Monday, March 30, 2009

Dead Souls

Based, of course, on Gogol’s famous work.

One of my favorite composers. One of my favorite pieces of music.

After all this, only one question remains: why, despite my best efforts, am I still subscribed to the mailing list of the Archery club and every day receive detailed reports of their activities, practice sessions, canceled practice sessions (mostly because of weather), and, lately, announcements about club T-shirts?


Having had a crazy day, been late to every appointment, driven on average 30 mph above speed limit for at least an hour, and slept through my rabbi’s Tanya class (to be posted, in addition to a post on Jewish music) on Ch. 32, I barely have enough energy to share this song and go make French Liberty toasts (although in current times, shouldn’t they be called Hope toasts or something?).

Well, also — doesn’t your soul just sing while looking at this? An ode, an anthem, a hymn to capitalism.

If you accept someone, does it mean that you accept his differences which you originally disagreed with or found wrong, or does it mean that you accept him despite his differences, which you still disagree with and still find wrong?

To be continued…

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mitteler Rebbe’s Kapelyeh

Adapted for piano.

This melody is […] divided into four sections, symbolizing the four rungs on the ladder of approach and devotion of man to G-dliness.

The Tzemach Tzedek explained that the purpose of the orchestra which played on certain occasions for his father-in-law, the Mitteler Rebbe, was to prevent him from reaching the state of termination of earthly existence (kelos ha’nefesh). In his supreme [earning for] the Almighty, the Rebbe could have literally expired unto G-dliness.
Another version of the Kapelyeh, with notes.

Chapters 10, 18 and 32 from Mittler Rebbe’s Sha’ar HaYichud.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Religion of peace on the march

Some headlines from Pajamas TV on the wonderful and rosy world of the religion of peace (some terrorist attacks, a girl burned alive, a woman jailed and losing her children from having tea with another man), followed by an interview with Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, the producer of a new film about Islamic society and state.

Rosh Choidesh Nissan

Individual first? Or the nation first? As far as being members of the secular society, the individual of course (and that’s the best answer for the nation).

As far as being members of a family, the family first of course. As far as being members of Jewish people — the Jewish nation and a Jewish individual are the same thing. To separate them is ridiculous (which is the spiritual source for the mitzva of Ahavas Yisroel). Yet, when a choice comes in the emphasis of mitzvos… From Sichos in English:
There are many days between Pesach and Purim, and by Divine Providence, this gathering is being held on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Consonant with the Baal Shem Tov’s dictum that everything can and should provide a lesson for one’s service to G-d, there is a special lesson to be learned from Rosh Chodesh in general, and Rosh Chodesh Nissan in particular.

Rosh Chodesh is the birth of the moon, every succeeding day seeing the moon wax greater and greater. Jews are “destined to be renewed like the moon,” and it is incumbent on every Jew to know that he is being given new strength and blessings from G-d so that he can ascend in matters of Judaism — just as the moon waxes greater each day. And when a Jew ascends in matters of Judaism, his life becomes illuminated with the light of Judaism, affecting his family and all Jewry.

This is connected with the redemption, for at the “sanctification of the moon” we say “Dovid king of Israel lives and exists” — and the redemption is associated with the House of Dovid. Notwithstanding the situation of Jews in exile, when they increase in a “candle which is a mitzvah and Torah which is light,” they effect and draw down the great and true light that will be in the true and complete redemption.

The idea of the redemption is emphasized even more strongly on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. When the Jews were in exile in Egypt, they were commanded on Rosh Chodesh Nissan about the Pesach sacrifice and the other matters of Pesach, together with the tidings about their deliverance from Egypt. On every Rosh Chodesh Nissan this strength in regards to the redemption is renewed — and in greater measure than on Rosh Chodesh of other months. Just as the Jews were informed on Rosh Chodesh Nissan of their imminent deliverance from exile in Egypt, “so may it be with us” — that on this Rosh Chodesh Nissan all Jews should be informed of the true and complete redemption.

In addition, when the Jews were in the desert, the Mishkan was dedicated on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and on that day the princes of (the tribes of) Israel brought special offerings. Besides the offerings brought by the individual princes on successive days (starting from Rosh Chodesh Nissan), on Rosh Chodesh Nissan itself, all the princes brought an offering together — “the princes offered their offerings”. It was only after the princes had thus emphasized the essential unity of all Jews as “one people” that they brought their individual offerings.

On every Rosh Chodesh Nissan each year, each Jew has special strength to unite with all Jewry, all of them helping to erect the Mishkan and its general service. Afterwards, the individual service and mission of each Jew is performed.

This is the special lesson to be learned from Rosh Chodesh Nissan. First and foremost, each Jew’s service must be such that it is openly seen that he is part of the “one people,” and that each Jew takes a share in the building of the (general) sanctuary to G-d; then follows the individual service of each Jew.

For example, in regard to Jewish children, there are certain things applicable only to boys: wearing tzitzis, and preparations for putting on tefillin. Likewise, there are certain things applicable only to girls: kindling the Shabbos and Yom Tov lights. Involvement in these particular mitzvos follow after the uniting of Jews into “one people,” and simultaneously knowing that these actions add to the light of Judaism in all Jewry. Through this, the last days of exile are illuminated and made joyous, and become days of preparation to the true and complete redemption.

Paved with good intentions

There is a Russian saying: “A fool without initiative is better than a fool with initiative.” At least the first fool doesn’t do anything — he is just being an idiot quietly. The second one wracks havoc with his well-intentioned idiocy.

But of course, the lovers of the current President seem to think that as long as he has good intentions (something I also find quite hard to believe), all will be good. Everyone will try really-really hard and believe in our success, and we will succeed. Against the cynicism and the laws of nature.

It’s a bit like saying, “Dude, you’re trying to go from Boston to New York, but you got on I-95 North, not South”, and hearing in response: “Well, yeah, we may disagree about the direction in which we are supposed to go, but at least I am driving fast. You can’t disagree that I am driving fast, right?” Yeah, you’re driving fast — in the wrong direction. At this pace, you will get closer to New York by breaking down. Which is my answer to all those hurting souls who ask Conservatives: “Whyyyy would you want our President to faaaaail?! Doesn’t our country have enough problems?” Yes — people like you and the president you elected.

In any event, as Mises Economic Blog comments, “There are still elected people [...] who make sense.”
PARIS — The European Union’s crisis of leadership during the economic downturn was thrown into sharp relief on Wednesday, as the current president of the 27-nation bloc labeled President Obama’s emergency stimulus package “a way to hell” that will “undermine the stability of the global financial market.”

The blunt comments by the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the union, came just a week before a crucial meeting of the Group of 20 that was called to show global solidarity in fighting the recession. The comments were greeted with embarrassment by many Europeans who believe that the Czech leader does not represent a European consensus. [source]
Of course not. The European consensus is to cure an allergic response through a blood transfusion: by drawing blood from the leg and injecting it into the arm. What? It’s the problem with blood, stupid. We will inject some fresh blood into the system, and “jump-start” the body…

* * *

The classical model of a liberal from everyday life is that driver who lets someone waiting to make a turn go in front of him, while there are fifty cars standing in the traffic behind him. It’s the typical description of liberal thinking that Henry Hazlitt warns about in his book, Economics in One Lesson: any time you make a decision about success or appropriateness of some policy, you can’t just think about one specific group of people. You have to look at everyone affected, including those not immediately in front of your nose.

You may bail out a company, saving a thousand jobs. So, you helped out a thousand people in front of you. But you hurt tens and hundreds of thousands by the same move! But no, the liberal never looks in a rear-view mirror. Emotion—reflex—response. Thinking too hard is cruel and immoral.
The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
So simple. And at the same time, so ungraspable for a liberal mind.

* * *

Now that we are on the topic of Czechs, a cute commercial about Czech beer and Bedř ich Smetana, the famous composer who wrote a piece called “Má Vlast” (“My Fatherland”) while already deaf:

— I can’t compose for you a national song, gentlemen, because I can’t hear anything.
— But sir...
I can’t hear, gentlemen!..
A servant brings in beer; Smetana looks at it.
— Pen!..

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


“When a Lubavitcher davens, he whispers.”

Look at this man’s hands.

Or, a little more energetic:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Halachic process — 1

Following a discussion with my rabbi and my pianist friend.

Is this what psak din is? (PG-613.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Leaves a bit too much to imagination

From the article “Which Vodka is the Best?

Grey Goose
$29.99 for 750 milliliters; 80 proof
French; distilled from wheat, rye, and barley

Made in Cognac but owned by the American Bacardi Corp., Grey Goose was introduced in the United States in 1997 and has since won a great many industry awards.

We were underwhelmed: Grey Goose is sweet and smoky, with hints of anise and citrus in the finish, but it all adds up to only a sort of smooth, uninteresting neutrality. And so, while the more generous half of our panel praised Grey Goose's "long, silky aftertaste" and "pleasing burn," detractors found it "bland," "spineless," and "vaguely medicinal."

In the end, seven tasters agreed that the vodka's softness and subtlety made it a solid, if unremarkable, choice. Four found it to be too unremarkable and lacking the bite or character they expected from a self-described "ultra-premium" spirit.

Final Verdict: "Leaves a bit too much to the imagination."
Grade: Three Shot Glasses

I still find it remarkable (not Grey Goose). Absolutely amazing.

For whom was Tanya intended?

The answer, of course, is “everyone”.
The Baal Shem Tov, in a famous letter to his brother-in-law, tells of the time he experienced an elevation of the soul to the celestial spheres. When he came to the abode of Mashiach, he asked, “When will the Master come?” Mashiach answered: “When your wellsprings shall spread forth to the outside.”

The Baal Shem Tov was the founder of Chassidus and the Chassidic movement. Mashiach’s answer meant that the world would be ready for his coming when the wellsprings of Chassidus would reach all Jews [revelation of essence of Toireh drawing down the revelation of the Essence of Hashem]. Ever since, the dissemination of Chassidic doctrines and teachings has assumed top priority.

Chabad Chassidus, founded by the Alter Rebbe, conveys the concepts of Chassidus in an intellectual framework, enabling them to be understood by man’s chochmah (wisdom), binah (understanding) and daas (knowledge) — ChaBaD. The doctrines of Chassidus were made comprehensible to all Jews, thereby infusing life and vitality in every aspect of a person and his service to G-d. The fundamental text of Chabad Chassidus, its “Written Law”, is the Tanya, authored by the Alter Rebbe.
But it doesn’t mean that everyone can study it by himself, as Alter Rebbe mentions in the Introduction to Tanya. One must find a mashpia. Is Tanya unique in this aspect? Not at all — it’s a feature of all Judaism.

And I am not talking just about pshat, the literal meaning. I am talking about being on the level at which Tanya is relevant for you, accessible for you, and your soul, your intellect and your emotions are strong enough for Tanya.

Some people say that Tanya was written only for the talmidim of Alter Rebbe. Rabbi Paltiel answers, in the name of the Frierdiker Rebbe: “people that I know and recognize” means any people from the time of Alter Rebbe till Mashiach who make an effort to study Tanya.

He also tells a story, elsewhere, about a bochur in Tomchei Tmimim who had a health condition, for which doctors prescribed him to take an hourly walk every day. This meant that he had to miss on hour of the seider. Of all things to miss he chose Tanya, since he has learned it numerous times already.

His mashpia told him that the bochur should miss an hour from any other subject, but not Tanya. The bochur’s brother, who was also a mashpia, disagreed — why should the bochur have to listen to the subject he already knows and miss the subject he is not yet acquainted with? When both of them were in yechidus with Rebbe Rashab, they asked who is right. The Rebbe agreed with the first mashpia and explained: there is value in learning and listening to Tanya just for its own sake, even if one already (supposedly) knows the information written.

ולא ידחוק עוד ליכנם לדבר עמי ביחידות

No longer will one need to press for a private audience,

כי בהן ימצא מרגוע לנפשו ועצה נכונה לכל דבר הקשה עליו בעבודת ה׳,

for in [these Likutei Amarim] one will find tranquillity for his soul, and true counsel on everything that he finds difficult in the service of G‑d.

ונכון יהיה לבו בטוח בה׳ גומר בעדינו

Thus his heart will be firmly secure in G‑d who completes and perfects everything for us.

ומי שדעתו קצרה להבין דבר עצה מתוך קונטריסים אלו

He whose mind is too limited to understand how to derive advice from these pamphlets,

יפרש שיחתו לפני הגדולים שבעירו, והם יבוננהו

let him discuss his problem with the foremost scholars of his town and they will enlighten him.

ואליהם בקשתי שלא לשום יד לפה

Of [these scholars] I request that they not lay their hand upon their mouth, i.e., not to keep silent when asked for advice, for fear of appearing to be proud in their knowledge,

להתנהג בענוה ושפלות של שקר, חס ושלום

to conduct themselves with false modesty and humility — for misplaced modesty is falsehood.

וכנודע עונש המר על מונע בר

It is well known how bitter is the punishment of him who “withholds food” [i.e., who withholds Torah knowledge from him who seeks it],

וגודל השכר, ממאמר רז״ל על פסוק: מאיר עיני שניהם ה׳

and also how great is the reward granted to one who provides [such knowledge]. This is well known from the comment of our Sages on the verse, “G‑d enlightens the eyes of them both.”

כי יאיר ה׳ פניו אליהם, אור פני מלך חיים

Thus G‑d will cause His face to shine upon them, with the light of the countenance of the King [which provides] life.

ומחיה חיים יזכנו ויחיינו לימים אשר לא ילמדו עוד איש את רעהו וגו׳ כי כולם ידעו אותי

May He who provides life to the living grant us the privilege of living to see the days when “no longer will one man teach another... [to know Me], for they will all know Me [from the smallest to the greatest],

כי מלאה האר׳ דעה את ה׳ וגו׳

for the knowledge of G‑d will fill the earth as the waters fill the sea.”

אמן כן יהי רצון

Amen. May this be His Will.

TopGear on Communist cars

My favorite part — 12:38:
In Russia, you had to work hard on car factories, or you’d suddently discover how difficult it is to mine Siberian salt, while wearing a hat made from your wife’s head.

British Communists didn’t really bother with any of that. Mostly, in fact, they didn’t bother turning up to work at all. They’d simply make their way to factory’s gates, where they’d spend the rest of their day chatting.
See also 9:12 for British Communist car (“The nerve to call it ‘super’. I suppose you couldn’t just call it ‘Trotskyite crap’. Maybe that’s what TC stands for”).

More on UK liberals.

I wonder what American cars bailed out by Obama and the rest of Politburo will look like in a few years.

It’s also always amazing how, given a choice of two syllables in a Slavic word, an English speaker will always put a stress on the wrong one. It must be the English and American way of distinguishing themselves — after all, they can’t speak through their noses like French.

And, finally, how difficult is “Zaporozhetz” to pronounce? It’s not like we are forcing you to say “Dnieprodzerzhinsk”.

(full version)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A brief outline for the question of G-d and suffering

I don’t have time to post the whole argument, but I am posting the outline. I may address the specific approaches in future posts (promises, promises…), but for now, this should suffice for those of understanding.
The outline for the debate on existence of suffering vs. omnipotence and benevolence of G-d:

1. Introduction
  • Moshe Rabbeinu and his question
  • two schools of thought in Judaism: rational and mystical
  • G-d is good; G-d is Good; Good is G-d
  • Square triange — is G-d bound by laws of logic? Limitation not on G-d but on the world, stemming from the definition of the world
  • synopsis of the three lines of argument
2. Rational argument (listen to Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb’s shiur)
  • Who is more G-d–like: people or angels?
  • In the image of G-d — sharing His essential aspects; freedom
  • Freedom of will entitles ability to cause suffering, no way around it (square triangle)
  • Story of Yosef and brothers
3. Intermediate argument (listen to Rabbi Paltiel’s shiur on Samech Vov)
  • Can’t know why the reason for creation of the world is what it is, can know what it is (can’t know why a man made the microscope, can know what the purpose of a microscope, built-in into it, is)
  • Moshol of fire and burning wood with O₂ vs. stone burning under water — need a place of concealment to reveal the essence
  • This worls is a world of concealment for this reason, manifests in:
    — atheism (projection on a screen vs. picture on the wall)
    — free will (including being able to cause suffering)
    — suffering coming from the world itself (natural)
  • Right now we are not there (the Messianic Era), but the world is one nekuda, with space, past, present and future as one whole
4. Mystical argument (Ch. 26 of Tanya)
  • A theist knows that everything comes from G-d, just in revealed vs. in concealed form
  • Revealed good cannot come from the essential aspect of G-dliness, since its revelation would either destroy the world or go "through" the world
  • Therefore, good from essential aspect of G-dliness must be in a concealed form — packaged in the form of suffering
  • Not an excuse for causing or not preventing suffering
    — post factum (b’dieved) vs. a priori (lehatchilo)
    — free will vs. Divine Providence
    — slavery in Egypt: Egyptians accepted the role of slave owners, didn’t have to, despite the fact that it was destined
    — the story of the tzaddik and breakfast
    — it’s about your free will: that’s between you and G-d; what a person is destined to get is between him and G-d, has nothing to do with you
5. Summary, answer to Moshe Rabbeinu (“If you know the true cause of suffering, you will stop caring about preventing it.”)
(Sorry for bad formatting. The blog freaked out when I posted the text in a formatted form.)

The outline doesn’t talk about the idea of tzaddik ve’rah loi or the idea of reincarnation. And of course, Chabad Chassidus can destroy all of the above with two words (literally).

Mazal tov

When a grandmother becomes a great-grandmother (not to mention a nobody becoming an uncle), especially on Purim, it’s always a cause for celebration.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Thoughts on Theory of Evolution

One of several thoughts from starting to read The Hand by Frank R. Wilson.

My problem with obsession with the Theory of Evolution is not that I don’t believe in TE. I do. I mean, I believe the facts. If the facts contradict each other, I can try to find the way to reconcile them (as in contradiction of Quantum Mechanics and General Theory of Relativity), bend one set of facts to another, or just let the contradiction be. And I believe that I really can reconcile Evolution and Judaism.

So, I accept Evolution as a fact, albeit perhaps interpreted by me differently from the most. The problem appears when people start defining their lives according the Evolution, defining the essence of humanity. Defining me, after all.

Because I don’t believe that. Whatever facts I may believe, I am still a theist, a Chassidic Orthodox religious Jew whose outlook on the definition and essence of life, its purpose and its meaning derives from Judaism. Facts are facts. They are out there. The world looks old. Nu. The species look like they share common ancestry. Nu. Perhaps they do — in physical, or, more likely, in mystical sense (which practically yields the same consequences). Nu.

But these things don’t define me. The purpose with which my Creator sent me into this world does.

At the same I could see how these things would most meaningfully define an atheist’s life. Or perhaps not — I don’t know what would meaningfully define an atheist’s life (just like I don’t know what would be his meaningful definition of morality) without him being intellectually dishonest, ignorant, stupid or lying to himself.

But perhaps this is what irritates the Conservatives about TE, which I never understood (the theory being for me just a scientific, biological fact and a useful model for interpreting and representing data, not any life-defining or -changing set of principles or ideas).

You talkin’ to me?..


A little critique of populism:

Something to consider

“Mench tracht un G-tt lacht” (“Man plans and G-d laughs”).

But we have to try our best. And more often than not our best is not good enough — so, we need to try to do better. Because we are expected to. Otherwise, what’s the point? Tell me, what is the point otherwise?


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

Science is fun


J.M. Kearsey et al. “Does the p53 up-regulated Gadd45 protein have a role in excision repair?” Science 270, 1004–1005 (1995)

G. Barreto, G. et al. “Gadd45a promotes epigenetic gene activation by repair-mediated DNA demethylation.” Nature 445, 671–675 (2007)
Another answer:
S.G. Jin et al. “GADD45A does not promote DNA demethylation.” PLoS Genet. 4, e1000013 (2008)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Isarusa d’leila vs. Isarusa d’lesata

Isarusa d’leila — inspiration from above. When Hashem inspires you as a favor; you suddenly have energy for your avoida. Amazing, but is not earned, so it doesn’t stay.

Isarusa d’lesata — inspiration from below. When you work hard, and Hashem sends inspiration to you proportional to your work. Less abundant in energy, but more internalized.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Puzzled in Gaza

THERE WERE empty beds at Shifa Hospital and a threatening atmosphere. Hamas is reduced to wielding its unchallengeable authority from extensive air raid shelters which, together with the hospital, were built by Israel 30 years ago. Terrorized Gazans used doublespeak when they told me most of the alleged 5,500 wounded were being treated in Egypt and Jordan. They want it known that the figure is a lie, and showed me that the wounded weren't in Gaza. No evidence exists of their presence in foreign hospitals, or of how they might have gotten there.

From the mansions of the Abu Ayida family at Jebala Rayes to Tallel Howa (Gaza City's densest residential area), Gazans contradicted allegations that Israel had murderously attacked civilians. They told me again and again that both civilians and Hamas fighters had evacuated safely from areas of Hamas activity in response to Israeli telephone calls, leaflets and megaphone warnings.

A good read.

Heart vs. brain?

Or, rather, lack of brain vs. brain?

Arbat says that the famouse adage of Churchill’s — “One who is conservative before he’s 20 has no heart, and one who is liberal after he’s 30 has no brain” (or something like that) — always struck him as a bit too categorical.

Does it mean that this kid — who has more brains than at least the majority of Americans, plus the majority of the government (including all its so-called “experts”) — has no heart?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

On social sciences and other things

Richard Feynman, the brilliant physicist and Nobel Prize laureate (not that it matters lately, since they give the prize to trash like Krugman and Jimmy Carter):

Richard Feynman used to say: “What you presented to us is so stupid, it’s not even false”.

On proper science:

On disbelief (it’s amazing how much this applies to Judaism):