32 days ago, the Oisvorfer lost a close aunt who passed away at the age of 90. At the shloishim seuda and sium her three children spoke; one son and the two daughters, through their husbands. Shoin, that’s how it’s done in Brooklyn. Each spoke so gishmak about their mother and everything they said was true; she was well read, well-spoken and a great lady who always had a kind word for everyone. In her 80’s she was still volunteering at a local hospital vising the sick. We had a real connection. For decades she worked in a bakery, of course she always had cake in the house. Growing up, the future Oisvorfer would accompany his father to Tanta Suri’s house, typically on Friday nights following the meal but many other times as well. Oh, how I loved going there and how I looked forward to getting multiple pieces of cake and / or cookies she always removed from the freezer upon our arrival. And that’s how we ate them, frozen solid. This went on for many years and even when in my teens I would ride my bike over to Sables bakery on Ft Hamilton Parkway hoping my aunt was working that shift, hoping to get a cupcake or black and white, even if not frozen. For the past 27 years, the eishes chayil has been observing me eat frozen cake and remains bewildered by this (and other) behavior; who enjoys frozen cake and cookies just out of the freezer? It never dawned on me but it’s seemingly a mesora (legacy) from my aunt Suri Tessler, later Mintz, a younger sister to my father, OBM, a Holocaust survivor who, together with her husband, rebuilt their lives here in America. She was a real aunt. Going forward, I will always think of her when biting into a frozen cookie or piece of cake.
Later this afternoon, Aliza Kollander, the alarmingly beautiful daughter of Faye and Steven Kollander, shtikel machatunim of the Oisvorfer, will be escorted down the aisle on her way to the chuppah where Avi Blisko, her choson will be waiting to greet her. A very hearty mazel tov to the Kollanders, the Bliskos and to both extended families on what promises to be a very beautiful wedding. May Avi fulfil the words of the heylige Toirah in this week’s parsha which tells us azoy: “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out in the army, nor shall he be subjected to anything associated with it. He shall remain free for his home for one year and delight his wife, whom he has taken. May each year going forward be like their first year.
And in the “how the Oisvorfer’s weekly review and observations are changing the world” department, now hear this. This past Tuesday, a reader who is now in aveylus (mourning) for his mother and one that davens for the omud daily (leads the services) told the Oisvorfer that he carefully read last week’s missive on how the tifila of Ldovid Hashem Oiri is typically not said in its entirety. 99% of the people skip 95% of the words. Being the wisenheimer that he has always been, he decided to recite every word. The people in his minyan are not very happy.
Private parts are off limits:
Parshas Ki Saytzei (Ki Taetzei for the non-orthodox) covers topics they didn’t teach in yeshiva. Believe it or not, the heylige Toirah discusses uncontrollable lust, rape, prostitution, seminal emissions, cross dressing, castration and many other eye opening topics. It does mamish? Indeed so. Among a whopping 74 mitzvois of every variety, these topics, too, get a shout out. Pay close attention to the laining this week; the English translation is almost as good as the real thing. We cannot cover them all, maybe but two; let’s see how far we get.
Let’s start here: “if two men (brothers) are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts….” And before we discuss what happens next, where do you think this passage as quoted verbatim above is found? The medrish efsher? No! Rashi maybe or even the heylige Gemora? Also not! Believe it or not, this passage or mitzvah, is one of 74 found in this week’s parsha. You never hear of it? Of course not! Ershtens (firstly), there was no yeshiva in late August, early September. Tzveytins (secondly), had there been yeshiva, no rebbe was going to discuss this topic, though some were more than willing to demonstrate, nebech. In any event, had they begun the zman (semester) with this topic, everyone would be paying close attention. Instead they chose to start us off with sefer Vayikra and its myriad korbonois (sacrifices). Have you seen a Beis Hamikdash anywhere? Are you bringing a korban anytime soon? It’s not entirely clear if korbonis will make a comeback, even after the arrival of the Moshiach and after the next Beish Hamikdash falls out of the sky (according to some). Moreover, there are decent authorities who suggest they won’t. Ober one thing is zicher: if you have a brother, chances are good that one day you and he will have had or will have a gizunta fight with him. Shoin, so what happens to the good wife that came to her husband’s defense- taka a rarity but not unheard of- once she chaps the privates of the other brother trying to hurt her man? Nu, lommer lernin the very next possik which tells us azoy: “you shall cut off her hand, you shall not have pity.” Indeed another quote, nothing added or deleted. Of course you can find both these pisukim in our parsha (chapter 25, verses 11 and 12), check them out.
Nu, mistama you’re a shtikel perplexed and wondering how could this be? Your eishes chayil just saved your life by preventing your own brother from harming you. She did this valiantly by grabbing his beytzim (privates) and as a reward, the heylige Toirah instructs us to cut her hand off? What’s taka pshat here? Iz dus myglich (is this possible)? Is this why women shy away from the entire area, if you chap? As an aside, a few commentators will point out that she didn’t chap his bris mila mamish (member), only the supporting cast, if you chap.
Shoin, welcome to parshas Ki Saytzei where we will encounter, as stated above, a whopping 74 mitzvois and among them, a number, including this one, which boggle the mind and have us thinking about real pshat. And the question is…well there are several, but among them, we ask the following: why is there no further information given about the two brothers that were fighting? What happens if one of the bothers grabbed his own brother by the privates? Is this passage to be taken literally? Are others? And why should the person that saved one’s life lose her hand?
Nu, believe it or not,a few, including Targum Yoinoson Ben Uzeil say yes: off with her hand. He argues that the words of the posik (verse) are to be taken literally; the woman’s hand should be cut off. Ober why? Nu, if you recall, Yoinoson Ben Uzeil had quite the vivid imagination and this time he posits azoy. What the heylige Toirah is referring to is a case where the intervening woman was attempting to castrate the man. We assume she wanted to castrate the other man, the one trying to harm her husband, though the case can easily be argued that she was trying to castrate her own husband, something she would have in common with many wives. In any event, castration is considered a deadly assault and one must act to save the man from this attack. If necessary, one may cut off the woman’s hand in order to do so. Moreover, a woman trying to castrate a man has a din-Roidef (is considered a potential killer) and if one has no choice, one may even kill the attacking woman to protect her intended victim. So says Reb Yehuda in the Sifrei. Is this what the heylige Toirah told us the circumstances were? No! Seemingly, Targum Yoinoson created the circumstances to fit the Toirah’s words. Gishmak. More on that below.
In any event, the words “you shall cut off her hand” ring epes eerily familiar. Do they not sound like the a mitzvah we read back in Shmois (21:24-25) which told us “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, an arm for an arm, a leg for a leg, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise?” Indeed they do. Moreover, efsher you recall other pusikim (Vayikra 24:19-20) which teach us azoy: “If a person maims his neighbor, then as he has done, so shall be done to him: a breach for a breach, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. As he has maimed someone else, so shall be done to him.” Taken literally, the heylige Toirah has now told us three different times about revenge and corporal punishment.
Ober do we taka do this? No! Why not? Because the heylige Gemora came along and gave us what we call the Oral Tradition. It’s not what you think, chazir that you are. And although the heylige Toirah tells us otherwise, we seem to defer to the oral tradition. Shoin! Efsher you’re klerring azoy: who gave the contributors and codifiers of the heylige Gemora and others, the right to reinterpret the words of the heylige Toirah to make them fit into a scenario they liked better. If the Toirah tells us to cut her hand off and many other such examples -an eye for an eye lemoshol- who empowered the rabbis of old to restate the facts so that her hand should not be cut off? Surely the RBSO knew how to properly express Himself and if He said those very words- to cut her hand off and an eye for an eye-, we have to assume that’s what He meant. No? And if the Toirah does not mention money as a potential substitute for her punishments, who are we to suggest otherwise? Is money always the answer? And the real answer is: ver veyst. Seemingly the Oral Law has made revisions; hopefully they got it right. Still, how can the oral tradition supplant the very heylige Toirah’s words? Excellent kasha; one that is the subject of great debates between many including the Ibn Ezra who was a literalist, the Rashbam who was more forgiving, the Rambam and the Ramban. Many others as well.
And taka says Rashi and others azoy: no, we do not cut off her hand literally. Instead, she pays a hefty fee for attempting to mess with a man’s manhood. And let that taka be lesson to other women out there. Besides, why would we cut her hand off when she didn’t cut the victims hand? Pshat is that she has to pay a penalty, a monetary penalty.The woman who chapped the privates seemingly with intent to harm, must make financial restitution to the man she injured and embarrassed. Where and how did money come into the picture? Shoin, Rashi relies on various clues; it appears that these very words (from our verse) “you shall not have pity” are used elsewhere (Devorim 19, 21) in the context of making a financial payment. Moreover, the words “her hand” is used elsewhere (Proverbs, 31, 20) in the context of a financial payment (charity).Shoin: just as the words as used elsewhere refer to monetary payments or restitution for the victims pain, suffering, embarrassment and more and do not mean the literal translation, so too here in the case of the woman who grabbed the guys privates. She need only pay him money.
Ober what crime did this poor woman who mamish came to the defense of her husband commit? Is saving your husband’s life by whatever means not ok? Weren’t we always taught that in case of an attack, to kick the perpetrator in the privates? Isn’t that defense 101? Why is she being penalized? Ober says the Sifri (293) azoy: the woman who grabbed her brother in-law by the baytzim will of course not have her hand cut off literally. Of course not, she was only trying to save her husband. So far quite sensible. Seemingly she is being penalized for her less than discrete tactics; while going about her business, she cannot chap the other guys by his, and a financial penalty is imposed. Similarly, in all other places where the Toirah decrees an eye for an eye, etc, it does not mean that we are to deprive the aggressor of his limbs or organs. Instead the rabbis, as stated above, will figure out the value of the injured or lost lob or organ and compensate for its loss.
And how much money is she to taka pay for grabbing his privates? How much are privates worth? Shoin, that for another day, but it’s understood that each person’s privates may have different values based on usage, size, childbearing ability pre and post, his social status and other factors. The heylige Gemora (Buba Kamma 83b) will tell us that the courts, maybe in a public forum will determine the value of the victims’ privates.
Ober what happens if she grabbed another organ? Nu, it appears that halocho le’myseh (final rulings on the matter at hand, if you chap) suggests that it makes little or no difference whether she grabs his private parts or any other organ that imperils his life. Moreover, our rabbis have ruled that the roidef may be a man or a woman, and that the intent of the posik (verse) in the heylige Toirah is to teach us that whenever a person intends to strike a colleague with a blow that could kill him, the pursued should be saved by the so-called “cutting off the hand” of the roidef. If this cannot be done, the victim should be saved by taking the roidef’s life, as the verse continues: “you may not
And said the Seforno azoy: The Toirah’s punishing the woman who comes to her husband’s aid (25: 11-12) is understood to be referring to where she uses excessive force in the situation, causing the victim deep embarrassment. In other words, though she was coming to her husband’s aid, grabbing someone by his privates seems to be over the top or, in this case, over the bottom and she must pay for embarrassing him. It’s understood that she will, of course, pay more should she have inflicted additional or permanent damage to his boys. Pages, hundreds, have been written on this topic, we must, however, move on. Veyter and let’s touch on or discuss a few other highlights.
And the bottom line: this isn’t the first of 613 mitzvois we will encounter, nor the last, that begs the same question: are all the words of the heylige Toirah to be taken literally? Seemingly not, and our Sages took license to (often) interpret the Toirah not so literally. Similarly, though the heylige Toirah tells us to stone mamish a wayward son (Devorim 21:21), thankfully our rabbis decided that these words, too, should not be taken literally. Had they, the Oisvorfer would be long gone! And says the heylige Gemora (Sanhedrin 71a) azoy: this apparent commandment of the Toirah was never once carried out. Why? Because our Sages refused to understand this verse literally, as it conflicted with their understanding of the holiness of each and every human life. Ober did they and do they have license to change the words of the heylige Toirah? That, for another day. Veyter.
For those who read last week’s review, zicher you will recall that we discussed war and specifically those exempt from serving. The koihen (Priest) in charge of the war read aloud the list of exemptions which included one who had become engaged but not yet married, one who planted a vineyard but had not yet enjoyed the fruits of his labor and in a larger category, one who was afraid of war. But isn’t everyone afraid of war? Biderech klal (generally speaking), unless one is a suicide bomber, one is afraid of war, of being injured or killed in a war. That’s quite normal and common sense would dictate that such an exemption would mamish deplete the ranks. As an aside, this week’s parsha will offer one additional exemption, this one to a newly married man whose job it seemingly is to gladden his wife, if you chap. Ober the RBSO in His brilliance and magnificence had a plan which is unveiled in the opening possik, pisukim and the entire first Aliya in our parsha. The RBSO came up with the most brilliant and effective plan for getting people to enlist and serve in His army. With all those exemptions, was the RBSO worried about having too thin an army? Not! Not at all! Was the RBSO offering interest free college loans, cheaper housing, co-ed dorms and/or other perquisites that armies offer from time to time? Also not! Instead the RBSO chapped that people enjoy chapping and allowed His solders to enlist, and were they, in a war zone, to set their eyes on a hot shiksa, they could chap her for a good time or marriage. He did what? Indeed He allowed His soldiers, be they single or married and be the hot shiksa married or not, to enjoy the spoils of war, if you chap,bring her home, have his way with her and even marry her. Shoin: as you can only imagine this didn’t sit very well with the codifiers of the Mishna Gemora, Rishoinim, Achroinim and many others? Why would the heylige Toirah specifically allow such behavior? Would not a married man’s eishes chayil get quite upset by having to compete for affection with a hot shiksa? And could she? They tried coming up with myriad scenarios as to what these words mean and don’t; in the end, they were hard pressed, as were the soldiers, if you chap, to totally outlaw this great mitzvah and even the naysayers agree that it appears that the soldier may have his way with the shiksa at least once before all the other regulations come into play. We have, of course, more than adequately covered this topic in previous years and though each year this time the Oisvorfer gets fan mail requesting yet another look at this special allowance, one that many midrashim discuss and analyze, this year we need to move onto other topics. Of course you can find the Oisvorfer’s full review on this topic at www.oisvorfer.com and mistama you will. One footnote: this special allowance of hooking up with a hot shiksa is, according to the heylige Toirah’s words -which in this case are taken literally- is only valid if the girl is very beautiful. So the heylige Toirah teaches us.
Shoin, we have time for one more topic. Avada everyone chaps that in the yeshivashe velt, a girl and avada woman should not be caught wearing pants. What’s wrong with pants ver veyst and how did this all start? Mistama from two pisukim (verses) in this week’s parsha (Devorim 22:5) which tell us azoy: “A man’s clothes should not be on a woman, and a man should not wear the apparel of a woman; for anyone who does these things, it is an abomination before the RBSO.” In plain English: cross-dressing is strictly prohibited, the RBSO abhors it. In fact, cross-dressing is termed a to’evah (“abomination”). That is very strong language. Of course on the great holiday of Purim, somehow all this is permitted.
Are pants considered man’s clothing? Is that what the RBSO meant? Is that what the words mean? Is this another case where the words of the heylige Toirah are not to be taken literally? Did He mean to ban pants on women or did the rabbis stretch or even reinterpret the words to fit their own ban? Aren’t there times and places where it’s avada more appropriate for a girl to be wearing pants? Zicher such places exist. Should a girl ride a bike in a skirt or dress? Should she go skiing in anything but pants? Besides the draft, if you chap, wouldn’t she, in case of a fall, be revealing epes more than she should? There are myriad such examples and in hyntige-tzeytin (todays times), because pants are forbidden, and because rabbis decided that pants are considered man’s clothing or garb, and in order to circumvent this ruling, religious girls and women have started a new trend. Today, they wear the skirt / pants combo. No, it’s not a sandwich, it’s a skirt and pants underneath the skirt. Shoin, all kosher. Is this allowed? Is this not skirting the law? Is it efsher kosher because the skirt/pants combo, covers all the bases, literally? Ober is this the heylige Toirah had in mind? Ver veyst?
As you can only imagine, when it came to a hot topic like this, many had opinions and still do. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) will tell us that the underlying concern of many interpreters is that cross-dressing can lead to sexual immorality: women might don the clothing of men and go out to socialize among men, and vice versa. Exactly how a guy dressing up as a girl will go out and chap a girl, or how a girl will dress up as a man and chap a guy, ver veyst. And says the Sefer ha-Chinuch (mitzvah #564) azoy: “The root of this mitzvah is to keep us from sexual sin… there is no doubt that if men and women’s clothing were the same, they would mix and the earth would be filled with impropriety”. Thinking this out loudly, one must be left to wonder if the real concern was sexual perversion rather than regular chapping between men and women. It’s a shtikel shver to understand how cross dressing would make a gentlemen more attractive to a women and farkert. And taka Says Rashi who seemed to know mamish everything about what the RBSO had in mind, azoy: the ban on cross-dressing is not a general ban and is not simply forbidding wearing the clothes of the “opposite gender.” Instead what is meant is that cross-dressing is forbidden only when it will lead to adultery. Interestingly enough, keeping one’s pants on, is what more typically prevents adultery.
And says the Rambam (Sefer haMitzvois, Loi Ta-seh 39-40), the preeminent codifier of halocho (Jewish law) azoy: this verse is actually intended to prohibit cross-dressing for the purposes of avoido zoro (idol worship). In other words; according to our most respected scholars of the tradition, wearing clothes of “the wrong gender” is proscribed only when it is for the express purpose of causing harm to our relationship with our loved ones or with the RBSO.
Seemingly, both Rashi and the heylige Gemora interpret these words as referring to dressing like a member of the opposite sex in order to get access to a space which would otherwise be off limits. In other words: they interpret the bans referring to dressing like another gender as a disguise, for the purposes of deception. The prohibition is very specific. We must not misrepresent our true gender in order to cause harm. Otherwise, wearing clothing of another gender is efsher not prohibited. Case closed? Not yet. And says the heylige Gemora (Nozir 59a-b) azoy: v’ein-kan-toi’e’vah- “there is no abomination here. Now, case closed. In other words, if you want access, dress your part.
A gittin shabbis
The Oisvorfer Ruv