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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Parshas Bamidbar

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Parshas Bamidbar

In this week's Parsha, Bamidbar, there isn't all that much that happens. You may want to take advantage and catch up on your sleep, so long as your snoring isn't louder than the Rabbi's.

In the Parsha, the tribes are counted, one by one -- all the males -- as the Bnei Yisroel's ability to make war is gauged. But the Bnei Layvee, we are told, are not to be counted amongst the rest of the nation, as they shall not be soldiers, but should instead serve as the spiritual frontline through their activities within the Priesthood.

Now I know where the ultra-Orthodox in Israel get the inspiration! Certainly, the Reboinoisheloilum intends that one tribe should tend to the moral fiber, maintain the facilities, carry out the practices of the spiritual institutions, and suck up all the booty in the national coffers, while the rank and file get shot at.

Based on the Haluchois of Milchemess Mitzvah as understood by the RAMBAM, I personally believe that the ultra-Orthodox should never be exempt from serving in the army. Indeed, the Aimishteh needs every possible warrior in Eretz Yisroel, since the Toirah is opposed to any sort of compromise with our enemies. No political agreements are possible. And even if we could, why should we?

In fact, we must never compromise with any of our enemies anywhere. We are surrounded by them. Our neighbors. Our co-workers. The guy in the gas station. The bus driver. The newsman on TV. That little kid sitting in the shopping cart on line in front of you at Shop Rite. They are either members of your Shul, or they are anti-Semites or self-hating Jews!

How much more so in Eretz Hakoidesh. So I intend to start a letter campaign from here in my office in New York at Yeshivas Chipass Emess. No exemptions! We here in the golus will provide the spiritual safeguarding of the State, while our brethren in Eretz Yisroel must be prepared to fight to the last man.

Indeed, it would not be unprecedented if we were to take over the role of spiritual safeguard. Because, also in this week's Parsha, we see the descendants of Aron Hacoihain appointed as the principal Priests of Klal Yisroel, while Moisheh Rabbeinu's descendants are relegated to support positions. Why does Aron Hacoihain get to steal away the the spiritual leadership of the nation from Moisheh?

According to Reb Hai Gaon, Aron was able to engineer a boardroom takeover after securing support of several key institutional investors. But Rabbeinu Tam holds that Aron won the Kehunah during the regular Wednesday night poker game in which Aron, Moisheh, Yehoshua, and Kulayv Ben Yefuneh were members.

But according to the RAMBAM, the Reboinoisheloilum gave Aron the Kehuna to keep him out of trouble. The last thing Klal Yisroel needed was for Aron to get involved in complex decisions. According to the Medrash Rabbah, he couldn't even program his own Tivo.

Of even more concern, Aron Hacoihain led the Bnei Yisroel into the Chayt HaEygel. He was also a poor spokesman for Moisheh who never kept his rolodex up to date with key press contacts. The idea was to put the minuval in a position where he couldn't cause too much damage to himself. Or to Klal Yisroel.

But, unfortunately, things did not quite work out as planned.

Case in point: the descendants of Aron finally did steal the malchus, the political leadership embodied by the kingdom of Israel, during the days of the Chashmonaim, and the result was the most corrupt regime in the history of the sovreignty of Klal Yisroel. In the generations after the miracle of Chanukah, the regime was corrupt and brutal: They abused their power, persecuted the Pharisees (the precursors of Rabbinic Judaism), and forced the religious conversions of neighboring peoples (including the father of the later-despised King Herod). These actions ultimately led to the Romans being invited into Eretz Yisroel by the opponents of the Chashmonaim.

Which brings us back to the ultra-Orthodox in Israel. The best thing you can say about them is they have nice, full beards. And some of those women look really hot with their heads shaved. But they don't serve in the army, they don't pay taxes, they have fourteen kids each (kenaina harah), and they use every opportunity to use their political power to their own community's advantage.

Perhaps we here in the golus should emulate their activities, rather than criticize them. We should refuse to pay our taxes. We should apply for every possible state benefit because they are available: welfare, medicaid, affirmative action, farm subsidies, nuclear waste management, needle exchange programs, and free school lunches (even if they are traifus!)

Because what matters most is not the here and now -- the Oilam Hazeh. What matters most is the Oilam Habbah -- the world to come. And since none of the amhoratzim of the world -- including you, you shaygitz -- will be priveleged to join the Aimishteh in Gan Eiden, they just don't count. Only I and my closest associates will have earned the right to sit next to the Reboinoisheloilum on His heavenly throne. And if He doesn't behave Himself, we'll throw Him out too.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Parshas Bechukoisai

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Parshas Bechukoisai

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Bechukoisai, we read about the reward and punishment promised us by the Reboinoisheloilum for fulfilling, or violating, His commandments. RASHI asks a pertinent question: Why does the Aimishteh offer us only ten quick Pesukim (verses) of promised reward, while He gives us three times that -- over thirty graphic Pesukim -- warning of harsh consequences? Aren’t we under enough pressure? What’s pshat, for Hakadoshboruchhu’s sake?

According to the Rabenu Tam, on the morning when this parsha was written, the Reboinoisheloilum was having a bad day. As the Medrish Rabbah tells us, when He was not busy studying Toirah, the Aimishteh kept Himself busy doing day trading. And on that morning, He had taken a strong position on a networking stock based on a rumor of a takeover, only to find out that there were serious accounting and reporting errors by the auditing firm of Goldberg, Aronowitz and Schwartz. So He wasn’t feeling that sympathetic to Klal Yisroel. And who can blame Him? Believe me, He lost more money that day than you earn in a whole year, you Minuval!

However, according to the RASHBAM, Hakadoshboruchhu had no ill will for Am Yisroel that day – or any day for that matter. No, says the RASHBAM, on the contrary -- the Reboinoisheloilum loves us! We are His beloved nation, His chosen, His betrothed. However, we learn from this Parsha that the Aimishteh is really into S&M. “I will smite you sevenfold for your sins” (Perek Chuff-Vuv, Pasuk Chuff Daled) is the Toirah's equivalent of Hakadoshboruchhu handcuffing us to the bed and whipping us with His tfillin.

As proof, the RASHBAM points out that the end of the section includes the Reboinoisheloilum telling us ,”Even with all this, with you dwelling in the land of your enemies, I will not despise you… to nullify my covenant with you… I will recall my covenant with your forebears … to be your Lord…” (Perek Chuff-Vuv, Pasukim Mem Daled – Mem Hey). According to the RASHBAM, the Aimishteh is telling us ‘stop crying, you little bitches – you know you like it rough. Let me rub the pain away with my velvet yarmulke.’

The Toisfois Yuntif, however, disagrees with the RASHBAM, who he refers to as a “groisse pervert”, pointing out that upon moving to Lithuania, the RASHBAM was compelled to register as a sex offender. Rather, says the Toisfois Yuntif, the Parsha teaches us that it is hard to be a Jew. If we look at all the Mitzvois Asey and Loi Sa’asey, they are hard to keep. Which comes more naturally to you on a Saturday morning? Turning on the TV and opening a beer, or getting into a suit, putting on a tie, and walking twelve blocks up a hill with your screaming kids only to sit next to some guy in shul who is shukkeling so much you would think he was going to drill a hole through the floor, when all the while his dandruff is the only thing coming between you and his unbrushed shabbos morning breath? Ich vais, how many of us can stand up to that challenge? Of course, we are all three times as likely to violate the commandment!

With this in mind, chazzal has over the years developed a series of strategies to increase the odds of our success, guaranteeing happiness in this life and in Oilum Habah, the World To Come. According to a famous Mishna in Perke Zayin of Pirkei Avois:

-- Rabbi Gamliel use to always carry extra money with him, so that whenever a beggar would come his way, we would always be able to be mekayaim the mitzvah of tezedakah

-- Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah always kept a fully stocked bar, so that he was always ready to perform the mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim

-- Rabbi Akiva was concerned that he would be too distracted to kiss the mezuzah every time he went into a room. So, after trying mezuzahs made of silver, gold, Jerusalem stone, pottery, and glass, he had one custom built that looked like his wife’s Erva, which he was always sure to kiss as he went into the room. Indeed, a Braisah in Nezikin tells us, after he put on a lot of weight in his later years, Rabbi Akiva discovered that if he spent a little extra time kissing the mezuzah, it made it much easier for him to get through the door.

However, the Baal Shem Toiv vehemently disagrees with this approach. According to the BESHT, “the Toirah is here to inspire us and guide our thinking, not to be taken literally.” Consequently, he points out, the mitvois in the Toirah should be viewed as “voluntary guidelines,” rather than laws, and the threats of punishment should be read as poetry for “spiritual contemplation purposes only”. He adds that to enhance one’s meditation on the text and Hisboidadus with the Shchina, his Chassidic followers should drink a minimum of five shots of vodka, while Mis-Nagdim should drink the same quantity of single malt scotch.

But the Vilna Goyn vehemently disagrees. He insists that you MUST take EVERY WORD in KOL HATOIRAH KOOLOH literally. In discussing Parshas Bechukoisai specifically, he notes that the Toichacha, the Rebuke and warnings of punishment, should be taken quite literally.

But the Goyn doesn’t stop there. He notes the references in the early Pesukim to Klal Yisroel’s divinely driven success on the battlefield: “And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall beside you by the Cherev. And five of you shall chase one hundred, and one hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall beside you by the Cherev” (Perek Chuff-Vuv, Pasukim Zayin – Khess). Pointing at the Pasuk, he insists that the use of the term “Cherev”, sword, MUST be taken literally. Consequently, says the Goyn, for AM Yisroel to maintain the favor of Hakadoshboruchhu, the Israeli army should follow Parshas Bechukoisai, set aside all of its advanced weapons, and arm its soldiers with swords ONLY. Any reliance on more modern weapons reflects a complete lack of faith, for which we should be banished “and sent back to Miami Beach” says the Goyn. Shoyn.

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. The Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Shloimo Amor, was once in New York, attending an important business meeting at a Korean massage parlor. As he walked into his special “meeting room,” who should he bump into but the Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Israel, Yoina Metzger. After their respective happy endings, they sat down for coffee. They began to engage in a machloikess as to whether or not someone in New York may drink the tap water due to the risk of ingesting microscopic crustaceans. They both cited Toirah sources, Rabbinic teachings, and the broad body of Halachic tradition. It became clear that Rabbi Amor had the better constructed teshuvah. At that point Rabbi Metzger blurted out, “ you may be better at reaching a Psak Halacha, but I am a much more accomplished felon!” He went on to cite his indictment for illegally accepting free hotel stays.

Rabbi Amor responded sharply, “no, you michutziff, I am the more accomplished felon. Just because my wife and son have been indicted for arranging the beating of my daughter’s boyfriend, it doesn’t mean I am innocent! I instigated the whole thing!”

At that, Rabbi Metzger stroked his beard slowly, and then exclaimed, “at least I don’t eat rice on Pesach, you shaygitz!”

So we should certainly take the Toirah literally. I know I do. In fact, after Shabbos this week, I plan to go home and emulate the Parsha by handcuffing my bashert to the bed and whipping her with my gartel.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On The Identity of the Almighty

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Ask Rabbi Pinky: On The Identity of the Almighty

Rabboisai,

This week I answer a Shailah from an unusual Talmid located somewhere in Middle America:

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Rabbi Schmeckelstein,

I was sitting here this morning on the internet and somehow I got to a Jackie Mason video web site. Not being Jewish and watching Mr. Mason for about two hours, I have to wonder if Jackie Mason is in fact… God? Please let me continue. Having been brought up as a Christian with both of my Grandfathers as Baptist Ministers -- yeah, fire and brimstone guys (they are likely spinning in their graves if they know what we kids have done) -- I know that Jews are God’s chosen people, it says so in our Book you know. My question to you is… drum roll please… is Jackie Mason God? I know you guys know who is who in the Jewish community. If Mr. Mason is not God I think we should put him on the ballot for the job. What are you thoughts? Thank you for your response.

John Francis A.

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Reb John…. or shall I address you rather as Pastor John,

Thank you so much for your deep and insightful question. It is a delight to receive such inquiries from someone of the Gentile persuasion. After all, we’re usually hiding from you guys in an attic or under the floorboards somewhere. And, indeed, I am thrilled in the knowledge that you undoubtedly wrote your question on a computer for which you paid retail – Thank the Rebboinoisheloilum… errr…. Jehovah for people like you!

I would also like to remind you that, of course, Jesus himself/ Himself was a Jew. And while there are indeed historical questions about the role of the Jews in his/His crucifixion, please allow me to point out three things:

1) The Romans had sovereignty over ancient Judea, so the Jews could not have pronounced or enforced a death penalty through our Sanhedrin, which was about as impactful at that point in time as the British royal family is today. As well, crucifixion was a Roman form of punishment – The Jewish form of death penalty involved beating someone over the head with a large volume of the Talmud or an oversized gefilte fish while berating him for eating an unpeeled orange that has not been certified kosher by a rabbi;

2) Per the Christian view of the world, in order to rise to the level of divinity Jesus had to die. So holding the Jews responsible for his/His death is like eating delicious fresh produce but being angry at the sky for raining, or being angry at your significant other because your… errr… romantic encounter has … ummm… reached its natural culmination, if you know what I mean;

3) The crucifixion was carried out almost two thousand years before I was born. So I was nowhere near there – and have plenty of eyewitnesses. So please do not persecute me!!!

With regard to your question, this is at the root of key theological differences between Judaism and Christianity. Christianity believes that a component of the Divine is bound up in an earth-focused hypostasis identified with Jesus the Son, while the Old Testament Diety/ Jehovah/ Hakadoshboruchhu (“The-Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He”) is identified with the Father. In addition, Christianity also believes in a third component of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, which, quite frankly, I have never been able to understand, although I believe I used to watch cartoons about him/ Him when I was a child.

Judaism, on the other hand, believes in a singular Diety which you may call Jehovah or the Reboinoisheloilum (“The-Master-Of-The-World”) or El or the Big Guy Upstairs or many other names. And I must tell you that since we have an older Diety who is simpler to understand, our understanding of the Divine must be superior to yours. One is better than Three. So there.

However, the traditional Jewish understanding of the Divine also includes the mystical tradition of the Sfirois, or the elements of the Godhead. They are ten elements which represent aspects of Divinity (similar to hypostases) and include such components as: Kesser (the Crown), Chochmah (Knowledge), Binah (Understanding), Chesed (Kindness), Gevurah (Bravery/ Severity), Tiferess (Beauty), Netzach (Eternity), Hoid (Splendor), Yesoid (Foundation), and Malchus/ Shechinah (Kingdom). And, doing the math, Ten is a larger number than Three, so we must be better off.

So either we have two less than you guys, or seven more than you guys. Either way, WE WIN! Unless of course you run the government and have all the guns, in which case you win, and we will be happy to do whatever you want, be it become moneylenders, practice medicine, or do your accounting. Just please don’t ask us to do physical labor – you will be very disappointed.

Now, Christianity has a clear understanding of how the Divine connects directly with the human realm – and that is through the embodiment of the Divine on earth in the physical body of Jesus. Judaism, other the other hand, believes that the Divine engages directly with humanity through the Shechinah, the embodiment of the Divine on earth. In the desert following the Exodus, the Shechinah rested above the Jewish People as a protective cloud. In the era of the First and Second Temples, the Shechinah resided in the Temples’ Holy of Holies. However, following the destruction of the Second Temple, the Shechinah went into exile with Israel.

According to a Gemarrah in Brachois (a reference in the Talmudic tractate that focuses on prayer and benedictions), the Shechinah took on human form and lived in Babylon with the Jews in the person of Rish Lakish (Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish), a bandit-turned-scholar. The Talmud tells us that Rish Lakish was “hung like a Parah Adumah” (or, according to a Medrish in Vayikrah Rabbah, “hung like a Paroichess”), and it is for this reason that all of the eligible women of Pumbedisa used to say, “a night with Rishy is like heaven on earth!”

Some suggest that in the Middles Ages the commentator RASHI was the embodiment of the Shechinah. After all, he was the most prolific of religious commentators, had a successful wine business, and was always jolly. According to the RALBAG, this is proof that RASHI was the earthbound representative of the Divine. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, this simply reflects the fact that RASHI was a workaholic who was constantly sampling the merchandise. He cites as evidence the fact that RASHI’s writing always came out crooked*.

Hundreds of years later, the ARI Zahl may have been the embodiment of the Shechinah. He contributed great mystical insights and revolutionized the Jewish prayer liturgy. He had many followers who would go out with him on Friday nights in Tzfas to pray on a field, singing and dancing to welcome in the Sabbath. They would then drop acid, and wake up the next day during Musaph (the late morning additional service) naked and hung-over.

So the key question which you ask, and which is on everyone’s mind is: Who in our day represents the embodiment of the Divine on earth?

You suggest that Jackie Mason is in fact the Reboinoisheloilum. I have looked long and hard throughout the contemporary Rabbinic sources and have been unable to find any such Rabbinic position. At most, the Rabbis hold that Jackie Mason is the Gilgul, the reincarnation, of Yirmiyahu Hanavi, the Prophet Jeremiah, who similarly underwent multiple stages in a long and memorable career. However, unlike Jackie Mason, Yirmiyahu Hanavi was never banned from The Ed Sullivan Show, though he was banned for a year and a half from the Holy Temple for giving the High Priest the finger.

According to Rabbi Shmiel Kalbasavua, the Shechinah is embodied in our generation in the person of Binyamin Netanyahu. After all, as the Prime Minister of Israel, he is the leader of the Jewish People. As proof, Reb Shmiel points out Netanyahu’s supernatural capabilities: He has been married to three different women and is rumored to have slept with half of the women living in the State of Israel. However, this may be less of a display of superhuman libido, and merely a reflection of Netanyahu’s capacity for making multiple parties happy – He has never hesitated to fondle the Schvantlach of Reb Oivadiah Yoisaiph while performing Metzitzah BiPeh on Reb Yoisaiph Eliashiv and at the same time taking it Sheloh KeDarkoh from Avigdor Lieberman in order to keep his coalition intact. However, that is not a supernatural talent; rather, it is a required skill for every prime minister of Israel, from either the right or the left.

However, according to Reb Yoisaiph Katzsky, the Reboinoisheloilum is embodied in the Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jacob (Jack) Lew. He is the most powerful Jew in the most powerful country in the world. His name “Jacob” recalls the forefather who spent a night struggling with God (and a lifetime hiding from his hairy twin brother). And like the Reboinoisheloilum in the Toirah, Lew is absolutely obsessed with details and minutiae. However, unlike the Aimishteh, Emanuel works directly for a Jeremiah-Wright-loving Muslim-Christian who hates Jews, wants to redistribute our wealth, plans to strip us of our healthcare, and wants to take away our guns which he will happily hand over to the Taliban fighting American forces to take over Afghanistan, which is undoubtedly where he was actually born. So it is hard to believe that Jack Lew is the embodiment of Hakadoshboruchhu in our world.

According to Reb Betzalel Kupkayk, Hakadoshboruchhu is embodied in the person of Sarah Palin. After all, the Reboinoisheloilum is the Deity of all, so who is to say that He must be a Jew? Indeed, if we look at the immense following for Sarah Palin has built up in a relatively short period of time, one must indeed suspect the hand of the Divine. Of course, she is not only a MILF, she is a GILF. But how else can you explain how a controversial moose-hunting two-year-governor from the least populous state in the Union, with no foreign and limited domestic experience, who seems to be of limited intelligence, has been able to Tweet her way to becoming the Queen of the Tea Party, all the while planning the wedding… errr… breakup… I mean… wedding… ummm… reality TV career of her teenage daughter?

But I would like to suggest that the Shechinah is embodied in the person of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. After all, he proudly presents a heavenly view on the world. He also sees the good in people – Only someone with Divine insight could possibly come to the defense of that pedophile Michael Jackson. Plus, like Hakadoshboruchhu, Reb Shmuley is a best selling author who has his own show on cable. In addition, Reb Shmuley has insightful pronouncements on life issues. And like the Reboinoisheloilum, he abhors having his name taken in vain – You may use his name all you want, but just make sure he gets a royalty every time...

Finally, I would like to address a serious question about the perceived dwindling presence of the Divine in our everyday lives. Within the Toirah itself, the Reboinoisheloilum threatens that if the Jewish People disobey His commandments, He will “hide His face”. Some have suggested that the seeming absence of Hakadoshboruchhu in is, in fact, proof of heavenly punishment for human sin. But this is far from the truth. He is indeed with us, living among us. According to the Zoihar HaKadoish, the Reboinoisheloilum safeguards His identity on earth either by disguising Himself as a mild-mannered reporter in a major metropolitan newspaper or as a skinny Yeshiva Bochur shuckling away in the corner of the Bais Medrish. However, when the appropriate time comes to reveal Himself, the Aimishteh changes into a bright purple spandex uniform with a big “G” emblazoned on the front and leaps into the air to rescue the Jews in moments of dire need.

In ancient times, this secret change of identity was typically performed in a tent or a Roman bathhouse. In the twentieth century, this was typically done in a phone booth. Nowadays, Rachmana Letzlan, in the era of the ubiquitous cell phone, there are very few phone booths for the Reboinoisheloilum to use for His quick change. Consequently, His presence on earth has diminished. So it is only through prayer and good deeds that we can bring an end to the evil mobile and broadband networks that have suppressed the presence of the Almighty and return His glory to our world. Either that, or we should pray for the establishment of a network of public bathrooms, so that the Divine can once again reign supreme and deliver Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

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*Note: As a Gentile you would not be aware that the commentary of the medieval Biblical commentator RASHI (Rabbi Shlomo Yitchaki) is traditionally published alongside Biblical and Talmudic text in a distinct, highly italicized font with multiple variants of the traditional block Hebrew letters. Sadly, these are the kinds of critical facts of which you were deprived in your own Gentile education system, preventing your intellectual and spiritual fulfillment. It is a terrible shame, for which you have my sincerest sympathies.


Thursday, May 05, 2011

On Current Events

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On Current Events

Rabboisai,

I am very sorry I ran a rerun Drasha last week. To be honest, I was out of town on a special “Yeshiva mission”. I am not at liberty to tell you exactly where I was, but let’s just say that I started the weekend at a very large Chassanah in Europe, and ended the weekend performing a Levaya on a US Navy ship somewhere in the seas of South Asia. VeHamayvin Yavin.

Trust me: When El Mulay Rachamim is translated into Arabic, it sounds a lot like one of Reb Oivadia Yoisaiph’s weekly drashas.

How should a Ben Toirah think about the death of Oisama Bin Ladin? Is it a time for cheering and merriment? Is it a time for joyous partying and music, even during Sefirah, Chass V’Sholom? Is it a time for raucous celebration, preferably with a hot Shiksa, a cow, a video camera, and plenty of batteries? Or should we have a more somber attitude, tinged with introspection?

Undoubtedly you are assuming that I jest, that I am making Laiytzanis. But, indeed, I must point out what should be obvious to you, you Minuval. Oisama Bin Laden, or Reb Assi as we called him back in Yeshivah, was a terrible, villainous human being… but even the most hated of men have their redeeming qualities. Look at Rabbi Shmuley Boiteach.

So what were Oisama Bin Ladin’s redeeming qualities?

-- Oisama hated Avoidah Zorah, as do I. The Toirah commands us to destroy Avoidah Zorah – to crush it and burn it and uproot it. Just like Pinchas Ben Elazar who stuck a spear through a couple for being Mezaneh in public in the Midbar without protection, Oisama was a Kana’i, a zealot. Is this not a characteristic that we sometimes embrace?

-- Oisama was a big believer in Tzniyus. He always covered his head, and, I assure you, all of his dozen or so wives covered theirs. He believed in a strict separation of the genders. As in Williamsburg, he never allowed women to drive… unless they were in a car loaded with explosives. And he absolutely abhorred the Pritzuss that is a constant in the external secular environment. I don’t know about you, but I cannot bearing looking at all the hot Shiksas with their exposed cleavage at this time of year – It makes me want to go off to a room by myself, usually for not more than five minutes, if you know what I mean.

-- Oisama was a strong believer in Loi Sifsach Peh LaSatan – Do not open the mouth of the devil, meaning do not give him the opportunity to commit his evil works. When Oisama’s co-religionists disagreed with his Hashakafah, there was no need for debate. There was no free expression of one’s conscience. There was no granting other Muslims an opportunity to sway broader Muslim public opinion. There was no tolerance of the liberal media, Chass V’Sholom. There was simply Chapzem, just with suicide bombers.

So, indeed, Oisama had many traits that we can relate to in our Frum community. Of course, he was also a bloodthirsty murderer who killed thousands of innocents, and he would have killed all of us if he had the chance. But nobody’s perfect. (I myself once forgot to make an Asher Yatzar after making pish-vasser on a rock in the middle of the Grand Canyon, after being bitten on the Schvatzyl by a rattlesnake. At least the snake had a giant meal, if you know what I mean.)

Sometimes I am learning in the Yeshivah, and my Talmidim think that I am entranced by a Gevaldikkeh Toisfois when I am really in the middle of an LSD flashback, and I overhear my Talmidim speak in awe of the environment espoused by Oisama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. “Would that we only had an environment where Halacha was in full force, where women dressed with great Tzniyus, where the secular could not practice their evil ways. Would that there would be limited or no Internet, limited or no television, and all social and political decisions made by religious authorities.” And it is at those moments that I want to go and smack those Minuvals in their heads with a big Gemarrah for living in a fantasy world.

The Toirah has rules and guidelines, but is not about authoritarianism. Even during Malchuss Bais Dovid the will of the king was balanced by the voices of the prophets and the leadership of the Koihanim. Even in the time of the Sanhedrin Rabban Gamliel could be deposed as Nasi for showing disrespect to Rabbi Yehoishua and was temporarily replaced by Rebbi Elazar Ben Azariah. Ours is a culture and legacy of balance and dignity and mutual respect, not of absolute rule.

Nowhere is this approach towards balance and tolerance better illustrated than in the Gemarrah itself. What makes the Talmud, and our broader culture, unique is our openness to debate. The Mishnah does not give one sided absolutes. It shares debates, and then states the accepted position. The Gemarrah follows the Mishnah, and tries to understand those debates, the circumstances, the nuances. And the Rishoinim and Acharoinim follow, adding more richness in the quest for the truth. These were clear constants in Toiradikkah society: A culture of dialogue and debate and an intellectual environment of imagination and creativity, combined with a real shitload of spare time.

Some of these debates touch upon practical issues: Bais Shammai argues that Chanukah candles are lit beginning with eight candles on the first night, diminishing by one every night; Bais Hillel holds that we start with one candle, and add one more every day. Did Bais Shammai ever attack Bais Hillel, or take hostages? Never (although Bais Hillel students once did steal Bais Shammai’s Pushka money).

Some of the debates are more esoteric and focus on theoretical issues. Full tractates of the Gemarrah focus on the subtleties of Karbanois, ritual animal sacrifice, which ended with the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 CE. In a Gemarrah in Brachois, Rav and Shmuel argue over the color of Moishe Rabbeinu’s eyes (we Paskin they were hazel). Between the 12th and 13th centuries there is a famous Machloikess between the RAMBAM and the RAMBAN on Miriam Haneviya’s cup size – the RAMBAM held it was a Baiz, and the RAMBAN believed it was a Double Daled, based on a Passuk in Bamidbar. Ultimately, the RASHBAH settles the debate by suggesting that Miriam was in fact flat-chested, and used different sized “falsies” based on her mood. Shoyn.

Rabboisai, ours is a culture of debate. There is a very well known, oft cited adage: “Illu V’Ilu Divrei Eloikim Chayim” – “Whether the right answer is one or another position in a Rabbinic debate, the words of the Divine live”. In other words, we sanctify the Reboinoisheloilum and bring holiness into His world when we engage in thoughtful debate. Debate is not destructive, but constructive. So even when that ignorant, self aggrandizing buffoon Shmuley Boiteach speaks, we should not silence him, but, rather, we should listen to him and see him as a source of humor.

I am reminded of a famous Ma’aise Shehoyo. The Brisker Ruv was once sitting in the Schvitz with the Chofetz Chaim on Friday morning. Said the Brisker, “You know Yisroel Meir, I cannot wait until after Shabbos dinner tonight. It is double mitzvah night, and my Bashert assures me that this week is definitely hunting season.”

The Chofetz Chaim turned to him with a deeply concerned look, sweat dripping off his face from the heat of the Turkish bath. “Reb Velvel” he said, “I appreciate your youthful enthusiasm, but didn’t you know that you are not allowed to be Mekayaim Tashmish HaMitah on Shabbos-Koidesh because of a Chashash that it might be a Melachah”

With a look of curiosity, the Brisker asked, “What kind of Melachah?”

The Chofetz Chaim answered. “This is a Givaldikkeh Machloikess. According to The TAZ, Tashmish HaMitah on Shabbos is a Toildah of Zoireah, seeding. According to the SMAG , it is a Chashash of Choiraish, plowing. According to the RITVAH, it is an Av Melachah of Lush, kneading. And according to the Mechabair, it is a D’Rabbonan of Melabain, whitening.”

“And which one do you think it is?” the Brisker asked.

“I believe it is a Dioiraisah of Goizaz, shearing, since all of the thrusting may cause a hair to be plucked out, Chass V’Sholom.”

The discussion ended there.

The next morning the Brisker entered Shul with a big smile on his face. The Chofetz Chaim was already in his seat, counting his Tzitzis by using them to floss his teeth. The Brisker reported, “Yisroel Meir, last night I did the double mitzvah, and made sure not to commit an Aveirah by insisting that both my wife and I shave before Shabbos!”

The Chofetz Chaim hugged his fellow Rabbi with pure joy. That day he made certain that the Brisker was given Maftir and the Haftoirah, and, immediately following Davening, debriefed the Brisker about every minute intimate detail over shots of Shlivovitz.

Rabboisai, I raise these points out of love for your Neshamah and for the broader Klal Yisroel. We mark Sefirah every year by depriving ourselves of pleasure in order to recall the Sinas Chinum that existed amongst the students of Rabbi Akiva. We must be on guard everyday again Sinas Chinum in our own communities and in the broader society. We must embrace tolerance, and stand vigilant against the development of an authoritarian environment similar to that pursued by Oisama Bin Laden, Iran, or the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. And if you show any signs of speaking ill of others inside or outside the Yeshivah, do not listen to your Rabbanim, or misbehave in any other way, you Mechutziff, I will send home a note to your parents, suspend you from the Yeshivah for a week, and post nasty rumors about you and an underage goat on Facebook.

Ah Gutten, Peaceful Shabbos Koidesh, You Minuval.