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Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the Role of the Reboinoisheloilum

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On the role of the Reboinoisheloilum

Rabboisai,

Every day we recite the Az Yashir, the Song of the Sea”, an ancient poem that celebrates the defeat of the Egyptian forces following the exodus of Klal Yisroel from Mitzrayim. As Klal Yisroel escape from Egypt, they are pursued by the Egyptian authorities -- Pharaoh, the military, and the SEC -- for engaging in a complex pyramid scheme. The Jews pass through the Yam Suf/ Red Sea/ Reed Sea unharmed, while the Mitzrim are swallowed into the water, those Shkutzim. Now let’s eat.

The Egyptians, we are told by the Toirah, are punished by the Aimishteh for their cruelty to generations of Jews. Unlike the pagan mythological pantheon who engage in fanciful battles divorced from the realm of humanity, the Reboinoisheloilum of Klal Yisroel is directly involved in human history. He personally engages in delivering justice and vengeance, smiting and wreaking havoc to the enemies of Israel. And to the Jews, He delivers salvation and mercy. He is Omnipresent and Omnipotent. He is all powerful. He has a barrel chest and six pack abs. He also makes a great guacamole, and has a 72 inch 3D TV. He is perfect!

So here’s the problem, you Mechutziff: As we have seen again this month, there are many terrible things that happen in this world. If indeed we believe that all of fate rests in the hands of Hakadoshboruchhu, that He is truly engaged in the activities of Our World, we are compelled to ask ourselves the following question: What The Hell Is He Doing?!

Exhibit A: Just imagine this: A family of Japanese people are sitting down at their lunch or dinner table. As they politely pick up their sushi, BOOM, there is a terrible earthquake. It is soon followed by a tsunami. Depending on where they live, this family of Japanese people is either entirely wiped out, some are killed, or all survive. Perhaps they are made homeless. Or they are exposed to nuclear radiation. For no reason whatsoever, their lives are destroyed or irreparably altered.

Exhibit B: The Fogel family is asleep on Shabbos Koidesh in their home in Itamar. Need I say more.

Exhibit C: This is true: I recently found my Bubbe on the online Hall of Names of Yad Vashem; her name was registered there by an acquaintance in the 1950s, who likely made a concerted effort to register the names of all the people she knew who had perished. However, my Alter-Bubbe and my schoolgirl-aged aunt never made it into the database: Apparently they didn’t have time to set up a Facebook account on their I-Pads while the Nazis were busy setting fire to the rickety wooden Shul in the Shtetl in which all the Yidden of the town were forcibly gathered.

Rabboisai, if the Reboinoisheloilum was a head of state, we would impeach Him. If He were a lawyer, we would disbar Him. If He were a child, we would take him to myriad psychologists. And if He were an adult, we would lock Him away where He could no longer cause any harm to Himself or anyone else. However, He is the Melech Malchei Hamlachim, Hakadoshboruchhu, so we continue to pray to Him.

But it is only fair and rational, and appropriate, that we ask ourselves at a broad theological/ philosophical level – What is He up to? Has He gone insane? Or is there some sort of master plan that you cannot possibly comprehend, you Minuval?

We of course are not the first to contemplate such questions. CHAZAL, sitting in their yeshivas around pressed board wooden tables with fold out metal legs, contemplated the very same questions. They looked to the Toirah and their own predecessors for guidance and inspiration. Some, like the RAMBAM, also turned to works of Moslem and Greek philosophers for answers. Others, like Moishe DeLeon, looked at traditional and contemporary mystical tradition. And a few, like the Ari Zahl, dropped acid and spent hours on end looking at their hands breathe.

Our Rabbinic predecessors indeed struggled with these very same issues. Their words are immortally captured in their Teshiuvois, their Sefarim, their various blogs and wikis, and on the walls of the men’s room stalls in Sura, Pumbedisa, Kutsk, Brisk, and elsewhere, right next to the notes that say, “For a good time, call Chanie”.

According to Reb Saadia Goyn, Hakadoshboruchhu is indeed a loving and benevolent Diety directly involved in Oilumainu, our world. He loves all mankind and all of His other creations. However, He believes in rules, and those that do not follow the Divine rules unfortunately trigger the (relatively minor) punishments warned of by the Reboinoisheloilum in His Toirah, in all of His benevolent mercy. For example:

-- If someone commits a murder, then he is Chayav Misah, and will unfortunately be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone worships Avoidah Zarah, Chass V’Sholom, then he is Chayav Misah, and, sadly, will be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone engages in “unnatural” acts, say, Mishkav Zachor, then he, his lover, their families, and everyone they ever knew, will lovingly be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone turns on a light on Shabbos Koidesh, Chass V’Sholom, a modern day Toldah of an Av Melacha, then he is Chayav Kurayss, and his family will mercifully be wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone wears Shatnez, the combination of wool and linen, then he and his family will one day be benevolently wiped out for all eternity.

-- If someone eats Kitniyois on Pesach, then he is Chayav on a Chashash of eating Chometz, and he and his family will one day be gloriously wiped out for all eternity.

So when a small portion of Klal Yisroel adopted Reform Judaism, Communism, Socialism, Zionism, and some of the other “isms” of the early 20th century, they triggered merciful destruction on all of Klal Yisroel. The Aimishteh surely watched with tears streaming down His eyes as my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother, and my twelve year old Aunt were burnt alive, along with most of the Yidden from their Shtetytl. But what could He do?

Hey – we got off easy, thanks to His benevolence. A remnant remained. It could have been worse: The dinosaurs ate insects and shellfish and never recited a Bracha, and look at them today…

The RASHBA also believes that the Reboinoisheloilum is involved in the world, but has a slightly different emphasis. According to the RASHBA, Hakadoshboruchhu is not benevolent. The suffering in our world is the direct result of the Aimishteh’s basic sadism and dislike of people. He is a misanthrope with a bit of an inferiority complex. Sure, He created human beings, but they are whiny and rebellious, and every so often He just feels like he needs to smite them because it makes Him feel better about Himself.

The RAMBAN takes an approach which is similar to that of Reb Saadia, though his explanation is informed by his great Rabbinic scholarship, along with his experience as one of the top OB-GYNs in medieval Spain. He suggests that the Shchinah actually loves all of mankind. She is our Creator, our Parent, our Spouse. However, once a month, for about a week, the Aimishteh starts to feel achy and bloated and uncomfortable, and then goes on a total rampage against all who come across Her path. But when the seven days are over She is back to normal. Just don’t say anything about Her weight, Chass V’Sholom.

Reb Akiva Eiger, takes a completely different approach. Reb Akiva holds that there is no conscious Deity involved in human affairs. Citing the Zoihar, Reb Akiva describes Hakadoshboruchhu as a powerful, universal Force. The Reboinoisheloilum is akin to a flower in your garden. He is alive and organic, but sits in the background like a pretty decoration that gets tended to in your spare time. However, some creatures, like the bees, are in tune with the Aimishteh, and mine Him for His pollen to make their honey. And man’s role, like that of the bees, is to understand the true nature of Hakadoshboruchhu and synchronize our existence to his reality, while stinging everyone and everything else that gets in our way.

However, the Meor Einayim, the Alter Chernobyler Rebbe, has a more counterintuitive understanding of Hakadoshboruchhu. Says the Chernobyler, LeOilum the Reboinoisheloilum is in fact a conscious being, involved in the daily affairs of mankind. And He is not so focused on the strict details of the Toirah. Punishments, shmunisments. “Live and let live”, He likes to tell the angels when they go out for cocktails every Friday night, after a long week of running the world. The problem is that the Aimishteh has been in the role for a long time, has taken to showing up late, leaving early, and taking too many long lunches. He has become distracted and lost focus, and it is probably time for us to get someone new in the role. But it is a very difficult role to fill. However, we do have some discussions with a few candidates scheduled for next week, and at least a couple of them look promising…

Rabboisai, it is clear that these and the many other explanations of the role of the Reboinoisheloilum in the world – including those that deny the very existence of Hakadoshboruchhu – are never fully satisfying. There is no model that fully and rationally explains the world. There is suffering and doubt. But there is also happiness and occasional sentiments of fulfillment.

As we struggle with this issue, we must also wrestle with the corollary question of how we should behave in a world where we do not, and cannot, ever understand the role of the Reboinoisheloilum. Are we created Betzelem Eloikim, in the Image of the Divine, and compelled to act accordingly? How can we possibly do that if we are incapable of knowing His will.

(“Yet”, you argue, “the Toirah is the source of knowing His will”. Hmmm. You may be right. I will keep that in mind the next time I bring animal sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdash right after attending a good public stoning. Ignorant schmuck.)

At best, we can do three things:

1) Continue to seek the ultimate truths. We will never find them, you Minuval, but like in a kosher luxury cruise, the voyage is more important than the destination.

2) Seek to control our own destinies, individually and collectively. In the absence of clear Divine guidance, it is our best bet for creating our future as we would like it to materialize.

3) Go out for some nice Traifus every once in a while. The Reboinoisheloilum may destroy your lineage for all eternity. But He is probably going to do that anyway.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On the Crisis of Jewish Education in America

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On the Crisis of Jewish Education in America


Rabboisai,

As I was walking up the street with Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah this morning, I met Rebbetizin Golda Neigelvasser walking her five triplets to the school bus. I immediately noticed that she was, once again, very pregnant, Surprised, I asked her, “Nu, you are having another, KeNaina Harrah? How come you didn’t come before the block association for approval?”

“Rabbi,” she replied, “there is no such committee!”

“Of course there is!” I responded. “My bashert, Feigeh Breineh always insists on meeting with the association every time I ask to have Tashmish HaMitah. And they always seem to reject my request!”

Mamesh, to be perfectly honest, I should have seen this coming. I recall that in the days before my Chassanah, all the meidelach who were friends with my Bashert made her a bachelorette party. Frayndee have her a set of kosher lingerie. Channileh gave her a crotchless Shabbos robe. Rivky gave her a vibrating Sefer Tehillim. But my mother-in-law gave her a jockstrap.

That should have been my warning.

I share this story because we live in an environment of confusion around the entire notion of kinderlach. The Toirah commands us: “VaShinantem LiVanecha VaDibartah Bum,” – “you shall teach your children the words of Toirah, and speak of them.” So, I ask you: where in the Toirah does it discuss yeshiva tuition? Where does it discuss yeshiva dinners and fundraising breakfasts, application fees and other costs? Rabboisai, if Klal Yisroel, standing on Har Sinai, understood the price of “VeShinantem LiVanecha”, would they have ever said “Na’aseh V’Nishmah”? Or would they have said “Thanks, Reboinoisheloilum, but I’ll take bacon, Saturday morning cartoons, and public school. Why don’t you instead offer the Toirah to the Palestinians? Just tell them it belongs to us – then they’d be happy to take it off your hands.”

Something akin to this shailah was first alluded to by Rabbi Akiva, in a Braisah brought down in Gemarrah Pesachim. According to the Braisah, Rabbi Akiva was once cleaning his house for Pesach when his Talmidim showed up at his door. As they walked in, they were immediately alarmed to see Rabbi Akiva, the Gadol of his generation, the man who organized the Shishah Sidrei Mishah and who invented bubble gum, on his hands and knees cleaning the chometz that had fallen between his washing machine and dryer. Shocked, one of his Talmidim asked, “Rebbe, why are you on the floor? Why can’t your cleaning woman prepare for Pesach, so you can spend your time teaching us your pearls of wisdom?”

From his position on the floor Rabbi Akiva looked up and responded: “Schmuck, I pay yeshiva tuition for my children. Do you think I can afford a cleaning woman? I can barely afford paper towels!”

So, as identified as early as the time of the Mishnah, there are definite costs associated with maintaining a Jewish lifestyle and tradition. It was for this reason that Rabbi Akiva had only five Talmidim: Rabbi Meir, Reb Nosson, Reb Yehudah Bar Ilai, Reb Yoisie Ben Chalafta, and Rabbi Shimoin Bar Yoichai. All of the other potential students went to the free Roman School, which had an excellent secular education, free gym, and all the Mishkav Zachor you could ever want.

As we look at our communities today, and specifically the Golus in America, we are confronted by a similar set of challenges that are fundamentally impacting the health of our communities. It has long been said that yeshiva tuition is the most effective source of birth control in the Yiddesheh community. It is also well known that the cost of a traditional Jewish education has been rising at four times the rate of GDP. (Actually, that’s healthcare in America, you Mechutziff, but it certainly sounds impressive.) But in particular, in our current era of economic upheaval, Jewish families are being pushed to the brink. Some are talking about establishing Jewish Charter Schools. Some are aspiring to set up afterschool Jewish studies programs to supplement a public school alternative. Many are even considering accepting Christ, sending their children to Catholic School, and being mezaneh with a hot red headed shiksa mom who has more children than a fertile Belzer Chassid in Bnei Brak.

Many of my Talmidim have privately asked me how they should address this challenge. Before suggesting a solution, it is important that we examine the causes of this phenomenon. As I lay out an intellectual, logical and rational analysis, you Minuval, please try not to hurt yourself.

Fact: There are genuine costs associated with a private school. In America, due to separation of church and state, at least outside of the south, there are no federal funds diverted to support Jewish private schools. This is not in itself a bad thing. But the burden of Jewish education rests solely on the Jewish communities themselves. Meanwhile, the Goyim, and their allies the Reform, take all our money and spend it on traifus in the public schools, teaching materials on evolution Chass V’Sholom, and condoms, which they hand out to first graders.

Fact: It is quite natural that there is a spectrum of economic distribution across the many families sending their children to yeshiva. Some can afford to pay full tuition. Others are supplemented by scholarships and other funds. Access to traditional Jewish education is viewed, at least in the Orthodox world of today, as a basic need, somewhat on par with koisher, mikvah, and Metzitzah BiPeh on your birthday.

Fact: The Jewish community in general, and the Orthodox community in particular, has been spending money like a bunch of drunken sailors on shore leave. There is no cause that they will not support: Museums, community organizations in America, community organizations in Israel, groups that fight Antisemitism, groups that support Antisemitism, foundations, hospitals, Israeli settlements, political action committees, film festivals, synagogues and synagogue expansions, publications, and myriads of charities, including the schnorrers who come to my door every Sunday. By the way – and this is true – I have given my Bashert, Faigeh Breinah, full permission to flash her… umm… double daled tzitz at any schnorrer who comes to our door if that will help discourage him. And if it encourages him, she is allowed to be mezaneh with him in lieu of writing a check. (Think of this as a contribution “in kind”.)

Fact: Traditional Jewish residential neighborhoods tend to have higher costs of living, due to higher real estate values and basic laws of supply and demand. The costs are also influenced by a sociological phenomenon that is an inherent Jewish trait, which is that Yidden MUST do construction and MUST send their kids to sleep-away-camps and MUST drive large cars and MUST have a silver Atarah on their Taleysim and MUST have the biggest Lulav in the shul, etc. (Well, I sort of always have the beggest Lulav in my Kehillah, if you know what I mean.) It is this fundamental materialism that drove Yishayahu HaNavi to quote the Reboinoisheloilum as saying, “Loi Soiseephu Havee Minchas Shav Ketoiress Toiyayvah Hee Lee…Limdu Haytayv Dirshu Mishpat Ashru Chamoitz Shiftu Yassoim Reevu Almanah.” "Do not bring your worthless offerings any more, Incense is an abomination to Me...Learn to do good; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Yishayahu 1:13, 17).

So, fundamentally, Jewish communities have been living beyond their means, dissipating community funds, and placing an undue burden on families: the source of our next generation. Too often, the decision makers on such policies are either the very well-off, who do not feel everyday economic pressures, and my heilikah Rabbinic colleagues, who are frequently too far removed from the economic burdens of the laity. In fact, the only time some of our Rabbis ever feel the pressures of the laity is when their underage targets reject their sexual advances (see Toirah Temimah, Hilchois Kolko).

As a result, the Jewish communities in America, AS COMMUNITIES, have viewed their relative wealth as a bottomless pit. And they have been flattered to be viewed by others, including our brethren in Eretz Yisroel, as sources of funding and “sugar daddies” for every cause, large or small. They have been blinded by their relative affluence, and have believed themselves immune to the need to make difficult decisions rooted in a fundamental truth: Every dollar that is spent outside of the community is a dollar taken away from the community. Every tzedakah outside of the school system and the community, righteous or ridiculous, comes at the expense of the Jewish Child in America.

So what is to do? There is a famous maiseh shehoya about Reb Yisroel Salanter. He was once travelling in the villages surrounding Kovno, peddling dry goods door-to-door, as well as selling shares in a non-existent company. It was Friday, and as he saw the sun setting, he realized that he would not make it home in time for Shabbos, so he rented a room at a local inn.

That evening, after davening Mairiv, Reb Yisroel asked the front desk to send two prostitutes up to his room. They quickly settled into their Oineg Shabbos activity, with one woman focusing on the raisha and the other focusing on the sayfa. As Reb Yisroel was about to complete his Makkah BaPatish, the women suddenly stopped. “Rabbi,” the leader said, “we need to charge you twenty percent extra for your Makkah BaPatish, the economy being what it is today.”

Reb Yisroel thought for a moment, and then responded. “Meidelach, you can leave now. I am not happy about it, but I will exercise my self-service option and take the discount.”

I am also reminded of an obscure machloikess between Reb Chaim Berlin and Reb Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor about a very similar dilemma to our own. In 1894 there was a shortage of funds in Byelorussia to support yeshiva education, and the regional Bais Din was convened. Reb Chaim, citing the lack of funds, suggested that all the yeshivas close down, and that the sizable Jewish community band together to overthrow the bourgeoisie, and, in his words, “purge our people’s commitment to the opiate of the masses once and for all.” Reb Yitzchak Elchanan, on the other hand, advocated the raising of additional funds for the community by selling advertising space on the noses of all the Jews of Byelorussia. In the end, Reb Yitzchak won out, and the region was able to keep all its yeshivas open. The community also made quite a hefty profit.

If we consider these two positions for our current dilemma, I personally favor Reb Chaim’s approach. However, we learn out from both Reb Yisroel Salanter and Reb Yitzchak Elchanan the most basic rules of finance: There are only two ways to address a budgetary challenge: By raising funding (revenues) or decreasing spending (costs). Or by doing both. There are no other alternatives or magic solutions.

Consequently, I believe that we must address our crisis as communities, and make difficult decisions together. Communities must build for their futures by investing for their futures. And there is no greater investment than education. Every other expense in America and elsewhere should be made a subordinate priority. And let me be perfectly clear: I am not speaking exclusively about Orthodox education. I am speaking of universally accessible, heavily subsidized, Jewish education available to all streams of Judaism for whoever wants it – Orthodox, Conservative, and, Rachmana Letzlan, Reform. Think of it as my “No Talmid left Behind” proposal.

I am also not speaking about afternoon programs, but community days schools that provide both secular and Jewish studies. We have the economic means to create this opportunity. But it will require the greatest degree of personal and community discipline because it requires us to decide what we WILL spend our money on AND what we WILL NOT spend our money on.

Rabboisai, tuition should never be a reason not to send a child for a good Jewish education. It should also never be a reason for couples not to have additional children. And, most importantly, it should never be reason for me not to get some hot adult action from my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah. Chass Ve’Chalilah my request for Tashmish HaMitah should ever be dismissed because of community concerns, and I have to go up to my bedroom alone to exercise my self-service option.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

On Global Economic Disparity

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On Global Economic Disparity


Rabboisai,

I am writing these words while on official “Yeshiva business” in India. From the moment I arrived in India, I observed the tremendous social disparities that define the country. There are people quite literally living in the street, often in feeble shacks at the side of a road that make your ten-year-old pre-fab Sukkoh look like a Borough Park brownstone. There is a stench in the outside air that smells like shul during Minchah on Shabbos afternoon, a few hours after the Kehillah feasted on a cholent-laden Kiddush.

One inevitable question that nags one’s consciousness is: Why do so many people, literally hundreds of millions out of a population of one billion, live in conditions of abject poverty and illiteracy, while you and I are forced to suffer in other ways – say by being denied the opportunity to buy a 50 inch LCD television -- due to the painful burden… errr … groisse mitzvah of paying yeshiva tuition? And this is a question that goes beyond what I am witnessing in India. Eppis, why are billions of people throughout the world living in such dire poverty that they cannot afford even simple shaytels to cover up their wives’ ervadicka heads?

At the root of this of course lies two of the most fundamental questions of all: Why has the Reboinoisheloilum created his world with such disparity? And how do the existence and fate of Klal Yisroel mesh with this broader reality?

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya (this really happened, by the way). When I was a young bochural, I once asked my Rebbe how it was that Klal Yisroel was destined for the rewards of Oilum Habah, whereas the Goyim (Yemach Shmum!) will be unfairly punished for their Pugoom, their damaged state, and will be denied preferred access to the Reboinoisheloilum. Are they to be punished for a fate that is not of their own choosing? How could Hakadoshboruchhu deny a Goy his eternal rewards if he is never given the opportunity to be “chosen”?

Answered my Rebbe essentially the following: The Reboinoisheloilum is inherently fair. Everyone in the world, even the most illiterate native of Bora Bora, has the opportunity to embrace Yiddishkeit and the Aimishteh, even for one fleeting moment in his life. In other words, if that native does not exercise his opportunity to “be saved,” it is his own fault. Or, as Rashi used to say after a few glasses of his Special Reserve Bordeaux – “who freaking cares?”

Now, clearly, my Rebbe was a total ignoramus. This was never more apparent than when visiting a place like India. The locals living in the streets, millions upon millions of people representing generations of poor, illiterate farmers and the dregs of society, could never have had the opportunity to discover the wonders of Yiddishkeit. Let’s face it: they don’t even know how to use a flushing toilet, let alone put on a pair of Rabbeinu Tam Tfilin. So this argument is an ignorant cop out; my Rebbe was probably spending too much time playing “find the milah” with himself to have dedicated real time to pondering this question. (This Rebbe did indeed sit through much of the class throughout the year with his hand down his pants. Seriously.)

There are exactly two ways to think of these questions, as characterized by a famous machloikess between Rav and Shmuel in a Gemara in Baba Basra.

According to Rav, the Reboinoisheloilum is not at all interested in fairness between Klal Yisroel and the Umois HaOilum. We were chosen to be His people, His nation, or, as the Rabbeinu Chananel describes is, “His bitches”. Hakadoshboruchhu intentionally created the world with its many categories of people and animals, and with its own built in hierarchy of capability and Kedusha. Do you expect a cat to type on a computer? Do you expect a monkey to speak in sign language?… errr…Let me try this again. Do you expect a monkey to fly a rocket to space?… errr… Let me try this one more time. Do you except a monkey to take a long position on a biomedical stock? Kal V’Choimer, you should not expect a Goy, a shaygitz, to have a special relationship with the Aimisheh! It is simply not in his genetic code; it is not his destiny. This is the position that is indeed echoed in the words of my old Rebbe.

However, Shmuel takes the opposite position. According to Shmuel, Klal Yisroel indeed does NOT have a monopoly on the Reboinoisheloilum. As proof, Shmuel points to the important role of the galach Yisroi, Moishe Rebbeinu’s father-in-law, in the formation of Klal Yisroel and its legal system. He also points to the basic notion of the Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the seven Noahide laws, as a fundamental illustration of the relationship between Hakadoshboruchhu and the Goyim – If they have basic behavioral responsibilities, which imply free choice, they must, therefore, also be recognized as partners in the world, whose behaviors are part of the fabric of Oilum Hazeh, with the opportunity for reward in Oilum Habbah. To support his position Shmuel highlights additional key roles played by Goyim in the Toirah. Did Moishe Rabbeinu marry a skinny Bais Yankif girl from Boro Park whose previous sexual experience was limited to rolling kneidlach and French kissing a mezuzah? NO! He married a hot shiksa, Boruch Hashem. And would you dare to deny that Rebbetzin Rabbeinu was acceptable to the Reboinoisheloilum, you Vilda Chaya?

So if Hakadoshboruchhu does not distinguish between Klal Yisroel and the Goyim, why are there people in India and elsewhere in the world who are condemned to a fate of poverty and desperation? This was a famous question pondered upon by the noted 13th Century mystic, Rabbi Avraham Abulafia. Abulafia was famous for his deep meditation on Hebrew letters, Gematria, and his own toe nails. In his most famous work, Sefer HaYashar, he writes about his meditative visions of the Reboinoisheloilum holding a (flat) world in his hand:

“And there He was, holding what looked like a Matzoh in His hand. And I asked Him, ‘My Lord, why are you holding a Matzoh?’ to which he looked directly at me, and said, ‘It is not a Matzoh. It is Kol HaOilum Kooloh. And I am holding it because I am hungry!’ He then spread date jam on the Matzoh, and proceeded to eat it. It was at that point that I realized that Hakadoshboruchhu is less concerned about Klal Yisroel and the rest of the world than he is about having a nice snack. So from that point on I gave up on understanding the Aleph Baiz and started meditating on fresh fruit.” Unquote.

It is believed that this passage was critical in the formulation of the MAHARSHAL’s famous introduction to the Chuchmas Shloimoi. In introducing his Sefer, which focuses on identifying and correcting textual errors within the Talmud, the MAHARSHAL writes, “It is high time someone has taken upon himself the task of correcting all of these mistakes in the various manuscripts. Aimishteh knows He isn’t about to do it; He actually enjoys watching us create silly new Halachois and Chumras based on incorrect readings of the Gemara. Frankly, the Reboinoisheloilum likes to play with human beings the same way a boy pulls the wings off a fly.”

So what do these quotes have to do with the basic questions we are addressing: The fundamental inequalities of the world, and the role of Klal Yisroel? Very simple, you mechutziff! In the minds of Abulafia and the MAHARSHAL, the Reboinoisheloilum is disinterested in the day-to-day workings of the world, and that disinterest leads to inherent inequality. And perhaps, in their minds, that inequality falls in favor of Klal Yisroel because of Hakadoshboruchhu’s grand design for His Chosen, as well a few timely investments in the energy markets and several networking stocks.

However, there are two things we must keep in mind: The House of Saud and your great-grandfather. What’s Pshat?

If we were to identify a single group that is devout and universally enjoys all the benefits of wealth in our day and age, it is not Klal Yisroel, It is the House of Saud, the royal family of Saudi Arabia. However, I do not personally believe that the House of Saud is enjoying the Aimishteh’s material rewards for practicing strict Wahhabism. After all – the Gemara never mentioned Wahhabism, so, eppis, how can it be important to the Reboinoisheloilum? These guys don’t even filter their water for crustaceans or eat cholent on Shabbos!

Now, with regard to your great-grandfather, I know you think that he drove a Lexis, worked on the Polish or Moroccan equivalent of Wall Street, and had a wife with a shaytel made out of the finest hair from the Belgian Congo. But, to be honest with you, unless your last name is Rothschild, he probably ate potatoes everyday, if he was lucky, owned one pair of tattered shoes, and sewed on buttons for a living. He also lived in a community rife with disease and subject to pogroms, just for an occasional change of pace. I don’t know about your great-grandfather, but mine wasn’t so much better off than the Aluvei HaChaim – the miserables – of India. Consequently, the fact that Klal Yisroel at this moment in history enjoys relative security and economic stability is something that we should appreciate. But we should not take it for granted, or look without empathy on the sufferings of others.

Now, with regard to the role of Klal Yisroel, I would like to point to the explanation of the Ari Zahl, who viewed Hakadoshboruchhu as being in a form of Galus from Klal Yisroel due to a cosmic accident at the time of creation (the Shattering of the Vessels), and it is up to Klal Yisroel to rescue the Holy Sparks from the evil Klipois in order to restore the world to its intended perfect state. Think of this as trying to get your girlfriend’s bra off while making out in a parked car (a distant memory for many of us who have dedicated our lives to Toirah and Mitzvois, and to monogamy): It takes great exertion to restore your girlfriend to her natural state. She may not even be helpful. But the rewards are plentiful, especially if she is a C cup or greater.

So it is with Tikkun Oilum. Klal Yisroel has a mission, but it is also easy to envision that even the Goyim can share in that mission. They too, through their actions, can contribute to the effort to recover the Holy Sparks of Creation. Alternately, they can at least help out a little when we try to take off their bras.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.