Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A long sentence

Because of [expletives — towards copyright laws, liberals, death of literature in US culture and so on — deleted], I couldn’t find an online English version of this story. Therefore, I have to provide Russian translation. V’dal. Patrick Süskind, The Story of Herr Sommer, the first sentence:
В те времена, когда я еще лазил по деревьям — давно-давно это было, годы и десятилетия назад, был я чуть выше одного метра ростом, носил обувь двадцать восьмого размера и был таким легким, что мог летать — нет, я не вру, я на самом деле мог бы летать — или, по крайней мере, почти мог, или скажем лучше: в то время летать действительно было в моей власти, если бы я на самом деле очень твердо этого захотел или попытался бы это сделать, потому что... потому что я точно помню, что один раз я чуть не полетел, а было это однажды осенью, в тот самый год, когда я пошел в школу и возвращался однажды из школы домой, в то время как дул такой сильный ветер, что я, не расставляя рук, мог опереться на него под таким же углом, как прыгун на лыжах, даже еще под большим углом, не боясь упасть... и когда я затем побежал против ветра, по лугу вниз со школьной горы — ибо школа находилась на небольшой горе за деревней — и слегка оттолкнулся от земли и расставил руки, ветер тут же подхватил меня и я смог без всякого труда совершать прыжки в два-три метра в высоту и в десять-двенадцать метров в длину — а может и не такие длинные, и не такие высокие, какое это имеет значение! — во всяком случае я почти летел, и если бы я только расстегнул мое пальто и взял бы в руки обе его полы и расставил бы их, как крылья, то ветер бы окончательно поднял меня в воздух и я бы с абсолютной легкостью спланировал бы со школьной горы над долиной к лесу, а затем над лесом вниз к озеру, у которого стоял наш дом, где к безграничному удивлению моего отца, моей матери, моей сестры и моего брата, которые были уже слишком стары и слишком тяжелы для того, чтобы летать, заложил бы высоко над садом элегантный разворот, чтобы затем проскользить в обратном направлении над озером, почти достигнув противоположного берега, и, наконец, неторопливо проплыть по воздуху и все еще вовремя попасть домой к обеду.
Grammatically proper (at least in Russian). Stylistically too. It talks about a boy coming home from school and running down the slope wearing his long overcoat and being picked up by the wind — and almost flying. But that’s not the point. The point is that you have to find this book and read it. I’ve been in love with this book ever since I discovered Patrick Süskind in college.

What brought this on? Life, obviously.

* * *

I mean, come on. There isn’t an online free library in English? No English version of Moshkov’s library (for instance, free texts of non-Russian writers’ works), Aldebaran, etc.? One can download a torrent of a movie that hasn’t even appeared in the local movie theaters, but one can’t find anywhere an e-text of a classic — save a poor collection of a few texts on the Guttenberg project? An engantzeh project. In Russia there are hundreds of sites like this.

A niggun

Specially for TRS.

Name, anyone?

And more:

On contradiction — and lack of thereof, part 2

[Continued from the previous post]

In Chassidus exists the famous dichotomy of Etzem ve’Gilui, Essence and Revelation: that which is essential cannot be revealed and vice versa, that which is a revelation cannot be the essence. The definition of G-d’s Essence, as Rabbi Paltiel puts it, is that which is revealed by G-d to G-d Himself only.

When speaking to a person, we hear his voice, see his hand movements and face expression — but surely these things are only expressions of his thoughts and desires. Even the latter are not the essential aspect of the person himself. The essence of a person is never revealed — and had it been revealed, one would be unable to distinguish individual thoughts and desires coming out of it.

Quoting Rebbe Rashab’s ma’amor Veyadaita Moskva:
[The vessels] reveal the light and they also conceal and veil the light. The light which they reveal is the light which is on the level of the worlds; i.e., the vessels of the world of Atzilus shine forth and reveal light in the world of Atzilus. And through the medium of the parsa which divides between Atzilus and Beriah, they reveal the light within the world of Beriah; and from Beriah, [the light descends] to Yetzirah.

This is not, however, a revelation of the light as it exists in its own right. For, as explained above, the light is representative of the source of light and is truly simple and infinite in nature. Thus, in essence, the light is not on the level of the worlds; for [by definition,] a world must exist as a separate and limited individual entity. [...]

Since limitation and infinity are by definition different, [G-d’s infinite] light is not at all on the level of these [finite] worlds. Thus we can appreciate that the light which the vessels reveal in the worlds is not the essence of the light, but rather an external ray of the light. Indeed, the essence of the light remains hidden within them, concealed by them. And it is through concealing the essence of the light that they are able to reveal the external dimensions of the light and cause it to effect change in the world.

Thus both concepts are true; [the vessels] conceal the essence of the light and reveal its external dimensions. These two concepts are interrelated; it is because they conceal the essence of the light, that they are able to reveal its external dimensions. [...]

This leads to a general principle of greater scope: A revelation of the essence brings about concealment for others. [For they are not on the same level as the essence, and hence, cannot perceive it.] Conversely, a concealment of the essence brings about revelation for others. [For when the essential light is hidden, the aspects which the others can perceive are revealed.]

From this, we can understand how, in the spiritual realms, the vessels of Atzilus conceal the essence of the light and reveal only its external dimensions. And indeed, it is because they conceal the inner, essential light, that they are able to reveal the external dimensions of the light and thus perform [various] functions as explained within the context of the analogy to the soul.
This is why G-d’s Essence cannot exists in the Upper Worlds, the worlds of revelation. Had it been revealed there, it would destroy them. At the same time, the Essence is able to exist in this world, a world of concealment, precisely because it is such.

* * *

In the ma’amor Inyana shel Toras HaChassidus (known in English translation as On the Essence of Chassidus), the Rebbe brings the new concept: the Essence could be revealed, and in such a way as not to negate the existence of the worlds in which it is revealed. The worlds will remain the worlds, and the Essence will still be revealed.

The Rebbe uses the analogy of Yechida, the essence of the soul — as opposed to nefesh, ruach, neshama, and chaya, the four particular levels of the soul. In the Rebbe’s words (I am quoting the Chassidic Heritage Series translation — although, I must say, the original Loshon Koidesh expresses the idea much more clearly):

Though Yechidah is an essence-state, it does not negate NaRaNaCh; on the contrary, Yechidah is the essence of each of these particular levels.

That itself is one of the differences between the terms “manifestation” (gilui) and “essence” (etzem): “Manifestation” is particular, and therefore, whatever does not correspond to its own specific form of revelation is not “it”. Since it is an outwards revelation, “extension”, it negates that which is not consonant with itself.

Etzem, in contrast, is the essence-state of any given subject. [And thus does not negate the particulars if revealed “simultaneously” with them.]

Therefore, [because essence underlies all the particular forms that are manifest,] one of the fundamental emphases of Chassidus is the manner in which all of the individual particulars are united with the essence. [...]

In relation ot the subject of the sefirot, [...] Chassidus emphasizes the way in which the attribute of Malchus is united with the attribute of Yesoid [during recitation of Moideh Ani], until they become one thing — “Living and Eternal King”.

Hence, the idea of Oneness expressed in “There is nothing else besides Him” (Ein od milvado) does not negate the existence of the worlds, but means, rather, that even the worlds themselves are found within the limitations of their existences (and subject to the bounds of space and time) are still united in a perfect and complete unity with the Essence of the Light of the Ein Sof.
The Rebbe goes on to explain how the concept of unity regarding recitation of Moideh Ani is found and revealed in other areas of Pardes by Chassidus.

This is one explanation of how Chassidus is the Essence of Torah. Torah consists of four levels: pshat, remez, drush and soid. From simple to mystical. A question asked by Rashi on a simple level is not the question asked on the homiletical level of remez and is not the question asked on the level of soid. Just the same as in the soul, powers existing on the level of nefesh are not the powers existing on the level of chaya. The levels are incompatible, and cannot be revealed one within another.

Just, however, as Yechida, the essence of the soul is close to all four levels at the same time, or like the Essence of G-d’s Light is close to all four worlds at the same time, the essence of Torah, Chassidus, is close to all four levels of Torah interpretation. Indeed, as the Rebbe shows in the aforementioned ma’amor in the case of Moideh Ani, Chassidus enhances each level and then binds them together, uniting them and allowing to coexist at the same time.

This was really the first observation that “converted” me to Chassidus Chabad: seeing how in his sichos, the Rebbe is able to bridge together distant concepts in Torah that seemingly had little to do with each other, allowing them to co-exist in harmony, despite seeming incompatibility of their levels.

The same idea is regarding revelation of G-d’s Essence in this world that allows contradictory levels of reality coexist in the state of nimna ha’nimnois, coexistence despite the mutual logical contradiction. And, this is what will happen in the Era of Mashiach: G-d Essence will be revealed in all the matter and particular defining aspects of each world. May it happen speedily in our days.

Monday, February 23, 2009

On contradiction — and lack of thereof, part 1

A shtikle nigleh with some Chassidus on top.

In tractate Kiddushin, Mishna states that a man cannot betroth two sisters at the same time. If one betroths a group of women (e.g., five) at the same time, and amongst them are two sisters, the sisters are not betrothed (even though the other women are). The sisters are not legally betrothed — to the point that if one of them has a child from another man, the child is not a mamzer.

Gemara asks the question: what if the man gives two sisters a gift each and says “You are betrothed to me” to both of them, at the same time? Is one of them betrothed? Should the man write them both a get?

Rava answers, quoting Rabba who said: “What cannot happen in sequence cannot happen even simultaneously”. I.e., if B cannot happen after A, it cannot happen at the same time as A. If A cannot happen after B, it cannot happen at the same time as B. When A and B happen simultaneously, they are negating each other — B is impossible, since it is as if it happened after A, and vice versa.

So, neither of the sisters is betrothed, and a get is not necessary.

* * *

In tractate Nedarim, the question of vow revokation or confirmation is discussed. If a woman makes a vow, her husband or father (depending in whose house she is living at the moment) has to uphold it in order for the vow to be valid or revoke it in order for the vow to become invalid.

What if the husband (or father) says: “I am confirming and revoking the vow at the same time”? Gemara quotes Rabbah again: “Anything that cannot happen in sequence cannot happen simultaneously either”.

Seemingly, the halacha is that since revokation cannot happen after confirmation of the vow (once it’s confirmed, it cannot be revoked) and confirmation cannot happen after revokation (once a vow is revoked, it cannot be confirmed — a new vow needs to be made), the two cancel each other, and the vow is neither confirmed nor revoked.

Rambam, however, rules in Mishnei Toireh:
If he tells her: “It is upheld for you and nullified to you at the same time”, the vow is upheld. If he tells her: “It is upheld to you today”, it is upheld forever. If he tells her: “It is nullified for you tomorrow”, it is not nullified, for he upheld it today and he cannot nullify it on the following day.
What is Rambam doing? Is he contradicting Gemara? If not, how is it possible to reconcile Rambam with the simple reading of Gemara?

Brisker Rav writes in Hilchos Nedarim: The essence of upholding a vow contradicts ability to nullify the vow. Once a vow is upheld, it is legally impossible to nullify it. The essence of revoking the vow, however, does not contradict legally the idea of upholding it; rather, it removes physical posibility of upholding it (by destroying the vow). Therefore, since upholding the law nullified revoking it, but not vice versa, in the case of simultaneous proclamation of upholding and revoking, the law is upheld.

This is different from the case of marrying two sisters. There, the idea of marrying sister A legally contradicts the idea of marrying sister B — and vice versa. Therefore, when an attempt to do both happens, the two attempts are able to legally contradict and nullify each other. In the case of vows, since only one attempt legally contradicts the other, and the second merely physically, circumstantially contradicts the first (as it happens, once a vow is revoked, it stops existing, so there is nothing to uphold), the attempt to revoke does not legally contradict the attempt to uphold, when done simultaneously — and therefore, the halacha is that the vow is upheld.

Why does Gemara bring the opinion of Rabbah then? Exactly to show this principle: things that cannot happen in succession cannot happen simultaneously either. Since revocation cannot happen after confirmation, it cannot happen at the same time either. Therefore, revocation is nullified. Stop. The principle doesn’t go the other way, as one could think from the simple reading. This, says the Brisker Rav, is what Rambam sees as the reason for bringing the opinion of Rabbah.

This sheds light on the first case as well: there, instead of one even (cancellation of both betrothals, to both sisters), two events happen — a cancellation of the betrothal to sister A (by an attempt to betroth sister B) and a cancellation of the betrothal to sister B (ditto).

[To be continued...]

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Big hands

There is a famous Chassidic principle that each Light needs a proper vessel. In the case of music, apparently sometimes you need a proper instrument for playing.

And, of course, I just couldn’t avoid posting this video. A nod to Motherland.

An outspoken critic

Reiterating an idea mentioned before that sometimes it’s OK to just disagree — from Wikipedia entry about the famous pianist Glenn Gould:
Gould also recorded works by many other prominent piano composers, though he was outspoken in his criticism of some of them, apparently not caring for Frédéric Chopin, for example. In a radio interview, when asked if he didn't find himself wanting to play Chopin, he replied: “No, I don’t. I play it in a weak moment — maybe once a year or twice a year for myself. But it doesn’t convince me.”

Although Gould recorded all of Mozart’s sonatas and admitted enjoying the “actual playing” of them, he was a harsh critic of Mozart’s music to the extent of arguing (perhaps a little puckishly) that Mozart died too late rather than too early.
This is a man in love with his work (some would call him a fundamentalist):

By the way, from what I remember, Einstein too seemed to think that after Bach there was very little good music written.

Meanwhile, coming back to the frum society, a very interesting discussion on the topic of contemporary Jewish music — or lack of thereof (scroll down to read what Der Shygetz had to say).

A little music, please

“Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla:

And a little improvisation (I am hiding video because of some past nisht imagery — but music, starting ~0:47, is unbelievable):

I’ve first met Greg Anderson and his unbelievable talent six years ago during one award night.

And now for something completely different — from the Motherland:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Carbon monoxide and reishus — part II


[Continued from the previous post — but also independent]

My rabbi uses the following example: one can suffocate from breathing in poison or from not breathing at all. If one is not breathing, it is not enough to say: “Well, he is not taking in poison either, is he? So, he must be fine.” If one is not breathing, it’s as dangerous as if one is taking in poison.

If you look at the way carbon monoxide, a common poison leading to suffocation, works, however, words of Alter Rebbe may become even clearer. Carbon monoxide binds hemoglobin and myoglobin, proteins used as transporters of oxygen in red blood cells and muscle cells respectively, in the same sites that oxygen binds. Because carbon monoxide’s chemical affinity to these proteins is higher, it acts as an active competitor of oxygen, thus preventing the latter from reaching the living cells — and resulting in suffocation.

So, one way to look at the world is by dividing it into three categories: required by Torah, forbidden by Torah and permitted by Torah (which is not forbidden per se, but not required specifically for service of Torah). The other way to look at the world is by dividing it into two categories: that which connects me with my Father in Heaven and that which doesn’t.

If I am not connected to my Father in Heaven, G-d forbid, then I am suffocating. Whether it’s because I am ingesting poison or because I am not breathing, or perhaps because the poison prevents me from breathing. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Either I am breathing or I am not breathing.

As Chassidim of old used to say, that which is forbidden is forbidden, and that which is permitted is unnecessary.

* * *

Now, we were sent into this world to elevate it. To make it a dwelling place for G-d’s Essence. It’s all very well to be high, pure, holy and connected with G-d’s Light, but His Essence is to be found and encountered specifically in the darkness of the reishus, the permitted. But that’s exactly the point and innovation of Torah in general and Chassidus in particular: it allows an individual to elevate even the mundane.

When you put your clothes on in the morning, why do you do it? If you do it because Hashem wants you to keep tznius — and if you do it according to Hashem’s Will (e.g., right shoe on first, etc.) — then you elevate a mundane act of wearing clothes.

If you eat an apple because you like its taste, you just connected to physicality of the apple — which by its nature denies existence of G-d (otherwise, it wouldn’t be material). If, however, you eat an apple because you’re required to eat in order to survive (or because by eating an apple — or, more appropriately, a piece of meat, you’re able to concentrate better on your Gemara), you have just elevated it.

This is why it is said that the main field of battle against sitra achra (lit., “the other side”, i.e., the forces of unholiness that define this world by concealing G-d from it) is in the realm of reishus, the permitted. If Torah requires you to do it — nu, of course you do it. If Torah forbids you to do something — of course you don’t do it. Those things are not even under consideration. But what if Torah permits something to you — do you engage in it for the sake of itself or for the sake of G-d?

Light will remain light. Darkness which cannot be broken through will remain darkness (until the coming of Mashiach). But the darkness that can be illuminated — which way will it be? It’s up to you.

* * *

Now, some people seem to use the above idea, shockingly, to allow themselves to indulge in the world for its own sake. These are frum Jews (but not Chassidim) who say: “Look, back in the day there was Torah and the outside world. If you engaged in Torah, you were holy, but if you engaged in the outside world you became unholy. But, came Chassidus and introduced the doctrine of elevating the mundane, so now we can go to a movie, eat an ice cream, watch a football game — and be holy at the same time. After all, if we are wearing tzitzis and yarmulkeh while doing this, if we are not, G-d forbid commiting any aveiros, we are actually elevating the mundane.”

I am sorry, but I don’t think it works this way. Alter Rebbe is very clear in Chapters 6–8: things have to be used specifically as means of connecting to Hashem (i.e., keeping mitzvos).

Sherlock Holmes and Tanya — part I


From Study in Scarlet:

He was not studying medicine. He had himself, in reply to a question, confirmed Stamford’s opinion upon that point. Neither did he appear to have pursued any course of reading which might fit him for a degree in science or any other recognized portal which would give him an entrance into the learned world. Yet his zeal for certain studies was remarkable, and within eccentric limits his knowledge was so extraordinarily ample and minute that his observations have fairly astounded me. Surely no man would work so hard or attain such precise information unless he had some definite end in view. Desultory readers are seldom remarkable for the exactness of their learning. No man burdens his mind with small matters unless he has some very good reason for doing so.

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

The approach of Sherlock Holmes, although certainly repugnant to a member of modern intelligentsia, is interesting. It seemed, however, to be unfounded from scientific point of view. It would be as if someone said: “If I lift too many things in my gym, I won’t have any strength left for my job as a construction worker”. Well, you certainly shouldn’t tire yourself out, but lifting weights would actually help you in you job as a construction worker by increasing your strength.

Furthermore, as Marie Curie said, “By increasing light in one area of science, one makes other areas brighter”.

Nevertheless, an interesting approach.

Now, lehavdil, Chapter 8 of Tanya:

וכן העוסק בחכמות אומות העולם בכלל דברים בטלים יחשב לענין עון ביטול תורה, כמו שכתוב בהלכות תלמוד תורה

Occupying oneself with the sciences of the nations of the world is likewise included in the category of engaging in inconsequential matters insofar as the sin of neglecting the Torah is concerned, [for in studying the sciences of the nations, too, one is guilty of neglecting Torah study,] as is explained in the Laws of Torah Study.

ועוד זאת, יתירה טומאתה של חכמת האומות על טומאת דברים בטלים

Moreover, the impurity of the science of the nations is greater than the impurity of idle speech;

שאינו מלביש ומטמא רק המדות מיסוד הרוח הקדוש שבנפשו האלקית

for the latter clothe and defile only the emotions [which emanate] from the holy element of ruach [Air] within his divine soul,

בטומאת קליפת נוגה שבדברים בטלים הבאים מיסוד הרוח הרע שבקליפה זו בנפשו הבהמית, כדלעיל

[by tainting them] with the impurity of kelipat nogah contained in idle speech (which is derived from the evil element of ruach of this kelipah in his animal soul), as mentioned above.

ולא בחינות חב״ד שבנפשו, מאחר שהם דברי שטות ובורות

[Idle speech does] not, however, [defile] the levels of ChaBaD (the intellectual faculties) in his soul, for it is but words of foolishness and ignorance,

שגם השוטים ועמי הארץ יכולים לדבר כן

since even fools and ignoramuses can speak that way.

[Since these are not intellectual matters, the intellect remains uninvolved and untainted.]

מה שאין כן בחכמת האומות הוא מלביש ומטמא בחינות חב״ד שבנפשו האלקית, בטומאת קליפת נוגה שבחכמות אלו

Not so in the case of the science of the nations; thereby one clothes and defiles his divine soul’s faculties of ChaBaD (intellect) with the impurity of the kelipat nogah contained in those sciences,

שנפלו שמה בשבירת הכלים מבחינת אחוריים של חכמה דקדושה, כידוע ליודעי ח״ן

whither they (the sciences) have fallen, through the “shattering of the vessels,” out of the “hinder-part” of Chochmah of holiness, as is known to those familiar with the Esoteric Wisdom.

[Thus the study of these sciences contaminates the intellectual faculties of the G‑dly soul, and it is therefore much worse than idle speech, which contaminates only the emotional faculties,]

אלא אם כן עושה אותן קרדום לחתוך בה, דהיינו כדי להתפרנס מהן בריוח לעבוד ה׳

unless one employs them [these sciences] as a useful instrument, viz., as a means of earning a more affluent livelihood with which to be able to serve G‑d,

או שיודע להשתמש בהן לעבודת ה׳ או לתורתו

or unless he knows how to apply them in the service of G‑d or to [his better understanding of] His Torah; [e.g., he utilizes mathematics to better understand the laws of the Sanctification of the New Moon.]

וזהו טעמו של הרמב״ם ורמב״ן ז״ל וסיעתן שעסקו בהן

This is the reason why Maimonides and Nachmanides, of blessed memory, and their peers, engaged in them [in the sciences — since they were able to utilize this knowledge in the service of G‑d and Torah].

[To be continued…]

A parable about geometric figures

A triangle and a circle were arguing what the leading geometric figure of the future will be.

They agreed that triangle has advantages, but so does the circle. One problem is: although superficially more attractive, the triangle is less stable. On the other hand, circle is, well, way too round. So, it was agreed that even though the circle will lose its current fundamentalism and become somewhat of an oval, the triangle will certainly not survive, at least in its current shape (no pun intended… I think).

Now, a complex 11-dimensional figure which was sitting nearby, overhearing the conversation, mumbled something like: “Don’t you guys realize that you both are flat and two-dimensional? I mean, three hundred years ago, such a conversation would be somewhat interesting, but today it’s just silly. No matter which one of you survives and in what shape, you will still remain flat.”

The two figures heard that and said: “This is why nobody likes you. You don’t even think of other geometric figures as geometric figures.”

The complex 11-dimensional figure responded: “Of course I do. I just think you lack some depth. (And maybe some more dimensions.)”

But, it was too late. The other two figures left to tell their friends of yet another example of a hating complex 11-dimensional figure.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thinking too much is unpatriotic

NY Times reports (kivyachol):
Still, leaving the protracted battle over the economic stimulus plan and the difficulties of some of his cabinet nominees behind him, Mr. Obama sought a return to the familiar in Chicago: He worked out at a favorite gym. He played basketball with his buddies at the Chicago Laboratory School. He got a haircut from his favorite barber at a friend’s apartment.
Arbat responds: “Protracted. It seems that NY Times considers normal time for figuring out how to spend a trillion dollars on social causes to be a day, maybe two. But to waste weeks on this?..”

A gutt morgen

(An iPhone desktop background. Source)

Alter Rebbe says in the famous ma’amor that we find that G-d is evident to all people from the fact that everyone mentions him. In addition, Baal Shem Tov used to go around marketplace and ask Jews how they were doing just to hear “Baruch Hashem”.

The Rebbe explains in this year’s (last year’s?) Bosi LeGani that through tehillas Yisroel — simple Jews’ praises of Eibeshter — the middas ha’netzach (the desire of victory) is aroused. Middas ha’netzach is connected with a simple desire for victory — not for the purpose of riches, territory or political influence, but just the victory itself.

That simplicity is reflected in a simple Jew’s “baruch Hashem”. It is also reflected in the Мoideh Ani — the first praise of Hashem that the Jew makes. He is not awake yet, he doesn’t know in which world he is, and yet already he is saying “adaynk” to Eibeshter. What happens next? His yetzer ha’rah wakes up. (More on Мoideh Аni. More on tehillas yisroel.)

On Simple Jew’s (I just got that, by the way) post about Slonim Chassidus, one commentor says: “Frankly, I don’t know what our generation’s path is.” During the Yud-Shvat farbrengen (that I am still to put up), somebody said: it’s praising Hashem in the marketplace. Letting Hashem in everyday aspects of our life. Living every day with Shulchan Aruch. That’s our path.

If that’s true, it’s both an uplifting and terrifying thought.

[If you thought this post was lame, I only really wanted to post that picture. So, lechayim, lechayim.]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

You think you have it tough?

About Bill Shannon. Let me remind you of a statement that “G-d never gives anyone barriers without power to overcome them”. Of course, let us all see only revealed good.

But it’s Jewish G-d...

There is a famous joke that I may have told several times already. A son comes home and tells his Jewish atheist father about X-mas, the tree, the mamzer, the whole spil, and asks to have an X-mas tree. The father starts screaming at him that they are Jewish and they don’t do this. The son asks: “But I thought we don’t believe in G-d?..” The father answers: “Yes, but it’s the Jewish G-d we don’t believe in.”

I heard this story first time from my rabbi when I told him about a Jewish — but not religious — scientist from Russia who came to the US on a job offer. Her boss was showing her around and brought her to a reform shull. She entered, saw the rabbi without kippa, men and women sitting together, turned around and walked out. She may not keep Shabbos or kosher, but she knows treif when she sees it.

This story reminded me of the joke and the scientist. Especially the last sentence.

Our response to Chamberlain

OK, those who didn’t grow up in the Soviet Union probably don’t get this reference. In any event, here’s our response to iPod:

I personally use Sansa Fuze 8 GB, but anything non-’pod is welcome.

(By the way, just because I am posting this video doesn’t mean that I am endorsing the craziness of owning several mp3 players.)

Two types

This Shabbos I heard a variation of the famous adage.

There are two types. Those who sing the song after ach tzaddikim out loud. And those who sing it in their head.

Every single word comes from Chumash

Rabbi Paltiel: “I am thirty-six years old, and I learn Gemara. And I’ve been learning Gemara since I was nine or ten. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I started to see what I’ve always been brainwashed with. I started to see it — that every single word of Gemara comes from Chumash.”

Listen to the rest here. Very nice shiur on the role of Chassidus in making Torah relevant, comparison of Torah with, lehavdil, science, argument in Torah keeping it true and other good stuff.

“Every year, before the New Year, we go to bath”

A funny story by Mrakobez, a Jewish variation of a famous Russian movie. About jealousy, mikveh, New Year and hippies.

Well, a somewhat sad story actually. One woman in my family was never jealous of her husband. Why? It was said that you could leave him in a dark room alone with three women and nothing would happen.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka

In the honor of the Rebbetzin’s yortzeit, a nice collection of stories about her.
A bochur once saw the Rebbetzin carrying bags and and took them for her. When he brought them in, the Rebbetzin gave him a bar of chocolate. To which he said: “I was raised in a chassidic home and was taught to do a mitzvah bishlaimus and not take a reward.” The rebbetzin replied: “Mir hot men oich gehodevet in a chassidishe shtub, un men hot mir gelernt az men git nemt men ubifrat shokolad [I was also raised in a chassidic home and I was taught that when given something one should take it, especially chocolate]”.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Another example of Russian crazy cartoons:

Russian take on badminton, aerodynamics and metamorphosis (some past nisht images):

A story in the style of Chechov:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Judaism on Health Care

Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, a very interesting Chabad speaker, talks on this topic. This lecture may be interesting to a wide range of audience. He discusses:
  • should we cure a disease if G-d created it?
  • if he can, is a doctor obligated to heal? can he take payment for it? for what exactly?
  • is the patient obligated to pay — and if he cannot, who is?
  • are the last two points decoupled (i.e., does one have to do with another)?
  • can a doctor come home from work if it involves breaking Shabbos?
  • do we expect people to pay or to receive help from community?
  • is there an order in providing help (one patient gets helped before another)?
  • what is “standing in front of us”?
  • general idea of tzedaka
  • is drinking alcohol muttar or assur? what about smoking?
  • is it pas nisht for girls to drink?
  • a little on DNR etc.

Why do we need exact wiring?


One could ask: why should we put on tefillin? You want connect emotions with intellect? Intellect with emotions? Both with G-d? Sit down and meditate on intellect, on emotions, on connection with G-d, on Exodus from Egypt, whatever. Why do you need a piece of cowhide and two boxes with parchment inside?

This is similar to asking: you want to call your grandmother? Why do you need to talk into a box? Just scream loud enough, and she’ll hear you. Or, if you have to use the box, what do you need to dial the exact number for? Just think about reaching your grandmother, and you’ll talk to her.

In order for me to reach my grandmother, she needs to give me her phone number. Change one numeral — the number is wrong.

We know that in the physical world everything is connected. In our Universe, galaxies are connected through invisible forces. Planets are connected. Jupiter and Saturn have to align properly in order to attract a meteor or a comet from extrasolar space. Moon has to be of proper size and proper distance from the Earth to create movement of liquid metal core inside the Earth — which needs to move to create magnetic field shielding Earth from solar winds which would rip away our atmosphere otherwise.

In the ecosystems, all organisms are connected. Inside the animals’ bodies, everything is connected — from organs to molecules. Each cortical pyramidal neuron has from thousands to tens of thousands synaptic connections with other cells. Studying the molecular machinery of a single synapse, a connection between two neurons (see picture above), takes one’s breath away. In order for me to write this post, billions of changes had to happen — every single second. Billions of molecules moved according to specific paths.

Guess what?

Every atom of our physical world is connected with the spiritual worlds. Every single thing we do echoes in infinity. All for one purpose. For us to do a single mitzva that attracts the Light of the upper worlds into this world, thereby making it a dwelling place for Hashem’s Essence. Uniting two infinities.

A single mutation, a single change in an amino-acid can change a person from a healthy individual to a cripple. Details matter.

In the laws of the spiritual connections between this world and the upper worlds, details matter infinitely more. That’s why we sift through the details, go back and forth, trying to figure out every exact letter of the message, every single pattern of the expression in the specific circumstance. And by the way, even non-coding parts of the message are important.

On Har Sinai, Hashem didn’t just give us a wisdom. A source of blessing in the physical world. A user’s manual. A contract. No, He gave us much more. He gave us Himself. The laws of Torah are strings, wires, IP addresses, metabotropic pathways that connect us and this world to our essence, to G-d.

Lodgers of an Old House

In order to produce something like this in the US, one has to be on drugs or clinically depressed. And still, one won’t make it…

In Russia, stuff like this is in the air (or used to be):

I mean, what the hell is this?..

Or this…

A story about capital investment

One more scene from Treasure Island. Very apropos current events.

Wounded? A fiddle-stick’s end!

They say Russians are gloomy.

The original (Stevenson’s Treasure Island):

In the meantime, we had no idea what to do to help the captain, nor any other thought but that he had got his death-hurt in the scuffle with the stranger. I got the rum, to be sure, and tried to put it down his throat, but his teeth were tightly shut and his jaws as strong as iron. It was a happy relief for us when the door opened and Doctor Livesey came in, on his visit to my father.

"Oh, doctor," we cried, "what shall we do? Where is he wounded?"

"Wounded? A fiddle-stick's end!" said the doctor. "No more wounded than you or I. The man has had a stroke, as I warned him. Now, Mrs. Hawkins, just you run upstairs to your husband and tell him, if possible, nothing about it. For my part, I must do my best to save this fellow's trebly worthless life; Jim, you get me a basin."

When I got back with the basin, the doctor had already ripped up the captain's sleeve and exposed his great sinewy arm. It was tattooed in several places. "Here's luck," "A fair wind," and "Billy Bones his fancy," were very neatly and clearly executed on the forearm; and up near the shoulder there was a sketch of a gallows and a man hanging from it—done, as I thought, with great spirit.

"Prophetic," said the doctor, touching this picture with his finger. "And now, Master Billy Bones, if that be your name, we'll have a look at the colour of your blood. Jim," he said, "are you afraid of blood?"

"No, sir," said I.

"Well, then," said he, "you hold the basin"; and with that he took his lancet and opened a vein.

A great deal of blood was taken before the captain opened his eyes and looked mistily about him. First he recognized the doctor with an unmistakable frown; then his glance fell upon me, and he looked relieved. But suddenly his colour changed, and he tried to raise himself, crying, "Where's Black Dog?"

"There is no Black Dog here," said the doctor, "except what you have on your own back. You have been drinking rum; you have had a stroke, precisely as I told you; and I have just, very much against my own will, dragged you headforemost out of the grave. Now, Mr. Bones—"

"That's not my name," he interrupted.

"Much I care," returned the doctor. "It's the name of a buccaneer of my acquaintance; and I call you by it for the sake of shortness, and what I have to say to you is this; one glass of rum won't kill you, but if you take one you'll take another and another, and I stake my wig if you don't break off short, you'll die—do you understand that?—die, and go to your own place, like the man in the Bible. Come, now, make an effort. I'll help you to your bed for once."

Between us, with much trouble, we managed to hoist him upstairs, and laid him on his bed, where his head fell back on the pillow as if he were almost fainting.

"Now, mind you," said the doctor, "I clear my conscience—the name of rum for you is death."

And with that he went off to see my father, taking me with him by the arm.

"This is nothing," he said as soon as he had closed the door. "I have drawn blood enough to keep him quiet awhile; he should lie for a week where he is—that is the best thing for him and you; but another stroke would settle him."

Russian interpretation:

I read this novel first when I was — I don’t know, six, seven? Re-read it multiple times. Now, when I was reading through the Stevenson’s original, I was reminded again of what I’ve known for a while.

English cannot be translated. A friend of mine tells me one cannot play piano on a synthesizer, since the feeling of touch and instrument’s vibration cannot be felt. The same is true regarding a language.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stop wasting time

It is therefore the duty of every Jew, especially of one in your position, to do everything possible to spread Yiddishkeit, i.e., the actual fulfillment of the Mitzvois Maasiyos [practical observance of Mitzvos], in his immediate circle and wider environment; to make others aware that Yiddishkeit is not something to remembered on certain occasions, or on certain days of the year, like Shabbos and Yom Tov or the “High Holidays”, but something to be lived and practiced every day.

Moreover, such efforts are not only channels for receiving G–d’s blessings in one’s own need, but are also vital for the welfare and survival of our people as a whole, concerning which you express understandable concern.

In light of the above, it is not out of place to ask you: What have you — with your background and opportunities — accomplished in the last few months, and years, along the lines indicated above? Have you utilized all your capacities and opportunities, not only in your immediate family, but also among friends and associates, that they be imbued with the love of G–d and the fear of G–d and live up to the Torah and Mitzvois? [...]

As for my personal views on this or that movement, I do not see how this can concern the fulfillment of your duties and obligations, as mentioned above, which are surely quite clear.

An Arizona man defends himself against an Jesús

See news here. Go Arizona.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Motherland calls

The life of a child in the Soviet Union in one picture.

Soviet bus stops.

Meanwhile, on the Third Proletariat planet (second two sets of links are in English):
  • Moscow mayor Luzhkov proposed to confiscate Russian oligarchs’ businesses and action them off “after the crisis is over”. Whatever that means.
  • Fidel Castro wrote a MO-dvar-Torah–style vort.
  • Obama is doing a Jimmy Carter while being asked to bring Mashiach save the planet.

Russian commercial

…of anti-stress drugs in a form of a stressometer. Very apropos.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Balance of profit and loss


In the nervous system, the balance of excitation and inhibition is extremely important.

This is true on multiple levels: from molecular (involving control of appropriate gene expression), to intracellular (involving homeostatic balance between strengthened and weakened synapses, ability for synapses to potentiate on the one hand and runaway excitation not to happen on the other), to circuit (balance between excitatory and inhibitory inputs and excitatory and inhibitory networks), to systems (competition and cooperation between multiple systems — e.g., in control and planning of movement execution or in the case of multiple memory systems).

So, on the one hand, you want to be able to activate a gene, strengthen a synaptic connection, depolarize a particular sub-class of neurons, run a wave of excitation through a circuit and send information from area A to area B. On the other hand, you also want to be able to control these processes and reverse them. Not only in the long term, but in the short term as well.

Not only do you want to stop yourself sometimes from saying the first thing that came to your mind or remembering every single detail of your everyday experience, but you also need inhibition in order to do the saying, the moving, the sensing and the remembering. Meaning, in order to move to X, you need to supress movement to Y and Z. In order to pay attention to A, you need to ignore B–Z. In order for neurons to organize themselves and send coherent information like little Napoleonic soldiers firing all at once, you need to prevent neurons firing “out of phase”. All of this is accomplished by inhibition.

Mess this delicate balance up — and you get diseases like schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, autism (and autism-specter disorders), different developmental and mental problems and so on. People know that in schizophrenia, patients get dillusions, being unable to perceive the difference between information coming from the “inside” and from the “outside”. What is less know is that schizophreniacs simply cannot “think straight”. Their internal logic is messed up. The hypothesized reason is that their cortical excitatory neurons fire out of phase. Why? Because the inhibitory neurons don’t inhibit enough.

In economics, the balance between loss and profit is no less important. In fact —
Bailouts attempt to erase the effects of losses, or economic failure. But, writes Tyler Watts, such efforts inevitably undermine the loss aspect of “profit and loss”. Profit and loss go together — like up and down, left and right, good and bad. If we try to do away with losses, we’ll wind up diluting the meaning of profits. [Read on...]
A more detailed and organized article by classic Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises on the function of profit and loss in free economy can be found here.

* * *

I am not going for the whole discussion of “can’t have chessed without gevurah” or “Havaya Hu ha’Elokim” and so on. It’s obvious. It’s been discussed many times. And I am exhausted (Rashbam was very wordy). Just read this.

The evil empire of WalMart

Well!.. I!.. Never!..

Charles Platt decided to go undercover and investigate the inner cobweb of the evil empire that WalMart is. Here’s the report.

As TRS says, if you want to make a liberal mad, work hard and smile.

You have to wonder, then, why the store has such a terrible reputation, and I have to tell you that so far as I can determine, trade unions have done most of the mudslinging. Web sites that serve as a source for negative stories are often affiliated with unions. Walmartwatch.com, for instance, is partnered with the Service Employees International Union; Wakeupwalmart.com is entirely owned by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. For years, now, they’ve campaigned against Wal-Mart, for reasons that may have more to do with money than compassion for the working poor. If more than one million Wal-Mart employees in the United States could be induced to join a union, by my calculation they’d be compelled to pay more than half-billion dollars each year in dues.

Anti-growth activists are the other primary source of anti-Wal-Mart sentiment. In the town where I worked, I was told that activists even opposed a new Barnes & Noble because it was "too big". If they're offended by a large bookstore, you can imagine how they feel about a discount retailer.

The argument, of course, is that smaller enterprises cannot compete. My outlook on this is hardcore: I think that many of the "mom-and-pop" stores so beloved by activists don't deserve to remain in business.

When I first ventured from New York City to the American heartland, I did my best to patronize quaint little places on Main Street and quickly discovered the penalties for doing so. At a small appliance store, I wasn't allowed to buy a microwave oven on display. I had to place an order and wait a couple of weeks for delivery. At a stationery store where I tried to buy a file cabinet, I found the same problem. Think back, if you are old enough to do so, and you may recall that this is how small-town retailing used to function in the 1960s.

As a customer, I don't see why I should protect a business from the harsh realities of commerce if it can't maintain a good inventory at a competitive price. And as an employee, I see no advantage in working at a small place where I am subject to the quixotic moods of a sole proprietor, and can never appeal to his superior, because there isn't one.

By the same logic, I see no reason for legislators to protect Safeway supermarkets with ploys such as zoning restrictions, which just happen to allow a supermarket-sized building while outlawing a Wal-Mart SuperCenter that's a few thousand square feet bigger.

Based on my experience (admittedly, only at one location) I reached a conclusion which is utterly opposed to almost everything ever written about Wal-Mart. I came to regard it as one of the all-time enlightened American employers, right up there with IBM in the 1960s. Wal-Mart is not the enemy. It's the best friend we could ask for.

He promised, and he is starting to deliver

Change is pretty much here. As is hope.

What else was on the list?

Monday, February 9, 2009

What do you have in your hand?

A few weeks ago, my rabbi talked about a story he read in one journal about a Rosh-yeshiva who always had some dirt in his pocket to remind him where he came from and where he is going to.

A couple thoughts regarding this:

1. That’s wonderful. Oftentimes we get so fixated on the personalities of the gedoilim, tzaddikim and rebbeim that we forget that their greatest achievement was to be battul to Eibeshter. (And don’t make a mistake now. We are takeh gürnischt. They were ayin.)

2. There is a picture (which I couldn’t find unfortunately) of the Rebbe walking out of 770 on the way to his car. He is holding something in his hand. It’s not dirt. It’s coins for the little children to put in tzedakah.

Your avoidah is important. But there is something else besides your personal growth in Yiddishkeit, in your learning, observience of mitzvos, davening, middois. There is the goal. “עלה במח' ורצון הפשוט: אנא אמלוך” — “It arose in His simple though and desire: I will be King”.

Our goal is make it happen.

Back to the trail

Is it just me, or is our President already bored with his new job, wishing he was back on the campaign trail, where people didn’t make demands of him or had high expectations, but just brought sacrifices to his altar? Otherwise, how do you explain him going back to the campaign mode?

Is this what he’s going to do — every time it gets a bit tough, sneak out of the capital and campaign a little?

Update: Nope, I am not the only one who sees this (interesting stuff on Elkhart, IN).
This is the first president we’ve had in a long time (ever?) who sounded more presidential when he was a candidate. Maybe it’s just all wearing a bit thin.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dead pages of Gemara


It is amazing how Frierdiker Rebbe’s stories are no less important and poignant today than they were 100 years ago in his time, or 300 years ago in Baal Shem Tov’s time.

There are two types of people who learn Gemara on a subway. Those who elevate the subway and those that lower the Gemara. How do you know which one you belong to? Are you learning Hashem’s Will and Wisdom or are you learning a detective story about oxes and cows?

Alter Rebbe writes in one of his letters that one who lacks bittul, whenever he doesn’t understand something in a work of nigleh — he is right, and the seifer is wrong. When a chossid doesn’t understand something — he is wrong, and the seifer is right. This, the Rebbe says, is what Ramac (Reb Moiseh Cardovero) meant that someone who doesn’t learn pnimiyus of Torah (Kabbala — and, in our times, Chassidus) is a heretic. What he meant is that he has a very good chance of becoming a heretic.

Knowing Shas be’al’peh never prevented someone from becoming an apikoires. It is very difficult to see how someone can learn in depth and understand Chassidus Chabad and not see Hashem in Torah and in the world.

Now, on with The Making of Chassidim:

They had been singing for quite some time when Reb Mordechai reached a high level of excitement and began to deliver a fiery lecture on the subject of "a mitzvah done without its inner intent is like a body without a soul."

In concise terms, Reb Mordechai explained to them what avodah is all about; for without avodah, all the Torah that they studied and all the mitzvos that they did amounted to no more than lifeless corpses.

"A vast cemetery!" declared Reb Mordechai, looking at the young scholars, including Reb Sholom Ivansker's sons-in-law, and particularly at the foremost scholars among them. "A vast cemetery filled with the corpses of your dead pages of Gemara is what you've built up in the World of Truth. You lead the sages of the Talmud around bound up in the chains of your vanity and arrogance.

"The only thing any one of you is concerned with is that people acknowledge that you are right; each one desires to be known as the foremost scholar; none of you cares about the true essence of Torah - that the Torah is the Word of G-d. How much longer will this sinful situation continue? Young fellows," the maggid cried out in a tearful voice, "take pity on yourselves and on your own souls that have entered your bodies to perfect the world around you.

"[It is written]: 'Bathe yourselves and purify yourselves, ... study well, seek out justice.' [The meaning is] 'bathe yourselves' - wash away your haughty spirits; 'purify yourselves' - become cleansed of your arrogance; 'study well' - put your soul into your study; 'seek out justice' - apply whatever you study in judging your own conduct, and determining whether your behavior conforms to the character traits demanded by the Torah you are studying."

Reb Mordechai related how the Baal Shem Tov had sent a great scholar and tzaddik, the Rabbi of a large congregation, to a butcher, to learn the trait of fearing G-d; another great scholar and tzaddik, who had lived a solitary and chaste life for many years, was sent to the shammes of a beis hamedrash to learn the trait of humility.

"The Rebbe," said Reb Mordechai, "is very fond of the simple Jews, with their unpretentious davening and Tehillim. The Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, says that the most unsophisticated Jew is an eternal, untapped treasury of faith and trust in G-d, and possesses the finest character traits."

All the while Reb Mordechai was speaking, Reb Chayim sat and wept silently. Reb Mordechai's lecture comparing mitzvos without their inner intent to a body without a soul affected him greatly. Having sat for so many years in the grave diggers' beis hamedrash, and having attended so many funerals (may we be spared), an image of the faces of several corpses had remained engraved upon his mind. Now when Reb Mordechai compared study without vitality to a corpse without a soul, and he spoke about the cemetery of the dead pages of Gemara that they had studied, Reb Chayim was deeply moved.

In his imagination he pictured the cemetery for the pages of the Gemara, and a chevrah kadishah of angels performing the funeral rites for the dead pages. As Reb Mordechai continued speaking, Reb Chayim, lost in the crowd and crammed among the people, continued to weep. The more Reb Mordechai spoke words of arousal, the more bitterly Reb Chayim cried. When Reb Mordechai reached the part about "take pity on yourselves and on your own souls, that have entered your bodies to perfect the world around you ... bathe yourselves ... purify yourselves," Reb Chayim began weeping violently; this made a deep impact upon all who were present in the beis hamedrash.

Most of the people assembled in the beis hamedrash took special delight in Reb Mordechai's stories about how the Baal Shem Tov held simple Jews in such high esteem, and even sent great scholars to simple Jews so they could learn good character traits from them. The Baal Shem Tov's saying, that "Every Jew, even the most unsophisticated, is an eternal untapped treasury of innocent faith and trust in G-d," became etched in everyone's mind and heart.

Suddenly, Reb Mordechai remembered where he had been at that same time a year earlier, and he began singing a passionate niggun, one of those that were regularly sung at the Baal Shem Tov's table. This particular niggun was called the "Search and Find" niggun. It consists of three movements, and each movement contains three themes. The first theme of the first movement of the "Search and Find" niggun depicts a mood of solitude, creating an image of someone sitting isolated in a field deeply hidden among the mountains, next to a blue stream of running water. In the distance, at the other end of this valley, appears a rocky precipice upon which a few sparse trees grow; here, the singer sits alone and sings his song of solitude.

The second theme depicts a mood of introspective meditation; the solitary singer becomes more introverted, debating with himself and subjecting himself to rigorous self-examination. The longer he sings, the more deeply introverted his thoughts become; he is dissatisfied with himself, and begins to discover certain flaws in his own character. Now comes the third theme, in which the singer breaks into weeping - at first silently, but becoming progressively more intense.

The niggun's second movement also contains three themes; although they differ in sequence and key, they possess a common motif: a song of searching and of longing. This movement creates an image of a person searching for some elusive object for which he longs. Suddenly, he perceives a ray of hope, a promise that he will eventually find the thing for which he seeks and craves; but this ray of hope evaporates, for it turns out that the object is not what he was hoping for after all. Once more, he becomes submerged in melancholy, until finally he finds the thing he has been seeking.

Then comes the niggun's third movement, also containing three themes. The overall mood of this movement begins in a joyous mode, with a beat that make one lift his feet to dance. As the niggun progresses, the beat becomes faster and more fervent, reaching a fiery crescendo that leaves the singer panting for breath. The music now consists of only a few isolated notes issuing forth from the depths of the heart, creating the impression of musical notes chasing after and desperately trying to keep up with the rapidly moving, feverishly dancing feet, and evoking images of the impassioned but content faces of the dancers.

This was the niggun that Reb Mordechai wished to teach the young folk and bochurim. To everyone's amazement, they assimilated the whole niggun after the first three repetitions, and by the fourth time the young folk were singing the song correctly by themselves. Some of the bystanders were able to join in with a few bars of the melody. When they came to the third movement, Reb Mordechai took hold of Reb Chayim and began to dance with him in earnest, requesting that everyone present join them in the dancing.

[Several generations later,] Reb Berel Ivansker related that whenever Hirshel, the son of Reb Sholom Ivansker, told the story of what happened in the large beis hamedrash on that night after Yom Kippur, it was a pleasure to listen. In spite of Reb Hirshel ben Reb Sholom's advanced age, he would demonstrate the brisk steps with which Reb Mordechai and Reb Chayim had danced while singing the third movement of the "Search and Find" niggun.

Everyone was astounded that Reb Mordechai and Reb Chayim were able to dance for so long, and with such a quick step that their slippers barely touched the floor. They were especially amazed by Reb Chayim's performance, for he was no more than skin and bones. It was obvious that they were possessed by some supernatural power. Everyone else, including the youngest, had collapsed like bundles of straw, and they lay there drenched with perspiration, without a drop of strength remaining, but Reb Mordechai and Reb Chayim were still dancing. Their faces were flaming red, their eyes shut, and their hot breath - along with extremely rapid panting sounds - issued from their mouths. Finally, Reb Chayim began to waver and drop, and a few of the bystanders caught him and led him to a bench to rest.

Reb Mordechai managed to continue dancing a bit longer, but then he emerged from his deveikus and inquired what time it was. Upon learning that it was almost two o'clock in the morning, he sighed and went into to his private room, saying that it was time to recite Tikkun Chatzos.

Friday, February 6, 2009

“What went wrong?” for average person

Speaking of Thomas E. Woods Jr., a new book by him.

Side effects may include...


Shammai. Hilleil. Eilu v’eilu dvarim elokim chayim. Nu, so why don’t you follow Shammai?

Seventy faces in Toirah. Only one Moshe Rabbeinu. Aye, you want to grow in your avoida, in your connection to Eibeshter, it has to be geshmak, spiritual and beautiful for you? Fine. Pick your face. You want Him? Pick Moishe Rabbeinu. “Vayaminu b’Hashem u’Moishe avdoi.” You disagree who the Moishe Rabbeinu is? Fine. I am not going to say you are wrong and argue with you. I will respect your choice. But don’t argue with the idea of Moishe Rabbeinu. “Moishe emes u’Toirasoi emes…”. You know what the next sentence says?..

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People forget two things. 1) We are intelligent beings. Intelligent beings should not think in a knee-jerk fashion. 2) Everything was created in opposites. We have what they have? This reminds you of that? So what? Don’t go to mikveh because X-ians have baptism. Don’t keep tznius because Muslims cover their faces.

“If you are you because I am I, and I am I because you are you, then I am not I, and you are not you. But if I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I, and you are you.”

“I envy you”

The famous story about the Rebbe and a guy who had a non-Jewish girlfriend. Parts 1 and 2.

Foxes vs. hedgehogs

What do liberal presidents have in common with Chassidim? They are always late.

Obama has been routinely late to events and news conferences, including the ones at which he reversed Bush's orders. This has led to an already familiar refrain from the Obama camp: "He's running late."

The president was nearly 30 minutes late Wednesday for the ceremony at which he signed a bill to expand children's health care. He was 10 minutes late Thursday to a memo signing at the Energy Department.

Even before the inauguration, Obama wasn't a punctual sort; he arrived late to a Jan. 8 news conference on the economy that was aired live by broadcast and cable networks.

When it comes to following the clock, Obama closely resembles Bill Clinton, who was famously late to events when he was president. By contrast, Bush despised being late and punctual to a fault. He set the tone early in his presidency -- he arrived at the Capitol five minutes early for his inauguration.

"To me, being tardy, it's got to be one of two things," said presidential historian Doug Wead, who advised both Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush. "Bad organization that can be corrected, or it's arrogance. It sounds to me like this is arrogance."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Life in the Soviet Union

This is how Soviet people lived (I assume people know this, but 1 ruble = 100 kopeyek; I am using Russian plural endings, because this is the proper way to do it):
1 kopeyka — a box of matches
2 kopeiki — call a girlfriend
3 kopeiki — a glass of soda water with syrup, or a trip on a street car
4 kopeiki — call a girlfriend twice and get a wrong number once, or a trip on a trolley bus
5 kopeyek — a small glass of sunflower seeds (to go)
9 kopeyek — milk ice cream
13 kopeyek — butter ice cream
14 kopeyek — a piece of “block” bread
22 kopeiki — chocolate ice cream “Leningrad”
56 kopeyek — 1 dollar
1 ruble 12 kopeyek — 2 dollars
2.87, 3.62, 4.12 rubles — three bottles of vodka
8.80 rubles — a night trip by taxi to the railroad station and back. On the way there, buy flowers for a girl, give the cab driver a tip and lose 3 rubles
44 rubles — a University student’s stipend. Crazy money.
160 rubles — the goal of life. Dirty money if necessary.
5000 rubles — Zhiguli
10,000 rubles — Volga (in theory. In reality, due to deficit, you had to be in a line to buy a car, and after that, it cost a lot more.)
15,000 rubles — 1o years of prison with confiscation of property
1 million — no such number
300 million — the number of people living in the USSR
But hey, people had free education, free medicine and free service in the army.

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An amazing post by Artemiy Lebedev on Russian food. You really have to understand Russian to get the context; my favorites were:
  • being able to pick the bread by poking it with fingers to check for freshness
  • being able to cut bread in halves or quarters
  • milk brand was called Milk — levels of fat were labeled by cap color
  • butter was cut with metal wire and weighed
  • eggs were bought in numbers — if you bought at least 30, you could get the container, otherwise, you’d put them all in a bag
  • you paid first, got a receipt, brought it to the “cashier” who put all the receipts on a metal spike, calculated in hear head and using the abacus that the sum was correct and then gave you the produce
  • if you wanted to insult the cashier, you could buy a single egg
  • a produce store, liquor store, paper store, toy store, butcher store “director” could be sure his children would get into a University
  • no plastic bags — you brought your own bag or carried things in hands
I lived the total of seven years of my life under Communism, but I remember almost all of this. Aah, the nostalgia!..

Lebedev tells a joke regarding the picture above:
A Soviet and an imported chicken legs are lying in a store and having a conversation:
— Look at you: you’re all skinny, venous, blue, hairy!
— Yeah, but at least I had a natural death.
If you think this is funny, it’s not. I am not talking about the joke — the whole topic. That’s what spreading the wealth accomplishes. Americans have seen something likes this, during the Great Depression. Two to four generations of Soviets lives their lives through this.

But yeah, capitalism is evil. No question about it.

Being small helps sometimes

I was thinking of writing on the difference between different nations’ cultural mesoiras, accomplishments and focus, but I won’t. It seems obvious. Vdal.

There is something to be said for being small and flexible — like a palm tree that can withstand a storm vs. a cypress that will fall.

Being 190 cm (6'3") tall, however, I don’t think I can pull this off (I had problems while fencing too; if somebody got “within” my reach and I didn’t retreat fast enough, it was difficult for me to parry — a disadvantage balancing or even outweighing a benefit of longer reach). So, I’ll have to settle for a gun.

I wonder if this guy’s poking fun at his opponents actually hurts more than his physical abuse of them.

Did New Deal and World War II help depression?

Thomas E. Woods, Jr., the author of Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (listen to it here) says: “Don’t be ridiculous.”

In this lecture he explains how New Deal only hurt economy and WWII did not help it. He gives a thorough explanation of “broken window fallacy” (why destruction or taxation can never create wealth or boost anything in grand scale).

You can find the rest of Mr. Woods’s lecture here.

(Thanks to Shmulie for prompting me to look for this lecture.)

You say banāna, I say banána

I say abortion, you say infanticide — what’s the difference? At least that’s conservatives’ argument. Liberals say: that’s ridiculous. There is a clear and obvious difference between an abortion and an infanticide (although they are silent on the actual difference; maybe it’s a secret…).

Not for everyone, apparently. ← Warning! Some potentially disturbing stuff there.

Gun rights in Iowa

Go Idaho! I mean, Ohio. Or something…

Overall, I think I like this. Mostly because it makes liberals mad, and it’s fun to watch (or read) them get all pissed off about it.

On the other hand, that guy does have a point — what the hell is up with raised whachamacallit (my dictionary says “nab” — but I am not sure…) at 0:44? I also agree that this was a bit silly — who cares about your exercise of your right to carry a gun in a zoo? But whatever — as a Russian saying goes, “Whatever the baby plays with, as long as it doesn’t cry” (OK, it sounds better in Russian). Let the goyim chak in chainik. (I loved the “until they are old enough to carry a gun, their children carry a knife”. As TRS says, more kavana for “she lo asani goy”.)

I wonder if opening a gun store in CH would be a good business venture.

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Sorry, but I have to say this: boo at Wisconsin. Or at least the idiots in charge of it.