Saturday, January 31, 2009

Internet — the good old days

From the last century:

See also this.

On trips, subways and converts

This was an amazing Shabbos for me. Besides the usual amazing stuff (davening, sichos, Bosi LeGani, Bava Metzia, a pillow fight), I met some interesting and amazing people.

For starters, I met a frum guy from Brooklyn who travelled with a Bobover chossid through Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq “under-cover” (pretending to be Canadian). Without knowledge of Arabic (the guys says, “Never let language be a barrier for travelling”). Sometimes going through anti-Israeli rallies. Not seeing a single American throughout the whole trip, let alone a Jew. Besides almost getting themselves arrested in Syria and then being interrogated for an hour or so by Israeli police (they went to Sderot after all this), the guy told me the trip was very pleasant. He never felt threatened (obviously, he didn’t reveal his identity) and saw some nice things.

Not an advice. Just very interesting dude. By the way, the Bobover chossid apparently knew nothing about the Middle East.

The second interesting guy was a lawyer from Byelorus who knew every single detail about every single subway in the world. This is not something I can relay through a blog — you had to be there.

But the guy meeting whom was beyond interesting or amazing was Yakov Ephraim Parisi — a former Evangelical Pastor who was born a Catholic and ended up a convert to Judaism and a Lubavitch Chossid after going through a hell of twenty years in his journey towards Yiddishkeit. I will write more about him tomorrow, after I get more sleep, but for now you can listen to the interview in the link above. I just want to say that all of us listening to his story were absolutely blown away by the Pintele Yid.

It wasn’t just a simple story of “Priest starts looking into roots of ‘Old Testament’ and ends up converting to Judaism” (which in itself would be pretty remarkable). The absolute emunah pshutah and self-sacrifice he and his wife went through on their way to Judaism are remarkable.

Plus, some nice stories — e.g., about carrying a cross out of a church or learning Torah Ohr with misnagdim. This was nuts even by my rabbi’s standards. Stay tuned…

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A storyteller

An approach from the philosophic point of view.
A father told his daughter that she needs to go to bed on time, otherwise he won’t tell her a bedtime story. When the daughter went to bed on time, she’d hear a story. When she misbehaved and didn’t go on time, she didn’t hear a story.

One time the daughter woke up in the middle of night and left her room. She saw the father sitting in his room, working on computer.

“Daddy,” she screamed, “go to sleep! Otherwise, you will forget all the stories!”
* * *

Sometimes we forget that just because G-d doesn’t follow the rules He set up, it doesn’t make Him not Right or not Good. After all, He is the source of good. When we say “G-d is good”, we don’t [only] mean that G-d does good. We mean that G-d is Good. Or, more accurately, that Good is G-d.

We don’t need the State to direct progress

Even Einstein agrees:
The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the State but the creative, sentient individual, the personality...
Which agrees with what I said earlier:
The idea that governments must be actively involved in the free life of citizens is extremely pervasive. Most people believe that without the government manipulating something all the time, there would be no progress of civilization. When something goes wrong, people ask, “Why doesn’t the government do something?” The government officials themselves see a need to be constantly regulating and monitoring something — otherwise, people who have elected them will think they are slacking off. It reminds me of Seinfeld’s George Costanza who needed to look annoyed, concerned and busy all the time to make his boss think he is doing something.

Indeed, the word itself, “government”, suggests that its role is to constantly “govern”, direct progress. Yet, an intelligent and educated student of history immediately recognizes that the majority of developments leading to progress and improvement in standard of living were done through private efforts of free enterprise (≡ striving for success) and personal innovation, not through some wise Central Committee’s “governing”.

Speaking of Oral Torah

A conversation with one X-ian:
— In Isaiah 53:2, there is no “Israel” inserted in brackets. It’s just something “Talmudists” made up to get out of the prophecy about [idolatry].
— And in expression F = ma, there is no multiplication sign. It’s just something some physicists made up.
Nor, by the way, is there in V = IR. It’s just something I made up to prove a point.

Speaking of Catholics

When printing press came out, Catholics called it the Devil’s machine and a danger to civilization. No concept of making a vessel for G-dliness.

Lehavdil, Jews started printing Shulchan Aruch, Tanach and Talmud.

Watch Printing 1947 in How to Videos | View More Free Videos Online at

Penguins seen in Florida!
(Global warming has reached Washington, D.C.)

Well, not quite, but close.

How will we survive?

Some news are serious, some news are disturbing, some news are terrifying and bringing tears to eyes.

But after reading certain news, one starts thinking — how will the planet turn now? What will hold the Universe together?

A couple examples: one and two.

Despite the President’s sincerest assurances...

… not everyone is brain-dead. Some still have some seichel attached to their middois (full version).

(It would look even nicer if there wasn’t a period at the end of that sentence.)

A dialogue between а liberal and a conservative about money

Every conversation is different, but its essence is azoy:
— What’s wrong with stealing money?
— It’s my money. It belongs to me, and you’re stealing it. You have no right to have something I have a right to.
(a couple minutes of thinking…)
— OK, I concede. You are absolutely right in the particular point that you raised. That is why I believe there needs to be a balance between your point of view and my point of view.
— ???

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How to daven well


I am not parroting Hesh’s posts, but I just thought this was a good link to share. Posts 13 and 14 here.

* * *

An excerpt from Making of Chassidim about a chossid of Ba’al Shem Tov observing other Jews davening:
Reb Mordechai also recited Tikkun Chatzos along with several other Jews who had assembled for that purpose. When they finished reciting Tikkun Chatzos, it was already broad daylight, for it was at the beginning of Tammuz, [when the sun rises early]. Members of the chevrah Tehillim began to assemble; these were Jews who gathered in the beis hamedrash each day at three o’clock in the morning to recite Tehillim. Most of these Jews were tradesmen: tailors, cobblers, butchers, coachmen, and other village workmen.

When a few minyonim of Jews had assembled, one of the chevrah Tehillim members began reciting: “Fortunate is the man who does not follow the counsel of the wicked.” The others immediately began following along, with such delight and devotion that Reb Mordechai envied their staunch innocence and sincerity.

The facial expressions of the each of the Tehillim sayers reflected an innocent charm, and an inner devotion to what they were reciting. From time to time the tone of the sayers’ voices changed: now prayerful, now hopeful, now broken. One could tell by their faces that they were aware of, and understood, what they were saying.

Reb Mordechai was quite moved by these Tehillim sayers, and yet there was one thing he could not tolerate: the frigid and lifeless manner of these people. Their frigid and lifeless movements and sounds made a gloomy impression upon him.

“This is what misnagdim are like”, thought Reb Mordechai. “They are good Jews, pious and precious, but also frigid and lifeless. Buried within these Jews lies the untapped timeless treasure to which the Rebbe the Baal Shem Tov applied the verse, ‘For you will be [G-d’s] treasured land’; but they remain misnagdim all the same.”

But then Reb Mordechai thought to himself, “What about me, what am I? I myself am nothing but a dead herring!” He had once imagined himself to be the Holy One’s confederate, and expected that any day that the prophet Eliyahu would reveal himself to him.

The only difference was that G-d, blessed be He, had taken pity upon him, and caused events to evolve in such a way that he had ended up in a far-away land where he was privileged to meet the Baal Shem Tov. Within two years’ time he had rid himself of the coarse impurities in his character.

These frigid, lifeless, stiff Jews, along with their emaciated porush could also be saved by the Baal Shem Tov. The Rebbe, with his path of Divine service actually resurrected the dead; he turned cold into warm, and brought the dead to life. Compare, for example, [these Jews] with those simple Jews whom Reb Mordechai had seen in the village of Zaslov, where he had first heard the Baal Shem Tov’s name.

He remembered the faces of those Jews — those Tehillim sayers were also cobblers, tailors, coachmen, and butchers. But those Jews were alive, happy, reciting Tehillim with joy, davening with gladness, doing favors for one another with relish. Their ahavas Yisrael made them into one big family. True, their respect for the Torah was somewhat lacking — they were quite capable of addressing a Torah scholar by name, without adding the title Moreinu, and they might even address him using the familiar pronoun “du”, but nonetheless, they were truly cherished Jews.

Reb Mordechai davening himself, having mentally reviewed a teaching of Ba’al Shem Tov:

Each repetition of this teaching awoke within him a willingness and desire to engage in the avodah of prayer. So it was on the present occasion too. After Reb Mordechai returned from the stream where he had immersed himself, he began his preparations for davening. He repeated the Rebbe's teaching several times, and meditated deeply about it. Then, he commenced his davening.

At about ten o’clock in the morning, the city dignitaries began to assemble in the grave diggers’ shul for a meeting of the chevrah kadishah. A prominent and wealthy citizen of the town had just died (may we be spared). They had to decide what plot he was to be buried in, the price the chevrah kadishah was to charge for the grave, and on what civic improvements this money should be spent. The meeting lasted for several hours, and there was much shouting and screaming. But Reb Mordechai remained seated in the southwestern corner of the shul, completely oblivious to what was happening.

One of the men attending the meeting happened to notice the stranger sitting in tallis and tefillin, his eyes open, his face flushed, muttering a few words from time to time. His words were whispered, and it was difficult to make out what he was saying. Right in the middle, he would break into some kind of song with an unfamiliar melody. The one who first noticed it told several others, and soon all the men were staring at him, wondering who this stranger might be.

Just then, a few of the assistant grave diggers came, to ask the gabbai where they should dig the grave for the deceased. One of the grave diggers had been present the previous day between Minchah and Maariv, when Reb Mordechai had related that in Vohlynia-Podolia there lived a great gaon and tzaddik, a miracle-worker known throughout the region as the Baal Shem Tov.

The assembled dignitaries listened to the grave digger’s report with open mouths, as they remained sitting in the beis hamedrash gazing at the unknown Jew.

How strange! At twelve o’clock noon, a Jew sits in tallis and tefillin, apparently still davening! Hours passed, and these Jews still had not had their fill of watching the strange Jew daven. At last they heard the sounds of the funeral procession, and they left to join it.

As they marched along, they told the story of the unknown Jew who was sitting in the grave diggers’ shul and davening. The listeners were skeptical, so when they returned from the cemetery (Reb Mordechai was then up to Kerias Shema), a large crowd gathered to watch him daven. When Reb Mordechai finished davening, he removed a piece of bread from his bag, washed his hands, and ate the bread with some water. After this meal, he lay down on a bench to rest.

There is an even better part describing his davening, but I don’t have time to look for it now.

Regarding PC

No, not Personal Computer (this is not another Apple-bashing post). Political correctness.

Lebedev Studio presents Documenticus, a politically correct passport cover with different ethniticies living in the Motherland drawn on its front (click on the picture to see it in greater detail):

A little background: in the Soviet passport (an everyday identification document, like driver’s license in the US), amongst birth date, gender, address and the like, there was an entry called “nationality” — meaning, ethnicity. (By the way, “Jew” — top left corner on Documenticus — was one of the choices. A Jew is not a religion, of course.)

In modern Russia, you have face control — not, however, just in airports, like in the US, but also on a street.

(Documenticus in action)

* * *

Obviously, “Russian Jew” is an oxymoron. You’re either the one or the other.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Being a proper person — yes or no?
Once, the Alter Rebbe was given a silver tobacco box as a gift. Being a non-smoker, he used the cover of the box as a mirror to straighten his tefillin during prayer. A chossid relating the story said, “The Alter Rebbe broke the silver box and used its cover…”. Upon hearing this, Tzemach Tzedek corrected the Chossid, saying, “My grandfather never broke anything. He must have released the springs of the box, thus freeing its cover.”
First, the terms:

By “proper Jew” I mean somebody fully devoted in his life to service of G-d. There is only G-d, and my purpose in life is to connect to Him, to serve Him, to fulfill the essential reason why He created me and this world.

By “proper person” I mean a proper human being from Greek perspective — as far as intellectual awareness of the world is concerned (not in other… departments). A person fully implementing his potential as a human being. If you don’t like the term, use whatever term want. Use “proper iguana” for all I care.

Now, then. A Jew can ask the following questions in his life:

1. How can I be the proper Jew?
2. How can I be the proper person?
3. Will being the proper Jew help me be the proper person? If so, how?
4. Will being the proper person help me be the proper Jew? If so, how?

The first question is a question of an Orthodox Jew. The second question is a question of a secular Jew from intelligentsia family. The third question is a question of a Modern Orthodox.

The fourth question is a question of a pseudo-chassidic ba’al teshuva with baggage.

Can we utilize our knowledge of the world in our service of G-d? Bediyeved — seemingly so. What about lehatchilo? Can we do ishapcha to the goyishe Universe?

(I don’t mean just atoms and electrons. I mean a lot more. Lib… I can’t believe I am writing this. Liber… OK, deep breath, here goes: Liberalartsandsciences.)

* * *

Thoughts out loud… Yes, I have read Ch. 8 of Tanya. Yes, I probably just can’t let go of the baggage. I don’t need a shrink to tell me that. That doesn’t mean the question is not valid.

(This was probably a sniff-box, used for sniffing tobacco.)

* * *

Thanks to Rationally Pious for making me think about this.

On tzaddikim and bagels

Continuing the last post’s theme of octuplets, a very nice story about emunas tzaddikim on The Tzaddik and the Rebbe blog.

This is what got Pharaoh worried

News from Yeshiva World News. Now, imagine if every woman of a certain minority did this every time. Wouldn’t you get worried?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Regarding "coming out"

A bit of a rough draft (I am not on my computer, so forgive errors etc.) of my answer to Hesh's post about his friend's coming out of closet (which, apparently, may not be a PC term).

A few points from me, to begin with:

1. Obviously, one cannot and should not judge someone before being in his shoes. This is a general address of the issue.

1.5 I am not subscribing to the general conservative (right-wing) homophobia. It's wrong and bad because Torah forbids it. Just like breaking Shabbos. If it wasn't for Torah, I'd have no problem with it (of course, there is a question of what's wrong with anything if it's not for Torah -- I am not getting into that, though).

2. Judaism does not prohibit having forbidden desires. Judaism forbids continuing to fantasize and, especially, G-d forbid, act on these desires -- whatever they are, from homosexuality, to adultery, to eating cholov stam. But obviously, Judaism recognizes that we have tendencies and forbidden desires, while we are reshoim and beinoinim. Judaism does not forbid poking one's eye out with a pencil (specifically), because for the most part there is no such tendency.

3. I don't understand the reason behind coming out. He felt like he was lying when his buddies were making comments about passing girls and he had to make those comments too? This is a frum Jew?.. Maybe this is Hashem telling him to stop hanging out with this crowd.

(Also, what frum Jew wears a wife-beater in a way that others see it? OK, as I said, non-judgmental. :)

4. I don't understand the general idea of coming out (unless it's necessary for therapeutic purposes). Imagine yourself coming to shull and saying: "Hey, I am a pedophile!" Or: "Hey, I break Shabbos secretly." Or: "Hey, I cannot control myself and have desires about eating pork -- and from time to time, I eat it."

If you have them, you have them. You deal with them, you struggle with them -- whatever. You talk about them to your mashpia, your friends or relatives, or your rabbi or shrink. But the idea of coming out -- does this mean this person doesn't consider his desires or (G-d forbid) actions (which, I know, have not happened yet) no longer wrong? I will certainly never come out about my sins, such as my secret infatuation with Andrszei Sapkowski's books. (Oops...)

5. Finally, Chabad Chassidus offers the general approach of how to deal with sadness and depression from what one knows to be wrong desires. Obviously, just learning this bit of Chassidus (Ch. 27 of Tanya) isn't going to help and solve all the problems -- one needs general immersion into the ideology and "air" of Chassidus. But the following may help.

Some clips may be not in order and need to be reposted or not accessible now (the first three clips are addressing the actual issue — although you may want to skip ahead a bit in the first one; the rest you can watch for the your general benefit).

Anyway, I am from Russia and not used to technology, so don't judge me.

Seriously speaking, if this helps somebody, at least to some degree, I think it will be a good thing. I am not posting this, because I think it's a cool video, or because I want to have an additional chance to spread Chabad Chassidus propaganda (well, not only because of that), but because I genuinely think this may help somewhat.

From Tanya class on Ch. 27 with Rabbi Shmuel Posner (Chabad of Boston):

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Jimmy Carter’s world

PowerLine blog reports about the interview with Jimmy Carter.

I think the man became unhinged after the rabbit incident.

Is everyone obligated to study Chassidus?

All the preceding […] is in refutation of the two arguments that 1) mortals have no dealings with esoteric lore, and 2) not every mind can grasp these studies. Both arguments are intellectually frivolous; it is humiliating for a thinking person even to utter them. Any idea in any field is “esoteric” and “hidden” until one studies it, and without preparation the mind cannot entertain any idea.

Continuing the themes of the previous post regarding internalized vs. fake emotions and an even earlier post regarding halachic necessity to study Chassidus, here is a quote from Frierdiker Rebbe’s Kuntres Limud HaChassidus, Ch. 10 (read earlier chapters for fascinating history of Chassidus in Russia):

The first commandment given at Sinai was Anoichi, “I am … .” (Exodus 20:2), the commandment of emunah. The Rambam (Maimonides) writes,“The foundation of foundations and the pillar of wisdoms (note: the acronym in these words, he hints at the Tetragrammaton. Faith must be in Him Who transcends nature, for His relationship with His people is super-natural) is to know that there is a First Existence, the Cause of every existence. All existing in heaven and earth and between them, do not exist but for His true existence.”

I have elsewhere¹ written that one must apply reason and understanding to this faith; Maimonides says to know rather than to believe. This expression thus indicates that comprehen­sion of this subject is in fact possible, and that whoever understands as much as he can will have a strengthened faith in what is beyond his grasp. This is the true meaning of faith.

The commandment Anochi was given to all Israel equally. Every Jew is obligated to perform this positive commandment, each according to his intellectual abilities. It follows that one who can fulfill this duty but fails to do so, violates a positive commandment. One whose mind is incapable of understanding may perform the duty of believing through accepting tradition. But one with a strong and healthy intellect cannot discharge his obligation through passively accepting traditional belief; as a personal obligation, it (the knowledge Maimonides demands) cannot be delegated to another. Whoever neglects this duty comes within the meaning of the passage, “The commandments of the L-rd he denied.”

Those who rationalize and claim that we have no business with the “esoteric”, lean on a broken rod. Besides the intrinsic error of their contention (Why indeed have they no business with the “esoteric”? Who absolved them?), Chasidus is not “hidden” or supra-intellectual. Chasidus is a coherent systema­tized study, patterned on the process of developed ideas that, in reality, clarifies many of the “hidden” subjects of Kabbalah.

It has been explained at length that Chasidus does more than enlighten one in the knowledge of the Written and Oral Law. It does more than imbue one with enthusiasm in the performance of the duties of the heart which are as delineated in their own terms as are the practical precepts. In addition, Chasidus demonstrates a manner of conduct and social intercourse according to criteria of perfection inconceivable without its guidance and teachings.

A cursory familiarity with Chasidus is sufficient to know that many of its subjects are both comprehensible intellectually and efficacious in improving moral attributes. Individuals incapable of grasping the intellectual aspects of Chasidus can perceive the admonitions and moral instruction of the study. Chasidus has a profound influence on their religious and personal conduct. Scores of thousands of devout people in every generation are the produce of Chasidus, which animated their souls and those of their families.

The accomplishments of Chasidus are common knowledge. It has had great effect on scholars, broadening their native abilities and expanding the scope of their learning. Those of lesser talents have felt its effectiveness in improved understanding of Torah and inspiration to finer fulfillment of religious teachings. Even those simple folk unable to appreciate Torah wisdom were left with an indelible imprint in their love for Torah and Torah living, love of fellow Jews, and a deep-rooted strengthened faith.

Now then, one cannot be absolved even from the study of Kabbalah by pleading that “we have no business with the hidden”, for how can one argue against studying any aspect of Torah? Regarding Chasidus, this argument is especially irrelevant and specious. To its students, Chasidus reveals itself as an orderly definitive discipline bringing essential benefits in fulfillment of both practical and “heart” duties, enlightening its students with a comprehension of G-d’s Unity. Chasidus gives its students a firm footing in ordering all their affairs.
I will post one or a few more excerpts from this Kuntres a little later. Stay tuned.
¹ HaTamim I, p. 25: [After a lengthy definition of the requirements of the obligation “to know”, the Rebbe continues: This then is the duty of “You shall know” (Deut. 4:39) — to labor with the mind to understand G-dliness to the best of one’s abilities. One must understand so well that it (the knowledge that G-d is G-d in the heavens above and the earth below, there is nothing else) becomes “close to his heart” (ibid.), that his heart is aroused with Love and Fear of G-d expressed in fulfillment of practical duties and study of Torah. This duty, knowledge of Torah and G-dliness through the interpretations of Chasidus, is so vital because it endows religious living with inner spirit.

All the preceding (reference is to the text, here untranslated) is in refutation of the two arguments that 1) mortals have no dealings with esoteric lore, and 2) not every mind can grasp these studies. Both arguments are intellectually frivolous; it is humiliating for a thinking person even to utter them. Any idea in any field is “esoteric” and “hidden” until one studies it, and without preparation the mind cannot entertain any idea.

Many non–students of Torah excuse themselves with the complaint that “their minds cannot assimilate Torah.” In their worldly affairs their minds are ingenious and creative, but the attraction of the worldly life is so enticing that they are not ashamed to deprecate themselves where Torah is concerned. Were a merchant to be told by his fellow that he is inept and lacking in business acumen, he would be insulted and furious at the other’s audacity. But when one remarks at his ignorance of Torah, instead of the fool being insulted he actually uses his ignorance as an excuse for not studying!

All this is equally true of the study of Chasidus. Certainly! Before one studies Chasidus it is mysterious, and without the preparatory work Chasidus demands, the mind cannot understand … .]

Cf. “Haamonat Elokut”, where Maimonides includes this in the commandment Anoichi.

Emotions which have not been internalized

Today, my car battery died. I found someone willing to give me a jump, but because my car was in the driveway, I had to shift to neutral and push it onto the road, so that the other car’s hood could come close to mine.

This made me think about some objections raised against Chabad “suprematism”. More about that further down.

* * *

One of my rabbis likes to tell this story:
One time, a man had to have a part of his body amputated. He came to a doctor and said that he feels uncomfortable in the mikve and asked for a prosthesis. The doctor could only offer him a prosthesis made of wood. The patient agreed.

After a week or so, he came back and said: “Doctor, I have feelings in my prosthesis.” The doctor said that it was impossible. “No, I really have feelings there.”

“Fine, let me take a look.” The doctor examined the prosthesis and said: “It’s not feelings. It’s termites.”
The moral of the story is that not every feeling is genuine.

The insistence of the teachings of Baal Shem Tov is that Hashem has be served with joy — simcha. In fact, there is a strong statement of Baal Shem Tov that you cannot serve Hashem without joy, because without joy one cannot fully attach himself to G-d (let alone have emunah in Hashem) and fight yetzer ha’rah. For explanation of this concept in Tanya, see this shiur.

It is a very strong and central opinion of Alter Rebbe that for an emotion to be real, it has to be internalized. When a husband does all his duties in the family and to his wife, but experiences no emotion towards her, this is not a marriage but a social contract. When a husband experiences emotion towards the wife but doesn’t know anything about the wife herself, this emotion is not about the wife — it’s about himself, his own experiences regarding the wife. It’s termites.

Likewise, one can experience an emotion about some aspect of Jewish culture — and not about Judaism itself. It is possible to do all the mitzvos — and technically fulfill one’s obligation in the realm of action — but still not fulfill the mitzvos completely (Arizal comments that Torah doesn’t say “all mitzvos”, but “the whole mitzva”, which includes fulfilling a mitzva with feeling, conscious intent and understanding the essence of the mitzva). Meaning, still fulfill the mitzvos and study Torah not for Hashem, but for oneself.

Finally, it is possible to fulfill the mitzvos (and pray to Hashem) with emotion — with this emotion being fake. How does one know it’s fake? It’s not about G-d. Why not? Because you don’t know anything about G-d.

Now, some may object that it is impossible to know anything about G-d. That’s true to a degree. One cannot know anything about G-d’s Essence — one can still learn about His revelation of Himself. Lehavdil, one cannot truly know anything about his wife’s essence (and the longer one is married, the more he realizes this), but this doesn’t mean one should give up trying to understand and learn about his wife, her personality, her views, thoughts and specific desires.

One cannot know anything about G-d’s Essence. But, thank G-d, we don’t have to. Our relationship with Hashem starts much lower — in the relationship He established with us and with this world; the interface He created for us to relate to Him. And one can learn about this interface.

One can learn those aspects about Hashem that are perceivable and important for us (His Oneness, His simplicity, uniqueness, lack of change; how He fills and encompases all the worlds — and what this means); those that Torah itself discusses and stresses. One can learn about the purpose for which Hashem created this world, and how we are capable of fulfilling it. At the very least, one can learn about the aspects of G-d that have to do very closely and personally with our everyday lives — His revelation of Himself as our King and Creator and as our Father.

Some may object that these concepts may be too difficult for a simple person to learn. That is why Chabad Chassidus explains these ideas in a way easy enough for everyone to understand. And I don’t hear too many people saying that Gemara should not be studied, because it’s too difficult. Is Chassidus too difficult? Fine, find a teacher. One should learn Torah with teacher anyway. And nowadays, one can even find someone able and willing to explain Chabad Chassidus online. [Update: see the next post for more detail on the supposed difficulty of learning esoteric concepts.]

But what if thinking about Hashem cannot produce emotion? That’s impossible, says Alter Rebbe, because mind rules naturally over the heart.

Now, of course, there is such a problem as “narrowness of the neck” (when understanding and knowledge of intellectual concepts does not penetrate into emotion and action). To rectify this problem, one must increase his learning of Chassidus (for me, Chassidus stopped being purely philosophical when I started learning about the most philosophical, mystical and intellectual concepts of it — for “the beginning is wedged in the end”).

One can also learn things that have to do more with his everyday reality. One can find a mashpia, or try to be surrounded by warm Jewish community — not so that the mashpia or the community create emotiona about Hashem and Torah (those emotions would be fake again), but so that they can pave the way for the real emotions, influenced by intellect, to arise.

At the end of the day, it is absolutely necessary for one’s emotion to be internalized and both it and one’s actions come from intellectual understanding.

* * *

To someone who has learned Chabad Chassidus, all of the above is as obvious as a statement that a car’s motion needs to come from the engine’s rotations. “Well,” one could say, “it’s also possible to shift the car to neutral and push it. Or tie it to a horse and have the latter pull it.” Yes, but for how long — and most importantly, that is not what the car is about, is it? The whole chiddush of the automobile was internal combustion engine. The whole chiddush of Chassidus is serving Hashem with pnimiyus.

Aye, sometimes the battery dies, and the engine cannot be turned on, or the transmission is messed up, and the engine is working, but the wheels are not turning — fine, so fix the car. Don’t tell me it’s the problem with the car’s design. This particular car is broken, and before the internal combustion engine can be utilized, all the parts connecting it to the wheel need to be in place.

* * *

This reminds me of something I read in Likkutei Diburim from Frierdiker Rebbe:
In our times, Chassidus is used not for what it was intended.

Fixing of middos does not have anything to do with Chassidus. The correction of middos has to happen earlier. For fixing of middos, and certainly for sur mei’roh and correction of bad moral qualities — for this Chassidus should not be used for sure. Even for asei toiv — the good moral qualities and ahavas Yisroel — even for this, the path of the service of Chassidus should not be used. [...]

The ultimate purpose of Chassidus is haskolo and hasogo [learning and understanding], even in the service of the heart. [...]

It used to be that people prayed with hishtapchus ha’nefesh — today one cannot see this at all. And to “think Chassidus”, to hold one’s though on some idea for several hours — people don’t even know the taste of this.

Just a reminder

“G-d does not make unreasonable demands.”

One-year truce

Very amusing news.

Thanks to Hesh of FrumSatire for the cartoon.

(Actually, it would be amusing if it wasn’t sad. Let me refer you again to JEMnation’s presentation of the Rebbe’s view.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

What we need to win the war

Click on the image to see in greater detail.

Source (nice collection, if you like this sort of thing).

Reward and punishment; importance of slavery; Names of G-d

Some links for parshas Vaeira.

Why was slavery necessary for Jews (why not give Torah right away)? What was the uniqueness of Moishe Rabbeinu? What’s the whole deal with the dichotomy of G-d’s Names (Havaya vs. Elokim) and two modes of G-d’s speech?
From Golus to Geula

The parsha deals with the plagues — as soon as the plagues started the slavery ended. This is the beginning of the geula from Mitzrayim (Egypt). This class continues our series of analysis of the first pasuk (line) of the parsha. Hashem is in the middle of talking to Moshe and then he starts talking to him again. What is the purpose of this redundancy? Why is Hashem called by two different names in this pasuk? The analysis starts off with Yonason ben Uziel, moves on to Rashi, Even Ezra, Rabbenu Bechaye, Rikanti (with commentary from the Levush), Arizal, Shaloh, and Chassidus from the Lubavitcher Rebbe (including two ma’amarim — 5731 and 5732: Vol.1 of the Rebbe’s edited ma’amarim and a sicha — 5725).

Was Ramban a philosopher or a mystic? Is reward provided by Hashem for our mitzva natural or miraculous? And what does “natural” or “miraculous” mean anyway? For this and more, see Rabbi Paltiel’s shiur on parshas Vaeira:
Reward and Punishment

Are the rewards and punishments (schar v’onesh) in our lives brought about strictly by our actions or the Hand of G-d? The analysis includes the positions of the Rambam and the Ramban on reward and punishment. The Ramban says that each event of reward and punishment is a neis (miracle). The critique of their positions from the Avodas HaKodesh (Reb Meir Ben Gabbai) as presented in the Shaloh and the rejoinder of the Shaloh in support of the Rambam. Finally, Chassidus from a sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe takes the whole discussion to a new level.

Discussion of copyright law with Stephen Colbert

Mises Economics Blog has declared a war against Intellectual Property (IP) rights as non-rights and immoral utilitarian invention of totalitarian statists. For instance. Or this.

OK, lots of long words there — the thesis is: you can’t have a right to an idea. It’s non-scarce. Period. And all the claims that lack of IP will stifle intellectual creativity are disproved by successes in such industries as fashion or book industry still reprinting Dickens. And even if that were true that the intellectual creativity would be stifled, one still cannot violate people’s rights to their own property for the utilitarian reasons (that’s what socialism does — and… you know… bad!).

If you say you own an idea, what does this mean? You wrote a poem, and I memorized it. Do you own the memorized poem as it exists in my brain? If you do, you own my brain, which is impossible (unless we live in the Soviet Union, North Korea or France). So, how can you own an idea?

Or do you mean, perhaps, that your poem exists objectively, outside our minds, as some kind of Platonic abstract idea, which I always access in order to be conscious of this idea and think it? I.e., the idea is a resource which you own. Well, buddy, here is news — you can’t have rights to a non-scarce resource.

That’s basically their argument.

I personally am still researching the subject. (Well, when I say “researching”…) I have to say, I don’t completely understand the utilitarian part of it, even though I agree that it shouldn’t matter from ethical point of view.

In any event — a funny interview:

A bit disorganized and also utilitarian in his thinking (he seems liberal based on his gasoline comment, so I wouldn’t be surprised), but I think the point with e-Bay made some sense.

© Copyright — No part of this or any other posts on this blog may be reproduced without Crawling Axe’s permission. And even then, he reserves the right to dislike you.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sweet memories of motherland

TRS and LE7 (who love Minnesota and Wisconsin respectively) inspired me to share how I love my state. Meaning, my birthplace.

It’s mostly scenes like this that bring up the memories of my sweet, happy, innocent childhood:

Where’s that button?..

...Oh, here it is. “Smite!”

Imagine if this is how IDF hunted Muslim terrorist leaders?

(Actually, who knows…)

Schools closed in Minnesota because of liberals

Poor Minnesotans.

That’s the fifth fact I now know about the state (the first four were: it has a big German community; it’s a home of Prairie Home Companion; according to the latter’s description of life, it’s similar to Russian Far East and somewhat Siberia; and that’s where TRS is from).

An omen

I think the fact that Obama had to repeat his oath because John Roberts made a mistake in it is an omen.

I am not completely sure omen of what exactly (I guess we’ll find out), but definitely an omen. Of things to come. In future.

No pudding for you

And no iPhone nano or Apple Netbook either. Aaaah!

Am I bovvered?

By the way, someone tells me that he cannot imagine how I can type long replies — his fingers start hurting after only a few lines. First of all, it’s possible that I am a crazy graphomaniac (my biggest problem is usually not writing but trimming — in the writing for work, that is; here I don’t bother). Second, I can definitely see how typing on that small keyboard would make one’s fingers hurt — I tried (honestly) typing a little on one of our lab’s Apples (the one looking like a lunchbox), and I had to take a break soon. (Also, it’s very annoying. Little things I am used to in PC — like the End button — don’t work. And how do you see a new window? And where is the Start button?)

I personally have been using this. For a while I was considering switching to a proper one, but then decided against it.

Microsoft’s mice suck, though. Don’t even think about it. Go with Logitech.

Exclusionary rule

Interesting news on developments in the exclusionary rule.

Reading stuff like this makes me want to drop everything and go learn my Gemara (see, there is a misnaged in all of us).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Driving lessons

Now that we are on the subject…

I was thinking of this movie yesterday in the traffic court. Also: people have lamest excuses. Don’t you think the magistrate has heard “I normally never speed, but I had to pick up my daughter from day care” before? The only break from monotomy was an elderly gentleman who, after telling his story for five minutes and being found not responsible, told the magistrate that the window in the court room is open.

(And since you’re asking: “not responsible”.)

Gender stereotypes

Saw a funny video and a series of diagrams.

The video seems somewhat misogynist and the diagrams somewhat… what’s female chauvinism?

Anyway, obviously these are stereotypes — some true, others… maybe true (also, they are mostly oriented towards goyishe society), but I was laughing the whole time during the video.

Regarding ceasefire

Absolutely amazing videos from JEMnation with the Rebbe’s opinions regarding ceasefire, war in Israel, security, negotiations and so on…

There is literally nothing else to add.

A video about the Six-Day War and the Rebbe’s tefillin campaign included.

Rabbi Dovid Hollander

Boruch Dayan Hoemes. Thanks to JEMnation blog for the notification and videos (read the post there for more information on Rabbi Hollander; see also a more detailed post by Circus Tent).

When I used to stay with my uncle in Brooklyn over Shabbos, I would sometimes go to that shull.

I also remember him talking about this encounter:

Two lectures by Hayek on government and economics

First, “Free-Market Monetary System” regarding private money.

When a little over two years ago, at the second Lausanne Conference of this group, I threw out, almost as a sort of bitter joke, that there was no hope of ever again having decent money, unless we took from government the monopoly of issuing money and handed it over to private industry, I took it only half seriously. But the suggestion proved extraordinarily fertile. Following it up I discovered that I had opened a possibility which in two thousand years no single economist had ever studied. There were quite a number of people who have since taken it up and we have devoted a great deal of study and analysis to this possibility.

As a result I am more convinced than ever that if we ever again are going to have a decent money, it will not come from government: it will be issued by private enterprise, because providing the public with good money which it can trust and use can not only be an extremely profitable business; it imposes on the issuer a discipline to which the government has never been and cannot be subject. It is a business which competing enterprise can maintain only if it gives the public as good a money as anybody else. []

Second, “Pretense of Knowledge”, Hayek’s “shocking Nobel speech that explained why the very idea of government [intervening in market¹] in our times is unintellectual, presumptuous, and untenable. He is as critical of socialism as he is of interventionism. He shows that the state is not capable of doing all that it is charged with doing, and why conceding it any role in social and economic management is dangerous to liberty.”

In addition, he criticizes pseudo-scientific approach to economics resulting from erroneous assumption that economics is in essence no different from disciplines like physics.
On the one hand the still recent establishment of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science marks a significant step in the process by which, in the opinion of the general public, economics has been conceded some of the dignity and prestige of the physical sciences. On the other hand, the economists are at this moment called upon to say how to extricate the free world from the serious threat of accelerating inflation which, it must be admitted, has been brought about by policies which the majority of economists recommended and even urged governments to pursue. We have indeed at the moment little cause for pride: as a profession we have made a mess of things².

It seems to me that this failure of the economists to guide policy more successfully is closely connected with their propensity to imitate as closely as possible the procedures of the brilliantly successful physical sciences — an attempt which in our field may lead to outright error. It is an approach which has come to be described as the “scientistic” attitude — an attitude which, as I defined it some thirty years ago, “is decidedly unscientific in the true sense of the word, since it involves a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed.” I want today to begin by explaining how some of the gravest errors of recent economic policy are a direct consequence of this scientistic error. []

Both essays are now available in a small, pocket-book edition.

¹ Gotta love anarchists. Hayek may only talk about economics and social policy — they will turn it into a denial of state altogether.

² It’s amazing how these words said in 1974 might as well have been said yesterday. I suppose, “history teaches people that people learn nothing from history”.

Regarding Obama

… and how some foreign powers will react to him, see (warning: normal Russian lexicon present) “Four illustrations of how a new idea strikes a person unprepared for it” by Daniil Kharms. Analogy suggested by one of Arbat’s readers.

Also, I am not sure if it’s assur to display images of idolatry (even parody on them), so I’ll just link to this one (but be warned).

* * *
Kharms used to say: “My telephon number is rather simple: 32‒08. Very easy to remember: thirty-two teeth, eight fingers.”
— Sergei Dovlatov, Solo on Underwood

A Stirlitz joke
Strolling along Albertstraße, Standartenführer Stirlitz saw a pair of tefillin in a window.

“Hmm,” thought Stirlitz, “Chabad must have moved in town.”
A parody of a parody of a parody of a spy novel. Hmm…

Better watch out...

From Volokh Conspiracy:
Just a reminder, for the folks who thought that President Bush had the power to arrest anyone in the United States and detain them as “enemy combatants” without any hearing as part of his Commander-in-Chief power, that this power is now enjoyed by Barack Hussein Obama. That’s right: A liberal with the middle name “Hussein” who pals around with terrorists and is adored in Paris now has all that Commander-in-Chief power. And if he decides that you’re a threat to the nation, he can order you seized and locked up indefinitely. Congress can’t get in B. Hussein Obama’s way: As the FISA Court of Review emphasized back in 2002, Congress “could not encroach on the President’s constitutional power.” And that meddling Supreme Court can’t stop “The One” either. Or at least that’s your view of things.
Well… I… never!..”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

24th of Teves and 20th of January


By hashgacha protis, two events today coincided, which allowed me to draw an analogy between them — yortzeit of the Alter Rebbe and, lehavdil, last day of the President Bush in office.

Although I have many problems with Bush’s presidency — especially, his fiscal policies (the so-called “compassionate conservatism”) — nevertheless, I feel, he should be praised for his middas ha’netzach, desire for victory, in the war against Muslim terrorists, y”sh.

I don’t have much time before I have to go back to the exciting world of electrophysiology, so I will just plagiarize a bit from my comments on a post elsewhere. Yes, I know, very lame.

On Dixi Yid’s question (read the post for context) of why Chabad Chassidim consider Chabad Chassidus to be the essence of Torah and “the best path there is” — even though other paths are completely valid and darkei chayim — I answered:
Imagine there is a war going on. You have a number of warlords on your side, and a number of warlords on the opposite side. You can join any of the warlords on your side that you think is an effective warlord — i.e., the guy who, when met with opposing forces, will win a victory, and provide you, his officer, with tools and directions of how to win a victory.

So, if your goal is to advance in ranks, gain loot, capture prisoners, capture castles and towns and so on, you can join a particular warlord who looks like he knows what he is doing. And then it’s up to your personal preferences — which warlord’s personality or style you like the most, or are most compatible with.

But then imagine that you don’t care about the loot, and riches, and castles, and prisoners, and your personal advancement in the army and gain of influence. All you care about is for this war to end. With your side as victorious. You don’t want it to end some time in future, when they’ll say, “Oh, this guy, in this warlord’s army, took these and these castles and contributed this much to victory.” You want this war to end now — and you don’t care what this victory does for you.

Then, you look around, and you see a warlord who has an actual written plan on how to win a war. Not a series of military victories, but mamosh the whole war. A detailed plan, which shows why the war has not been won so far, what needs to be done to win it, with analysis of the nature of the war, the enemy, the terrain, the goals and conditions, necessary tactics, strategy, list of ammunition, plan of attack and so on.

A good example is an article I read about two Republican Presidents waging wars, Lincoln and Bush. They were looking for generals willing to win a victory — and while they couldn’t find them, Democrats kept screaming that the war is lost. When they finally found generals capable and willing to achieve a victory (as opposed to series of battles), the war was won. Not all at once, but won.

So, you pick sides with such a general or warlord not because he suits you better, or you like his style, but because he has an actual plan, suited to the enemy and the circumstances, and the goals of victory, of how to win the war. It’s not that I don’t think other generals are capable of producing individual victories and defeating enemy on the battlefield. It’s just that I see a plan of reaching the enemy’s capital city in this general’s plan. It’s that simple.

Usually when I hear people talk about Chabad Chassidus and Chassidim’s beliefs, they say, “Huh, so you guys believe that your Chassidus is the essence of Torah. Is that how it is? Hmm… OK. Well, I’ll tell you what: you believe what you believe, and I’ll believe what I believe.”

What I don’t hear there is the question “why”. What does it mean? In what sense is it the essence of Torah? Where does the Rebbe say that and how does he justify himself? I mean, what use are beliefs without justifications of them? What use is a theorem without its proof and explanation? Lehavdil, Mishna without Gemara?

Today is Alter Rebbe’s yartzeit. Last week, a day before Shabbos, was Rambam’s yartzeit. I think there is a great deal of similarity between the motivation of writing of Mishne Torah and of writing of Tanya (and developing the whole of Chabad Chassidus). It’s all really explained in the mentioned Inyana Shel Toras HaChasidus, but even without reading it and just learning Chabad Chassidus (or even just Tanya), one can already get a sense. [...]

I think this is the ikkar of Alter Rebbe’s argument — to bring Mashiach, Jews need to learn about Hashem (not just avoidas Hashem, but specifically about Hashem) and the topics of Hashem’s achdus, ein od milvado, “Ani Hashem Loi Shinisi” and so on in a systematic and structured way. Learn, meditate, and then allow these teachings transform one’s middos and avoida (although even then — that’s not the goal) and lead to real changes in the world bringing Mashiach.
So, not much on Bush there, but after all, today is about, lehavdil, Alter Rebbe’s legacy and uniqueness of his teachings.

For a great class regarding Alter Rebbe’s role in Judaism, you can listen to a great class by Rabbi Paltiel on Alter Rebbe’s siddur (really going in detail about the specialness of Alter Rebbe from all perspectives) and a very interesting class “Insight into Tzaddikim” (from the Chassidic point of view — including some of the questions touched above).

Also, see this shiur from Mem-Gimmel (starting from 13:50) on Hisboinenus and brief comparison between Chabad Chassidus and Chagas Chassidus.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Speaking of plagues...

It turns out that Al Quaeda terrorists, y”sh, fear Black Death. Well, what do you know…

On Mishna Brura and arguments

(photograph of Roman Vishniac)

The hot question of whether Mishna Brura is a halachic work (and if it is, what this means) has been discussed here.

One side holds that it’s not a work of halacha, because the author did not follow the process of shimush (one prospective rav learning by example and tradition from an already accomplished rav) and did not pasken according to klaley hoyro’oh (rules necessary to figure out which authority’s opinion to follow in each situation — which are transmitted from one rav to another in a form of oral tradition). Instead, Baal Chofetz Chayim merely tries to figure out by himself who is right in a machloikes and provides chiddushim in halacha.

The other side holds that Mishna Brura is a work of halacha, since many authorities relied on it for discussions of halachic questions.

My rabbi holds that it is funny how you can have two people arguing and not realizing that they are not hearing each other — each one talking about a completely different aspect of the argument.

“Have a nice war...”

Shoe-throwing journalist fears for his life

From here:
“He is in danger over there”, Poggia told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday. “He’s also in danger in other Muslim countries because people who support his action could try to make him a martyr.”
But… that’s… good for him, isn’t it? Or maybe all those virgins are not looking so good anymore? (I mean, after all is said and done, one is stuck with seventy-two wives. Not good…)

...“to the outsides” mamosh

This is a double statement about Chabad. First, it really elevates the deepest of the darkness (if you know anything about Kirkorov, you will know what I am talking about). Second, it really is like oil — it penetrates everywhere.

Update: This chossid coming out and dancing with Kirkorov reminded me of Rebbe Rashab sneaking into villa of, lehavdil, German Kaiser Wilhelm II (whom Rebbe Rashab hated with passion), sitting in his chair and writing a ma’amor on his stationary. This was a way of elevating klipah of Germans’ apikorsus.

Want to boycott Israel? Do it properly!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

So... non-Jewish

My great-grandmother would say “Ribboinu shel oilam! So goyish! Feh!”, had she read this article. There is something very non-Jewish about estimating what would happen if (or when) a certain man died¹, G-d forbid.

Is it politically incorrect to say this? Probably. My politically correct artist friend, who is sensitive to other people’s (and creatures’) feelings would possibly get upset. But it’s still true. This level of eidelkeit is a Jewish characteristic. I don’t think it’s genetic — it derives from culture, which is (turtles all the way down) based on Torah, but there you are…

On the other hand, I believe this is an aspect of not so much non-Jewish culture as secular culture, which (whether shared by Jews or non-Jews) is, of course, also non-Jewish — i.e., “anti-Torah”. I would hope that a ben or bas Noach (a non-Jew following the aspects of Torah for non-Jews and Torah’s general ethical and spiritual principles) wouldn’t speculate on results of somebody’s death either.

* * *

This is more of a rambling than a post. I just read somewhere a Russian person writing angrily that Tanya says that all non-Jews are “akin to filth and worse than animals”. I answered that first of all, he is a liar. Second, he is an idiot. Third, for the masses reading our exchange, one needs to look at the context (not just the immediate context of a quote, but general context of where the author is coming from) before drawing rash conclusions. (For the masses reading this, Alter Rebbe speaks about something entirely different from what that guy said, thought and meant — but this is not the place to discuss this. For reference, see Chapter 1 of Tanya, including the note from Reb Hillel Paritcher’s siddur at the very end of the chapter.)

But after that, I remembered to myself what the Alter Rebbe did when asked about this line (not the one above, but the actual line) in Tanya. He smiled.

And then I saw the article about Steve Jobs.

* * *

Speaking of hashgacha protis, what are the chances of leaving your lab’s building at 7 pm on a Sunday night, walking to animal facility, standing in front of the door, realizing that you forgot the wallet (with the ID necessary to get into the Foster) at home in your Shabbos pants, and then seeing a co-worker walk out of the vivarium’s door and holding the door for you? Right when you need him. On Sunday night. On a long weekend. After the lights-off (for mice). While listening to Rabbi Paltiel’s shiur on Frierdiker Rebbe’s ma’amor (OK, that’s not such a big deal, since I am doing that most of the time anyway).

An atheist would say: “luck”, “chance”, etc. I say: in the argument with my artist friend regarding ethical appropriatness of what I am doing with animals, Hashem is on my side. :)

* * *

On the other hand, this all may be not about Jews vs. non-Jews, religious people vs. secular, Torah vs. klipah, but in fact about normal people vs. journalists.

¹ My rabbi once said that he had been included by someone in a will. He told that person’s lawyer that it would be better if the person gave him the money right away — that way my rabbi would be able to do mitzvos with that money in the honor of the person’s health (and pray for it), instead of waiting for him to die and the money to go over. :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Speaking of Netzach — connection to Rambam

Continuing the topic of Netzach, when Frierdiker Rebbe introduces the concept in the original Bosi LeGani, he talks about a great sage possessing this attribute and wishing, as a result, to “vanquish” anyone who “stands on his way”. When for the first time I read the following words, the first image that came to my mind was that of Rambam:

The attribute of [seeking] victory is to be found only in a great man.

If someone speaks up in defiance of a lesser man, {the latter} may retort boldly, but {…} will not overrule {his opponent}.

A great man, however, will endeavor to vanquish anyone who speaks or acts contrary to his will, and will seek to establish the truth of his position.

Indeed, the Sages teach that “any scholar who does not bear a grudge and seek revenge like a snake is not a scholar” (Yoma 23a).

Rashi explains that the scholar will seek revenge and maintain a bitter grudge in his heart as a snake does.

(The reason that the snake is used as a metaphor is explained there.)

The Talmud questions the above-quoted teaching of the Sages, noting that the Torah commands: “You shall not avenge nor bear a grudge.”

And the Talmud itself answers that a sage is permitted such conduct, for the vengeance and the grudge allowed him (and indeed required of him) are not (G-d forbid) of the kinds forbidden in the Torah, which are related to money [or other material matters].

He who is permitted such conduct must be a sage of unquestioned integrity.

Indeed, the Talmudic term for “sage” implies one who is a self-effacing disciple of wisdom; it is for the sake of wisdom that he directs all his actions and affairs.

This attitude lies at the root of [a true desire for] victory, and it applies only to a man of stature.

Moreover, the greater the individual, the greater this desire. {}

Rambam — accepted by everyone

It’s always interesting to me that similar to how Chanukah Menoira and the Mogen Dovid (the Star of David) are accepted by all groups of Jews as Jewish symbols despite the fact that they represent the ideas antithetical to many Jews’ beliefs, Rambam is likewise everybody’s “hero”.

Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews whose main focus is this world, Orthodox Jews whose main focus is philosophy, Orthodox Jews whose main focus is community, Jews who use bad science to prove Torah, Jews who use bad Torah to prove science, pure atheists, pure believers and so on — all the groups whom Rambam would merely criticize, disagree with fundamentally, call fools or label heretics — all these groups quote Rambam to find support for their view of the world, of G-d and of Judaism.

Perhaps because Rambam is so fundamentally present in Judaism. Perhaps because Rambam was a godol, through whom ruach ha’koidesh spoke — and in G-dliness you can find contradicting, impossible and simply wrong (as far as this world is concerned) things existing in potential or in some higher, untainted form.

* * *

This reminds me of a story about Frierdiker Rebbe riding in a train with a few Russians, each of whom represented a particular school of political thought — a communist, a democrat, a monarchist, an anarchist and so on. They were arguing with each other and then turned to the Rebbe, each asking him to agree with the particular philosophy, citing different passages from Torah and Tanach in support of their ideologies.

The Rebbe told them that Torah is the source of all good in the world. Since the Torah was given at Sinai, its wisdom penetrated the matter of the world, so that Jews can do mitzvos with material objects of the world, uniting them with Hashem. As a “side effect”, even if someone does not actively look in Torah for moral and proper views, just his effort of trying to find an answer to a moral question will attract his mind naturally to the ideas of goodness existing in Torah [even though influences of other sources may confuse and distort his final decision].

As a result, since each of the politicians’ ideologies mixed some good with some evil, the good that was contained in their ideologies could be traced back or at least supported through some statement or idea found in Torah.

(Samarius, huh?)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Connection of Rambam and Chabad Chassidus

Tonight and tomorrow is Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon’s yortzeit. I will not embarrass myself even attempting to talk about Rambam’s greatness and all the treasures one can gain from learning his Torah. I just want to mention that Rambam was one of the Rebbe’s favorite authorities in Judaism. Obviously, every voice is equally loud and important, but the Rebbe was seemingly obsessed (kvayachol) with Rambam and Rashi more than with any other authority outside of Chabad Chassidus. The Rebbe revitalized the practice of learning Rambam and talked at length many times about his importance.

I once overheard two shluchim talking about Rambam. One of them said that Rambam really helps one in one’s shlichus, because his approach to Judaism (both in halacha and philosophy) is so wholesome, available and clear. “The whole Torah”, said the other shliach. “And it’s true,” screamed the first shliach. “It’s mamosh the whole Torah.”

Again, I won’t embarass myself describing the importance of Rambam in Chabad Chassidus. In my personal view of Judaism, there is a great deal of similarity between the innovation and revolution in Judaism that Rambam accomplished and the same role that Chabad Chassidus played and plays in our times. See my earlier post for details.

Rabbi Paltiel talks about Rambam’s life and personality briefly in this class:

Jewish refusal to assimilate and yartzeit of Rambam
[How did the Jews not assimilate in Egypt? Rambam — seeming discrepancy between his personal character and his writings. Very fascinating shiur.]
In the following class, Rabbi Paltiel brings a very interesting analysis of Moshe Rabbeinu’s inability to speak — including Rambam’s philosophical analysis of the question of whether absence of ability to speak is actual characteristic or a lack of characteristic (is darkness an independent entity or is it merely absence of light?). Rabbi Paltiel compares and contrasts Rambam’s (and generally philosophical) approach to that of Chassidus.

The Speech of Moshe
This class includes an analysis of Moshe Rabbenu's difficulty speaking. Sources include Rashi, Rambam, Ralbag, and other classic commentaries followed by insights on the topic from Chassidus.

Irrational war

I started learning this year’s Bosi LeGani for my birthday.

Amongst many things and mosholim that came to my heretical mind, one moshol was that of a war with middas ha’netzach (desire for victory). Such a war is not fought by a king to expand his sphere of influence or for riches or loot, but for an essential reason. Either it is a war of preservation or a war, in which all essence of the king has been revealed (if he does not wage this war, he will not be a king for much longer). In either case, no riches are spared, and no calculations of cost matter.

* * *

World War II was such a war. Actually, WWII in Europe. Actually, WWII in Eastern Europe. Between Nazis, yimach shmem, and the Soviet Union. For the former, it was a war that expressed their leader’s (yimach shmoh) inherent essential desire. A psychopathic desire, but nonetheless, a desire which had no calculation or reason.

For the Soviets (at least simple people) it was a war of self-preservation. That is why they displayed self-sacrifice and fanaticism that would be shocking under different circumstances. As a student of history may know, battles of Moscow, Leningrad and, especially, Stalingrad were clear examples of this: absolute irrational, animalistic, fanatical hatred and desire to be victorious and inflict damage on the enemy at any cost.

Lehavdil, war in Eretz Yisroel happening in our times is similar. On the one side, there are Arabs whose only essential desire is to wipe out Israel (whatever their leaders may say in Guardian, Newsweek, Pravda, etc.). No cost is spared or calculated — including cost of their children and (supposedly) innocent civilians.

And for Israel, of course, it’s the war of self-preservation. In which Israel, unfortunately, does do calculations and precautions — which are, of course, never enough for the sniveling bastards from the UN. But on the level of common people, soldiers ready to give their lives to protect their people, this war is the same essential war of self-preservation, where people are willing to defend themselves and be victorious over their enemy at any cost (I only wish this sentiment was shared by the government).

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This is why the anarcho-libertarian “solution” for the war which I recently discussed would never work. Normally, the idea of libertarian anarchism is that under such a system, “organizations” providing law and defense would not go to war with each other because it would be too costly — and these organizations’ clients would not condone such wars and stop supporting these organizations financially (leading to these organization — like any other entity on a market — being replaced by others, more fitting to their consumers’ desires).

In the case of Arabs, however, this would never work — because neither terrorist organizations nor common people supporting them care about profit, loot, economic benefit, or justice and morality. They have an irrational hatred for Jews and will not stop at any sacrifice to fulfill this hatred. (For the liberal crowd out there, obviously, I am not talking about any inability on genetic level. I am talking about culture and... well, memotype.)

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Everything was created in opposites. Those things one can find in darkness are also found in holiness. We must fight the spiritual war with the exile through middas ha’netzach. We must do it not for our own benefit, for our physical and spiritual comfort and growth, but for the victory — the fulfillment of the reason of this world’s creation. To repeat the words of Alter Rebbe, “I don’t care about this world; I don’t care about the Lower Heavens; I don’t care about the Higher Heavens. I only care about Him.”

We must fight — with the utmost degree of mesirus nefesh — against golus. And then we will realize that the treasures which Hashem is ready to “squander” for us to achieve this victory are already here — ready to be used for one final battle.

(Pictures taken from here)