel should react to a broad economic downturn. I have been doing my research here for weeks, sleeves rolled up, in the Bernie Madoff Bais Medrish, taking an occasional walk to pick up a Sefer in the Ivan Boesky Library, and from time to time finding a bit of respite over a cup of coffee in the Milken Cafeteria. Sadly, we have not yet completed construction of the Spitzer Family Recreation Lounge, or I would certainly be spending quite a bit of time there as well.


Your Shaila brings up some painful questions: What is the status of a member of Klal Yisroel who brings shame and dishonor to his entire nation? Is he still a Jew? What’s Pshat?

There is a Gemara in Baba Kamma that discusses a curious story about Mar Zutra, who, when he was not learning in Pumbedisa, owned a hat store in downtown Basra. One day a disheveled beggar came in and said to Mar Zutra, “Rebbe, can you spare a Pruta for a poor man?”

Mar Zutra responded, “What do you think I look like, a bank?”

To which the man replied, “Well you do have a big Jewish nose and just did construction on your house, so I just assumed you were a banker.”

“Your are wise, my friend,” Mar Zutra answered. “I will tell you what I will do. If YOU give ME one Pruta today, I promise to return two Prutois to you next week.”

The poor man thought silently for a moment, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a big wad of Zuzim. “Rabbi”, he said, “what kind of schmuck do you take me for?”

RASHI, commenting on this story, notes that the poor man was actually Yishayahu HaNavi, and that by asking people for money, he was really gauging which souls were committed to the Reboinoisheloilum and which were obsessed with materialism.

TOISFOIS, however, disagrees, and suggests that the poor man was really Yirmiyahu HaNavi, and that he was carrying a big wad of singles because he was on his way to a strip club in the seedy part of Az Zubayr.

Elsewhere, in a Gemara in Masechess Gittin, there is a debate how a community should respond when a man refuses to give a Get (grant a divorce) to his wife. According to Rav, the man is considered evil since he is causing his wife to be an Agunah (trapped in unmarriageable limbo), and the community should pick up the man while he is walking down the street, toss him in the back of a pickup truck, beat the Gehennim out of him, and then leave him lying naked in front of the local Shul.

Rava holds farkhert: A man like this is considered to be a Tzaddik, since he is taking concrete steps to preserve Shalom Bayis. Rava suggests that we pick up the man while he is walking down the street, toss him in the back of a pickup truck, and take him to a local motel for some hot Pilegesh action.

However, the most interesting Shittah for our discussion is the position given by Rabbah. According to Rabbah, a man who refuses to grant a Get is considered to be “Hoitzee Ess Etzmoi Min HaKlal” – he removes himself from the collective of Am Yisroel, and for that reason we no longer consider him to be a Jew. Therefore, Rabbah suggests that we pick up the man while he is walking down the street, toss him in the back of a pickup truck, and take him to a local market where we force him to pay retail and eat oysters on the half shell.

This Shittah of Rabbah is reminiscent of the famous case in the mid-Twentieth Century regarding Brother Daniel, the Meshumid. Brother Daniel was born a Jew in Poland, had saved many Jewish lives during the Shoah in Mir and elsewhere, and later converted to Christianity. However, his application to become a citizen of the State of Israel under the Right of Return was denied because it was determined by the Israeli government and the Israeli Supreme Court that you cannot be both a Catholic priest and a Jew. They are mutually exclusive. In other words, there is a recognition of certain circumstances under which one may lose his status as a Jew.

So when you raise the issue of Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme, it is A LIE to suggest that Bernie Madoff is a Jew. Who told you that? Sure, Bernie Madoff was a member of the Board of Trustees of Yeshiva University and the Chairman of the Board of YU’s Sy Syms School of Business. But those of us who lead a Toirah-True lifestyle know that YU is no more a Yeshiva than Britney Spears is a virgin. Yes, many Jewish organizations invested with Bernie Madoff due to personal connections though Jewish financiers, and lost millions in the process, but clearly Hakkadoshboruchhu was punishing them for investing money with a Goy. And of course many Jewish investors gave their money to Bernie Madoff in the belief that they could trust a “fellow Jew”. But let’s face it: the guy had a 55 foot yacht! That should have been a tip-off that he is really a Shaygitz.

So the bottom line here is that Bernie Madoff is NOT a Jew! He may have been one once, Ich Vais, but now he is Hitler’s younger brother. And to suggest otherwise makes you a Minuval Am Ha’aretz, you Ignoramus.

And I make this Halachic pronouncement with great conviction because, as everyone knows, there is absolutely nothing in our grand tradition that would offer even the slightest hint of support for the kind of immoral behavior exhibited by Madoff towards his fellow Jews. Sure, Yankif Avinu steals the birthright from his older brother. But Eisuv Harusha was a Schmendrick, so he got what he deserved. Sure, Yoisaiph Hatzadick aspired to and ultimately ruled over his older brothers. But he was simply fulfilling the will of the Aimishteh. Sure, Klal Yisroel settled Eretz Yisroel by occupying the land, expelling or putting under Cheyrem the indigenous Canaanite peoples. But they were Goyim, so who cares? Sure, the Shulchan Aruch, supported by the Mishnah Berurah and many contemporary Poiskim, forbids a Jewish Doctor from being Mechallel Shabbos to offer medical attention to a non-Jew. BUT HE’S A SHAYGITZ – There are lots of them!

No, there is absolutely NOTHING in our tradition that would sanction or even suggest that one may have license to steal and cheat, at least not from fellow members of Klal Yisroel, So Bernie Madoff is clearly a Goy. Unless, of course, he is ultimately found not guilty, in which case I will be happy to count him as a tenth in a minyan, at least in exchange for a major gift.

Now, with regard to the economic status and solvency of Yeshivas Chipas Emmess, lest you worry, my young Talmud. Our endowment is fully under control. I personally oversee the Yeshiva’s portfolio strategy, using a diversified investment approach that I learned while sitting in the Bais Ha Keesay (much the same way as the RAMBAM learned medicine): Twice a year my Bashert Feige Breinah and I travel with the Yeshiva’s endowment to invest in multiple financial instruments in Las Vegas. And if there is extra time, we also take in a few shows.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Drasha


THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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THIS WEEK'S DRASHA IS SPONSORED BY MORRIS AND SHAYNDEL GOLDBERG, IN HONOR OF THE BAR MITZVAH OF THEIR TURTLE, SEYMOUR. MAZEL TOIV!


Christmas Drasha

Rabbi Yoichanan Ben Zakai, in a Braisa brought down in Maseches Airuvin, asks: What is the true mitzvah of Christmas? Is it to share the joy, the festivities, the gift-giving, and the spirit of good will towards all men? Or is it to go to a matinee, pay half price, and stay the hell off the street until the goyim sober up?

This line of questioning echoes a story of Eliyahu Hanavi, as he faced down the priests of Baal on Har Carmel. As they each brought sacrifices and rejoiced in their Avoidah Zarah, Eliyahu chose to sit on the side and clip coupons, rather than participate. And when it came time to show the power of the Aimishteh, Eliyahu chose to consume all the priests with fire, rather than pay to provide refreshments for everyone.

According to the RAN, this story captures the essential dilemma of ambivalence we all feel at this time of year. All year long we function as a part of external secular society, with our own traditions and peculiarities accepted in an air of viva la differance. But at Christmas time we are not Battul BeShishim; we stand out as the minority that we are.

Yet, we needn't abandon this Yuntif entirely, given our myriad connections to it:

- Jesus was, of course, a Jew. Indeed, a medrish in Matthew Rabbah refers to him using a cell phone in a movie theatre and taking Mary Magdolyn on a shidduch date for drinks at the local Marriot;

- Christmas tree lights are a modern day expression on the ancient Germanic festival of lights commemorating the winter solstice. This, in itself, is partly reflected in the lighting of the Chanukah candles;

- Christmas is a celebration of...RETAIL. According to the RAMBAM's Mishnah Toirah, one of the key Mitzvois Asei SheHazman Gerammah is the raising of ALL prices by 20% between December 10th and December 24th. Boruch Hashem for Kratzmach -- this Yuntif pays for my kids' Yeshivah tuition! Indeed, all of my talmidim are encouraged to contribute to a Christmas fund for families who cannot afford toys, the Kratzmach Gemach, so that Jewish merchants will not suffer because the Goyim are in the middle of a recession.

- There is a famous Mishnah that states that just as Roish Hashanah is the New Year for the universe and Tu BiShvat is the New Year for trees, Christmas is the New Year for big, fat, bearded white guys. And I know many Rabbanim in our community who should therefore celebrate this Yuntif too.

There is a famous Maiseh SheHoya about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In an effort to raise money for vodka for his Chasidim one year, he dressed up as Santa Clause and stood in front of the local Bloomingdales, pretending to be from the Salvation Army. Who should walk by, but his archenemy, the Satmar Rebbe.

"So, Menachem-Mendel," the Satmar Rebbe declared in a loud voice, "Your movement truly has evolved into another religion."

"Not at all," the Lubavitcher Rebbe calmly replied. "We simply never miss an opportunity to find joy. What do you say you and I do a couple of shots, sing a niggun, and make-up underneath the mistletoe?"

The Satmar Rebbe was so upset by the confrontation that day, he insisted that all of his followers use reindeer meat in their cholent that shabbos.

Meanwhile, the Lubavitcher Rebbe raised enough money to keep his Chasidim drunk through the end of the month of Tayvais. That night, the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. "Rebbe," the Aimishteh said, "Have I not given you enough to celebrate in Yiddishkeit? Why are you and your followers embracing another religion?"

"But Hakkadoshbaruchhu," the Lubavitcher Rebbe responded, "we have not strayed from Yiddishkeit. It's not as if any of my Chasidim will ever embrace the concept of resurrection or anything like that."

So we have a lot more in common with Christmas than we originally thought. We should therefore neither ignore the holiday nor treat it with disrespect. Rather, we should treat it as the money making opportunity that it truly is.

Ah Gutten Yuntif, You Minuval

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Parshas Vayayshev

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Vayayshev

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayayshev, we read characteristic tales that reflect the great moral fabric of our ancestors. These stories include:

-- Yoisaif Hatzadik has repeated dreams of future domination over his brothers and his parents. His brothers express displeasure at these dreams. And who can blame them? Believe me: If your brother boasted that you would one day bow down to him, you would want to kick him in the Bris Milah too.

-- Yehuda fathers the family line that will result in Malchus Bais David, the Davidic monarchy. Of course, along the way he did have to sleep with his daughter in law, Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute on the road in order to seduce him. Maylah, after reading this week’s Parsha, I feel a lot less guilty about buying that French maid’s costume and riding crop from Fredericks of Hollywood for my Bashert, Feyga Breinah.

-- The Shvatim, completely fed up with Yoisaif Hatzadik’s undermining of their positions with their father, decide to kill Yoisaif. At the last moment they cast him into a pit and take his Kesoines Passim, his Coat of Many Colors, cover it with goat’s blood and bring it to their father, to whom they report that their beloved sibling was eaten by a beast. Yankif is inconsolable -- to the point of ceasing day trading for a full six hours!

A gemarrah in Soitah brings down a Beraisah quoting a question from Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah: “Are we, Klal Yisroel, really descendants of these people? I mean, seriously, is it possible we could be adopted? Please?!” Rabbi Elazar goes on to point out that he never in his life tried to kill any of his brothers or sleep with his son’s wife, though he once did grope his sister-in-law during havdalah.

What follows is a famous machloikess in the gemarrah surrounding Rabbi Elazar’s comments:

Rish Lakish holds that Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah found the activities of the Avois and the Shvatim quite disturbing, and felt that we should try to emulate the more positive aspects of their lives, such as Yosaif Hatzadik’s nice hair style, the Shvatim’s bargaining skills with Ishmaelite merchants, and Yehuda’s giving of generous tips to even the lowliest of roadside prostitutes.

However, Rav Huna holds farkhert: In reality all of the stories brought down in the Toirah do indeed reflect positive elements of our ancestors’ behavior, if only you understood the Toirah properly, you worthless minuval. He explains:

-- Yoisaif was a gadol amongst his brothers, and had true visions of his future exile and eventual ascent to power in Egypt. And in his dreams, his family members were not bowing down to him – rather, they were all picking up pennies from the floor.

-- The Shvatim were afraid that Yoisaif’s perceived arrogance would be a bad influence on their children, and therefore determined to strengthen their own families by kidnapping their brother. And their persistent lying to their father about Yoisaif’s fate was an attempt to Practice the mitzvah of Shiluach Hakan.

-- And Yehuda never, ever, ever, EVER meant in his life to go to a prostitute, chass vesholom. Unfortunately, in his business travels he was exposed to television, and after watching Britney Spears on MTV he had a tremendous taiyvah. And instead of committing a Dioraisa by himself, if you know what I mean, he chose to do a DeRabannan with Tamar. What a tzadik!

Rav Huna cites proof for his position on the high moral integrity of the Shvatim. He notes that Yoiseph Hatzadik, after he had risen to lead the household of Potiphar, rejected the advances of Mrs. Potiphar. Says Rav Huna: this is because Yoiseph knew Kol HaToirah Kooloh and didn’t want to commit an act of Gilui Arayois – adultery.

But Rish Lakish retorts, citing a medrish in Beraishis Rabbah that says that Mrs. Potiphar weighed 400 pounds and had facial hair that made her look like Yassir Arafat. Rish Lakish also cites a different medrish in the Mekhilta that suggests while living in Potiphar’s house, Yoiseph Hatzadik spent ALL of his time on the weekends going shopping with Potiphar’s younger brother, Merlot, and had no interest in Mrs. Potiphar whatsoever. Rish Lakish concludes, “Rav Huna should spend more time tying his tzitzis rather than trying to reinterpret the basic pshat of Beraishis." Shoyn.

The gemarrah never settles this machloikess and the Rishoinim do not really talk about it. However, this machloikess is most famously addressed in the Likutei HaRABAM and in the Igroiss Penthouse.

Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah’s comments, and Rish Lakish’s understanding of them, raise a broader question about Yiddishkeit. There are many Halachois and Biblical incidents that stand in contrast to our contemporary sensibilities -- and even any against rational logic itself. A few halachic examples include: the halachois of mikvah, where due to Rabbinic invasion of the marital bedroom two weeks out of every month, men have to take matters into their own hands, if you know what I mean; the notion of animal sacrifice: killing an innocent animal for our own self serving purposes; the killing of an animal that has been the forced subject of bestiality; and the laws of Cherem, the complete decimation of the indigenous population during Kibbush Eretz Yisroel, including women and children.

Other examples include: the promotion of Dovid HaMelech and Shlomo HaMelech as role models and as the paradigmatic rulers of Klal Yisroel, even though Dovid was a murderer and Shlomo was an idolater whose despotism towards the northern tribes resulted in the breakup of the united monarchy; and the promotion of Aroin HaKoihain’s descendants as the priestly caste despite Aroin’s guilt in the Maiseh Ha-Eygel. How are we to relate to a faith that is founded upon many values that we do not necessarily share?

I am reminded of a famous Maaseh Shehoya. Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavicher Rebbe, was once walking to shul on Shabbos morning. It was cold that day, and Reb Shneur struggled to keep his hands warm. As he was crossing the street he noticed Malkah Shprintza, the childless woman who lived across the street. “Come over here so I can give you a bracha!” he called over to her. She walked across the street, and he greeted her by rapidly grabbing her behind and cupping a naked buttock in each freezing hand.

“Rebbe!” she screamed, “what are you doing?”

He replied “I am giving you a bracha: The Reboinoisheloilum should make you favored like Ruchel, fertile like Leah and cunning like Rivka.”

“What happened to Sarah Imainu?” Malkah Shprintza asked, suddenly enchanted by the grand Rebbe’s bracha.

Reb Shneur Zalman looked at her and smiled. “Meideleh” he said, “trust me, you don’t want to be like Sarah Imainu. She was crazier than my mother in law during a hot flash on Yoim Kippur!” With that, Reb Schneur rushed into shul just in time to do vodka shots.

So, just as the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, we have to be intelligently selective about how we understand, and apply, the foundational elements of the Toirah. Should we abandon the faith? No. But that does not mean that we should behave like brainless automatons.

In many ways, we practice Yiddishkeit not because of many of these foundational elements, but despite them. We coexist uncomfortably with these Halachois, stories and role models. We can choose to ignore them, or to embrace them. Just so long as we understand that the main gift of Hakkadoshboruchhu is free will.

However, you minuval, you may choose to reject free will -- in which case you should feel free to partake of every roadside prostitute, just like our ancestor Yehuda. And if you do, just remember to bring cash. Always bear in mind the timeless lesson of Yehuda: if you leave a prostitute your cloak, your staff or other forms of ID as payment, it is likely to come back and bite you in the ass.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Parshas Vayishlach

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Vayishlach

Rabboisai,

To begin this week's drasha, I must share with you a wonderful, personal story. Earlier this year I was traveling on business to a Yeshiva fundraiser at an exotic dance club in Illinois. As night came, having used up all my singles, I was compelled to make camp on a hill overlooking the city of Chicago. In the middle of the night, I was stirred by someone walking around my campsite. I arose and was immediately thrust into the clench of physical combat. The mysterious person and I wrestled throughout the night, locked in mortal struggle. As the sun rose the next morning, the person tried to pull my thigh, but inadvertently dislodged one of my schvantzlach, Rachmana Letzlan. At daybreak our struggle ended, and the being revealed himself as none other than Barack Oibama.

From that day forth that location has been known as Kickmyass, because that was the site where Barack Oibama kicked my ass.

I share this story, of course, because of its strong resemblance to the story of Yankif Avinu struggling with the Rebboinoisheloilum, while making his way to Eretz Yisroil, en route to his rendezvous with his twin brother, Eisav HaRasha, Yemach Shmoi Ve'Zichroi. Why did the Reboinoisheloilum engage Yankif in mortal combat?

According to the RASHBA it was because there was a nickel on the floor somewhere, and neither Yankif nor Hakkadoshboruch wanted to walk away from spare change.

But according to the Bais Yoiseph, they were actually fighting over a waffle. He cites as proof a Medrish that quotes the Aimishteh as telling Yankif during the stuggle "Leggo my Eggo, before I turn your Makom HaMilah into a piece of potato kugel."

However, the ARI ZAHL offers a beautiful interpretation. The ARI points to the end of the episode in the Toirah, where Yankif Avinu is for the first time given the name Yisrael, or Israel. Noting the longstanding Kabbalistic belief that the relationship between the Aimishteh and Klal Yisrael is like that of husband and wife, the ARI likens this episode to the awkward wedding night of Klal Yisrael and Hakkadoshboruchhu. They stay up together all night, vigorously engaged in physical interaction. As dawn arrives, they reach a climax, but not without some minor injury. And, to commemorate this event, the ARI suggests that when a man and his wife participate in intimacy while having in mind to spiritually align their actions with the holy cosmic union of Klal Yisroel and the Rebboinoisheloilum, the man ought to spank his wife every once in a while.

Of course, this story is but one of the many strange tales we read in this Parsha. Other stories include:

-- Yaakov's ultimate confrontation with his brother. After all the buildup, Yankif sends out his least favorite wives and children as canon fodder before the feared enemy, using them as human shields to protect himself, his favorite wife, Rachel, and his favorite children. But when Eisav finally meets Yankif's party, he in fact extends his hand to Yankif in peace. Yankif responds by asking Eisav for a donation and tries to sell him life insurance and a cell phone.

-- Reuven, Yankif's eldest son, is mezaneh with Bilhah, one of his father's concubines, who is also the mother of his half brothers (Perek Lamed Hay, Pussook Chuf Baiz). How could one of the Shvatim, the tribes, holy as he was, commit Aishess Ish with the bedmate of his father? This is indeed very troubling!

But you mustn't ask such silly questions, you Minuval. Because according to Rabbi Eliezer, as quoted in a Braisah in Beraishis Rabbah, this was not Reuven's intention at all. Says Rabbi Eliezer, Reuven was terribly nearsighted and had lost his glasses. After wandering across the tent camp, Reuven thought he had made his way to his destination, the bed of his boyfriend Theodore, Yankif's manservant. However, Reuven bedded Bilhah by mistake. And who can blame him? Both Bilhah and Theodore had the same moustache problem..

-- But perhaps the strangest story is that of the rape of Dinah, the sister of the Shvatim (tribes). Dinah is raped by Shchem, the son of Chamor. After he defiles Dinah, Shchem falls in love with her and asks for her hand in marriage. Both are told that if all the males of the village are circumsized, Shchem will be permitted to marry Dinah. But as the men of the village recover from their procedures, two of the tribes, Shimoin and Layvee, slay the village to the man. This results in a harsh reaction by their father, Yankif Avinu.

How should we look upon this reactionary behavior? Were the brothers justified in their behavior? And if so, how can we understand Yankif's angry response towards them?

According to the Metsudas Dovid, Shimoin and Layvee acted lishmah, with great personal intergrity, and believed that their actions would help make the world a better place through setting an example of loving-kindness for their sister by committing bloodthirsty revenge. The Metsudas Dovid adds that Yankif Avinu actually supported the brothers' action, but he explains that Yankif's stated negative reaction in the pussook (verse) was only "delivered to satisfy American pressure, brought about by the liberal media." He further suggests that the Toirah no longer be allowed to include such actions since they reflect badly on Klal Yisroel.

But the RAIVID offers a different set of answers. Says the RAIVID, in truth, the brothers did overreact, just a bit. They should have only killed Shchem, who was truly the only figure guilty of criminal behavior. However, on their way to the village to kill Shchem, they forgot to take their lithium medication, and began hearing voices asking them to kill every male in the town. And this explains Yankif's reaction: How can he expect to co-exist with the Canaanites and Perrizites when he has the reputation of having a couple of psychos for sons?

Finally, the Akaidas Yitzchak offers a different interpretation. In truth, all of the males of the town supported and endorsed the criminal actions of Shchem. So indeed, they all deserved to die. And Shimoin and Layvee set out on their military operation, as planned, with little more that two submachine guns each, plus grenades, pistols, and hunting knives, in order to carry out their mission. But after killing all the males, Layvee looks back at the town and says in his deep, Aramean accented voice, "I'll be back," and it is that statement which Yankif protests.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Parshas Toldois

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Toldois

In this weeks Parsha, Toldois, we learn how truly disfunctional Yitzchak Avinu's family was. Indeed, the Parsha tells us about the lies, the deception, the struggle of brother against brother. I swear, Toldois sounds more like General Hospital than an account of our holy forebears.

Take the account of Rivka Imainu. We learn right away that Rivka was barren. This leads to an obvious question pondered by Chazzal as they were standing behind the mikvah, trying to sneak a peek through the cracks in the wall: Why is it that 75% of the Imahois were barren? That includes Sarah, Rivka, and Rachel. (Leah Imainu, on the other hand, was so fertile she had to be fitted with a chastity belt with a combination lock to keep her out of trouble.)

According to Rabbeinu Tam, there was actually nothing physically wrong with these women. It is just that the Avois were very, very holy. They were studying Toirah 20 hours a day, sitting in the Bais Medrish holding hands with their Chavrusa, never realizing they should be home having relations with their wives or their girlfriends. What Kedushah!

Indeed, according to the Chassam Soifer, the reason the Imahois were constantly telling people that their husbands were actually their brothers is because they were love starved and were looking for a little action. And if they could shack up with a local king they might even get a nice bauble out of the deal.

However, according to the RIF, we should go with the Pashut Pshat, the simple interpretation of the Toirah. It really was Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu who asked their wives to make believe they were their sisters whenever they would meet a head of state. However, the real reason was not that they were afraid for their lives. Rather, it is because they were both pretty kinky and were titilated by the thought of sharing a mate with powerful individuals. He cites as proof a Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah that says that Avraham Avinu was a cross-dresser, and that Yitzchak Avinu once asked Rivka to wear a strap-on.

Like any good soap opera, Parshas Toldois shares with us the full range and volatility of human emotions across the broad spectrum of human experience. A famous Medrish tells us that halfway through Parshas Toldois Rivka was diagnosed with depression. And who can blame her? The Toirah tells us that the Aimishteh told Rivka Imainu "Shnay Goyim BaVitnaych --Two gentiles are in your womb" (Beraishis, Perek Chuf Hay, Pussook Chuf Gimmul). Hey, it's bad enough you have to put up with them at work. If you were told you had two of them in your stomach, you'd need Prozac too!

Of course, the two brothers that were in Rivka's womb grew up to be Ya'akov and Eisav, who through their descendants make up the nations of Klal Yisroel and Edom. We learn so many lessons from them:

-- From Yankif -- we learn to take advantage of people who are weak
-- From Yankif -- we learn to lie to our parents, and in doing so, to disrespect them, and by inference, disrespect the Reboinoisheloilum as well
-- From Yankif -- we learn to covet that which belongs to another
-- From Yankif -- we learn to steal
-- From Eisav -- we learn to kill.

So, basically, from Eisav, and especially from Yankif, we learn to violate all 10 of the 10 Commandments. Thank Hakkadoshboruchhu! All those nasty restrictions were beginning to cramp my style.

As they grew up, Eisav and Yankif became very different people. The Toirah tells us that Eisav became a great hunter and a man of the fields. But Yankif did not. According to a Gemarrah in Soitah, while Eisav went off to hunt, Yankif went off to study ballet. No wonder Yitzchak didn't want to give him his blessing.

In that same Gemarrah, Rav Yoichanan asks -- why is it that Yitzchak couldn't tell the difference between Yankif and Eisav, his own sons?

According to Reb Hai Goyn, Yitchak spent so much time studying Toirah and coaching the basketball team at Yeshivas Shame V-Ayver that he was never home to see his kids.

But the accepted answer, according to RASHI, is that Yitzchak was blind. Indeed, the RI adds, Yitchak's eyesight disappeared as a coping mechanism for the fact that after giving birth, Rivka put on 300 pounds and started wearing a bad shaytl.

This reminds me of a Maiseh Shehoya. I was on a fundraising mission in the Bahamas for my Yeshiva, Yeshivas Chipas Emmess. My wife Feigah Breinah and I were going snorkling, since, as everyone knows, major donors can often be found examining coral in its natural habitat. Suddenly, as we were about to descend into the water, my bashert announced to me that she could not go in, as she had that second become a Nidah. And, she continued, it is dangerous to go snorkeling in such circumstances since sharks are all drawn to the smell of blood.

I was greatly troubled by this: How could something so repulsive to all men be attractive to the common shark. And, farkhert, how can something so attractive to a shark be repulsive to all men.

This is the essence of Parshas Toldois. Yankif, so unattractive to Yitzchak Avinu, was the pride, the favorite of Rivka Imainu. And it was only through their combined guile, their deception, that Yankif was able to fullfill Hakkadoshboruchhu's plan for the world by stealing the birthright from Eisav and with it the foundational line of descent from Avraham which carried the Aimishteh's promise of future greatness for Klal Yisroel.

Hence, the Reboinoisheloilum's master plan is far from the obvious day-to-day issues that we can see. You may think you know what is right and wrong, but the truth is you are a worthless minuval who doesn't even know the right bracha to say on a pumpkin pie, let alone the ultimate truths that drive the universe and the future.

So, the next time your bashert is a Nidah, don't hide from her, as would be your first instinct. Don't reject her as Yitzchak did Yankif, and possibly drive her into the arms of a local king. Embrace her. For what may disgust you today may actually be laying the foundations of future greatness for Klal Yisroel. Short of that, it might lead to a nice but messy quickie.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Parshas Chayei Sarah

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Chayei Sarah


Rabboisai,

I write this Dvar Toirah while on an international flight en route to an annual gathering in commemoration of this week's Parsha, Parshas Chayei Sarah. Thousands of people focus on the first half of the Parsha and gather in Chevroin every year to celebrate the burial place of Sarah Imainu. I, on the other hand, will be joining a group of people commemorating the second half of the Parsha, the marriage of Yitzchak Avinu to three-year-old Rivka Imainu, by traveling to Thailand to have relations with a group of underage girls.

This week's Parsha, of course, begins with the passing of our foremother, Sarah Imainu. RASHI tells us that Sarah died as a result of hearing that her husband, Avraham, had taken their only son to be slaughtered at the alter. The RAMBAM asks the question: Why should Sarah have been shocked? Where was her faith in the Rebboinoisheloilum? Was she not ready for the Aimishteh's test? Was she tempted by the Yetzer Harah, the Evil Inclination, to question her belief in the all knowing, rational and loving Hakkadoshboruchhu who expressed His divine love by suggesting that Yitzchak be grilled to perfection like ribs at a July 4th barbecue? Did she not want her son to be slaughtered, so he could die for all our sins? (OOPS, wrong religion. Sorry.)

Indeed, it was not Sarah who mentally snapped as a result of Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac, at the end of last week's Parsha. It was Avraham Avinu. According to a famous medrish in Beraishis Rabbah, this Parsha is testimony to that fact that Avraham completely lost his marbles after the Akeidah. Note the evidence of his nervous breakdown:

-- We are told, not once -- but twice, that Avraham bows down to the "Am Ha'aretz," the People of the Land, to express his humility and gratitude for their support (Beraishis, Perek Chuff Gimmul, Psukim Zayin and Yood Bayz). How can Avraham Avinu, our forefather, the man who discovered Hakadoshboruchhu, the man who invented string cheese and the Palm Pilot, prostrate himself before other human beings? Did he not realize that the only thing he should EVER bow down to was the Rebboinoisheloilum, the Melech Malchei Hamelliachim -- unless of course someone had dropped a quarter? However, the medrish quotes Rabbi Akiva as saying that at this point in his life, Avraham was so deluded and confused he would bow down to a cow every time he had a potato with a little sour cream on it. He would even bow down to his dry cleaner everytime he picked up his shirts.

-- Avraham Avinu barters to gain the right to bury his beloved Sarah in Meuras Hamachpeilah. Ephroin, the property's owner, gives Avraham the land and does not want payment. Avraham, however, insists upon counting out four hundred shekels of silver as payment to Ephroin. So what's pshat "payment"? Why didn't Avraham just chop off one his arms and present it to Ephroin, instead of giving away money for no reason? Maybe he should have given away his ATM card and his PIN code, while he was at it?

-- Avraham decides to send his manservant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son, Yitzchak. To secure his commitment, Avraham asks that Eliezer, his servant, put his hand "underneath Avraham's thigh." Wow. That is progressive. According to Rabbi Akiva, after the death of his wife, Avraham was so randy he was open to "all lifestyle alternatives." Indeed, there is a separate Braisah in Masechess Pesachim that suggests that following Sarah's death, Avraham Avinu joined a local S&M club, spent six months in a nudist colony, and made seventy five dollars a week posing for an art class at his local community college.

Avraham's mental state is of course balanced with the beautiful story of the discovery of Rivka. After being sworn to his commitment to find a wife for Yitzchak, Eliezer sets out on his quest. As he reaches a well, he decides that he will anticipate a divine sign: the appearance of a woman who will offer drink to both him and his camels. The RADAK asks the question: why did Eliezer choose a sign based on a woman's action, rather than a visual metaphor, such as a yellow ribbon on the woman's dress or a tattoo on the small of her back? The Toirah Temimah answers that, mamesh, Eliezer was indeed looking for such a sign: he was hoping that as the women bent down to fetch the water he would catch a glimpse of her cleavage. Says the Toirah Temimah, Eliezer had also committed to Avraham that the bride he would bring back to his master's son would have a Double-Daled cup.

Of course, all of these expectations were turned upside down when Eliezer saw Rivka for the first time. We are told specifically by the passook that Eliezer noticed her great beauty. We are also told that Rivka "was a virgin; she had known no man." An obvious question arises: why did the Toirah have to repeat itself -- wasn't this a redundant statement? RASHI tells us, however, that the local girls had strange sexual practices that enabled sexual activity without the surrender of one's maidenhead. (He really does say that, by the way. Look it up.) Who ever heard of such a practice amongst youth?!? But the RASHBAM disagrees. He suggests that the verse is telling us that while Rivka had not had a sexual relationship with a man, her femininity had been "totally awakened" as an active member of the LPGA tour, if you know what I mean.

And now the strangest part of the Parsha: nowhere in the Parsha are we told Rivka's age, but Rabbinic tradition has always deduced that Rivka was three years old when she was discovered by Eliezer and brought into Yitzchak's tent for consummation of their marital relationship. How can this be? Was Yitzchak some kind of pervert?

According to a Gemarra in Maseches Nidah, Yitzchak was indeed a pervert. Says the Gemarra, the reason that Yitzchak didn't marry until the age of forty is that as a counselor in Yeshivas Shame V'Eyver Basketball and Learning Camp, Yitzchak sexually abused three of his charges and spent the next twenty two years in prison. As proof, the Gemarra cites a Braisa that states that the reason Avraham insisted that Yitzchak, his son, not marry a local Canaanite woman was NOT because he wouldn't want one as a daughter in law. Adderabbah! It was because Yitzchak had to register with the local authorities as a convicted sex offender, and therefore no local woman was willing to date him.

But according to Rav Saadya Goyn, Yitzchak Avinu was no more perverted than any other man at that time. LeOylam, every man in those days married underage girls. As proof, he cites a medrish that says that Avraham Avinu married Sarah Imainu when she was one and a half, and Noiach married Mrs. Noiach when she was an aborted fetus.

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Yisroel Salanter once traveled to Siberia to attend a celebrity golf tournament. As customary, he lodged at the home of a local eskimo. When it came time to go to sleep, the eskimo said to Reb Yisroel, "Nu, Reb Yisroel, we have a minhag here when guests stay over: Please take my wife to sleep with for the night."

Reb Yisroel looked at him sternly and responded, "That is unacceptable! Aishess Ish is a Dioraisa. However, do you have any children I can sleep with instead?"

To which the eskimo responded: "Rebbe, I knew you were here for a fundraiser, but I did not know it was a Yeshiva Toirah Temimah event. Please forgive me!"

So, unfortunately, a scant few members of our community still like to keep up the tradition of Yitzchak Avinu. So next time you are tempted to poke fun at the Catholic Church, hold your tongue until you have investigated your own community.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you pervert.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Knish Articles

Rabboisai,

I am pleased to announce that I have authored two articles in the new edition of The Knish for your Shabbos-Koidesh reading pleasure:

http://www.theknish.com/

The first article is an expose on a shocking synagogue scandal:

http://www.theknish.com/articles/member-expelled-gay-synagogue-secret-heterosexual/

The second article is a feature on the kickoff of this year's most important sports competition:

http://www.theknish.com/articles/eyes-world-israel-32nd-shmolympics-begin/

Ah Gizunten Shabbos you Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

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http://rabbi-pinky.blogspot.com/
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Parshas Vayayrah

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Vayayrah

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 ("bong" in Yiddish). 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. 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. My Talmud Muvhak, Dr./Rabbi Sterling/ Shmiel Tyler/Tanenbaumowitz, shared with you, dear readers, his tendency towards Literary Deconstructionism; that is, taking the Toirah out of its original context, and viewing it as relevant solely from a contemporary perspective. In short, he is both an apikoress and a minuval.

However, if he ever calls you, 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
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Parshas Lech Lecha

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Lech Lecha

This week we read the Parsha of Lech Lecha, where, for the first time, the Aimishteh promises the gift of Eretz Yisroel to Avraham Avinu our forefather, and by extension, to us. In this Parsha, we also read about the Bris Bain Habesarim, the Covenant Between the Pieces. We read about Sarah's being temporarily taken as a wife by the Pharoah of Egypt. And we read about Avraham's ritual circumcision at the ripe old age of ninety.

The RAMBAM asks an obvious question on this Parsha regarding the giving of the Land of Israel to Klal Yisroel: MAMESH, WHAT COULD HAKKADOSHBORUCHHU HAVE POSSIBLY BEEN THINKING!? Of all the inhospitable rocks He could possibly have selected, why did He have to choose an arid land filled with deserts, thorn bushes and scorpions, lacking in fresh water, and populated with the most unfriendly, close minded, hostile, self absorbed people you can possibly encounter -- Chassidim. Err..., I mean the indigenous inhabitants of The Land -- The Canaani, the Chivi, the Yevussi, the Girgashi, and a few others.

According to Rashi, the Reboinoisheloilum actually instructed Avraham to go east, not west, and indeed meant to give him all of China. However, Avraham was holding his map upside down while practicing using chop sticks, and ended up walking in the wrong direction.

However, according to the Sifsey Chachomim, Avraham actually wanted to go to Eretz Yisroel because he dug Yevussi chicks, who were all blond, a foot taller than him, and renowned for their beauty. Indeed, the Sifsey Chachmomim cite a Medrish that tells us that after entering into Eretz Yisroel, Avraham Avinu went around telling every woman he met that he is a producer and would put her in his next film, if she would only audition in his tent.

The Tzitz Eliezer points out that Avraham actually loved The Land that the Aimishteh promised him -- with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might. He was really very attached to it, running through the trees, walking through the fields, and, especially, lying on the grass, for hours on end. In fact, he may have loved the land a little bit too much, if you know what I mean. Not unlike his great grandson Onen. In fact, according to a Brasiah in Baba Kamma, Avraham and Sarai couldn't conceive because Avraham had a low sperm count. Says the Tzitz, the reason that Hakkadoshboruchhu commanded Avraham to cut off the tip of his Makom Hamilah was so that he would give it a rest for a week or two.

The Schvantz Mordechai holds farkhert. He says that Avraham was ambivalent about the Land of Israel, but was committed to fulfilling the agreement consecrated at the Bris Bain HaBesarim.

How are we to understand this strange practice? Take a cow, cut it in quarters, add some spices, and BAM!, eternal covenant. In a famous Mishnah in Nezikin, Rabbi Tarfon complains that for the miniscule sliver of land the Jews received, it would have been more appropriate had the covenant been consecrated by cutting up a miniscule animal, such as a gerbil. In fact, a related Braisah conveys that every year on Yom Ha'atzmaut the same Rabbi Tarfon would have a special ceremony commemorating Eretz Yisroel with a gerbil, one select student, and a nice merlot.

A Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah actually recounts that two hundred years before Avraham Avinu was born, the Reboinoisheloilum consecrated an agreement similar to the Bris Bain HaBesarim with a different nation by cutting up a Chilean Sea Bass. Unfortunately, that other nation was Atlantis, so we don't like to talk about it.

Another Medrish tells us that cutting up a cow was Avraham's second choice. His first choice was an S.U.V., so he could make a killing on the spare parts.

In our day, we live up to our covenants with Hakkadoshboruchhu in three ways: We keep the Toirah and Mitzvois; We perform our own "Bris" on our male children. And we live in Eretz Yisroel despite the sectarian violence, the high taxes, the monotonous Jerusalem stone architecture, the yellow journalism, the political corruption, the secular extremists, the religious zealots, the naive left, the fanatical right, and the uncommitted center. Basically, there are too many people in Eretz Yisroel -- it is intensely overcrowded. When the Reboinoisheloilum promised Avraham Avinu in this week's Parsha that his descendants would be like the dust of the earth, we thought He meant only the Jews; we didn't know He actually meant ALL of Avraham's children!

What Eretz Yisroel needs today is more space -- land enough for all its inhabitants -- Israeli and Arab, Jew, Christian, and Moslem. Indeed, many of our latter day sages believe that this very same Parsha holds the key to solving our territorial dilemma.

According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, we can look to the story of Bris Milah for our solution. Just as we remove a very slight but symbolically significant portion of ourselves in order to make us "completely Jewish", so too we should remove any elements from Eretz Yisroel that prevent us from being "completely Jewish."

Rav Ovadiah Yoseph, on the other hand, points to the Bris Bain Habesarim for the answer. The Aimishteh and Avraham Avinu cut up a cow into equal portions in order to consecrate an agreement. So too must we be prepared to cut up the Land in order to reach an agreement.

I, the RAPAS, would humbly like to suggest another option, also suggested by this week's Parsha. This week we read how along their travels, Avraham and Sarah come to Egyptian territory. Avraham pleads with Sarah Imainu to tell the Egypians the she is his sister, and she subsequently shacks up with the Pharoah. Meanwhile, in next week's Parsha, at Avraham's urging, Sarah once again masquerades as Avraham's sister and hooks up with another national leader, this time with Avimelech of Canaan. According to Rabbeinu Taam, this revolutionary sharing of Sarah Imainu is the first instance in history of the time share.

And it is using this approach whereby we may find the solution to our overcrowding problem. Here is how it works. We get Eretz Hakoidesh two weeks out of the year. We plan ahead, bring the kids, the in-laws, everyone. The local staff ensures that the refrigerators are filled with our favorite foods. We can even use all the facilities, for a nominal fee. After we leave, the Palestinians can use the place for two weeks, eat all the falafel they want, and tour around every part of the country. After their two weeks are up, the gypsies get it for two weeks -- Aimishteh knows they need a homeland.Then the Basque. And so on.

To make sure that the Eretz Yisroiel Time Share Enterprises (TM) is fully utilized, we will do some aggressive marketing. Telemarketing to people in their homes when they are in the middle of Biyuh is a good start. We will give away cheap electronics to nations willing to come over and have a look. We will invite them for a low cost weekend and have them stay in Gaza, promising that the place is being redecorated and, trust us, the whole area will look just like Savion in eight months. And we will remind them: a time share can be shared with friends, it can be passed down in a Last Will and Testament to subsequent generations, and is much less expensive than setting up their own homeland.

All this discussion of overcrowding reminds me of a Maiseh Shehoyo. 300 years ago in the town of Berditchev, the one shul which stood at the center of town, Temple Ahavas Achiyois, was filled every week wall to wall with mispallelim. It became a hardship for the Gabbai to physically go through the shul every week and get the Hebrew names of all the guests in order to call them up to the Toirah. Reb Chaim MiBerditchev, the Gadol Hador -- the great sage of his generation -- came up with an alternative custom: Instead of calling people by the standard convention -- Hebrew name BEN father's Hebrew name, they would call people in a descriptive manner, not requiring specific names.

The first week went very well. "Ya'amoid the guy in the second row, three seats from the left, Shlishi." It worked like a charm for all seven Aliyois plus Maphtir. However, problems began the second week. "Ya'amoid, the guy in the back row who is secretly gay, Chamishi." Three men stood up. It was particularly embarassing because one was the rabbi's son. The third week was the clincher, though. "Ya'amoid, the guy in the shul with the really hot wife, Shishi." Nobody stood up.

Reb Chaim decided that for Shalom Bayis reasons the new custom was a mistake. He ruled that the shul should revert to the old method, and also founded the Rolodex Corporation that very week.

So not every solution to overcrowding works. At least Reb Chaim didn't introduce any ceremonies requiring a gerbil.

Ah Gutten Shabbos you Nevailah.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess

Friday, October 31, 2008

Election 2008: The Shvartza vs. the Shiksa

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Election 2008: The Shvartza vs. the Shiksa

Rabboissai,

Oy, am I confused! I was looking forward to a calm fall season, a relaxing return to my routine schedule of learning Toirah, teaching talmidim, day trading, and arguing with my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, about whether to drip the chrain directly into the gefilte fish or onto the side of the plate, if you know what I mean. But the Reboinoisheloilum clearly had other plans: What could have been an election season focused on a clear choice between two old white guys has now become a standoff between an over-educated, erudite shvartza whose name sounds like he plays running back for the Al Qaida football team, and a hot shiksa with a little mileage who looks like a cross between librarian and a retired porn star, Kenaiyna Harah.

And to top it all off, I think that I might be able to get away without paying off that mortgage for the Yeshiva’s private retreat facility in Maui.

Many of my talmidim have been calling me well into the night asking me how they should vote in this pivotal election. It was bad enough when it was Oibama vs. Hillary vs. McCain. But now with Sarah (Imainu) Palin, her blue collar husband, and her pregnant daughter in the race, what’s a Ben Toirah to do?

Ich Vais – Everyone in the United States is struggling with this issue, but lucky for Klal Yisroel, we received the Toirah, our guidebook for life decisions, and also a good pretext for declaring my house a Place of Worship and for taking my new 50 inch flat screen LCD TV as a tax deduction. (Indeed, I plan to use it every Moitzie Shabbos to get together with some of my Talmidim to watch documentaries on Hakadoshboruchhu’s commandment to be mekayaim the mitzvah of Pru Urvu.)

There is a very obscure Gemara in Makkois that tells us a Maiseh Shehoya about the selection of the Raish Gelusa. There once was a man named Hamnuna who wanted very badly to be the Raish Gelusa. The previous Raish Gelusa had been removed from the position by the Babylonian authorities after being caught… errr… having relations with his neighbor’s goat. Hamnuna approached all of the town leaders of Pumbedisa, and secured their support. However, the leaders of Sura supported Chisda as their candidate.

In the Second Raish Gelusa Debate between the two, held in the University of Tamuz, Chisda suggested that Hamnuna could not possibly be good for the Jews because he had the word “Ham” in his name. Hamnuna responded that Chisda was sympathetic to the Roman occupiers of Eretz Yisroel, and was also a Baal Keri. Chisda suggested that Hamnuna had his camel serviced in the same desert station as Augustine, the early Church Father and anti-Semite, and must therefore be a self-hating Jew. Hamnuna countered that Chisda was out of touch with the needs of the common Babylonian, given that he was married to the daughter of a wealthy mead merchant and had six tents in different parts of Babylon.

The night before the election, Chisda studied Toirah in the Yeshiva in Sura while Hamnuna went door to door, trying to win over any last undecided voters. In the election, Chisda won by a landslide. That night, Hamnuna prayed to Hakkadoshboruchhu, crying and beating his chest, and demanded to know why he was relegated to finishing second. Suddenly, a Bas Kol came down from Shamayim. “Hamnuna”, the Bas Kol said, “did you explain your positions on foreign policy to the people?”

“Yes, Aimishteh”, Hamnuna responded.

“Did you explain how much experience you have?” the Bas Kol asked.

“Yes, Hakkadoshboruchhu. I even sponsored an infomercial.”

“Then there must be only one reason you lost” the Bas Kol responded. “Clearly they did not like the idea that your skin is darker than your Tefillin and your Bris Milah is bigger than your Lulav. To tell you the truth, I am a little afraid of being alone in a Bais Medrish with you myself.”

In this Ma’aiseh Shehoyo, the Gemarrah tells us how much skin color affected the selection of the Raish Gelusa. But in our day, such issues are far less relevant. Instead, it is more important that we look at qualifications.

Barack HUSSEIN Oibama is an affirmed socialist and a confirmed Muslim. Were it not that he is committed to destroying Israel, supporting Iran, befriending terrorists, raising taxes, giving away my wealth, and providing healthcare to the sick, I might consider voting for him. But alas, even as an eight year old he joined the Weathermen domestic terrorist group. I mean, look who is supporting him: Jermiah Wright, Farrakhan, Colin Powell – all the shvartza radicals! And look at his endorsements: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Jose Mercury News, and the Hitler Daily Express.

On the other side of course, you have a serious Ben Toirah and an honorary Bas Yisroel. John McCain, or, rather, Yoichanan McCain, is a modern day version of Rabbi Shimoin Bar Yoichai. Just as Reb Shimoin Bar Yoichai studied Toirah while buried in a cave up to his neck for fourteen years, Yoichanan McCain studied Toirah in the six and a half years that he was locked in a box in Vietnam. He learned all of Shas, by the way, by studying Daf Yoimi in his cage, though he did not have access to the Yerushalmi. He sent all his seven children to Yeshiva, suffering through the high tuitions of the Yeshivas in Arizona. And his wife, Cindy McCain, has one of the best Shaytels in Washington, though it is suspected of coming from Indian hair sources (though there is a machloikess over whether the hair is Navajo or Apache).

Sarah (Imainu) Palin is, however, the more captivating figure on the ticket. She is the mother of five children, Kenaiyna Harah. And while her husband is a Groisse Shaygitz, we know that Sarah Palin is sympathetic to Klal Yisroel, given that her church in Alaska featured as a speaker David Brickner, the Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, who preached, while the Governor was in attendance, about the need to save all of the Yiddesheh Neshamas from Gehennim. Boruch Hashem someone is looking after your Nashama, you mamzer!

Indeed, Sarah Palin is much like her namesake in the Toirah. In Parshas Lech Lecha and Parshas Vayeira, Sarah Imainu presents herself as Avraham Avinu’s sister, so that no harm will come to Avraham during their sojourn. So too, Sarah Palin has positioned herself to support a much older running mate. Indeed, she might be willing to mother a child for Yoichanan McCain, a Ben LiZkunuv, if only Bob Dole were willing to share a little of his Viagra.

In fact, I believe that the Talmud foreshadows the arrival of Sarah Palin on the scene. There is a Beraisah in Maseches Nidah that suggests that a true Aishess Chayil should wear her hair up in a bee hive hairdo, to enable simple loosening prior to entering a Mikvah or a hot tub. According to Rava, the halacha of entering a hot tub or the mikvah is the same in a cold climate, such as Provence or Alaska, but would differ in Eretz Yisroel. However, according to Abaya, there is no difference, whatever the climate.

You might think that this is an obscure discussion about Taharas Hamishpachah and fashion sense. But you are a complete ignoramus who thinks that an Apatropis is a form of mountain goat. No, this Gemarrah speaks directly to the impact that Sarah McCain could have in Washington. According to Rava, the gevaldik impact that Governor Palin had in Alaska, overthrowing the corrupt elites, taking on the oil companies, and defending the United states against Russian and Canadian invasion, will not necessarily translate into success in Washington, which is ruled by an entrenched cadre of self-serving politicians, as well as elected members of the Democratic Party. However, Abaya holds that Sarah (Imainu) Palin will be just as effective in Washington as she was in Alaska.

I would like to suggest that neither candidate combination, Oibama/ Biden or McCain/ Palin, truly has Klal Yisroel’s interests at heart. In what areas do they agree? Koolay Alma Lo Pligi, they all hold, that government should intervene in Wall Street. They all believe in denying me and my talmidim great real estate opportunities… err… that the government should protect mortgage holders from default. They all believe that government should take an equity stake in financial companies. And they all believe that compensation limits should be placed on Wall Street executives. Clearly, all the candidates are Communists!

Similarly, they all “claim” to support Eretz Yisroel… yet they also all support the establishment of a Palestinian State. If I am not mistaken, that involves negotiations with the Arabs, Chass V’Sholom. They all commit to defending the State of Israel, and to supporting Israel in the face of an Iranian nuclear threat. But what does that mean? As we are all painfully aware from the actions of both the Clinton and Bush administrations, the road to Gehennim is paved with the best of intentions. Look at Oslo, Iraq, elections is the West Bank and Gaza, and the current toothless American stance against Iran.

Most importantly, both the presidential and vice presidential candidates subscribe to a belief set that is anathema to Klal Yisroel: They all believe in Yushka. Yushka Pandra: The man who abandoned our great faith in order to found a new movement and come up with worldwide franchise success and a popular Broadway musical. Yushka: The symbol who inspired historical persecutions against Klal Yisroel, and who amongst Evangelicals inspires a vision of either mass conversion or destruction of Klal Yisroel in the “End of Days”. These are your candidates, you minuvals, so I suggest you not get too excited about any of them.

So in answer to the question of who you should vote for: I say go move to France and vote for Sarkozy – At least his father was a Jew. And his wife is a smoking hot shiksa, sort of like a Palin, but without the Evangelical Hashkafa or the pregnant teenage daughter.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Simchas Toirah Drasha

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Simchas Toirah Drasha

Rabboisai,

This week we celebrate the conclusion of Sukkois and the completion of the annual cycle of Kriyas HaToirah by getting stinking drunk and dancing with members of the same gender.

Rav Moishe Chaim Luzzato asks: Why do we dance with other men, which is a clear violation of Lifnei Iver for Mishkav Zachor, an unacceptable temptation that may lead to playing “bury my Sukkah pole in your Schach,” if you know what I mean?

There is a famous machloikess that addresses this question. Reb Yisroel Salanter comments that the completion of the Toirah cycle is meant as an Ois, a microcosm, of Oilum Habbah. With the completion of the Chamishei Chumshei Toirah, we experience a moment that is a foreshadowing of Biyas HaMashiach and Oilum Habbah, the dawning of the Messianic era and the World to Come. As such, we know that when Moshiach comes, many of the Halachic restrictions of Oilum Hazeh will fall away. Just as Tisha Ba’Av will shift from being a day of somber mourning to our greatest day of celebration, Biyuh SheLo KeDarko with another man will shift from being an “abomination” to a “Mitzvas Asei SheHazman Grummah.” It will also be a great way to reward your Chavrusa for knowing all the latest dance steps to “Zara Chaya VeKayama.”

Rebbe Nachman MiBreslov proposes a similar approach. He suggests that we do not dance in celebration of completing the annual cycle of reading the Toirah, since in ancient times much of Klal Yisroel followed a triennial cycle, completing the Toirah in three years. Rather, Rebbe Nachman states that we dance with other men to signal the end of the long holiday season. He writes in his famous treatise Likutei MoHaran that “Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Toirah clarify the essential differences between men and women. At this time of year, while men are busy trying to eke out a living without being fired for missing work, building the Sukkah, preparing the Arba Minim, etc., their wives are constantly calling them with requests, such as:

-- ‘Reuvain, can you please pick up bok choi on your way home from work’

-- ‘Shimoin, I don’t think we have enough dessert for the fourth meal we are hosting; can you pick up some brownie mix?’

-- ‘Layvee, I have to stay late at the office; can you come home early to give the kinderlach a bath?’”

Says Rebbe Nachman, “If I can trade being called fourteen times a day by my wife and being incessantly hen-pecked in exchange for engaging in Mishkav Zachor with another man, I will gladly play catcher in Biyuh SheLo Kedarko with a big sweaty Yeshiva Bochur named Lazer.”

However, the Vilna Goyn suggests that Rav Moishe Chaim Luzzato and Rebbe Nachman MiBreslov probably spent a bit too much time hanging out at the Mikvah on Erev Yoim Kippur. He writes farkhert in Chuddushe HaGruh, “In Klal Yisroel, we don't have homosexuals. We don't have that in our Kehillah. In Yiddishkeit, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it.”

Instead, the Gruh points to the seasonal nature of Shaloish Regalim as the true reason we celebrate on Simchas Toirah. He notes that just as Peysach is Chag HaAviv – the Spring Festival, and Shavuois is Chag HaBikurim – the Harvest Festival, Shmini Atzeres and especially Simchas Toirah celebrate something in the calendric cycle of Klal Yisroel and of Kol HaOilam Kooloh in general.

The Gruh cites a famous machloikess. The Tur asks, “What is the most important Aliyah during Kriyas HaToirah?

According to Reb Yoisaiph Karo, the most important Aliyah is Rishoyn, the first Aliyah, since it is the Aliyah reserved for the Koihayn, the representative of Klal Yisroel designated by the Reboinoisheloilum to bless His chosen People.

According to the Bais Yoisaiph, the most important Aliyah is the second Aliyah, the Aliyah of the Layvee, since he silently enables the holy activities of the Koihayn by washing the Koihayn’s filthy hands and smelly feet.

According to the Keseph Mishnah, the most important Aliyah is the third Aliyah, since it is typically reserved for the biggest tzaddik in the room. Or, more frequently, it goes to the guy who writes the biggest check to the shul, even though everyone knows he frequently schtupps his hot shiksa secretary while eating pork, and makes his money by selling variable mortgages to eighty year old widows who live off of Social Security.

However, the Shulkhan Arukh holds that the fourth Aliyah is the most important one. His reasoning: Unlike the first, second, or third Aliyahs, the fourth Aliyah is an RBI position. He is batting clean up, while the others simply have the responsibility of getting on base. He has to bring them home, an awesome responsibility. As proof, the Shulkhan Arukh cites the fact that the last Aliyah is typically reserved for a Bar Mitzvah boy or a light hitting shortstop. Or for a pitcher in the National League, Chass v’Sholom. These mamzerim are likely to get out anyway, so we may as well put them in a position where they can’t do any damage.

Continues the Goyn: on Simchas Toirah we echo the external calendar and combine the completion of the Toirah cycle with the completion of the baseball season. Consequently, there is a strong Minhag for men to dance together and jump on top of each other in celebration. There is even a Minhag amongst the Sephardim to pour champagne over each others’ heads, although the real Jews celebrate by drinking scotch and making Mei Raglayim in the Ezras Nashim.

I am reminded of a famous Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Elchanan Wasserman once took a break from the Simchas Toirah celebrations at his Yeshiva and ran home for a quick snack. When he arrived, the house was empty. No one was in the kitchen and no one was in the living room. He went upstairs, opened the door to his bedroom, and to his surprise, he found his wife Chraindie naked, rolling around in bed with the wives of his three Talmidei Muvhak, his leading student protégés. In shock, he asked his wife, “Voos Tootzuch Mit Der Gefilte Fish Party”?

His wife Chraindie responded, “Elchi, you are off in Yeshiva celebrating the end of the Toirah cycle, while we are here celebrating the end of our cycles.”

Pausing for just a moment, Reb Elchanan told his wife, “You are indeed an Eishess Chayil!” He then ran back to the Yeshiva, passed through the Bais Medrish amidst all of the Freilechin dancing and singing, and joined his three Talmidei Muvkak in his private study off the Bais Medrish. Together the four of them intently watched a playoff game on TV for the next hour and a half.

Ah Freilechin Yuntif, You Minuval.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sukkois Drasha

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Sukkois Drasha

On this holiday, the yuntif of Sukkois, we wave fresh fruit at the sky for seven days, and eat in an open air beehive. We cap it off by dancing cheek to cheek with a bunch of bearded men. (I have a date with a talmid named Yerachmiel; I hope I get lucky!)

According to Chazzal, Sukkois is the time when Moshiach will come. And according to Reb Hai Goyn, it is the holiday when you are supposed to separate yourself from the secular world. He cites as proof the fact that you are forced to take off so many work days right before end of year reviews, you might as well start polishing up your resume.

The RI holds that Sukkois is actually a celebration of homosexuality. When Klal Yisroel were preparing for the long winter, planting in the fields by day and sleeping in huts at night, at the end of a long day they would sit down bichavrusa (in pairs) and study a little Talmud. One minute they are on daf yud baiz, amud alef, and the next minute they are on the floor, committing Mishkav Zachor. And who can blame them? I get excited by a gevaldik Toisfois myself!

The RI cites various Sukkois practices as proof for his position:

- We wave our phallic lulavim on the faces of all the other men, boasting about how ours is the biggest in the shul;

- Alongside our lulav is our esroig, where the gemarrah tells us that the more bulbous and full of veins, the better;

- We commit a sadomasochistic act with a handful of willow branches;

- We dance around the Toirah with other men, our fingers firmly entwined with others' hot, sweaty, hairy hands.

However, most Rishoinim disagree with the RI, referring to his rather abrupt departure from his position as director of the all boys Orthodox summer camp in Northern Lithuania (although they settled out of Baiz Din, so no one can prove a damn thing).

The RIF points to the beauty of the Sukkah celebration as a unique mitzvah within Yiddishkeit. Fresh fruit. The outdoors. Many Rishoinim hold that you should live in the Sukkah for eights days. It says in the Gemmarah that Rish Lakish would move into the Sukkah, and use it as an excuse for not having to deal with his mother in law all week. Rav Ashi, on the other hand, insisted that his mother in law sleep in the Sukkah, and take one or two of the kids with her.

The Sukkah offers many opportunities to be Hiddur Mitzvah, to go above and beyond the letter of the commandment. It is customary to decorate the Sukkah with pictures and other decorations. (Vooz iz givehn plastic fruit, anyway? I understand the Reform decorate their Sukkahs with shrimp.)

According to Rabbeinu Tam, it is actually a Mitzvah Dioraisa to buy Christmas decorations in January at fifty percent off, to be used in decorating the Sukkah the following year: Flashing lights. Ornaments. Candy canes. Indeed, one year the Vilna Goyn decorated his Sukkah with a nativity scene he bought for six dollars.

There are other things that one can do with a Sukkah. A Braisah brings down a story of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, who, as a teenager, had the roof removed from his family's minivan so that he could drive down to the beach and be mekayaim the mitzvois of pleasuring his girlfriend and eating in the sukkah at the same time. What a tzaddik!

Yet the most beautiful element of Sukkois, and the aspect most shrouded in mystery, is the mitzvah of esroig. I still can't figure it out. It looks like a lemon. It smells like a lemon. It even tastes like a lemon. But it costs as much as heroin. How come it is easier to buy fresh peaches from Antarctica than it is to buy an esroig at a reasonable price?

And how many times in your life have you heard of esroig jelly. I bet you have heard of it all your life, but have NEVER seen it. You know why? Imagine this boast to your friends and neighbors: "I took 100 esroigim that last week retailed for a total of $5,000, mixed them up with a little sugar and pectin, and now it's worth about $1.50." Really impressive.

For this reason, I have a personal minhag. Two days before Sukkois, I buy 5 pounds of lemons in the supermarket, take them home, and then take a baseball bat to them. After about ten minutes of beating the crap out of them, I have plenty esroigim for myself and the kinderlach, and sell the remainder in the shul. With the extra money I buy some cologne, so I can smell nice for my dancing partner on Simchas Toirah night.

Ah Gutten Yuntif, you Minuval.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Yoim Kippur Drasha

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Yoim Kippur Drasha

You good for nothing minuval, you have sinned all year long, and now you are going to pay for it!

From Kol Nidrei at sundown until the blowing of the shofar, you will be cramped into an overcrowded room surrounded by unshowered, unshaven men whose empty stomachs are growling louder than the chazzan. But look at the bright side: at least you get your exercise. Between the frequent and incessant beating of your chest and the four instances of full kneeling, you have become a Moslem Tarzan. Mazel Toiv.

Chazzal spent many, many hours contemplating the true meaning of Yoim Kippur, while waiting for the horses to reach the finish line. There is a famous machloikess (rabbinic debate) in Massechess Yuma on the topic between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. Bais Shammai holds that the true commandment of the Toirah is that you should sin all year long, and then repent on Yoim Kippur. Bais Hillel, on the other hand, holds that you should strictly avoid sin all year long, and then enjoy a nice honey glazed ham right after Kol Nidrei. Of course, this is one of the fourteen instances when we hold like Bais Shammai (along with such critical issues as not using toilet paper on Shabboskoidesh and the infield fly rule.)

The Rishoinim struggled to define the metaphor by which we can understand how the Jewish People should look upon a single day in which they can redeem themselves for past mistakes, and plan for the next year without the aid of a good tax advisor or financial planner.

According to the Rabbeinu Tam, Yoim Kippur is like an all day telethon, where the Aimishteh is raising funds and support for the coming year, and you are asked to contribute of your soul.

The ROSH disagrees, using the same metaphor, but reversing it. Says the ROSH, YOU are hosting the telethon, and are appealing to the Rebboinoisheloilum for his support. And you refuse to go off the air until He is ready to write you a check. (And if He pledges 75 dollars or more, you'll send Him an autographed CD of Luciano Pavoratti in concert.)

The RIF holds that the true metaphor for Yoim Kippur is that of the annual performance review. Hakkodoshboruchhu is your manager, and at review time, He reaches out to your colleagues, your superiors, your subordinates, and your clients, soliciting feedback on your performance. He looks at your numbers. He checks how often you have been absent or late to shul. He then synthesizes the information and decides your fate. Will you be terminated? Will you get a raise? Will you get a better bonus? Will you get a hot new shiksa secretary?

But how can you protect yourself as the Aimishteh's employee? How can you best ensure a positive year? According to the Pas Akum, this metaphor explains one of the age old questions, which is: why does Sukkois so closely follow Yoim Kippur? Say the Aimishteh decides to terminate you. What can you do? Can you prove wrongful dismissal? Says the Pas Akum, on Sukkois we stand before Hakkodoshboruchhu four days after Yoim Kippur and wave our phallic looking palm branches at heaven as if to say, "if you terminate me, I'll sue you for sexual harassment!" And in the current politically correct environment, even He has to be careful.

We prepare for this holiest day of days with the greatest degree of sobriety. We set aside Ten Days Of Atonement for spiritual introspection. We say Selichois, special prayers beseeching the Aimishteh for forgiveness. We blow the shoifar, which is intended to strike an internal chord of repentance. And we wave a live chicken over our heads.

In the time of the Second Temple, there was a great debate over this strange practice. The Perushim (Pharasees) held that before Yoim Kippur, every Jewish male should take a chicken by the legs, wave it over the heads of his loved ones, as if to absorb their sins, and then send the chicken off to slaughter. We have recently learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essenes, on the other hand, held that before Yoim Kippur every Jewish male should choke the chicken, if you know what I mean. Given that the Essenes are not doing too well these days, I guess that was the wrong approach.

There is a famous story of Rabbi Chaim MiVerlozhin. Reb Chaim was traveling from town to town in Inner Mongolia, trying to raise money for his Yeshiva's IPO. When Yoim Kippur came, Reb Chaim went to the only shul in town just in time for Kol Nidrei. "We're sorry," he was told, "but you can't get in without a ticket." Not having purchased a ticket in advance, Reb Chaim was sent away, denied the opportunity to daven on Yoim Kippur in a minyan.

The next morning, as Reb Chaim went downstairs in the small hotel in which he was staying, the host greeted him saying, "Rabbi, please join us. The missus just made up a huge breakfast, including a fresh batch of muffins." Reflecting on his experience the night before, on his rejection at the shul, and at the prospect of having to daven for the next sixteen hours by himself, Reb Chaim took off his yarmulke, sat down at the table, and began to serve himself.

That night, the Aimishteh came to him. "Reb Chaim," the Aimishteh said, "why did you sin today?"

"I'm sorry, Aimishteh. I was so drained by the whole ticket thing I just had to grab a bite to eat," Reb Chaim responded.

"No, you fool," the Aimishteh replied. "Why did you let all that nice bacon go to waste?"

Repentance, and sin, are somewhat in the eye of the beholder. So when you are standing before the Melech Malchei Hamelachim at Neilah, don't just mouth the words; picture it as a conversation, one on one, between you and the Reboinoisheloilum. Before you beg for forgiveness, establish rapport. Tell a couple of jokes. Ask the Aimishteh how He's doing. Ask about the wife and kids. Sure He's busy, but a little brown-nosing never hurts.

Gemar Chassima Toivah, you Vilda Chaya.