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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shabbos Nachamu Drasha

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Shabbos Nachamu Drasha


Rabboisai,

We are standing here mere days after Tisha Ba’Av, the commemoration of all the unspeakable tragedies that impacted Klal Yisroel, including the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash in 587 BCE, the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 ACE, the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, and the Treifing up of the kitchen in Grossingers in 1966. Like our ancestors before us, we seek to make this a time of year for individual contemplation, collective mourning, a chance for group prayer, and the opportunity to check out all the hot shiksa cleavage on these sweaty summer days.

One constant of Klal Yisroel’s collective experience, reaching back to at least Second Temple times, is the aspiration and yearning for the Moshiach, the Messiah. In this context, the era of the Messiah is anticipated as the period when oppression of the Jews subsides, and, perhaps, when world history as we know comes to an end and the universal clock is reset at a new beginning. This anticipation reflects a spiritual and emotional response for those who have suffered persecution and general misfortune. It has also been the particular hope for the many of Klal Yisroel who are awaiting trial for embezzlement, have built up extensive credit card debt, or have engaged in pre-marital experimentation without using an… errr… kishka wrapper … and now have to explain to their Tatties and Mommies that there may be a little Einikel on the way.

This anticipation of the Moshiach, the longing and expectation, helped to justify in the minds of Klal Yisroel the actions, or inactions, of the Reboinoisheloilum in our deepest times of need. Why did Hakadoshboruchhu stand back and let our Bais Hamikdash burn, or let our people be murdered, or let our nation be expelled? Perhaps, one might suggest, He willed it as a punishment upon us for sinning. Of course, this idea poses dangerous philosophical and theological dilemmas: How can the Aimishteh, the fair and almighty, allow innocents – including children – to be slaughtered or tortured or expelled or punished in other terrible ways? Is He cruel? Is He uncaring? Is He impetuous and moody, like a four year old child?

Or, perhaps, is He indeed truly benevolent, but limited in His powers? As understood by Lurianic Kabbalah (the teachings of the Ari Zahl, you Minuval ignoramus), perhaps He exists within specific constraints and is not quite as almighty as your second grade Rebbe told you He was.

One reflexive approach of Jewish theology commonly interpreted the various tragedies of Klal Yisroel as “Chevlei Moshiach” – the birth pangs of the Messiah. The logic went as follows: As we in our era (whatever era it was) believe that the Moshiach is impending, the tragedies we face are a necessary suffering that paves the way for the Messiah. This explanation was used in the time of the RAMBAM, as it was in the time of the expulsion from Spain, as it was in the time of the Chmelnitzky massacres. Indeed, one Tanna was quoted in a Braisah in Sanhedrin as follows, “Amar Rabbi Yoichanan, ‘Im Ra’isa Dor SheTzarois Rabbois Baois Alav KeNahar, Chakeh Loi, SheNe’emar, “Kee Yavoi KeNahar Tzar Ve’Ruach Hashem Noisasah Boi,” VaSumich Lei, “U’va LeTzioin Goiel.”’” “Rabbi Yoichanan said, ‘When you see a generation that has suffered many troubles like (the flood of) a river, wait for him (the Messiah), as is written, “When suffering shall come like a river, and Spirit of Hashem shall be aligned against it,” which is followed by, “And the Redeemer will come to Zion.”’” (Sanhedrin, 98a).

So, the message is, the Moshiach is on his way, and we must bear the terrible suffering that will shortly come to an end. And yet, the Moshiach has never arrived. Or has it?

On order to answer this question, one must have a clear understanding of what, in fact, is the very nature of the Messianic era. This is Nisht Azoy Pushit, not so simple, you Minuval. There are many, many ideas and speculations as to what will constitute the Messianic era:

-- OPTION ONE: According to the RAMBAM, the Messianic era will be reached when the Jews regain their independence and all return to the Land of Israel, led by a Messiah king descended from the Davidic monarchy. This will usher in a period of global peace and harmony. This era will be followed by the “end of days”, when all will live in a disembodied spiritual existence.

-- OPTION TWO: According to the RAMBAN, the Messianic era will be the Shabbos-Koidesh of creation, after which will begin an era of spirit-infused physical existence.

-- OPTION THREE: According to the RASHBA, the Messianic era will start with a period when everyone in the world learns Toirah and performs Mitsvois. This will be followed by an era of pure spiritual bliss, which he compares to “perpetual acts of Maisei Beyuh with beautiful women.”

-- OPTION FOUR: According to Rabbi Yoisaiph Gikatilla, the Messianic era will be a period when we are no longer required to learn Toirah and perform Mitzvois. Rather, all that was forbidden before will now be permitted. Tisha Be’Av will change from a fast day involving mourning to a festival day involving excessive eating. Instead of eating Matzois on Pesach we will all eat Hostess Twinkies. And we will enter a era of pure joy where every man will be entitled to engage in Maisei Biyuh with 72 virgins, 7 strapping, well endowed Yeshivah Bochrim, and 3 nice fluffy goats.

-- OPTION FIVE: The MAHARAL holds quite like Reb Yoisaiph Gikatilla, except that instead of 72 virgins, he suggests that real Moshiach-tzeit will be like doing it with one very talented, very experienced, toothless Pupkeh.

-- OPTION SIX: The RIVAM holds that Moshiach-tzeit will neither be like engaging in Biyuh with one Nafka nor with 72 virgins. Rather, it will be like one man engaging with 7 beautiful women at once, with one woman reading to him from Tehillim, one woman serving as the remote control for the 3,000 channel, 65 inch HD television set, one woman sitting on the man’s face, one woman focusing on his Petzel, two woman focusing on his Schvatzlach, and the last woman available to run to 7-11 to get single malt Slurpies.

-- OPTION SEVEN: The ROISH suggests that the Messiah will be ushered in by the ascent of a skinny, bearded rabbi who will lead a new movement towards a more progressive embrace of the Reboinoisheloilum’s love and munificence, as part of a process that leads to global peace and prosperity.

Rabboisai, if we look at these various visions for the Moshiach, we can certainly understand the yearning of our ancestors: How could they, in their times of need, ever believe that they had reached the era of the Moshiach. However, in our day, many of these visions of the Messiah have indeed come to pass:

-- There is Jewish sovereignty for the first time in two millennia. In fact, we just got ourselves a new Supreme Court Justice. (In addition, there is also an independent State of Israel, although we would hardly term that as “Jewish sovereignty”, what, with its secular, Arab loving government, its busses and movie theaters running on Shabbos Koidesh, its efforts to draft poor helpless Yeshiva Buchrim into the army, its requirement for frum people to pay taxes, its naked women on bus station posters, and its forced integration of holy Ashkezi and sinful Sephardi girls in State run religious schools. It’s like the Spanish Inquisition all over again.)

-- There are indeed periods of joyful bliss. In fact, last night, as I lay in bed, I had my Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, dance the Kazatske on my face while two billy goats grazed at the Gan Eden surrounding my Makoim HaMilah. If that’s not Moshiach-tzeit, you tell me what is!

-- There is indeed a man, a rabbi in fact, who has been put on this earth to bring love and kindness and peace. He has been known to perform miracles, and has brought many to believe in him. And when he suffers, it is so that the rest of us will be redeemed. Indeed, it is said that many of us are blind to The Truth, that the Messiah has indeed come, and his name is… Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Even greater than turning water into wine or loaves into fish or curing lepers (or whatever the New Testament miracles were – Hakadoshboruchhu knows I never learnt them in Yeshivah while I was growing up), Rabbi Shmuley performed the miracle of helping restore a burned out pedophile into an international icon. And all for the sake of… hmmm… money.

Yes, for many, the Moshiach has come, in the shape of prosperity. Unlike many of our ancestors who lived in filth and poverty, and turned to superstition for solace, we live in prosperity. We no longer need to look towards the idealized future for salvation. In fact, we no longer need the Aimishteh or the End of Days. We no longer need to help others, or think of the greater good. We no longer need to worry about investing in the long term, or making education more affordable, or fixing healthcare, or managing the deficit. We have it all today, in the form of nice new homes, shiny new cars, and wives with liposuction and $3000 sheytels, and that’s all that matters. What could possibly go wrong?

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.


Monday, August 08, 2011

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, August 03, 2011

Parshas Devarim

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Parshas Devarim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval