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Friday, December 29, 2017

Chadash Assur Min HaToirah

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Chadash Assur Min HaToirah


Rabboisai,

This week I had been planning to share with you the ultimate key to bringing Moishiach, the Shaym HaMephoirash, the ineffable name of Hakadoishboruchhu that has been passed down in my - MY - family, as I am the direct descendant of Moishe Rabbeinu, Eli HaKoihaon, and Yirmiyahi HaNavi. And in invoking the Name in this Drasha, in this large virtual Kehillah, I was going to trigger the Yemai HaMashaich, the Messianic Era and the End Of Days. It's about time, don't you think?

In my role as President Donald Trump's Advisor For Spiritual Afffairs this week, I discussed my plan with President Trump SHLITA, and he though the idea was "Terrific!" He even wanted to know if we could brand the Third Bais HaMikdash as the "Trump Temple".

However. President Trump inadvertently shared the Shaym HaMephoirash with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador a week ago, and as they tried to use this ultimate weapon in their Zil limousines on the way back to the Russian Embassy, they upset the Reboinoishoilum, who only allows the use of the Shaym once in a generation. So Moshiach-Tzeit, the era of the Moshiach, will have to wait.

Damn.

But the good news is that some of my investments in Canadian real estate, the defense industry, and privately run prisons will now have time to grow in value. Baruch HaShem.

Shoyn.

----

We start today's Drasha with a series of questions. Please bear with me; I know that you have the attention span of a Goilem who just drank six Espressois... errr... espressos.

----

-- The Mishnah asks: "Ma'Amusai Koirin Ess Kriyas Shma Ba'Arvin?" From what point can we start reciting Kriyas Shma at night? I am not going to recite to you the entire Machloikess; if you are not intimately familiar with this very basic Mishnah, you should probably stop calling yourself a Jew and start worshipping Yushka, since you are an Am Ha'Aretz and add no value to Klal Yisroel whatsoever. Unless of course you are willing to write a big check, and then we will praise your value as a supporter of Toirah and Klal Yisroel and as a communal leader. Kenayna Hurrah!!

-- We also have an adage in Klal Yisroel that begins, "Tuhdeer V'She'einoi Tuhdeer..." - When one has to prioritize the order of a liturgy, which comes first - the common or the uncommon? Again, I am not going to tell you the answer. You should know the answer, otherwise you should not be reading this Drasha, because you are not qualified to be a Jew. Instead, you should be fixing cars and doing projects that require sheetrock.

-- When someone has a son, he has the opportunity to engage in the greatest Mitzvah in Klal Yisroel - LeHachnisoi Ess Bnei LeBrisoi Shel Avraham Avinu - to connect his son to the eternal covenant that Avraham Avinu forged with the Reboinoisheloilum. How does one do this? By having a Moihel perform a Bris, a circumcision, on the eighth day of life, or as soon after as possible in the event of medical complication. And what does the Bris include? The key ingredients are: Circumcision, Metzitza BiPeh, and and serving bagels and lox.

You may raise concerns about the practice of Metzitza BiPeh, a practice during which the Moihel draws blood from the site of the circumcision with his mouth. Opponents of this practice point to several incidents in which a Moihel with oral herpes passed along this minor disease to the eight day old baby who has no immune system. This has occasionally resulted in the deaths of such children. You may argue that this practice should be waived and possibly be ruled illegal in civil law. But whoever would argue such a thing is either an agent of Yishmael or the embodiment of the Amalek in our day.

-- When a boy or a girl on the Kehillah is sexually abused by a rabbi or a respected community member or even a member of their own family, we must express sympathy for the victim. And we must do everything in our power - EVERYTHING - to make certain that the perpetrator is not reported to the police. After all, "Lama Yoimru BaGoyim, Ayeh Nuh Eloikaichem". What will the Goyom say?

So what if the abuser goes out and abuses again and again? Hey, the kids will get over it! Or maybe they will leave the community or even commit suicide. That will make the problem go away!

And let's face it, there are a lot worse Aveirois than sexual abuse. Such as Shatnez, shaving with a blade, and, of course, using a smartphone, especially during Chazarass HaSHATZ.

-- When a married person loses his or her faith, Chass V'Sholom, what should we as a community do? How should we respond to someone who goes - what is the expression? - OTB?

Well, we must of course show sympathy and understanding as a community, by banding together socially and economically and ensuring that the Frum parent gets sole custody of the children, and that the non-Frum parent gets visitation, of course - a half an hour a week, max, supervised.

And what if the Frum parent is physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive, or denies giving an Off The Derech wife a Gett? These our not our concerns, as the well being of the children in the Oilum HaZeh is pure Gashmiyus, materialism; as Frummah Yidden we must only worry about Ruchniyus, the Neshamas of the children in Oilum HaBah. And if the Frum parent's treatment of the children leads to their suffering, descent into despair, substance abuse, and early death, why that only means that they will be able to join the Aimishteh in Gan Eden sooner that they otherwise would have. What a Mitzvah we can do as a community!!

You're welcome.

-- Why did the Holocaust happen? Why, that is simple: Because the Reboinoisheloilum was punishing Klal Yisroel. And we know this because the punishment is foretold in the Toirah. Why did Hakadoishboruchhu slaughter all our ancestors? Once again, if you are asking such an obvious question, you do not belong as a member of Klal Yisroel.

The general point is as follows: If you do not agree with such "normative" definitions and prescriptions, you are a Menuval; even worse, you are a self hating Jew. In fact, you are more like a Judenrat. Or even worse, a Democrat.

Had you been in Egypt, you would not have been let out. Your sons would today be members of ISIS, and your daughters would be belly dancers.

---

Rabboisai - We are suffering from a plague. What is this plague? People thinking for themselves.

This is a terrible thing which undermines rabbinic political and economic power.. errr... which undermines belief in the Reboinoisheloilum and Hashgacha Pratis, Divine engagement in the world.

Rabboisai, the advent of people having access to the internet on their personal phones echoes the earlier introduction of the internet, which followed the phenomenon of television, the invention of radio, and the root of all evils, the printing press. In general, literacy is causing people to do Aveirois -- that is: Exchange ideas,  develop questions, and seek answers. This sometimes leads to people going OTD, or becoming a Meshumad, or leading a secular lifestyle, or being a secular humanist, or affiliating with the Reform or Conservative movements.

Or, the worst, remaining engaged in the Orthodox community and challenging the community to address areas of concern on the philosophical, theological, social, practical, and Halachic dimensions.

Our nation is called "the People of the Book". What book does this refer to? I assure you, it refers to Toirah Moshe Rabbeinu, not the works of Darwin or Einstein or Watson and Crick, or Marc Shapiro, or The Economist, or National Geographic, or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. It refers to the writing of RASHI and Toisfois, not The Toirah.Com. It refers to the publications of ArtScroll, not to the publications or the Hebrew Union College or the Jewish Theological Seminary, or Koren Publishing or Yeshivasssss Choivevei Toirah, Chass V'Sholom.

Orthodox Judaism is called "Orthodox Judaism" because is contains "orthodoxies", basic beliefs. And if you do not  subscribe to those basic beliefs, especially as espoused by me and my rabbinic colleagues, then you may as well by building the next Auschwitz because you are promoting questioning which will lead to efforts to change our way of life, to assimilation, and to Shmad. Assimilation is the Holocaust in our generation; I know so, because I saw on Facebook that some rabbi said so. So it must be true.

How does one confront this challenge to the religious hegemony of our Gedoilim? There is a Machloikess on this:

According the Reb Shmiel Kalbasavua, such voices must simply be ignored. Unless of course the proponents of new ideas do not look or smell like us, in which case they should be challenged to a pissing contest, typically next to a fire hydrant.

Reb Yehoishaphat Catahoula, a rising rabbinical star, holds that we should attack anyone and anything that blocks our path, and tear away at their foundations of credibility as if we were ripping out the insoles of their shoes with our teeth, pulling out their stuffing, and biting at them to make them harmlessly squeak.

Maharat Avigail Katievsky holds Farkert, that we should sit calmly around such people, but strike at them with outstretched claws when they least expect it.

But her brother Reb Asher Katievsky believes that we should keep our community as far away from such influences, protecting ourselves and our community as much as possible by hiding in hard-to-find places, though occasionally coming out to engage as long as we are properly acknowledged by being stroked behind the ears.

Finally, Reb Betzalel Kupkayk holds that we should observe such people by lying in wait, quietly and stealth-fully, until we POUNCE and capture those annoying creatures, torture them, kill them once we get bored, and leave their carcasses on the front steps of the Rebbe's house, as a gift.

----

Rabboisai, Shloimoi HaMelech once wrote that "Ein Chadash Tachassss HaShemesh", "There is nothing new under the sun". So who are these people who would have the Chutzpah to argue with Shloimoi HaMelech?

Some may suggest that there are many factors that should be considered in the modern era that should influence our approach in practicing our faith, such as:
-- Knowledge of science, including modern medicine
-- Modern social perceptions, such as the recognition of the fundamental equality of the intellectual capabilities of women
-- Better understanding of the behavior and the brain, including the lifelong negative impact of trauma
-- The rapid evolution of technology and communications.

People who cite such factors may be proud of themselves. They probably overheard conversations while sitting in a public Bais HaKeesay or while on line to register for welfare and unemployment benefits.

But we know better.

As the Chassssam Soifer said, "Chadash Assur Min HaToirah", nothing new is permitted by the Toirah. And he knew what he was talking about. He was a modern man, a man of our world; why, he died only a couple of years ago. In 1839. Compared to him, Einstein had the mind of a child, and Mark Zuckerburg was a shoemaker.

"Chadash Assur Min HaToirah" means that there have been zero changes in Yiddiskeit since Moishe Rabbeinu drank Espressois with Hakadoshbaruchhu on Har Sinai. He Davened using the liturgy of today, out of an Art Scroll Siddur. He wore a Shtreimel. He used filters on his water tap to keep out microscopic organisms. He used three filters on his iPhone, which he of course needed for professional purposes. He had two dishwashers in his kitchen, plus had a second kitchen for Pesach. He refused to sit next to women every time he sat on a plane. And he had a Nidah App on his iPhone to monitor his wife’s cycle and Mikvah habits.

And while according to the Toirah he preached the importance of honesty in judges and testimony, he made sure that such judges would always favor sexual abusers over their victims, and would deny parental access to children if a male parent decided that he liked to shave with a blade, or a female parent liked to eat Tarfus.

"Chadash Assur Min HaToirah."

So next time you hear of radical ideas, or have philosophical or theological questions, or worry about the well-being of human victims of Orthodox fundamentalism, get those ideas out of your mind. You have better things to be concerned about, such as Zman Kriyas Shma, which Shmineh Esrei to say first when reciting a Tashlumim, or how much suction to use when performing Metzitza BiPeh.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval

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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, December 21, 2017

NEW - On Making Peace With Reality

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On Making Peace With Reality


Rabboisai,

I am writing this in my office within the White House, in my role as Senior Religious Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, SHLITA.

Товарищи, позвольте мне рассказать вам о последних событиях, происходящих в Белом доме.

Oops. Sorry. I meant to send that to someone else. Well, no one really. Please ignore it. My keyboard was broken. I have never spoken to Putin in my life. Or the Russian ambassador. Or any Russian, ever. Or anyone descended from a Russian. Shit, I haven’t ever spoken to my own mother because she is from Brighton Beach. Not once. 

In any case, we are having a terrific level of impact in the White House over the last few weeks. The Tax Bill is a terrific achievement! We are cutting business taxes, and many residential taxes. Because of limits on the mortgage deduction, home owners in New York are likely to pay higher taxes. But that won’t impact Klal Yisroel, since everyone that I know has their house registered as a Shul. In fact, in my house back in Boro Park, after Maariv tonight we will be hosting Bingo Night sponsored by my Bashert Feigeh Breinah’s chapter of Amit Women - Ultra Orthodox Division, where all of the publications and material have had the faces of all the women blacked out.

Rabboisai, we just finished Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. The SHEISS-KUP asks an important Shailah - Why do we light candles and say Brachois about a magical miracle about the Staying Power of oil that only appears in a Braisah hundreds of years after the actual miraculous war for liberation of Judea in 160 BCE, knowing that the miracle story is likely a fictional legend?

The MALOMAR Shteyts a beautiful Vort: That the oil miraculously lasting eight days is a metaphor for the Staying Power of Klal Yisroel. Through exile and suffering, the Reboinoisheloilum stayed with us and sustained us. We even survived eight years of Oibama because Hakadoishboruchhu never abandoned us, other than His annual vacation to His Bungalow in the Catskills. The MALOMAR is of course known for using an eclectic mixture of influences from both Chassidic thought and Fox News in his Divrei Toirah.

I, the RAPAS, however, would like to interpret the miracle of the Chanukah candles in a different way. We must recall that CHAZAL had a great challenge facing them after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash by the Romans, and the disastrous Bar Kochba rebellion two generations later. They could not have a holiday focused on overthrowing a sovereign entity in the Land of Israel. So they de-emphasized the political struggle for independence that is at the core of Chanukah, and focused the holiday on a miracle story that addresses the personal challenge faced by many of us. And the miracle for each of us, the Chanukah message for all men in Klal Yisroel, is that though good deeds and the help of the Aimishteh, we have have Staying Power that is eight times the normal, as long as we use the right, ummm... special oil.

This special oil, by the way, is available at a low introductory rate of $99 per tube of the new: “Doc Schmeckel’s Chanuka Love Oil”, available in flavorless, jelly donut flavored, and latkah flavored. And believe me, your spouse or significant other will be singing along with you for hours, or your money back (minus shipping and handling charges, of course). And if you are one of the first hundred callers, we will give you a second tube of “Love Oil” for one dollar extra, and add a fur lined egg beater absolutely free as our gift to you. 

Shoyn.

The other big achievement for the Administration in the last few weeks, and a major personal achievement, I might add, is the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol. It is a Nais!!! It is a miraculous achievement! It signals that one country in the world finally recognizes the fact that Jerusalem IS Israel’s capitol. 

Not that we care what the Goyim think, of course. Ever! 

I want you beloved Talmidim to know that it was I, Rabbi Pinchas J. Schmeckelstein III, who lobbied the President on this issue, day in and day out. “Why is it so important?” the President kept asking. “The State Department keeps on telling me that this would be disruptive to the Peace Process, a robust process that is running so smoothly in the background you can hardly notice it is there. And the Arab countries warn me that it would force their hand to not make public peace with Israel, just as they were all lining up to sign peace agreements — any day now. In addition, our allies are against such a move. And the Israeli security establishment is worried about the possible violent repercussions. Maybe we should just wait?”

And I would look at the President and say, “Mr. President, the State Department are all a bunch of anti-Semites. The Arab countries - anti-Semites. Our ally countries - anti Semites. The Israeli security establishment - anti Semites!!! You, Mr. President, can be a catalyst for change!” We had this discussion again and again, but President Trump would not budge. Until I came up with the magical argument that finally convinced him. “Dad... errr... Mr. President, think of the property values, they will shoot way up. Plus I think we can get the Israelis to rename the Kotel area as ‘The Trump Plaza’.” That sealed the deal. 

Next, I will start lobbying President Trump to recognize the Palestinians as a species of flightless migratory birds, and then all of Klal Yisroel’s problems will magically go away.

I am reminded of a beautiful story about the Baal Shem Toiv. The BESHT was once traveling to a border town between Ukraine and Russia when he came to a Shul on Friday night. Already famous, members of the Community greeted him effusively outside the Shul. But when they asked him to come in and Daven, the BESHT refused, stating that the Shul was too full for him. 

“But Rebbe”, one of the younger community members protested, “there is barely a Minyan in there, and we would like you to join us for Kabbalas Shabbos”.

“I am not talking about people. There is a lot trapped in there.”

The young man looked with wonder at the BESHT, as if a light bulb turned on in the man’s head. “Do you mean to say that we are Davening without Hisboidedus, without real feeling and passion, so that our prayers are trapped in the Shul because they are not reaching Shamayim?” asked the townsman. “What a beautiful Vort, Rebbe, We will change our ways!”

“Errrrr.... yeah. That’s kind of what I mean. Right!”, replied the Baal Shem Toiv. “Sure. good job!!”

This is the version of the story that most people know. But my Alter Zeidy, who was himself a descendant of the BESHT, told me the lost remainder of the story.

That night the Baal Shem Toiv went to bed after having a light dinner an the inn, followed by a big slice of Ukrainian Lime Pie. Once settled in the bed, he began to meditate. And then the Rebboinoisheloilum came to him in a vision.

“BESHTELEH, Voos Machst Dee?” (“Beloved BESHT, what’s up my Brother?) asked Hakadoshboruchhu.

“Well, I am feeling guilty. I told those guys that the synagogue was full and that I could not go in. They came up with some wacky religious interpretation, and I did not want to shake their faith. But that little Shul smelled like one massive fart. I could not breathe.” 

“BESHTELEH, Di Bigast Rukhniusdikkah Emmes Vos Ir Darfn Tsu Gedenken Iz: Shit Happens. Aumetum. Aun Mir Alleh Hobn Tsu Makhn Shalum Mit Im, Afilu Aoyb Mir Hobn Tsu Bakumen Tsu Dem Umbakvemkayt. Mir Zol Afilu Arumnemen Es.” (“Beloved BESHT, the biggest spiritual truth that you need to remember is: Shit happens. Everywhere. And we all have to make peace with it, even if we have to get used to the discomfort. We should even embrace it.”)

And the BESHT knew then what he had to do.

The next morning the BESHT showed up for Shabbos morning Davening. Pesukai D’Zimrah. Barchu. Kriyas Shma. The Amidah. Leyning.

During the HafToirah, he snuck out with the Kiddish Club and had some Slivovitz and Cholent. And, almost magically, he no longer hated the aroma, he began to like it, and to contribute his own. What was once foreign and uncomfortable was now natural and a part of the essence of the little Shul.

The BESHT knew that peace meant recognizing that the Tzelem Eloikim, the Divine spark, exists in everyone. Even in humans that do not look like us, sound like us, eat the same foods as us, or smell like us. Societies may clash, but the diversity of peoples and cultures is the ultimate human commonality. 

And you must know that that town was actually the town of Mezeritch, And that young man who engaged in dialogue with the Baal Shem Toiv outside the Shul was none other than Doiv Bear, who would later become the BESHT’s principal follower known to the world as the Maggid of Mezeritch.

Rabboisai - This is an important lesson for all of us, not just in the religious and political realms. The world was created with its imperfections. Society has its imperfections. Our everyday lives have their imperfections. Jewish history is filled with, perhaps defined by, its imperfections. We of course are tasked with trying to repair those imperfections by recovering the holy sparks, the Nitzoitzin, from the dross, the unholy broken shards of cosmic existence. But we must also come to terms with the imperfections of the broader world, and in our own lives. For if we spend all of our time contemplating what is wrong, we will never appreciate what is good.

And when we do Mitzvois to rescue the holy sparks, and we also accept that not all imperfections will go away, and we make peace with them, we bring about the Geulah, the redemption. Perhaps for the entire world, perhaps for Klal Yisroel, perhaps just for ourselves, or,  perhaps, for a single innocent Tzaddik... such as Shalom Rubashkin.

Yes, I am responsible for that one too. Many hours were spent persuading President Trump on that one. So please send me your checks so I can keep up my good work. And if you act now, I’ll toss in a couple of samples of “Doc Schmeckel’s Chanuka Love Oil” as a free gift. 

BiMehairah BiYameinu. Umayn. 

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, November 30, 2017

On the Passing of a Tzaddik

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On the Passing of a Tzaddik


מִי-הָאִישׁ, הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים;    אֹהֵב יָמִים, לִרְאוֹת טוֹב.

“Who is the living being who seeks life, who loves the days of his life, to see good”

Rabboisai,

We are gathered here to offer our respects at the passing of one of the Gedoilei HaDor, the leaders of the generation, Reb Betzalel Kupkayk. Reb Betzalel left this world the same way he lived it - Enjoying the wonders of nature, the world created by Hakdoishboruchhu.

How do we sum up the life of a Tzaddik? We, of course, are discouraged by CHAZAL, our sages, from offering Hespedim, eulogies, for a Tzaddik. However, we are encouraged to celebrate and remember, and discuss the lessons of a life well spent, learning Toirah, doing Mitzvois, and killing small animals.

Reb Betzalel was born under challenging circumstances. We know little about his early childhood, but we do know that he was instinctively drawn to Toirah. My Bashert Feigeh Breinah immediately recognized his potential and encouraged that he be taken in by the Yeshiva, even though we had agreed not to bring in any more wards of the Yeshiva, Reboinoisheloilumdammit. When I first learned of Reb Betzalel’s arrival, I was concerned that he would be a bad influence on the other Lamdunim. But in this one, solitary thing, this one time, ever, my Bashert was right. Reb Betzalel was very special and brought great wisdom and insight into the Yeshiva.

Reb Betzalel’s early days were spent learning BiChavrusa with Reb Yoisaiph Katsky, ZTL, often in animated Machloikesin that occasionally led to knocking items off the table and the shelves. Both Reb Yoisaiph Katzky and his protege Reb Betzalel Kupkayk were particularly fond of Shabbos, and every week waited patiently at the Yeshivah Shabbos table for Shirayim of chicken or fish.

But the most profound relationship that Reb Betzalel had was of course with Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah, SHLITA. They spent years as Chavrusas and constant companions, learning Toirah and taking walks together. Indeed, their mutual affection mirrored that of Dovid HaMelech and Yehoinasan. And it is true that Reb Shmiel was known to occasionally exhibit physical affection for Reb Betzalel, but as it was consensual, we need not discuss it here. (And, no, we are not removing Reb Shmiel from his current position at the Yeshiva. He is neither Matt Lauer nor Charlie Rose.)

Pirkei Avois tells us “Asei LeCha Rav, U’Knei LeCha Chaver”, assign yourself a Rabbi, and acquire for yourself a friend”. People have forever wondered what the latter part of the phrase means. Does it refer to an actual “purchase”? Most people hold that, no, it is metaphorical for personal engagement and commitment, for investing value in the relationship. The relationship between Reb Betzalel and Reb Shmiel was indeed a synthesis of both aspects of this equation.

Legendary are the long walks shared by Reb Shmiel and Reb Betzalel, with Reb Shmiel often running ahead to ensure that Cossacks, Nazis, or squirrels were not waiting around the corner. On their walks they would often discuss the intricacies of Halacha. What is the earliest one can light candles on Friday night? When laying Tefillin, can you respond to text messages, or does that count as a Hesach HaDaas? When you find scraps of food on the street, do you need to check Hashgacha, or should you eat them immediately, lest this be the last morsel of food you will ever eat?

While Reb Shmiel is the better known Poisayk, rendering Halachic decisions across a broad range, Reb Betzalel himself, in his own quiet, modest way, established a territory in which he shared his Halachic output. He is particularly respected for his expertise on the Halachois regarding the Schechting of small birds, and on trapping, torturing, and killing small rodentia.

Reb Betzalel was unique in his warmth and tolerance. He showed the same patience and acceptance of little children as he did of Talmidei Chachamim. Because unlike most of us, he never forgot his modest roots.

Like many of our sages, Reb Betzalel Kupkayk had supernatural Kabbalistic legends associated with him. His head, facial, and body hair were a mix of black and white, and it is said that his hair was a reflection of the cosmic status of Klal Yisroel. When Klal Yisroel acted in a way that found favor in the eyes of the Aimishteh, Reb Betzalel’s black hair dominated. But when Klal Yisroel acted in a manner disappointing to the Reboinoisheloilum, his white hair dominated. And, sadly, at the end of his life, between Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, and Louis CK, the deep tax cheating and fiscal corruption scandals plaguing Lakewood, the communal cancer impacting much of the Chassidic world featured in the Netflix film One Of Us, and the continued ineptitude and failure of moral leadership by the leadership of Yeshiva University, Reb Betzalel was largely white.

Reb Betzalel was not only a great Talmid Chacham, but he was a man of the world. He followed the news very closely, as he was always on alert for threats to Klal Yisroel. At times he could become passionate about current events. During the 2016 campaign, once the video footage leaked of Donald Trump talking about “grabbing them by the pussy”, Reb Betzalel would hide under the bed every time he heard Donald Trump’s voice on the TV or radio. And who can blame him?

Reb Betzalel carried himself with measured dignity, even at the end. Despite his spreading illness he went on with his life, never complaining and never compromising on his daily routine. Even when he had lost 1/3 of his body weight, he continued to soldier forward. He even ignored the taunting of the newer generation of Talmidim and Yeshiva Loimdim, tolerating Reb Yehoishaphat Katahoula’s high energy confrontations, the disrespect shown by Reb Asher Katievsky, and the complete bitchiness of Maharat Avigail Katievsky.

Only in his very last days did his pain and suffering catch up with him. And his life ended the way it was lived, with steadfast independence and personal pride. 

How do we measure a life well spent? It is a mistake to focus on the final days of pain and suffering. More important, we focus on the Mitzvois, the good deeds, and the personal contributions to everyone touched, as well as to Klal Yisroel and the the broader world. Death may be an end of life in this world, but as the soul is reunited with Hakadoshboruchhu, hopefully, just maybe, the essence of a life well spent is integrated into the fabric of the Ein Soif, the Unknowable Divine, contributing to the positive aspects of an often cruel and distant universe.

I envision Reb Betzalel today, right now, sitting in Gan Eden at the feet of Reb Moishe Feinstein, Moishe Rabbeinu, Reb Yehuda HaNasi, RASHI, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe SHLITA, learning Toirah with them, eating from the Levyoson with them, and curling up and sleeping next to Eliyahu HaNavi. Believe me, Shamayim no longer has a mouse problem.

Reb Betzalel Kupkayk has certainly earned a great reward in the Oilum HaBah for a life well lived in the Oilum HaZeh.

Yehi Zichroi Baruch, May his memory be for a blessing.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, November 10, 2017

On Rabbis and the Employment of Reason

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On Rabbis and the Employment of Reason


Rabboisai,

I would like to start this week’s Drasha by describing the Reboinoisheloilum:








No, there is no typo, you Minuval! I did not fall asleep at my keyboard, or smoke too much Besamim, if you know what I mean. I simply followed the tradition of the RAMBAM who declared that you can only describe Hakadoshboruch by what He is Not.

Now, the RAMBAM of course was a Sefardi, so he was certainly hardly an Erlichah Yid. He worked as a physician to many, including to the principle advisers to Salah A Din, the Muslim conqueror of Eretz Yisroel who chased out the Crusaders Yemach Shmum. So instead of learning thirty hours a day like a good Jew, he was busy engaging in Bittul Toirah by saving lives. What a waste of time! All of his patients are undoubtedly dead by now, so the RAMBAN passed up the eternity of Toiras Moishe Rabbeinu to engage in what was only a temporary fix, at best. This is certainly not the choice any of OUR Gedoilim would have made, of course. Can you possibly imagine Reb Auerbach, SHLITA or Reb Kanievsky, SHLITA stopping leaning over their Gemarrah long enough to wipe up their drool?

But the RAMBAM cannot be all bad. After all, Art Scroll wrote at least one book about him. And he did, of course, only learn medicine from the Gemarrah and while sitting in the Bais HaKeesay. Which is where I developed my Value Investing strategy when I was a teenager: How to take something small and make it bigger until it shoots out a big payoff...

But RAMBAM’s basic premise requires a thoughtful analysis, at least long enough to fit three pages so that I can cross the line “Write a new Drasha” off of my To Do list, and I can get to the next item on my list: “Whatever is in the headlines, blame Hillary and Oibama”.

The RAMBAM, in his day, was confronting a reality that was in many ways quite similar to our own. Jews were persecuted in some places, yet found safety in others. Religious traditions within Klal Yisroel were becoming divergent. People were beginning to allow the beliefs of modernity to impact their Emunah in the Aimishteh. And women were beginning to assert their right not to be treated as sex objects by covering themselves with Burkas, donning metal chastity belts, immersing themselves in the Mikvah, and avoiding any man whose last name was “Weinstein”.

To the RAMBAM, a key concern was the literalism that had infiltrated the Jewish perception of The Divine. He believed that people who took Biblical references such as “the hand of God” or “the finger of God” as literal walked a treacherous path leading to a form of Avoidah Zarah, idolatry. He believed that anthropomorphism of the Reboinoisheloilum was a falsehood and was, in fact, dangerous, and that Hakadoshboruchhu could never be understood in human terms. He even went so far as to say that most prophetic confrontations with the Aimishteh in the Toirah were not actual encounters, but the product of inspired dreams, perceptual imagination, or LSD flashbacks.

At the center of the RAMBAM’s focus was the need to find the balance between faith and reason. For the RAMBAM, the Toirah was a one time gift given to Klal Yisroel through Moishe Rabbeinu. The Toirah was not a rule book designed to outline reward and punishment, as these were human concepts. To the RAMBAM, the Reboinoisheloilum exists beyond any human understanding and is outside of the realm of human activity. The RAMBAM believed that the Toirah’s primary purpose was to provide order and structure to society. That was the role of Faith. However, understanding of the Divine, while never fully achievable, was the essential higher objective of mankind. And the only way to approach that understanding was through Reason.

The RAMBAM faced struggle and challenge throughout his life. He was born into the golden age of Islam in Spain, where philosophy, mathematics and the natural sciences complemented his education in Kol HaToirah Kooloih. But his upbringing in the equivalent of the Upper West Side, the Five Towns, or Teaneck was cut short by the rise of a regime practicing an intolerant form of Islam that demanded that Jews convert or die. So the RAMBAM, his father, his brother, and presumably the rest of their family fled for their lives, not unlike many of our own parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Plus they had to shlep their pet dogs, cats, and hamsters, which must have made for a messy exodus.

After spending time in Morocco and witnessing the deprivations of the Land of Israel firsthand, the RAMBAM settled in Egypt. He lost his father. He lost his brother. He dealt with depression. But he also became an internationally renowned religious scholar, known for his seminal religious writings: His commentary on the Mishnah; the Mishnah Toirah, which was an audacious attempt at systematizing Halachic scholarship up to that date; and the Moireh Nevuchim, The Guide For The Perplexed, where he laid out his theology and philosophy. He also published medical textbooks. And he wrote a humorous comic strip syndicated in all the major newspapers of Egypt about a tortoise named Menachem Mendel and a hare named Yoili.

Given his knowledge of the science of his day and his keen awareness of the wretched state of Jewish existence, and perhaps troubled by his own personal suffering, the RAMBAM worked to reconcile the equation at the heart of the struggle between faith and reason: The punishment suffered by the Jews did not fit the actions of the masses. So rather than explain away the suffering by attributing blame to the Jewish People, he dispensed with the equation altogether. The Reboinoisheloilum was beyond understanding. There was no linkage between human action and reward and punishment. Hakadoshboruch could not be understood in either physical or rational terms. The world existed as a holistic whole, with its own ebbs and flows, and man’s best path to God was to embrace the Unknowable, through philosophical reasoning. Man could never truly know the Divine. Man could never even describe the Aimishteh. The only way to describe Him was to describe “what He is not”.

This view stands in contrast to everything we ourselves have learned since we were little children in kindergarten. (Maiseh Sheyoh: I do not know about you, but at the age of four I had a kindergarten teacher named Moirah Ginzberg who was so scary, the other kindergarten teachers would shit themselves every time she walked into the room. Mamish.)

Obviously, RAMBAM’s is not the only Da’ah, the only opinion, on the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum and the broader questions regarding human existential purpose. Indeed, his perspectives were at times considered so controversial, manuscripts of his writing were burned in some Rabbinic circles as heresy. Plus artistic renditions of his likeness were often defaced by Talmidim drawing Groucho Marx glasses, including a mustache and thick eyebrows.

But his is a voice than cannot be easily dismissed. Indeed, the RAMBAM is often cited today when Rabbis, including those engaged in Kiruv, want to highlight Judaism’s rationalist perspectives on issues related to Faith and Reason. Their renditions often shy away from the deeper implications of RAMBAM’s thought, however. But to be honest, Rabbis often shy away from meaningful implications, unless it involves the renewal of their contracts.

And what are those implications? The RAMBAM is dismissive of direct Divine engagement in the world, a view which stands in direct contrast to the belief in a world based on the values of reward and punishment in Oilum HaZeh and Oilum HaBah, this world and the next. Yet he strongly believes in a Halachic system, with a strong emphasis on moral laws Bain Adam LeChaveiroi, between human beings, as they are philosophically rational and necessary for an orderly society. And he believes that human engagement with the Divine through prayer and ritual is designed to suit human needs; though for him, intellectual contemplation of the Unknowable is what truly brings human beings closest to the Creator.

One of the most famous brief pieces of writing of the RAMBAM is his Teshuvah, his Rabbinic responsa, on the status of forced converts. As mentioned above, RAMBAM himself had to flee for his life when an oppressive brand of Islam replaced the progressive leadership of his native Spain. Years later, when consulted by a community in Yemen where some Rabbinic leaders were rejecting people who had converted to Islam under threat of death from returning to the body of the Jewish community, the RAMBAM spoke strongly of the need for embracing the many individuals who had been forcefully compelled to convert to Islam, if only publicly. In his Igeret Teiman, Epistle to Yemen, he strongly chastised those who would close their hearts to their fellow Jews, their fellow human beings, forced to continue to suffer a plight that no fault of their own.

If RAMBAM were alive today, I suspect that he would be sorely disappointed by much of our Rabbinic leadership and their unwillingness to act in a manner sensitive to the oppressed, whether the descendants of Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain for generations, Agunot, sex abuse victims, or those who have chosen a less observant path who are forced to fight to retain access to their own children.

For instead of embracing reason, a rational approach to managing an orderly, humane society, too many of our Rabbinic leaders have instead opted for the path of falsehood and idolatry.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Simchas Toirah Drasha

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Simchas Toirah Drasha


Rabboisai,

This week we celebrate the conclusion of Sukkois and the completion of the annual cycle of Kriyas HaToirah by getting stinking drunk and dancing with members of the same gender.

Rav Moishe Chaim Luzzato asks: Why do we dance with other men, which is a clear violation of Lifnei Iver for Mishkav Zachor, an unacceptable temptation that may lead to playing “bury my Sukkah pole in your Schach,” if you know what I mean?

There is a famous machloikess that addresses this question. Reb Yisroel Salanter comments that the completion of the Toirah cycle is meant as an Ois, a microcosm, of Oilum Habbah. With the completion of the Chamishei Chumshei Toirah, we experience a moment that is a foreshadowing of Biyas HaMashiach and Oilum Habbah, the dawning of the Messianic era and the World to Come. As such, we know that when Moshiach comes, many of the Halachic restrictions of Oilum Hazeh will fall away. Just as Tisha Ba’Av will shift from being a day of somber mourning to our greatest day of celebration, Biyuh SheLo KeDarko with another man will shift from being an “abomination” to a “Mitzvas Asei SheHazman Grummah.” It will also be a great way to reward your Chavrusa for knowing all the latest dance steps to “Zara Chaya VeKayama.”

Rebbe Nachman MiBreslov proposes a similar approach. He suggests that we do not dance in celebration of completing the annual cycle of reading the Toirah, since in ancient times much of Klal Yisroel followed a triennial cycle, completing the Toirah in three years. Rather, Rebbe Nachman states that we dance with other men to signal the end of the long holiday season. He writes in his famous treatise Likutei MoHaran that “Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Toirah clarify the essential differences between men and women. At this time of year, while men are busy trying to eke out a living without being fired for missing work, building the Sukkah, preparing the Arba Minim, etc., their wives are constantly calling them with requests, such as:

-- ‘Reuvain, can you please pick up bok choi on your way home from work’

-- ‘Shimoin, I don’t think we have enough dessert for the fourth meal we are hosting; can you pick up some brownie mix?’

-- ‘Layvee, I have to stay late at the office; can you come home early to give the kinderlach a bath?’”

Says Rebbe Nachman, “If I can trade being called fourteen times a day by my wife and being incessantly hen-pecked in exchange for engaging in Mishkav Zachor with another man, I will gladly play catcher in Biyuh SheLo Kedarko with a big sweaty Yeshiva Bochur named Lazer.”

However, the Vilna Goyn suggests that Rav Moishe Chaim Luzzato and Rebbe Nachman MiBreslov probably spent a bit too much time hanging out at the Mikvah on Erev Yoim Kippur. He writes farkhert in Chuddushe HaGruh, “In Klal Yisroel, we don't have homosexuals. We don't have that in our Kehillah. In Yiddishkeit, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it.”

Instead, the Gruh points to the seasonal nature of Shaloish Regalim as the true reason we celebrate on Simchas Toirah. He notes that just as Peysach is Chag HaAviv – the Spring Festival, and Shavuois is Chag HaBikurim – the Harvest Festival, Shmini Atzeres -- and especially Simchas Toirah -- celebrate something critical in the calendric cycle of Klal Yisroel and of Kol HaOilam Kooloh in general.

To make his point, the Gruh cites a famous machloikess. The Tur asks, “What is the most important Aliyah during Kriyas HaToirah?

According to Reb Yoisaiph Karo, the most important Aliyah is Rishoyn, the first Aliyah, since it is the Aliyah reserved for the Koihayn, the representative of Klal Yisroel designated by the Reboinoisheloilum to bless His chosen People.

According to the Bais Yoisaiph, the most important Aliyah is the second Aliyah, the Aliyah of the Layvee, since he silently enables the holy activities of the Koihayn by washing the Koihayn’s filthy hands and smelly feet.

According to the Keseph Mishnah, the most important Aliyah is the third Aliyah, since it is typically reserved for the biggest tzaddik in the room. Or, more frequently, it goes to the guy who writes the biggest check to the shul, even though everyone knows he frequently schtupps his hot shiksa secretary while eating pork, and makes his money by selling variable mortgages to eighty year old widows who live off of Social Security.

However, the Shulkhan Arukh holds that the fourth Aliyah is the most important one. His reasoning: Unlike the first, second, or third Aliyahs, the fourth Aliyah is an RBI position. He is batting clean up, while the others simply have the responsibility of getting on base. He has to drive them home, an awesome responsibility. As proof, the Shulkhan Arukh cites the fact that the last Aliyah is typically reserved for a Bar Mitzvah boy or a light hitting shortstop. Or for a pitcher in the National League, Chass v’Sholom. These mamzerim are likely to get out anyway, so we may as well put them in a position where they can’t do any damage.

Continues the Goyn: On Simchas Toirah, we echo the external calendar and combine the completion of the Toirah cycle with the completion of the Major League Baseball season. Consequently, there is a strong Minhag for men to dance together and jump on top of each other in victorious celebration. There is even a Minhag amongst the Sephardim to pour champagne over each others’ heads, although us real Jews celebrate by drinking scotch and making Mei Raglayim in the Ezras Nashim.

I am reminded of a famous Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Elchanan Wasserman once took a break from the Simchas Toirah celebrations at his Yeshiva and ran home for a quick snack. When he arrived, the house was empty. No one was in the kitchen and no one was in the living room. He went upstairs, opened the door to his bedroom, and to his surprise, he found his wife Chraindie naked, rolling around in bed with the wives of his three Talmidei Muvhak, his leading student protégés. In shock, he asked his wife, “Voos Tootzuch Mit Der Gefilte Fish Party”?

His wife Chraindie responded, “Elchi, you are off in Yeshiva celebrating the end of the Toirah cycle, while we are here celebrating the end of our cycles.”

Pausing for just a moment, Reb Elchanan told his wife, “You are indeed an Eishess Chayil!” He then ran back to the Yeshiva, passed through the Bais Medrish amidst all of the Freilechin dancing and singing, and joined his three Talmidei Muvkak in his private study off the Bais Medrish. Together the four of them intently watched a playoff game on TV for the next hour and a half.

Ah Freilechin Yuntif, You Minuval.


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess