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Friday, July 30, 2010

Parshas Eikev

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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 Miraglim, 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 Kabbalistic view of Hakkadoshboruchu 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 an occasional liquid emission released 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 He 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 CSI. 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 cable television. 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 and Ahmadinejad 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 Minneapolis, 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 yarmulkas and women sitting next to men, while behind me on the Bimah 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 Movement 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 Modern Orthodox, 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, all people whose employers took government bailout money, 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.

Opportunity to participate to a research project (Not a Joke)

Rabboisai,

As has happened one time before, I have been contacted by some Yeshiva Yingel who is working on a doctoral dissertation related to Jewish identity in America, who asked that I forward along his request to my Talmidim.

Since most of you are a bunch of good for nothing Leytzanim anyway, it would be a Groisse Mitzvah if you give 15 minutes of your time in filling out his survey. (Trust me -- not surfing porn for a quarter of an hour is probably good for you, you Minuval.)

The request and the requisite link are below:

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My name is Sruly Bomzer and I am a 5th year doctoral candidate in the CW Post Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program. I am currently in the initial stages of collecting data for my dissertation, which involves examining common childhood experiences of Jews raised in the Orthodox tradition (regardless of current affiliation). This study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of CW Post, and is being supervised by Jill Rathus, Ph.D. I am writing to you to request your help in disseminating the online survey that is my primary means of collecting data. The survey, available here:

http://tinyurl.com/ODQStudy

is completely anonymous and takes no longer than 10-15 minutes to complete. I have followed your blog and believe that your readership represents an ideal sample of participants. Because this project is not funded, I cannot offer you any compensation, however any effort you could spare to inform you readers of my study would be greatly appreciated. If you have any questions regarding this research, feel free to contact me at srulystudy@gmail.com.

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Pinky

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tisha Ba'Av Drasha


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Tisha Ba'Av Drasha

Rabboisai,

I would like to share with you some thoughts I developed 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 administers 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 if 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 uncut 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.

Have an easy fast, you minuval

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

On Modesty

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On Modesty


Rabboisai,

I am writing these words while on a trip to Africa, where have I traveled to provide a professional opinion on whether researchers have found, at long last, a kosher pig. I traveled here initially by plane, then took a river boat into the depths of the continent, and finally traveled by elephant and on foot to the Munpuku province of the Republic of Zambia. There I found my sponsoring party, a research team from the firm of Cohen, Goldberg, Goldberg, Feinstein and Schvantzkup LLP, standing over a young swine. A close look revealed that it had the expected split hooves, but what appeared to the simpletons as signs of cud chewing and regurgitation were in actuality the combination of a the Chazer chewing a pack of Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum while suffering from a simple case of reflux.

No big loss for Klal Yisroel. The pig did not taste that good anyway.

I share this story with you as I tee up a very sensitive topic in our time. We all pray three times a day for the Reboinoisheloilum to bring about our redemption, or at least to bring a marvelous bounty on the farm this year, which will be incredibly useful to me in my two bedroom apartment in Boro Park. And to curry favor with Hakadoshboruchhu, we give Tzedakah, do Mitzvois, and in general engage in behavior that is conducive to our spiritual existence. This is why I wear a wool suit and long Bekesheh in 95 degree weather, and why my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, wears a $3000 Shaytel, and a thong made out of my old Tallis bag.

But what is the end result that Klal Yisroel really seeks from the Aimishteh? Do we actually want Him to descend to the earth, to take up residence in His temple in Yerushalayim Ir Hakoidesh? Do really we want Him to gather all of Am Yisroel from the four corners of the earth, including the lost tribes, which include the Bnei Menashe from India, the Bnei Dan from Africa, the Navaho from America, and the Taliban from Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or do we simply want Him to give us health, make us wealthy, give us a 52 inch LED backlit LCD television with direct access to Netflix and the Internet, and help us win in our upcoming defense against accusations of misappropriation of investment funds? In other words – are we, in our lives, embracing the Divine for cosmic purposes, or do we simply seek material benefits? Are we motivated by the Oilum Habah, or by the Oilum Hazeh?

This was the subject of a famous Machloikess between Rish Lakish and Rav Huna. As brought down in a Gemara in Baytzah, Rish Lakish suffered from a weight problem, Rachmana Letzlan. As he aged, he stomach grew, and when he turned fifty, his shul told him that they would charge him a double membership fee since he always took up two seats. According to Rish Lakish, this was a form of profiling and discrimination, and he refused to pay. Rav Huna, the President of the Shul, argued that Rish Lakish, while taking up two seats, was definitely Oiver on Baal Toisiph, likely Oiver on Baal Tashchis, and was probably a Baal Keri.

The essence of the Machloikess rested on the proper interpretation of the Passook, “Shma Bni Mussar Avicha, Ve-Al TiToish Toiras Imecha” (Mishlei, Perek Aleph, Pasuook Chess). “Listen my son to the instruction of your father, and do not abandon the teaching of your mother” (Proverbs, Chapter One, Verse Eight). Rav Huna understood the Passook as describing a man’s link to his tradition, his community, and common sense. Hence, Rav Huna felt that Rish Lakish was in error in taking up two seats in shul.

Rish Lakish had a different understanding based on an alternate reading of the Passook, applying alternative vowels and punctuation (substitutions highlighted): “Shma Bni, MOISAIR Avicha VE-AYL, TiToish Toiras Imecha.” “Listen my son, TURN OVER your father and the Reboinoisheloilum (to the authorities or your enemies); abandon the teachings of your mother.” In other words, one should pursue a course that is expedient to his individual needs, even if it stands in contrast to his heritage and common sense.

Shoyn.

The essential ambivalence between satisfying short term versus long term needs was addressed is a famous Toisfois in a Gemara in Nezikin. The Gemara talks about the penalties demanded from the owner of an ox who has gored someone’s mother-in-law. Toisfois ask why we even demand a penalty -- shouldn’t a man be pleased that his mother-in-law has been gored? Perhaps the man himself should be giving money to the owner of the ox, and not the other way around? By Toisfois answers in a Gevaldik fashion: LeOilum, of course the man is happy that his mother-in-law has been gored, but his wife probably isn’t. And since her husband is going to hear about it ad nausium for the next year, the ox owner is required to compensate him.

So we see that our choices and actions are often complex and layered. At times, what seem like a position of Anivus – humility, which is modesty in behavior – may in fact be a position of Gaivah, boisterousness and pride. And what seems like Gaivah may be the greatest act of personal humility in the history of mankind.

Take for example a man like Warren Buffett, who has such nicknames as “the Oracle of Omaha”, “ the Navi of Nebraska”, and “the Cornhusker Shaygitz”. He has committed to giving most of his billions away to charity, leaving a few single digit million dollars for his children, since he says that he does not believe in inherited wealth. You might think that this man is a great Annav – a man of modesty – who is also a Groisse Baal Tezekah. But you, of course, are a complete ignoramus. In reality, he is Rashah: He has not returned any of my calls asking for donations to the Yeshivah, and he has not condemned Ahmedinijad, the Turkish government, or the Democratic Party. So he must be an anti-Semite.

On the other hand, take the wearing of Sheytels by the Bnois Yisroel as an act of personal modesty. Sure, you might think that the wearing of a $3000 wig to cover one’s natural hair instead of using a $10 Shmata is an act of gross Gaivah. But you would be wrong. You might think that since wearing the hair of a Shiksa improves the aesthetic appeal of a woman, making her more attractive to men when she wears a Sheytel rather than less attractive, and that therefore a Sheytel is inconsistent with personal modestly. But this, again, highlights the fact that you are totally ignorant of the ways of the Toirah. No, a Sheytel is the greatest expression of Anivus. By wearing a Sheytel, a woman is signaling to the world that I, Ploinis Bas Ploinis, believe it is so important to cover my natural hair that I will do so even if it costs $3000 dollars and even if it makes no sense whatsoever.

Indeed, the Gemarra tells us that, “Darash Rav Avirah, BiSchar Nashim Tzidkaniyois SheHayoo BeOisoi HaDor Nigalu Yisroel MiMitzarayim,” “Rabbi Avivah explained that it was due to the merit of Jewish women that Klal Yisrael were rescued from Egypt” (Soitah, Daf Yu Aleph Amud Baiz/ Tractate Sotah, 11 B). How true and correct was Rav Aviyah! Although, truth be told, according to the Pnei Yehoishua, Rav Aviyah may only have been thinking with his Schvantzyl and was actually trying to get a little action from the Raish Gelusa’s wife while her husband was off traveling to Pumbedisa on business.

Consequently, we must emulate the actions of the Bnois Yisrael every day. Through our everyday actions we, too, must declare that we men are committed to the same kind of modesty exhibited by our wives and female neighbors. And how does one do that?

According to Rav Yoisaiph Katski, a man should emulate a woman’s modesty by copying her very actions! Men should wear Sheytlach just like women, which will address the multiple purposes of serving as Yarmulkes, covering up bald spots, and significantly improving the Gross Domestic Product of India. Also, if a large group of Jewish men have wigs, then Klal Yisroel will have many more candidates qualified to engage in secret operations in Dubai.

However, Reb Shmiel Kalbasavua disagrees. He says that men wearing wigs is a Dioraisa of Beged Isha, men wearing women’s garments, and a DeRabbanan of Lifnei Ivair, since if a man sees another man with an attractive Sheytel on he may come to commit an act of Mishkav Zachor, or even worse, steal his Styrofoam head.

So instead, Reb Shmiel insists, a man should not replicate the exact action of wearing a wig, but instead should emulate the spirit of that action. Just as a woman exhibits modesty before the Amishteh by covering her immodest, Ervadikkah hair while at the same time enhancing her appearance with an ostentatious Sheytel, so too a man should behave in that spirit. Consequently, even though a man is wearing pants to cover over his Bris Milah and Schvantzlach as a sign of modesty before Hakadoshboruchhu, he should also don a strap-on over his pants as a sign of true Anivus. At least on Shabbos and Yuntif, if not every day, a man should never leave the house without an artificial Bris Milah anchored at his Garter and his Makoim Hamilah. And if he is having company such as an important Roisheshiva, or if it is a special day such as Shabbos or Yuntif, the man may want to wear a special, larger SheytSchvantz ™ for the occasion, perhaps in black. And if he is going to a large secular gathering like a Yankee game or a Republican fundraiser, he may even want to enhance his appearance, say, by wearing a strap-on with a foreskin.

As well, this Psak may create additional Parnasah opportunities in the community. Just as women have their wigs regularly attended to by a female Sheytelmacher, so too a man should have his SheytSchvantz ™ regularly serviced. It is not clear however, if the Schvantzelmacher need be a man, or may be a women, which would be my preference, of course.

Rabboisai, we live in a time of moral confusion. When a rabbi is collecting money for a charity, but is really laundering money, we all have a problem. When a rabbi, who holds himself up as a global paragon for family values, for which he is reaping millions of dollars, and yet is the public defender for a (deceased) (alleged) pedophile, then we all have a problem. When Ultra-Orthodox in Emanuel are protesting and going to prison for the right to segregate their Ashkenazi daughters from their Sephardic counterparts in a government-supported public school, we all have a problem. When a multi-million dollar national kosher slaughterhouse is operated with myriad legal and human abuses, and the defendants hide behind a veil of frumkeit, then we all have a problem. We have a problem because the rest of us aren’t getting our cut. But we also have a problem because so many in Klal Yisroel are obsessed with Oilum Hazeh, expedient and short term benefit, rather than Oilum Habah.

It is not enough when we cast the appearance of modestly, yet beneath our external facade we are filled with Gaivah. That is the act of a kosher pig. What is more important is that we exhibit Anivus, true humility, even when it is not convenient or easy or profitable, just like Moishe Rebbeinu on Har Sinai, Rabbi Akiva being tortured by the Romans, and Monica Lewinsky on the floor of the Oval Office.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval