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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Parshas Eikev

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Eikev

Rabboisai, I hope you have been saving up your money, because after this week's parsha, Parshas Eikev, you are probably going to need to spend some quality time with your analyst. That is because in Parshas Eikev, Moishe Rabbeinu reminds Klal Yisroel of all of their misdeeds in the desert: from complaining about desert conditions -- to the Eigel Hazahav, the Golden Calf -- to the Meraglim, the rebellion against the conquest of the Promised Land -- to the refusal to pay brokers' fees for the tent dwellings in the wilderness. The threat, as Moishe states, is that if Klal Yisroel doesn't behave, the Aimishteh will withhold rain from falling.

The Yayin Mevushal points out that this Parsha is the basis for the Kabalistic view of Hakkadoshboruchhu and Am Yisroel as being soul mates in an erotic male/ female relationship, with the Aimishteh designated the masculine role. He sophomorically notes that the Parsha clearly equates a long, indulgent build up of the Rebboinoisheloilum's happiness and satisfaction with the occasional liquid emission release from the sky.

Building upon this line of thought, the ARI ZAHL suggests that the male/ female dynamic is actually meant to be a husband/wife relationship. And pointing at this Parsha, he suggests that the frequent threats made by the Aimishteh against Klal Yisroel prove that Hakkadoshboruchhu is a chronic wife abuser.

In a famous Gemarrah in Soitah, Rav Shayshess asks in the name of Rav Hamnuna in the name of Rav: Why does the Aimishteh always have to threaten Klal Yisroel-- why can't He simply emphasize the positive? Abaya responds that Moishe and the Reboinoisheloilum actually liked to tag team as good guy/ bad guy, based on something they once saw on an old episode of NYPD Blue. He suggests that the real reason Moishe was not allowed into Eretz Yisroel was that Hakkadoshboruchhu preferred to always play the bad guy role and didn't want to take turns.

However, Rava vehemently disagrees and suggests that Abaya should spend more time learning Toirah and less time watching reruns. Rava suggests that Hakkadoshboruchhu feels compelled to remind Klal Yisroel of their wrongdoing because of their damned short memory. They pray for emancipation, yet quickly forget the evils inflicted by the Egyptians prior to the Exodus. They pray for a Bais Hamikdash, but forget how when it stood it was a platform for abuse. They pray for a return of Malchus Bais Dovid, the Davidic monarchy, though forget how it was often a platform for corruption and idol worship.

Look at your own life, you worthless minuval. You pray for health, yet abuse your body. You pray for rain, then you complain about it. You pray for a loving, kind wife, yet would gladly give up an arm to be mezaneh with your hot shiksa secretary. You pray for peace and unity among all the Jewish People, yet the only people you hate more than Hamas are that guy who sits two rows ahead of you at shul and that bitch two blocks away who wears tight jeans and a shaytl.

I am reminded of a maiseh shehoyo. I was recently traveling through the shtetl in St. Louis, sharing Divrei Toirah for a nominal honorarium of 5000 dollars a speech, plus expenses. That Friday night, I found myself offering a vort at the local Conservative Synagogue. As I stood at the Bimah, I looked down at a congregation filled with women with yarmulkahs and women sitting next to men, while behind me sat a female Rabbi and Cantor.

Upon my return to the Yeshiva, I mentioned my shock and horror to my rebbe, the NPOJHARTHA, regarding the gross violations of modesty and the reversal of gender roles. He replied that we should not look upon the Conservative Synagogue with contempt; rather, we should view all of its congregants with love, as indeed we are all brothers and sisters, members of the tribe of Klal Yisroel, who standing together, side by side, received the Toirah from the Reboinoisheloilum at Har Sinai and are forever united by that cosmic experience.

And, in his soft spoken voice, he added that if anything, we should feel pity, since they will all burn in the eternal fires of hell and have their living flesh devoured by maggots and scorpions because of their corruption of the Aimishteh's commandments, while we dance on their graves, doing the hora and the choo choo train conga line, and then dance on the graves of the other Jews who have committed abominations before Hakkadoshboruchhu, including: the Reform, the Conservative, the Chasidim, the ultra left wing, the ultra right wing, people who make more money than me, people who make less money than me, people with hotter wives than mine, people married to meeskeits, Woody Allen, all lawyers, all representatives of Amway, and anyone who reads this Dvar Toirah.

So the key message of the warning in this Parsha is: though you have the best of intentions, you may as well give up now. Because after 120 years, there will be a limited number of people who get to sit alongside the Aimishteh in His throne. And I have no intention of giving up my seat for you, you minuval.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On Wife-Swapping, Swinging, and Pilegesh


THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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On Wife-Swapping, Swinging, and Pilegesh


Rabboisai,

This week I respond to a shailah, or, rather, suggestion, which is close to my heart. Rebbetzin Virginia writes:

Rebbe,

The following is an idea that I have been thinking about. If this could be implemented in some tzniusdika manner, it would be a great relief for us, the Women of Yisrael. Would you give it your blessing?

Axioms:

1. Given that most women who have been married more than 15 years have virtually no interest in sleeping with their husbands.

2. Given that most men want to sleep with anything that moves.

THE IDEA:

For couples married over 15 years, a Gemilas Chesed squad would be formed. A woman who wants a break from sleeping with her husband would list her husband on a special Shul listing. Other wives would check the list and sign up to “pinch hit.” For every night that a woman signs up to provide a night of "Chesed" with someone else’s husband, she will be entitled to receive a night from the "GMACH" for her own husband.

This is a great way for women to get the occasional night off, and to get the opportunity to sleep with husbands who are more appealing than their own.

Thank you for considering my idea.

Virginia

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Rebbetzin,

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

This is indeed a BRILLIANT idea that meets a growing need within Klal Yisroel, and a great challenge to our corrupt generation. Indeed, I may want to flesh out this idea in much more detail with you, perhaps over dinner some time next week. As ma’areh makoimois, can you please send me a 5 by 7 picture of yourself, plus your exact measurements. I will get back to you with a time and a location.

In the interim, I would like to share some of my initial thoughts on your gevaldik suggestion.

You are of course not alone in expressing concerns for the needs of Bnei Yisroel and for the sanctity of the Yiddisheh institution of marriage. Too often in this corrupt day and age we see shattered families all around us. Divorce. Soul-less marriages. Relationships in contract and name only. The men too busy in Yeshiva to pay attention to their wives’ veibisheh needs. Women so obsessed with servicing their own selfish purposes that they won’t allow their husbands to stay for evening seder in the Yeshiva past 10:00 pm, using such weak excuses as “I’m sick,” “Shloimee needs help with his homework,” “I have to work the overnight shift at 7-11, can you stay home with the kids?,” or “my mother just died and I’m sitting Shiva – can you be home?” Disgusting Prutzas!

There is of course the specific concern that you raise about couples having trouble in the bedroom after many years of familiarity. How can a Baal Habayis and his Bashert maintain a proper marriage when there is no longer any…errr...kishka left in the cholent? After all, the Toirah wants the Jewish couple to enjoy a healthy physical relationship. Hakkadoshboruchhu wants a husband and wife to be mezaneh regularly in the bedroom, to occasionally have relations on the sofa in the living room, to infrequently dip the pita in the techinah on the kitchen table, and to every once in a while ride the shtender in the Bais Medrish when no one else is around. This is the will of the Reboinoisheloilum!

Indeed, we can certainly look to the Toirah for insight on how to address issues related to a dysfunctional bedroom. According to a Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah, Avraham Avinu had lost his…ummm…shverkeit with Sarah Imainu, and it was for this reason that she encouraged him to be mezaneh with her maidservant Hagar. Indeed, Rabbi Akiva, as quoted in the Yalkut Shimoini, notes that following Avraham’s relationship with Hagar, Sarah manages to conceive. He points to this example as proof that, quote, “eating a little gefilte fish in the restaurant across the street is always good for the digestion at home,” unquote.

So, as early as the Avois, we find a precedent for the use of a “Pilegesh” to serve as a “marital supplement.” Think of it as a daily multi-vitamin that includes Vitamins A, B 1-12, C, D, and a healthy dose of Viagra.

Avraham’s employment of a Pilegesh is doubled by his grandson Yankif Avinu. According to a Gemarrah in Kesubois, after marrying the Doublemint twins, Yankif is overcome with the stress of having the sisters constantly fighting over access to his Schvantzel. “You slept with Leah last night, it is my turn” declares Rachel. “Rachel is just jealous; you don’t have to spend time with my frigid sister” replies Leah. “Leah is a skanky bee-atch who smells like last week’s carp left out in the sun” retorts Rachel. All the cat fighting gets to his libido, compelling his wives to offer their maidservants as Pilagshois. But this gets Yankif’s romantic juices flowing, and, lo and behold, he ends up with twelve really well adjusted sons.

Chazzal derive the Halachois concerning marital relationships from the life style approaches of the Avois and the later practices of the Malchei Yisroel, the Kings of Israel. According to a Mishnah in the first Perek of Kiddushin, “A man may betroth his intended through kesef (the exchange of money), through shtar (a contract), or through biyuh (physical consummation), but may initiate a relationship with his Pilegesh by simply doing a quickie in the back seat of the car.” The Gemarrah goes on to ask, “Bameh Devarim Amurim, when were these words said? When a man has a car. But if he doesn’t have a car, according to Abaya, a man may have relations with his Pilegesh in his home; but according to Rava, he must be mezaneh with his Pilegesh in a location not suitable to serve as a permanent dwelling, such as a Sukkoh or an igloo.”

All of this relates to the needs of a man. But how do we know that a married woman can equally have her needs met through a temporary arrangement? Is there not a concern for the Dioraisa of Aishess Ish?

Rabbi Chiyah Bar Abba addresses this question in a Gemarrah in Soitah. According to Rabbi Chiyah Bar Abba, the injunction against a woman committing adultery was only relevant at the time that the Bais Hamikdash was standing. However, following the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, “a woman may seek consolation, through prayer, Teshuvah, Gemilas Chasadim, and by riding her husband’s chavrusa as if he were a Harley Davidson.”

The Gemarrah of course rejects Rabbi Chiyah Bar Abba’s opinion, ruling that a married woman‘s honor should always be protected by a full head covering, by a prohibition on her driving a car, and by having her erva stapled shut.

However, in the eleventh century Rabbeinu Gershom addressed this very issue in his famous Cherem, his set of socio-religious injunctions that remain in place to this day. His decrees include: The ban on reading other peoples’ mail and the ban on a man having more than one wife. His restriction on reading others’ mail, he writes, “is intended to ensure fair business practices.” His ban on polygamy, similarly, “is intended to ensure the fair exchange of Tashmish services between a Rebbe and his old bag of a wife on the one hand, and his Talmid Muvhak and his young hottie Kallah on the other.” Rabbeinu Gershom is of course also known by his Rabbinic nom de plumes as the “Meor Hagoilah,” “Reb Chapp-A-Feel,” and “The Randy Old Rabbi of Mainz.”

Rabbeinu Gershom of course wrote his Halachic opinions for the Ashkenazic world. However, on this issue the Sephardic community follows the teachings of the RAMBAM. Writing in his Mishnah Toirah in Hilchois Nashim, the RAMBAM addresses the famous question of how Queen Esther could possibly have been mezaneh with King Achashveiroish, a sheygitz. The RAMBAM comments that “Esther’s actions are permissible due to the principle of ‘Isha Ke’Afra,’ that (during intimacy) every woman is passive like the ground, just like my wife.” The RAMBAM goes on to note that in his day, “a true Aishess Chayil is just like a Pushka – her intrinsic riches increase when everyone in town takes a turn putting a little something into the slot.”

The Sifsey Chachomim assume a similar position in the Ashkenazic world.

So, Rebbetzin Virginia, as we apply these notions to our day, it is indeed appropriate that we act upon your noble suggestion. Boruch Hashem we have the communal interest and appropriate technology to enable such a spouse-swapping arrangement. Your idea is in the spirit of the Karban Toidah, Shalach Manois, Rabbi trading cards, and Kisvei Penthouse. Ashrei Ha’Ish, happy is the man, who is married to a woman with your level of wisdom. I hope one day soon that many more of Klal Yisroel will get to taste of your rich apple of Toirah and femininity.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuveless

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Tisha Ba'Av Drasha

Rabboisai,

I would like to share with you some thoughts I developed last year on the topic of Tisha Ba’av.

Last year, as I sat on the floor in shul on Tisha Ba’av, inhaling the stench of the guy in front of me who took the whole no-bathing thing during the Nine Days a bit too literally, I began to contemplate the relevance of Tisha Ba’Av to our daily lives. Later in the week, I pondered a parallel question: what is the relevance of Shabbos Nachamu, especially for those of us who are not single and have no plans to go up to the Catskills to play sample-the-gefilte-fish with some desperately unmarried third grade social studies teacher from the Bais Yankif of Sheytel Park.

At face value, Tisha Ba’Av is a simple concept. Klal Yisroel marks a period of national mourning by engaging in outward rituals designed to prove to the Reboinoisheloilum how sad we are, while we meanwhile pass our many post shul hours surfing porn to distract us from the growls of our empty bellies.

Yes, these were our ancestors who suffered horrible consequences many centuries ago. And in the great Yiddeshe tradition of compounding suffering, we somewhat arbitrarily link the date with other national tragedies. The destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash, the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, the Hadrianic Persecutions, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, etc. In other words, every bad thing that could possibly happen to the Jewish people.

But how can we feel personal linkages to the various national tragedies that happened long ago and did not impact us in our own lifetimes? And what EXACTLY are we supposed to feel? Empathy with our ancestors? Affinity with Jewish brethren and sistren? Or, as I sometimes feel, sheer panic and a sense that I ought to sign up with another religion as soon as possible, so long as I can avoid future persecution and have access to hot shiksas?

This question is at the center of a famous Machloikess Rishoinim between the RAMBAN and the RASHBA on the topic of Soitah. According to the RAMBAN, the Koihan administer the Mei Soitah to a married woman as potential punishment for her sleeping with other men in the past. But according to the RASHBA, the Kohain administers the Mei Soitah the woman as punishment for her not having slept with him.

As Jews, we are instructed to sanctify the Reboinoisheloilum through time: On Pesach, we re-enact the exodus from Mitzrayim be eating Matzoh until we are hospitalized for intestinal blockage. On Sukkois, we re-enact our sojourning in the desert by making last minute trips to Home Depot for electrical tape. And on Shavuois, we re-enact receiving the Toirah by doing shots with our friends and talking about who has the hottest wives in shul while our own wives are home putting the children to sleep and probably stroking the schmaltz herring to help them fall asleep, if you know what I mean.

But what are the rational limits of our behavior as we relate to Jewish history? And where do we draw the line between symbolism and reality when we worship Hakadoshboruchhu through time?

It is told of Reb Akiva Eiger that he was very diligent about not using numbers to count people, lest it echo the Avoidah, the ritual Practice, of the Bais Hamikdash, and wrongfully re-enact the past. Every morning in the Great Synagogue of Posen, he would check to see of there was a minyan by counting heads, “Hoshiya, Ess, Amecha, U’Varech, Ess, Nachlasecha, Uraim, Ve’Nasaim, Ad, Oilum.” At a count of Oilum, signaling the number ten, he would begin to say Birchas Ha’Shachar, as well as start whipping the Baal Tefilla with his Tfillin.

But he would not stop there. One Shabbos morning before Kriyas HaToirah, a young boy came up to him and asked, “Rabbi, do you know what the Yankees did last night.”

Reb Akiva smiled reassuringly and replied, “Shimee, great news! The Yankees beat the Red Sox Uraim to Hoshiya. Jones had Ve’Nasaim strikeouts, and Jackson had Ess home runs.”

This practice was not a universally held position. Many of Chazal actually counted using numbers, holding that concern for replicating the historical Avoidah was not relevant in their day – that there were indeed limits to how the history of Klal Yisroel should impact religious practice in their own lives.

The Baal Shem Tov is recorded by numerous of his Chassidim as having counted using actual numbers. As he traveled from town to town, raising money for his new movement, he would often go the front of a shul and say aloud, “Which of you would like to buy a chelek of Oilum Habah for eighteen zloties?” He would then look out towards the Kehillah and start counting the raised hands. “I see one Yid, two Yidden, three, four…Wow! There are fifteen of you suckers… err… I mean tzaddikim out there.”

But this practice was not unique to the Chassidic movement. Reb Moishe himself writes in the Igrois Moishe how he once traveled to Florida with his talmidim for spring break, and after being appointed as a competition judge, used real numbers to keep score in a wet tzitzis contest.

More to the point, the Maharal MiPrague himself addresses these issues directly in his lesser known sefer, Be’er HaGalus. According to the Maharal, Klal Yisroel is distinct from the pagans in that Oivday Avoidah Zorah seek the favor of their deities through the celebration of the forces of nature, which are largely seen as behaving randomly and are fundamentally distant from the work of humanity. But Klal Yisroel worships the Aimishteh, who we view as fundamentally involved in our fate and the workings of our own reality. And since the Reboinoisheloilum acts through history, such as in Yetzias Mitzrayim 3,400 years ago, and through the notion of time, such as through the unique covenantal pillar of celebrating the Shabbos Koidesh, the seventh day, so we must in turn use practices in time, such as practicing commemorative holidays fixed upon the calendar, to worship Hakkadoshboruchhu.

However, the Maharal goes on to discuss the limits of this principle. Writes the Maharal, “When I was a young bocherul in the Yeshiva, I prayed to the Aimishteh for two things: One, that I would learn Kol HaToirah Kooloh. And Two, that I would win the Prague Pick-Finnif Lottery so I could buy myself a new shtender. I studied day and night, night and day, and mastered the Toirah by the age of nine. I also davened three times a day. And I very strictly kept the Shabbos Koidesh. Plus I never tried to look up my next door neighbor Shayndel’s dress. But did I ever win the lottery? No! Which taught me one thing: No matter what we do, even when we worship the Reboinoisheloilum through time, He has His own master plan. And if our world does not align with His plan, we may as well start praying to Yushka or Buddha or to a giant head of lettuce, because Hakadoshboruchhu is certainly not going to help.”

Continues the Maharal, “So, conversely, if you are trying to worship the Aimishteh, and the form of worship does not make sense – say, by fasting three days and three nights after a bad dream, or not showering for a week before Tisha Ba’Av, you should probably stop. The Reboinoisheloilum created the world to be peopled by human beings and not angels, and also endowed them with common sense. So if you do something silly, like wear a $400 hat over a $3,000 shaytel, or get filters built into your water system, or only eat fruit that has a Hashgacha, the only thing you have accomplished is convince Hakadoshboruchhu that you are indeed an idiot.”

So when it comes to Tisha Ba’Av, we must have appreciation for our history because marking time is inherent to our faith. Fast a little bit. Be a bit somber. Think about the suffering of our ancestors. Get under the bed and hide, so the Goyim cannot find you and persecute you. Try not to knead the flanken for one day, if you know what I mean. It won’t kill you.

But at the same time, we needn’t instill upon ourselves an intolerable level of suffering. Our ancestors did not seek their own torment – we should therefore limit our own. In fact, given the choice, I can assure you that our ancestors would have much preferred to skip the suffering commemorated by Tisha Ba’Av altogether, and go straight for the cute, zaftig, single third grade teacher at the singles weekend on Shabbos Nachamu.

Parshas Devarim


THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Devarim

This week we begin Sefer Devarim -- the Book of Deuteronomy, as the goyim and the Reform call it. With this, we officially begin the countdown to a day a few months from now when men will dance with other men, hand in hand, to celebrate the completion of the cycle of the reading of the Toirah. (I can't wait; I have a date with a talmid named Yerachmiel. I hope I get lucky.)

Saadia Goyn, a minuval in his own time, asks why we even bother with Sefer Devarim, which is largely a restatement of the preceding books of the Toirah. Why not jump straight into Beraishis?

According to the RAN, the repetitive nature of Devarim is directly related to its being read in the summer months, during which we customarily are relegated to repeat episodes of all of our favorite shows. Indeed, the RAMBAM, in his famous introduction to Hilchois Depreciation, suggests that to keep the Toirah fresh, we should pre-empt the entire Sefer Devarim and replace it with an original dramatic anthology series on famous Jewish tax evaders. We don't hold like the RAMBAM, however, because even if we had new episodes every five minutes, we wouldn't have enough time over the summer to do justice to the topic.

The RASHBA agrees completely. In his shtetl one year he preempted the entire Sefer Devarim with a new reality series entitled "Who Wants To Marry a Sheitelmacher." The series was cancelled after one season, however, as there was little interest in marrying a woman with the hair of a hot shiksa and the body of Moby Dick.

So we do read Sefer Devarim. In it, we are witness to Moishe Rabbeinu standing before Klal Yisroel in the desert as he is about to exit the stage of history, summarizing Klal Yisroel's achievements, reviewing rules and regulations, and basically reminding the Bnei Yisroel that they are a bunch of rebellious good for nothing minuvals.

A Gemmarah in Pesachim asks why Moishe didn't simply distribute a pamphlet in order to save time and the expense of organizing a large gathering of all of Klal Yisroel.

According to Rav Yehuda, Moishe simply liked the power of the stage, and relished the opportunity to lead one last political rally.

But according to Rav Ashi, Moishe really milked this thing into a big money maker: He charged for attendance, got a piece of the food concessions (five dollars for a kosher hot dog in the desert), and sold licensed products such as Moishe Rabbeinu golf shirts, stuffed Toirahs for the kids, and big orange sponge hands saying "We're Number One". He also set up a website and internal satellite network and charged for pay-per-view access.

This week, in the first Parsha of Devarim, we focus on the sojourning, the travels, and the battles of the previous forty years.

According to Rabbeinu Tam, of all his achievements, Moishe rabbeinu was most proud of his beating Oig Melech Habashan, which is why there is so much detail of their encounters in this week's Parsha.

According to a famous medrish, Moishe was twenty amois high, he held a stick twenty amois high, and he jumped twenty amois high, and he only reached Oig's ankle. Yet he was able to knock Oig down to the ground, and then proceeded to cut off Oig's private parts, which he used as a tent on family camping trips.

But a different medrish tells us that Moishe and Oig really settled their disputes through arm wrestling. After much struggle, Moishe won the match, and in turn received all of the land east of the Jordan River on behalf of Klal Yisroel. While Oig, upon losing his kingdom, was forced to work as a telemarketer and sell Amway products in his spare time.

The MAHARAL has a beautiful interpretation of this event. He suggests that Moishe Rabbeinu never actually fought Oig. Indeed, he never met him, though did read an article about him once. Rather, Moishe created this legend to build excitement about the prospects of entering the Eretz Yisroel, to unify the people, and to make people forget about the whole "Persia is developing weapons of mass destruction" fear.

Indeed, just as the Jews stood on that mountain overlooking the Promised Land, we too, in our generation, stand at a critical juncture in our history. Do we push forward, or step backward? Do we move into the future, or recede into the past? Our wives are relying on us to make the right decisions, as are our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

So you owe it to them: Stop having children, for Reboinoisheloilum's sake! Get that vasectomy already! The last thing you need to do is to start with those midnight feedings again. And more yeshiva tuition? No -- save some money for the strip clubs and traifus. You're not getting any younger, you know. Moishe knew that the only choice was to move into the future. We should all embrace his wisdom.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval