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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Parshas Vayaitzai

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Parshas Vayaitzai

"Vayaitzai Ya'akov mi'Be-er Sheva vayailech Charanah." And Yankif went out of Be'er Sheva towards Charan. In such succinct fashion, the Toirah summarizes last week's episode and introduces the next twenty years of oppression at the hands of Lavan.

The RAMBAN asks the question: why is it that Yankif, one of our founding Avois, a pinnacle of our early relationship with the Aimishteh, and a model for future behaviour emulation, was so consistently disliked by his brother, his uncle AND his own father? What's pshat?

According to the MAHARAL, this is because Yankif was insufferably arrogant. According to a Medrish in Soitah, Yankif used to boast to his brother Eisav, "I have an IQ of Koof Mem Chess, while you kill weasels for a living. And you were stupid enough to sell me your birthright for a bowl of lentils, schmuck!"

But the TOISFOIS YUNTIF points out that as much as Ya'akov was hated by the men in his life, the women REALLY loved him: His mother Rivka, who taught him all the finer arts of lying to his father. His is two wives, who constantly fought over him like sisters (hey -- they were sisters!). According to the TOISFOIS YUNTIF, when the Toirah tells us that Yankif didn't like to go to the fields to hunt, it is really trying to tell us that Yankif was extremely sexually conflicted and effeminate. This really pissed off his father and brother, but was very popular with all the women, who used to like to shop with Yankif, and talk fashion and attend the ballet with him.

Rav Yoiseph Karo, on the other hand, holds farkhert: Yankif was a true he-man who left all the men jealous and all the women swooning. As proof he cites the fact that to impress Rachel, Yankif single-handedly removed the boulders covering the well. Says Rav Yoiseph Karo, "If Yankif Avinu was man enough to get his rocks off in public, that is good enough for me."

As Yankif meets with his uncle for the first time, the Toirah tells us that Lavan hugged and kissed him. A famous RASHI addresses an implicit question: why does the Toirah tell us that he both hugged and kissed him? However, RASHI tells us, the Toirah was not being redundant. Lavan first hugged Yunkif to see if he had valuables hidden under his clothes, and then kissed him to see if any jewels were hidden in his mouth. (Author's comment: Check out Rashi. He really does say this.)

So is this what family reunions were like back then?

The RASHBA adds, the real reason Lavan hated Yankif is that Yankif Avinu didn't let him get to third base on their first date.

As one reads of these curious events, a good-for-nothing minuval such as yourself must wonder why the Toirah bothers to tell us such tales. Indeed, a famous Gemarrah in Yevamois specifically asks why the Toirah doesn't just begin at Har Sinai, Mount Sinai, with the giving of the Ten Commandments. Or begin with the Exodus from Egypt, the formal conglomeration of Klal Yisrael as an independent nation. Or begin with the entrance of Klal Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. Why do we need all of this pre-history?

The Gemarrah quotes Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel as saying that all of Beraishis comes to teach us the ways of Tzidkus, righteousness, so we can emulate our forefathers and foremothers in our own lives.

Nowhere is this better communicated than in our Parsha, with the lessons taught by Rachel and Leah. Yankif of course ends up marrying Leah, and, subsequently, Rachel. As Rachel struggles to concieve, she hands over her maidservant to be a concubine to Yankif. Leah ends up doing the same thing.

The RAMBAM points out that if you include Sarah Imainu, who gave Hagar (the Horrible), her own maidservant, to Avraham as a concubine, we have a total of three instances where the Imahois INSIST that their husbands be mekayaim the mitzvah of pru urvu, or at least perform a quickie, with another woman. That's 66% of the Avois, and 75% of the Imahois. And these were great women, who always acted at every moment with the intention of fulfilling the mitzvois of Hakkadoshboruchhu. You cannot argue with thise statistics, you minuval.

Now, in order to be a true BenToirah, you should walk in the footsteps of our great and righteous ancestors and repeat their very deeds.

I have made this argument many times to my bashert, Feigah Breinah. She is not fully convinced of this particular mitzvah, but she does hold that lap dances are only a D'Rabbabanan, not the worst thing you can do on a Thursday night after a long week of work. But I expect that she'll come around sooner or later, otherwise I will cease snacking in the schmaltz herring, if you know what I mean.

Four hundred years ago the ARI ZAHL, living in Tzfas, taught us that with every mitzvah we fulfill, we restore another primordial spark of the Aimishteh's goodness to its rightful place in the cosmic universe, thereby bringing the world one step closer to its original perfection.

Rachel, Leah, and Sarah, in their holy righteousness, understood this. And as we walk in their footsteps, we should always keep in mind that every extramarital biyuh brings us one step closer to Biyas Hamashiach. Bimhairah Biyamainu. Umain.

Ah Gutten Shabbos you Minuval.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Parshas Toldois

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Parshas Toldois

In this weeks Parsha, Toildois, 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!

(TO MY DEAR GENTILE READERS: THIS IS KNOW AS HUMOR. THIS IS A JOKE THAT WE MIGHT TERM "REVERSE ANTI-SEMITISM". PLEASE DO NOT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST US, OR PERSECUTE US, OR NOT LET US INTO YOUR FANCY COUNTRY CLUBS, OR NOT LET US DATE YOUR VERY CUTE BLOND HOT SHIKSA DAUGHTERS BECAUSE OF THIS JOKE.)

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

So, basically, from Eisav, and especially from Ya'akov, 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 Ya'akov became very different people. The Toirah tells us that Eisav became a great hunter and a man of the fields. But Ya'akov did not. According to a Gemarrah in Sotah, while Eisav went off to hunt, Ya'akov 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 Ya'akov 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 Rivka put on 300 pounds and started wearing a bad shaytl after giving birth.

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. Ya'akov, so unattractive to Yitzchak Avinu, was the pride, the favorite of Rivka Imainu. And it was only through their combined guile, their deception, that Ya'akov 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 Ya'akov, 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.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Parshas Chayei Sarah

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Rabboisai --

I would like to point out a brilliant piece of Toirah developed by the Esteemed RABAM, my colleague and collaborator who is the Rosheshiva of the San Francisco branch of Yeshivas Chipas Emmess.

http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2009/11/kosher-chicken-quandary.html

====================================================



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 sex 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 iPhone, 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 Temima 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 other religious groups, hold your tongue until you have investigated your own youth organizations.

Ah Gutten Shabbos you Minuval.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Parshas Vayayrah

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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. In his drasha, my Talmud Muvhak, Dr./Rabbi Sterling/ Shmiel Tyler/Tanenbaumowitz, shared with my beloved Talmidim 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.