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Friday, October 23, 2015

On Noise and Silence


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THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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On Noise and Silence


Rabboisai,

I am not in a joking mood, and I have nothing funny to write about.

There is upheaval in Eretz Yisroel. Palestinians are committing acts of terror, using knives and guns. Israelis are trying hard to defend themselves, but it is difficult to defend against "unorganized" terror activities, including knife attacks by 13 year old boys. And of course the global discourse and the media have largely missed the Israeli side, since "man bites dog" tends to get the better headlines.

As always, the Palestinian leadership is leading its people down a false path, playing up a fiction about Al Aqsa and the Temple Mount, and making blood curdling statements and accusations, rather than focusing on building the foundations of an independent state, an economy, and an education system designed to encourage coexistence with Israel, in preparation for that inevitable day when a political arrangement is reached that separates the Palestinian Arabs from the Jews, the divorce of an arranged marriage that never quite worked out.

But rather than focus on the future, the Palestinians have played the victim card, again. And again. And again. And there is only so long and so many times and a limited set of circumstances when their foundational narrative of exile and identification as a minority deprived of voting rights can serve as a response or justification for brutal acts of terror against civilians, including babies. There are only so many times that the Palestinians can play the "Get Out Of Jail Free" card of their narrative of victimhood. There are only so many times that Mahmoud Abbas can compare the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis to the Holocaust without losing all credibility for the Palestinian cause.

I am reminded of the behavior of my close colleague, Rabbi Shmiel Kalbasavuah. Every morning I make sure to take him out for a walk. In his advancing years, he needs his exercise and exposure to fresh air, and fire hydrants.

Every so often, as we are walking outside and talking about the weekly Parsha or a difficult Toisfois, a large truck will drive past, and Reb Shmiel will follow his natural impulse to chase the truck. Now, what he would actually do with that truck I do not know, and he refuses to tell me. But he is vastly outweighed by any truck, and a direct confrontation could never end well.

Reb Shmiel cannot help himself. As a youth he was forced to eat dog food, and was tormented by children who constantly tickled him on his belly and between his ears, and was unwittingly hounded by Postal Carriers and UPS delivery men, so he has certain natural instincts of self-preservation. In that sense, he is like a dog.

I contrast this behavior to the actions of the Israelis, who are once again forced to lead their lives under the threat of terror. There is an inherent tension between the urge for restraint, a natural survival instinct that by definition must include self-defense and prudent preventative measures, and an inclination for revenge. We too carry a nationalist and even messianic impulse, but we have historically largely tempered it, as our society can understand tolerance and coexistence, "Kee Gerim Hayinu Be'Eretz Mitzrayim", because, as we are often reminded of often in the Toirah, the Israelites, the Jews, were strangers in the land of Egypt; we were the victims of minority status, and we must never forget what it feels like to be on the receiving end of being a minority. The Torah at its core, teaches tolerance and acceptance of the minority; not suicide, not self-destruction, not aggressive action, but tolerance, "Kee Gerim Hayinu Be'Eretz Mitzrayim".

It is in this context that Klal Yisroel needs to look to our tradition to determine an adequate response to the very practical challenges that face us at a national level.

It is against this background that I shake my head in confusion at the words of Benjamin Netanyahu. I do not know what he is smoking, but believe me, you do not want to touch any of that shit.

Israel is under attack. There is a wave of terror. Israel is being condemned in largely useless forums, such as the UN. Israel's story of being twisted through both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda. Israel is subject to the whims of a lazy, sensationalist media And there is a growing economic boycott movement that is largely marginal for the moment, but will only get worse as the demographic time bomb explodes within five years - when Arabs, including Israeli Arabs, constitute a majority of the people between the River and the Sea.

So what does genius Netanyahu do? Does he come up with political initiatives? Does he cultivate moderate Palestinian alternatives? Does he show any creativity?

No. He invokes the Holocaust. He blames Haj Amin Al Husseini, the extremist Mufti of Jerusalem of 75 years ago for the Holocaust.

Huh? What the Tashmish HaMitah?!?!

As any student of Holocaust history knows, the Final Solution, established formally in 1941 by the Nazi regime, was the culmination of years of anti-Semitic policies and persecution. After the Nazis rose to power in 1933, they progressively persecuted the Jews and created a network of concentration camps for all of their political enemies - Jews, Communists, members of the previous government, priests, and even Nazis who has fallen out of favor. They created ghettos in Poland upon invasion in 1939, and committed pogroms. They introduced euthanasia of undesirables, such as the mentally ill, and later applied those techniques in Chelmno, the first death camp, once they realized that they had millions of Jews who were in no position to emigrate from Europe. These atrocities were developed by Hitler and his SS, and were later refined in the more "efficient" factories of death such as Auschwitz. These atrocities were committed in parallel with other Nazi atrocities, such as starving millions of Soviet POWs to death.

Hitler did not need the help of Haj Amin Al Husseini to develop his hatred for the Jews. It was laid out in full in Mein Kampf, written by Hitler in prison in 1925, 16 years before meeting Al Husseini.

Whether Haj Amin Al Husseini hated Jews or not, he did not come up with the Final Solution. And Netanyahu, the son of historian, and a very intelligent man himself, knows his history.

But Netanyahu has a knack for invoking the Shoah when it is politically expedient for him. A few weeks ago, he compared the pending deal with Iran to "Czechoslovakia in 1938". Now... no one loves the Iran deal, but Israel is a nuclear power and has a very strong army, and is not defenseless.

So why does Netanyahu practice historical revisionism and invoke the Holocaust? Because, for him, it is his "Get Out Of Jail Free Card" invoking the Jewish narrative of victimhood. But this is an insult to the intelligence of every Jew, and of every gentile. It is a cynical exploitation of our martyred ancestors. And it is ultimately an embarrassment to the State of Israel and the Jewish People. Imagine this: The Germans spoke out this week and had to remind the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish State, that it was they who were responsible for the Holocaust. Thank you Bibi. We had all forgotten.

The Jewish National Cause, the State of Israel, is not rooted in the Shoah; it is rooted in the Land in which our Nation was founded, it is the one land to which we are indigenous. And my grandmother did not die, six million were not murdered, in order to serve as a rhetorical device for any politician. Not for Ben Carson on gun rights. Not for Mahmoud Abbas. And not for Bibi Netanyahu.

---

I would like to share a Moshul.

The once was a prince named Shlomo. He lived in the Land of Zevulun, and had the finest Payis in all the land. He had a brother named Yitchak, and another brother named Abe. All had beautiful Payis, but conceded that Shlomo's Payis were the most beautiful.

One day, Yitzchak woke up and decided that it was actually he who had the finest Payis in all the land - "Super Payis". And he began to grow jealous of his brother. And the hate built up in his heart.

Finally, Abe began to feel that he had the most beautiful Payis. And the more he thought about it, the more he began to seethe.

Finally, one day it all exploded while all three were learning a Givaldickah Toisfois together on Pidyoin Shevuyim, redeeming Jews who are taken hostage. One second they were debating who had the better Shitah... and the next they were screaming at each other. As push came to shove they cut each other’s' Payis off.

That night the king can home to the castle after work, and discovered the has three sons had cut each other’s' Payis off, and had therefore become Misnagdim. He then banished them from the Land of Zevulun and never saw them again.

The moral of the story: Every Chussid has Payis. It is a core characteristic. But it is more important focus on practical efforts, like figuring out the difficult Toisfois on how to save lives, and stop being distracted by your Payis. Seriously.

Sometimes you just need to know when to Shut The Fuck Up and focus on real issues.

Ah Gutten, Peaceful Shabbos, You Minuval.

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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, October 09, 2015

On the Road to Redemption


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On the Road to Redemption

Rabboisai,

What a long week this has been!

On Sunday I was out in Brooklyn raising money for my Yeshiva, offering donors of $100 or more some magical Bsomim that would help them see the Reboinoisheloilum’s Merkava and commune with the Shchinah, as well as give them a Taiva for Maichel afterwards (“give them the “munchies” BLA”Z).

On Monday I cracked the code on bringing Toiras Moisheh to the masses: My investors and I had looked into opening a kosher sports bar in Teaneck, with 18 life size high definition screens carrying sporting events from all over the world that customers could watch while drinking beer and eating Spicy Bnei Brak Wings (Vos iz Pshat Ah Buffalo?). However, we were told that sports is “Nisht Azoy Ah Yiddisheh Zach”. So after being denied a Hashgacha from the local Teaneck Kashrus board, the OU, the Kuff K, and even the Triangle K, which I understand is run by a former Reform Rabbi who is now a leader in the Church of Scientology, we decided to change our business model. So we translated the sports bar concept into something more in synch with Yiddishkeit, and on Monday we opened up the first ever Beis Medrish Bar and Grill, featuring 18 life size Rabbis telling over all sorts of Divrei Toirah, while diners eat burgers, fries and drink Shlivovitz from little plastic shot glasses. Not only did the Mashgichim approve the Hechsher, they insisted that their son-in-laws be allowed to deliver Shiurim for tips!

On Tuesday I finished writing my latest Sefer, Di Chusin Oon Di Chavrusa Mit Di Shverkeit, an engaging tale about an unusual love triangle, loosely based on the life of Reb Shlomo Kluger, Reb Akiva Eiger, and Queen Victoria. It is available as an e-book, or wherever Bantam Paperbacks are sold.

On Wednesday I held office hours and Farhered numerous Talmidim on Hichois Karban Toidah. I am proud to say that when the Bais Hamikdash is rebuilt, Bimhairah BiYamaynu, there will be no shortage of impoverished twenty-something-year-old Yeshiva students living on Welfare and Food Stamps who never worked a day in their lives, who will be prepared to slaughter goats on behalf of Klal Yisroel.

On Thursday I opened my doors to the public and welcomed a bunch of Sucker Am Haaratzim …. errr…. I mean… Heimisheh Baal HaBusim who in exchange for me handing them dollar bills handed my secretary checks for $50, $100, and even $1,000 a piece. Gemilas Chassadim does indeed deliver returns multifold! Boruch HaShem.

It was during this session that I learned something astounding. One of the Baal HaBusim mentioned that Klal Yisroel is at war! I of course agreed, and reminded him that the war against the Yetzer Harrah is a constant battle, and we can never let our guards down. And then he took out his newspaper and showed me that Eretz Yisroel is under attack! Did any of you Minuvals know that? And if yes, why didn't you tell me?

So, as it turns out, Medinas Yisrael is fighting a new wave of violence launched by Palestinian elements, who are being supported by the Iranians, who are also supporting the Iraqis, who are fighting a war against ISIS, who are also fighting against the Syrians, who are supported by the Russians, who are supporting the Ukrainian rebels, who are fighting against the Ukrainians, who are allied with the Western Europeans, who are supported by the Americans. You see, I told you Barack HUSSEIN Oibama was an anti-Semite!!!

As I began to read up on the current battles, I learned of the horrific deaths and injuries of Israeli civilians, and the constant rock, knife, and gun attacks being launch throughout Eretz Yisroel.

Sad to say, this is something I warned about in a Drasha five years ago: If the women of Klal Yisroel refuse to dress Tzniusdick, Hakadoshboruchhu will bring down His wrath tenfold. In addition, if Jewish men refuse to put on Tefillin, the Reboinoisheloilum will deliver His wrath from the North. If little Jewish children engage in mixed swimming, Eretz Yisroel will face a devastating attack by the Australian Aborigines. And if all of Klal Yisroel does not stop with this Internet, iPhone, and Facebook Shtussim, the Aimishteh will bring about an attack by the mermaids and mermen who live in Atlantis, under the Mediterranean Ocean.

Luckily, I had a dream last night that restored my hope. In my dream, my father-in-law, the Shmutzedikkah Rebbe, came to me to tell me that if every family in Klal Yisroel sends me $100, Moshiach will finally arrive. Redemption at last. No more wars. No more famine. No more Arab Israeli conflict. No more anti-Semitism. Peace and joy and good will towards all mankind. And the opportunity to study Toirah night and day, day and night, together, in our ancestral homeland: Slobodka.

----

Rabboisai,

As has been pointed out many times, our ancestors faced few of the challenges that we face as a Nation today. Klal Yisroel were perpetual victims for nearly 2,000 years. Our very presence in the Israel, the United States, France, Argentina, Russia, the UK, Germany, and across the globe is a reflection of the wandering nature of our People. We are all the descendants of refugees; our nation has indeed been The Wandering Jew.

But today, for the first time in two millennia, we have our own State, whose borders must be defended, whose economy must be sustained, and whose population must be cared for from cradle to grave. We have to live side by side with other nations, some of whom are friends and some of who are mortal enemies.

As such, when we have no choice, we are forced to wage war, with all of its pain. We have the challenge of sending sons and daughters into battle, an act whose consequences are interlocked with tragic outcomes. We have to worry about the Israeli civilian population. We also have to defeat the enemy, who are embedded amongst the Palestinian civilian population, who are themselves casualties of terrible, short sighted and hate filled leadership. It is a cycle of violence of a Hundred Years War.

We are taught in the Gemarrah: “Four entered the Pardes. They were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them, "When you come to the place of pure marble stones, do not say, 'Water! Water!' for it is said, 'He who speaks untruths shall not stand before My eyes' (Psalms 101:7)". Ben Azzai gazed and died. Regarding him the verse states, 'Precious in the eyes of G-d is the death of His pious ones' (Psalms 116:15). Ben Zoma gazed and was harmed (went insane). Regarding him the verse states, 'Did you find honey? Eat as only much as you need, lest you be overfilled and vomit it' (Proverbs 25:16). Acher cut the shoots (became a heretic). Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.” (Babylonian Talmud Hagigah 14b).

But what is the peace that Rabbi Akiva returned to? A life of academic achievement, followed by a torturous death. But his mark remains, through his teachings and the teachings of his student, which are foundational to Jewish thought.

Redemption is not granted to those who sit around and wait; it is earned. It is not a Bais Hamikdash that descends magically from the sky. It is a great enterprise, whose foundation is embedded in the ground, and built from the ground up with blood, sweat and tears.

And in time, redemption will be achieved when we have achieved security and peace, peace and security. Bimhairah BiYamaynu.

Ah Gutten, Peaceful Shabbos, You Minuval.

---------

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, October 02, 2015

The Tempestuous Child


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The Tempestuous Child


"Kol HaOlam Kooloh Gesher Tzar Meod. VeHaIkar Lo LeFachayd Klal."

"All the world is a very narrow bridge. And the main thing is not to fear at all."

These are the very famous words of Rabbi Nachman MiBreslav, founder of a Chassidic dynasty that never chose a successor, that to this day inspires Messianic hippies, bad Payis, and WAY oversized Yarmulkas with silly writing on them. Though the Na Na Nachman movement attracts recovering addicts, the political fringe, and people by and large divorced from reality -- the words themselves speak to us today, just as they spoke to our ancestors in the Ukraine several centuries ago.

We are all shocked and depressed by the horrific slaughter of a Jewish couple, Eitam and Na'amah Henkin, in a brutal act of terrorism. The Henkins were driving along a road, attacked, and then shot in front of their four children sitting in the back of their car. It is an unspeakable, incomprehensible tragedy.

This brazen act harms everyone - the victims and their families, Israeli nationalists who loudly declare their "I told you so’s”, and Israeli moderates who believe that peace is inevitable and has roughly understood parameters, even if the political conditions are not yet present.

But the biggest group that suffers as a result of such a brazen act is the Palestinians themselves. Whether they are actively supportive of the terrorist act, myopically intellectually supportive of any strike against "the Israeli enemy", or morally and politically against such actions, they all suffer. All they have ever needed to do is wait patiently and perhaps exert acts of passive resistance, and the Israeli consensus would recognize the incompatibility of the aspiration for Israel to be both a democratic state and a Jewish state. And the status quo would evolve into a new form of peaceful coexistence.

But no. The silent majority does not rule. Rational thought does not rule. Passion and emotion dictate the politics of national extremism, and peaceful coexistence is delayed.

And the blame game begins. We all blame the terrorists who committed the murders. The Palestinians blame the Israelis for the occupation. The Israelis blame some Palestinians for celebrating the murders. The Palestinians blame the Israelis for blowing up the homes of the terrorists in an effort to discourage future such acts. The Israelis blame the Palestinians for non-cooperation. The Palestinians blame the Israelis for not actively pursuing a political arrangement. The Israelis blame the PA for collaborating with Hamas. The Palestinians blame the Israeli government for including ultra-Nationalists.

But do you know who I blame? The Reboinoisheloilum.

At the end of the day, we are witnessing once again that the world that He created is imperfect. It is flawed. If it were an automobile, it would be recalled. If it were a pharmaceutical product, He would be facing myriad lawsuits and be put out of business. If it were a restaurant, no would go there, and, in any case, it would be closed by the Department of Health.

Hakadoshboruchhu has created an imperfect world, and we are simply fated to suffer in His imperfect creation.

We of course are not the first to ponder the nature of the world and its imperfections. On the contrary.

-- The great Prophets, Yirmiyahu and others, reassured us that the evil that befalls Klal Yisroel is a result of our wickedness and rejection of the Melech Malchei Hamelachim.

-- The RAMBAM described the Aimishteh as non-etherial, and beyond human understanding.

-- The circle of the Spanish Kabbalists described the Reboinoisheloilum as a complex combination of elements – the Sefirot -- that interact in strange ways, and as a result humanity suffers. Evil in this world is a by-product of the Sefirah of Din. Yesoid is separated from the Shechinah (in translation: Hakadoshboruchhu is feeling like a Frum husband the day before his wife FINALLY goes to the Mikvah.

The Kabbalists make a valid point – not in a literal sense, but in a sociological/ historical sense. As we are told in the Haggadah, “MiTechilah Oivdei Avoidah Zarah Hayo Avoidoiseiynu”. “At the beginning, our ancestors worshiped foreign gods.” Our ancestors were Pagans. They believed in a pantheon of deities and forces that interacted, while we, mere mortals, could only hope to not be harmed as “collateral damage” while the gods wrestled with each other for universal control.

To be on the good side of the gods, we would bring sacrifices to one, or many, of the gods. This was an effort to do “our best”. The fine print read: “Outcomes not guaranteed. Former performance is not a predictor of future gains. Local laws apply.”

But our faith, the emergence of Judaism, left us with one God. One address. What an innovation! We are the Chosen Ones!

The question is, “Chosen for what?”

Sometimes I wonder what my grandmother thought as she walked with her young daughter and her old mother, having been forced to strip naked, and then commanded to either enter the rickety wooden synagogue to be burnt alive or climb into the pit to be shot en masse.

And so we are left with no answers, only questions:

-- Why did God create an imperfect world?

-- Is God dead?

-- Is God incompetent?

-- Is God evil?

-- Is God like that alien from Star Trek who was nourished off of the energy created by negative emotions, by war and hostility, and indeed He wants us to suffer?

So the rationalist RAMBAM excused God as beyond understanding. The Kabbalists re-introduced neo-pagan elements into our understanding of the Divine. Spinoza declared that there is no conscious God, only a set of ethical criteria we can arrive at through envisioning and enacting morality. And Eliezer Berkovits argued that there is a God, but that man’s inhumanity to man is the result of human free will.

I would like to suggest that God is a tempestuous three year old child. He is very cute when He is asleep. But when He is awake He wreaks havoc with His toys. He is mischievous. He is cruel. He chooses favorites. He has temper tantrums. He neither comprehends nor cares for the consequences of His actions. In the words of Shakespeare in King Lear, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods — They kill us for their sport.”

And what to do with the tempestuous child that is God?

Well, we must do what we do with any mischievous three year old: He must face the consequences of his actions. Perhaps we should put Him in a Time Out. Or we should take away His toys. Or we should send Him to his room. Or we should get a baby sitter and go out for and evening, and let someone else deal with His temper tantrums. Or we should take Him to a doctor or psychologist and have Him diagnosed and perhaps get Him a prescription for Ritalin.

But the most important thing to keep with mind when dealing the Divine Tempestuous Child is to try to not allow Him to consume our lives. Reboinoisheloilum knows, He has a long history of disappointing Klal Yisroel. Just as we have established our political self-determination, we must focus on personal self-determination, without reliance on a deux ex machina.

Hakadoshboruchhu is prone to create distractions and seek attention by throwing temper tantrums. But we have to be firm and take control of our own lives, not stand around in fear waiting for Him to save us. Go ahead and say Tehilim and Daven as much as you like. But remember that "Ain Somchin Al HaNess", we must never rely on miracles, but on ourselves.

"Kol HaOlam Kooloh Gesher Tzar Meod. VeHaIkar Lo LeFachayd Klal."

Ah Peaceful Shabbos, You Minuval

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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess