Thursday, April 30, 2009

Simple desert people

(PG-613 post following. Beware.)

... following a civilized religion of peace.

In other news: two confirmed cases of swine flu where I live. Three questions come to mind:

1. Would swine flu ever happen amongst Jews? (Replace swine flu with plague, smallpox or AIDS.)
2. How did swine flu get transmitted from pigs to humans? (Replace swine flu with AIDS.)
3. What is the reason that it says in Gemara that a Jew is not allowed to lend his dog to a non-Jew?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A story about James Joyce

At a certain point in his life, the Irish writer James Joyce became disillusioned with Catholic Christianity and had a crisis of faith (mostly spiked by him finding a certain ritual involving crackers, wine and other bodily fluids very silly), as a result of which he left the church (yes, I know it’s supposed to be capitalized, but not on my blog).

A friend of his asked him then: “So, are you going to become a Protestant?” Joyce answered: “I told you that I’d lost my faith. I did not say I’d lost self-respect.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Learning Tanya — two ways to view the world

(“Response” = egocentric strategy; “Place” = allocentric strategy)

In Neuroscience and Psychology, two strategies of navigation are described. The first strategy, egocentric, tries to memorize turns. It envisions the world rotating around self and connects in sequence the places where one must turn or go straight. The second strategy, allocentric, visualizes one on a map and tries to calculate how to get from where one is right now to where one’s goal is. What one sees in one’s mind is not the world rotating around oneself, but oneself being a dot on the world’s map. (See the picture above.)

There are two types of people who learn Tanya. People from the first group, as they learn, try to figure out what Tanya does for their own spiritual development, their closeness with G-d, their internal growth. People from the second group ask the questions: “In what way do I know more about how to serve my Creator? What am I lacking, and how can I cause more pleasure to Hashem and fulfill the purpose for which He created the world?”

The second group of people, following allocentric and altruistic strategy, are the true Lubavitch chassidim. (And the only reason, by the way, that they see in Tanya explaining how one can become truly joyous is that being joyous is a key to being the best possible servant of G-d. A depressed soul does not make dwelling place for G-d in this world as successfully. So, in the end, it’s all about making a keli — out of oneself — for G-d.)

* * *

One more thing. Just because one learns Tanya, it doesn’t mean he is not a misnaged or someone who dislikes Chabad. It just means he is not a complete ignoramus. It doesn’t take much to recognize that a modern Jew must learn Tanya.

(Source of the figure: “The Role of the Basal Ganglia in Habit Formation”; Yin and Knowlton, 2006)

Monday, April 27, 2009

A singing break from work

Thanks to le7 for sending me this. Only singing, no instruments. I already posted a version of this niggun, but it had some violins playing in the background, so I won’t link to it right now (even though I personally couldn’t really hear the violins).

A perfect example of Jews elevating local “sparks”.

The full album is available for download. Give a donation to Yad L'shliach and enjoy the album for free!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Of cookies and red-blooded Englishmen

(The man who first made me an atheist and then a chossid)

A story by Douglas Adams that I particularly like:


This actually did happen to a real person, and the real person is me. I had gone to catch a train. This was April 1976, in Cambridge, U.K. I was a bit early for the train. I’d gotten the time of the train wrong. I went to get myself a newspaper to do the crossword, and a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies. I went and sat at a table. I want you to picture the scene. It’s very important that you get this very clear in your mind. Here’s the table, newspaper, cup of coffee, packet of cookies. There’s a guy sitting opposite me, perfectly ordinary-looking guy wearing a business suit, carrying a briefcase. It didn’t look like he was going to do anything weird. What he did was this: he suddenly leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out, and ate it.

Now this, I have to say, is the sort of thing the British are very bad at dealing with. There’s nothing in our background, upbringing, or education that teaches you how to deal with someone who in broad daylight has just stolen your cookies. You know what would happen if this had been South Central Los Angeles. There would have very quickly been gunfire, helicopters coming in, CNN, you know… But in the end, I did what any red-blooded Englishman would do: I ignored it. And I stared at the newspaper, took a sip of coffee, tried to do aclue in the newspaper, couldn’t do anything, and thought: What am I going to do?

In the end I thought: Nothing for it, I’ll just have to go for it, and I tried very hard not to notice the fact that the packet was already mysteriously opened. I took out a cookie for myself. I thought: That settled him. But it hadn’t because a moment or two later he did it again. He took another cookie. Having not mentioned it the first time, it was somehow even harder to raise the subject the second time around. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice…” I mean, it doesn’t really work.

We went through the whole packet like this. When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies, but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away. Well, we exchanged meaningful looks, then he walked away, and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back.

A moment or two later the train was coming in, so I tossed back the rest of my coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper were my cookies. The thing I like particularly about this story is the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter-century a perfectly ordinary guy who’s had the same exact story, only he doesn’t have the punch line.

— From The Salmon of Doubt

Liberalism with initiative

Recently I wrote a post, in which I said:
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.
So, after that, I was washing hands in our new building’s bathroom and noticed that the water becomes progressively hotter as you have it on (the water turns on itself when your hands approach the faucet; if you want to wash your hands with cold water only, it’s not an option). To the point that if you wash the hands for too long, it becomes intolerably hot. And, of course, if you just washed hands quite thoroughly, and someone walks to the same faucet right after you, he is greeted with a flow of scalding liquid.

I wandered at that point what every programmer has wondered numerous times while working with Windows OS: is this a bug or a feature? (Somehow this statement always sounds better in Russian — perhaps because “bug” and “feature” are pronounced in English, with heavy Russian accent.) Is this someone making a mistake in plumbing, or is this purposefully designed so that people don’t wash their hands for too long, wasting too much water? In other words, is this a work of a fool without initiative or a fool with initiative?

At the time, I dismissed the second alternative as unlikely. It turns out, I could be right on target with it. Gizmodo reports in “Inflatable Shower Curtain: Be Green or Be Suffocated” —
Sure, there are other methods of conserving water in the shower, but none of them put your life on the line like the inflatable shower curtain from designer Elisabeth Buecher.

My approach to design can sometimes appear shockingly radical but I have got different reasons to legitimize that. An alarm clock is not what we can call a pleasurable object. It is often even painful to be awoken by it. However it is a necessary object, which regulates our lives and the society. That's what I call the "design for pain and for our own good".

Some of my designs seem to constrain people, acting like an alarm clock, awaking people to the consciousness of their behavior and giving them limits. People often need an external signal to behave more. In France the government added thousands of new radars on the roads to fight excessive speed. And it worked: there are far less people killed on the roads of France today. I call it "design of threat and punishment" and I use it as an educational tool.

Yeah, she’s not fooling around here. If you don't wrap things up in a timely fashion the curtain will inflate until you are a naked, shivering prisoner in your own shower. By the looks of things, if you aren't careful the damn thing could completely cut off your air supply. Personally, I would rather go with the Eco-Drop Shower — the philosophy is the same but it's far less deadly.
All I can say is that I am glad I don’t live in France. No, it has nothing to do with the fascist approach to drivers. I am just happy I don’t live in France. Well, yet. If the current government (and the particular group of overgrown children that supports it) has its way, this country will be turned into one giant iPhone. I.e., France.

* * *

In other news: “The Pirate Google Bay Gives the Finger to Record Companies, Studios”. Warms your heart, doesn’t it? Well, it warms mine. Every single victory over copyright fascism does.

Of galaxies and raspberries

I actually don’t know if I like this news, because I never liked raspberries. I was always suspicious of them harboring some alien life forms inside — and a mashgiach friend of mine once confirmed my hunch. In any event, if that is true, now we know why.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what that big gaping darkness in the middle of the galaxy is — yes, it’s a black hole. At least we suspect it is. No one has actually seen it.

Plagiarizing from G-d

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How to stay joyous? The Chabad approach

Chapter 33 of Tanya with Rabbi Posner, the shliach of Boston.

“And this is the whole human being.” G-d’s penetration of all the worlds. (Meaning what?) How to stay joyous. And where exactly is the dwelling for G-d? What does it mean to be a Jew? What is the only reason to convert?

If you haven’t learned this, in one way or another, you don’t know what Chabad Chassidus is.

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Watch live video from chabadboston's channel on

Monday, April 20, 2009

Of shoes, corkscrews and bittul

A friend of mine said: “Shoes are directly related to self-esteem”.

In Lubavitch, we spit at self-esteem. Who are you? You are a nobody. You are a vessel for Hashem’s work in this world. Sure, a vessel must be fitting. A shoichet’s knife must be sharp. A writer’s keyboard must be crisp. An electrophysiologist’s pipettes must be well-pulled. A Jew must not look like a shlepper. But to go beyond that and give a special touch to one’s look where it goes beyond your mission? The external looks are for beheimos. For the beheima within yourself (your nefesh ha’bahamis) and for the beheimos outside who look at you and whom you are trying to influence. It is important not to identify with either of them.

A story from Frierdiker Rebbe’s diary:
For Passover of 5650 [1890] — I was several months short of my tenth birthday at the time — a new suit of clothes was made up for me, together with a brand new pair of shoes.

In my hometown of Lubavitch, the preparations for the festival were conducted in a meticulous and thorough manner. On the day before Passover, a strict procedure was followed: first, all chametz was searched out and eradicated from the yard, chicken coop, and stable. The caretaker, Reb Mendel, was busy with this for a good part of the night before and followed up with a double-check in the morning. Then, the chametz was burned, following which we would go immerse ourselves in the mikvah, dress for the festival, and bake the matzas mitzvah for the seder. Finally, there were always the last-minute preparations to be taken care of.

Among these final odds and ends was a job entrusted to me: to remove the seals from the wine bottles and to partially pull out the corks. The latter was a most challenging task, for one had to take care that the metal of the corkscrew should not come in contact with the wine.

That year, I was busy at my appointed task in my father’s room. I went about my work with great caution, careful not to dirty my new suit and, most importantly, not to dull the shine on my new shoes.

My father noticed what was uppermost in my mind and said to me: “The Alter Rebbe cites the following metaphor: A great nobleman sits at a table laden with all sorts of gourmet dishes and delicacies. Under the table lies a dog, gnawing a bone. Can you imagine the nobleman climbing down from his chair and joining the dog under the table to chew on a luscious bone?”

My father’s words so affected me that I was ashamed to even look at my new clothes.

This is education.
There is another story about bittul. A few old men are sitting and repeating: “Ich bin gürnischt, Ich bin gürnischt.” (“I am nothing, I am nothing”). A young man walks in and starts mocking them: “Ich bin gürnischt, Ich bin gürnischt”. One of the old men looks up and says to the young man: “Du bist takeh gürnischt” (“You really are a nothing”).

It is important to be ayin, one with G-d and not giving any significance to one’s existence. But, at the same time, not to be takeh gürnischt. If Hashem cares about your existence, it means you must care too. But for the same reason that Hashem cares.

The saying “Ein am ha’aretz chassid” (“An ignoramus cannot be a chossid”) is well known. One has to be a scholar of Torah, an intelligent, educated and wise person (besides being humble) to be a chossid. One must, however, also be a mentch.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Subjects to the Government

(Lithuania in 13th–15th centuries)

As everyone knows, everything that the nations can do, Jews can do better. (Except basketball.)

In the same way, everything that the Europeans can do, Americans can do better. (Except culture. And cooking.)

This includes negative things. Like slavery.

By Philip Chaston, from London:

Once I was born a British citizen, and enjoyed the suzerainty of a long-standing liberal democracy. I knew my liberties as they were embedded in common law and understood the rights and privileges which were my birthright. This was a common culture that was shared in many forms by my fellow pupils at school, by my family and by those who desired to make this country their home.

In 1997 I was still a citizen. Now I am a subject: not a subject of the Crown but the subject of a new beast, one that stretches from Whitehall to Brussels. Roger Scruton has defined a subject as follows:

Subjection is the relation between the state and the individual that arises when the state need not account to the individual, when the rights and duties of the individual are undefined or defined only partially and defeasibly, and where there is no rule of law that stands higher than the state that enforces it.

This is a contentious argument, but our rights are overdetermined and overdefined on paper, arbitrary in exertion, incompetent in execution. Moreover, the European Union under the Treaty of Lisbon confers the authority of a bureaucratic state based upon a law no higher than itself, which can annul and strike out all rights, as power overrides law.

In practice, bureaucratic accretions, quangos and the vomit of regulation have encouraged a culture of subjection. This may have roots prior to New Labour but it acquired its final flowering under this pestilent regime, and discarded the final brakes upon its power: demanding that we are subject to them, civil servants in name, masters in form. ID cards, databases, surveillance and dependency.

The final transition can never be dated. It is not in the interests of the Tories to row back on such change, as they will lose the power that they have looked upon so enviously for a decade. So, when I vote in 2010, I will know that we are each capable of acting responsibly as a citizen, but we are now viewed as subjects, to be feared and controlled.

Sounds familiar? Especially the part in bold.

By the way, I do hope you enjoy paying your new tax when buying things online.

On copyright Nazis

I will quote fully the newest post about copyright idiocy from

Another great institution is being taken down by the copyright terrorists. This one is beyond-belief hilarious/ridiculous/evil because of course we not only own the full rights. We have put the book into Creative Commons and are desperately trying to give the book away to the world.

Observe the insanity!

Dear Ludwig von Mises Institute,
We have removed your document "America's Great Depression, by Murray Rothbard" because our text matching system determined that it was very similar to a work that has been marked as copyrighted and not permitted on Scribd.

Like all automated matching systems, our system is not perfect and occasionally makes mistakes. If you believe that your document is not infringing, please contact us at and we will investigate the matter.

As stated in our terms of use, repeated incidents of copyright infringement will result in the deletion of your account and prohibit you from uploading material to in the future. To prevent us from having to take these steps, please delete from any material you have uploaded to which you do not own the necessary rights and refrain from uploading any material you are not entitled to upload. For more information about's copyright policy, please read the Terms of Use located at


Jason Bentley
Director of Customer Care

I guess this means that the Mises Institute will no longer use Scribd. Who needs this nonsense? And now everyone who ever linked this, embedded it, or sent it to friends is made to look like an idiot, and all the time we wasted getting this on the scribd in the first place is completely wasted.

Oh what a lovely world the copyright police are creating for us! How much better off we are having our own "intellectual property" rammed down our own throats!

Meanwhile, copyright may be unconstitutional. But nobody cares about that particualr document anymore. Almost every single thing that the government is praised for and that it and people working for it consider its main job is unconstitutional. Constitution? Pshh...

More on copyright.

Of shidduchim, conversations and musketeers

A horror story to some, a funny story to others.

A friend of mine told me a story about his grandparents. His grandmother was a chatterbox. When she was going through a shidduch with his grandfather, he was very talkative too — so, the bride-to-be was happy: she had finally found someone she can have a nice talk with.

After they got married, the husband stopped talking. Initially she thought he was shy, or it was a shock from the wedding, new responsibilities, etc. But as the time passed on, the husband was talking as much as Grimaud (the servant of Athos from The Three Musketeers).

Eventually she asked him: why wasn’t he so talkative anymore? The husband answered: “I said everything I had to say.”

Update (for le7): And after that they lived for the rest of their happy lives in comfortable silence.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Crisis solved!

Nah, just kidding. In your dreams.

About two and a half weeks ago, some brave genius nicknamed Anonymous wrote the following as a comment to my post in which I said that I hope Obama’s efforts will fail:
I used to say the exact same thing when it came to the Bush Administration and the conservative congress. However, there is one big difference between our view ... mine has come to pass and has been proven correct and yours is just speculation.
Bad grammar, style and punctuation aside, let us now see what results the plans of Bush-haters — also known in zoological taxonomy as Homo liberalis — have given birth to. Wall Street is certainly looking happy:
Top bankers have been leaving Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and others in rising numbers to join banks that do not face tighter regulation, including foreign banks, or start-up companies eager to build themselves into tomorrow’s financial powerhouses. Others are leaving because of culture clashes at merging companies, like Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, and still others are simply retiring early.
So, regulations are working out well then. Arbat comments: some of the bankers leaving these firms are actually the same ones who voted for Democrats who had promised to regulate these banks. I don’t know whether this is a comment on the character or intellect of Homo liberalis, so I won’t say much further.

But — you may ask — what do I care? I am not a banker. I am simple tax payer. Well, it may just absolutely shockingly turn out that “Exodus of Top Bankers [is] Bad News for the Taxpayer”:

The message couldn’t be clearer: no seasoned investment banker worth their salt wants to work for the government if they can help it. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, who now shares in the prosperity of Goldman Sachs and Bank of America via the recent bailout packages, the bankers who packed their bags and jumped ship last week are arguably some of the most seasoned professionals the industry has to offer.


The exodus suggests that there is far too much bureaucratic oversight going on at the big banks right now. Silly schemes such as 90 percent taxation for higher-paid employees at government-aided firms ought to be quickly put to rest. Otherwise banks will continue to lose the very employees they need to steer them through this crisis, and enable taxpayers to get a quick and handsome return on investment.

Instead, we’ll be left with a range of new privately-owned financial houses staffed with the best finance has to offer — which the taxpayer reaps no reward from.

So, the liberals buy the banks out with the taxpayers’ money and then regulate them to death, while the only people who can possibly steer the boat away from the shoals are leaving it as quickly as possible. And this is bad for taxpayers? I am absolutely flabbergasted. Nobody could have ever seen this coming.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Of onions and lemons

This was the most enjoyable pair of seiderim so far. I was the Simple Son. And it was truly great. But, as Rebbe Rashab said, “It takes twenty five years of hiskafiya and hiskafka to realize that putting on tefillin once [not during Chol HaMoed obviously] is greater than twenty five years of hiskafiya and hiskafka.”

So, learn Chabad Chassidus — otherwise, you’re just an am ha’aretz. And in order to understand Chabad Chassidus (and, generally speaking, know what to do and do what you have to do), learn already Gemara, Halacha, Tanach, and the rest of Yiddishkeit. But at the end of the day, be Hashem’s simple son. Who is there not because He wants a present from Hashem (even a spiritual present), but simply because He wants Hashem.

At one point, someone asked a question: “What does Dayeinu mean?” My answer: just be grateful to be part of G-d’s Universe, His grand plan. Just be happy you exist. Sure, if there is a chance, we should always strive for greater — but to say that G-d owes something to us?

* * *

What does it mean that we have bechira (free will) and yet G-d creates the world every single second? So, if I move a pen, who caused the pen to appear in a new place — G-d or, lehavdil, I? The answer is: both. I have a ratzon (desire) for the pen to move, and G-d creates the world with a pen in a new place.

So, if I do everything according to G-d’s Will — and this doesn’t mean only obeying all His wishes and never disobeying something He doesn’t want me to do, but also making sure that nothing is for no reason, “just ‘cause” — I am making sure that there is still one G-d in the Universe. His wishes are my wishes, my actions are His actions (which I will to be so), and the fact that He is the Master of the World is affirmed.

But when I do something (G-d forbid) against His Will, or if I don’t carry out His Will, or if I do something which has nothing to do with His Will and is pointless or is simply for my pleasure (like chatting with a friend about soccer), then I make it that it is as if there were two “gods” in the Universe (G-d forbid): G-d and, lehavdil, I. Of course, there is still one G-d only, but this truth is not upheld. And it is akin to doing avoida zara (idol worship) then.

So, which one is it gonna be?

* * *

And finally, you should always say “ha’adamah” on onions according to Alter Rebbe, because their taste is decreased (“ruined”) by cooking. I.e., a boiled onion doesn’t taste as good as a raw onion — so, you should say “shehakol” on it. On the other hand, because a fried onion does, perhaps you should say “ha’adama” — consult your Rav.

According to some Polish posek whose name I don’t remember, you should say “shehakol” because people normally eat onions fried or boiled, not raw (but they are edible before cooking — so they don’t gain the status of a vegetable only when cooked, like potatoes). But — in Russia they do eat raw onions. So, according to the second shitta, which brocha should a Jew from Russia make? (And before you say it doesn’t matter where a Jew is from, Russian Jews or descendants of thereof, or Jews belonging to a Russian Jewish community like Lubavitch are not allowed halachically to remove beard — even with scissors. But German Jews are.)

Now the question becomes: what about lemons? In US, people are barbaric and don’t normally eat lemons only using them to squeeze juice out of or to add to their fish, chicken or tea as a spice. In Russia, people are civilized and do eat lemons. Not necessarily in tea (although they do even sometimes eat lemons that they have squeezed into tea). Not necessarily as a form of medicine (if you ever have soar throat, sucking, chewing and eventually swallowing a lemon — with some sugar on top if you’re a wimp or from California and have to constantly smile). Just by themselves. So, should I now say “ha’eitz” or “shehakol”? I am still waiting for an answer from my rav.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

You are wrong!

[I am re-posting this.]

(I was thinking of finding a picture appropriate to the topic of machloikes, but then thought that nothing would fit better than this video, which I like very much.)

I’d like to thank Dixie Yid for a link to “the comment thread at A Simple Jew’s Post, The Essence of Emunah [of] an interesting back-and-forth discussion between R’ Micha Berger & R’ Micha Golshevsky regarding the inner unity behind the major machlokes’n in history”.

As I was reading the discussion, I thought this (not necessarily regarding any side of the discussion):

It seems to me that sometimes our American sensitivity and tendency to make peace and accommodate everyone’s opinion (commendable though this tendency may be) gets in a way of understanding the machloikes. Back in the day, people didn’t have a problem saying “I disagree.” Not “I am right on some level, you are right on another level”, but “I am right, and you are wrong.” Doesn’t mean they didn’t respect the other side’s opinion (depending on the nature of machloikes, of course), but they still thought it to be wrong.

* * *

[Beginning of a long digression — feel free to skip to the next asterisks]

There is a second level of justification — from spiritual perspective. Obviously, in Judaism we have the statement that “eilu v’eilu dvorim Elokim chayim” (“these and these are words of the living G-d” — regarding the dispute between Shammai and Hillel, but more abstractly regarding most other disputes). What is sometimes overlooked, as I mentioned before, that Shammai and Hillel themselves still believed the other party to be wrong. More importantly (for us), we follow only one of their specific opinions for Halacha purposes. And in many cases when we say that a certain halachic opinion is for this community, while other opinion is for another, it’s only due to the circumstances of us being in golus, as Rambam explains in the introduction to Mishnei Torah.

On the other hand, in many cases, of course, this is not true. We accommodate for multiple opinion in our psak din, and indeed, this is the beauty of Torah both from spiritual/metaphysical and sociological point of view (I can hear teeth grinding). From the latter perspective, says Reb Shlomo Yaffe, accommodation of multiple opinions in the final ruling (since all of them are right, despite sometimes obvious disagreement and even mutual exclusivity), the “bottom line” of Jewish law tends towards the middle. On the other hand, in case of, lehavdil, X-ity and Islam, with passage of time these religions acted like a centrifuge, pushing their choice of the ultimate interpretation of their texts towards the outside, the extreme.

Of course, we, as religious Jews, don’t care so much about sociology (this was just an interesting point explaining the difference between Abrahamic religions — the principle of “eilu v’eilu” vs. “my way or the highway”). From philosophical point of view, the principle of “eilu v’eilu” becomes interesting, because it reveals fully the unlimited and undefined nature of G-dliness, from which Torah stems.

I had a conversation once with an apikoires, who asked me if G-d can create a square circle (a more intelligent way to put the question with the stone). I told him that according to the school of chakirah, He cannot — but it’s a limitation not on G-d, but on our reality, or, as Rabbi Gottlieb put it, one our language (i.e., our logic). “When you say square circle, I hear words, but no meaning enters my mind. So, you’re asking me, can G-d create _____, and there is nothing in the blank. You did not ask any question.” Or, to put it differently, G-d could create a square circle, but it would be incompatible with our reality (it’s a slightly different statement from Rabbi Gottlieb’s, but I’ll just lump them in one category for now).

On the other hand, I said, the school of mysticism teaches that G-d indeed can create a square circle and even make it compatible with our reality. In fact, in our history, such things have happened (if you are lazy to read the whole post, in the case of Menoira oil both burning and not burning at the same time, or in the case of Aron Koidesh not taking any space). Now, how the square circle would look to us is a different story. Perhaps it would look like a hologram or, more simply, like a Necker cube, only not on the level of illusion or perceptual ambiguity, but in reality.

“This is interesting,” the apikoires said. “But this means that G-d could tell you to do X and not to do X at the same time. What would you do then?” He thought he had me, but he made a trap for himself. In fact, I explained, every law that G-d gave us is like this. Torah derives from G-dliness, which is multidimensional (infinitely-dimensional, even, one might say). It is the job of our authorities, then, to bring down a specific dimension of each law to this world — and this is where the disagreement stems from, when one authority’s spiritual level is different from that of the other, and as a result, they disagree on the practical “interpretation” of the law, since the particular dimension of the law that one brings down is different from that of another authority.

In practice, sometimes we rule in favor of one opinion, and sometimes in the other (because only one opinion may be appropriate for this world, for this particular place and this particular time), but sometimes we accommodate for multiple opinions. An example I give sometimes is that of dipping chalah in soup on Shabbos. On Shabbos, a Jew is not allowed to cook. Skipping many details, this means he is not allowed to put something defined legally as uncooked into a hot soup still in the first or second vessel of cooking. What about challah? Is baking the same as cooking? If it is, then he is allowed to dip challah in that soup (since something already cooked cannot be further cooked). If it’s not, then he is not allowed to dip challah in the soup (since that would be tantamount to cooking the challah). There is a disagreement in opinions.

We rule that lehatchilo one should not dip challah in the soup, but bediyeved, if someone already dipped the challah (e.g., having not paid attention), one is allowed to eat it. Thus, in our ruling we accommodate for both opinions, despite the fact that they are opposite and mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, from mystical perspective, we learn that even those opinions that were presented in Gemara and were clearly rejected as unsupported by our tradition, are still true on some spiritual level. In fact, they are even higher (from the point of view of gilui) than the opinions that were accepted — and this is why they were rejected, being incompatible with this lowly world (of course, b’etzem, the accepted opinions are higher, since they allow for dira b’tachtoinim). See this beautiful chapter (“Co-existence of Contradictory Truths”) from the Gutnick edition of Rambam’s 9th and 10th principles (with commentaries ranging from classical to those of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) for further discussion on the topic of the spiritual origin of different opinions and the reasons for their inclusion in Gemara (even those that were rejected).

[End of the long digression]

* * *

I think despite all of the above, however, we still overlook the other, non-accomodating side of the machloikes. Yes, sometimes we rule in favor of both parties. And sometimes we say that this is right for us, and this is right for them. But sometimes we rule in favor of only one opinion! Sometimes we say that only one opinion is more appropriate for everyone.

Or, more specifically, sometimes we follow a particular shitta, and even though we recognize the other shitta as beautiful, and part of Torah, and “words of the living G-d”, and shining brightly on some high spiritual level — but here, in this world, where we are trying to bring Mashiach, this shitta is less appropriate than the one we accept. Of course, people who hold according to that shitta may think the same about ours. And we think they are wrong in practice (or at least less right than we are), and they think we are wrong. And guess what? There is nothing wrong with thinking someone is wrong. There is not always a need to sweeten the pill.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chag sameach

Kosher and liberating Peisach to everyone. Liberate yourselves from yourselves. Let the events repeat themselves not only spiritually, but physically, with coming of Mashiach and the purpose for which the world was created finally being fulfilled.

Don’t forget to learn Soiteh.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Regarding Birchas ha’Chama

My friend, a chossid, wrote in the Facebook:
Birkat Hachamah (Blessing on the Sun): The existence of nearly all life on Earth is fueled by light from the sun. Some may call this phenomenon nature. We will gather on April 8th, 2009, and declare otherwise.
My answer:
No we don’t. Sun comes up every morning and goes down every evening. This is Nature — constancy. To say that this does not exist is stupid, ignorant. Or, if you are more elevated and say that ein od milvado, and therefore, nature is nullified before Hashem, then you are right, but you’re not doing your job.

Hashem doesn’t want you to destroy the Nature. He wants there to be Nature — davka oilam ha’tachton. But — Hashem within the Nature.
More about this here.

So, tomorrow we declare that the sun does exist, and the nature does exist (for the sun is a sign of constancy — as opposed to moon, which changes all the time), but at the same time, they are one with Hashem. The ultimate proclamation of Hashem’s Oneness — that He is true and present even within the world, which by its definition, design and (forgive my pun) nature is a lower world — separate and distinct from Hashem, yet one with Him.

By the way, make sure to wear a new piece of clothes tomorrow for Shehichiyanu.

Masterclass vignettes

With only little time left for listening of instrumental music before the coming of Mashiach (iy”H), one more music video — of the famous Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich “critiquing” the play of a young musician as a part of the Masterclass series.

(click on HQ for better picture and sound quality — in this case it may be necessary to understand Maestro)

It may seem that these videos I post are videos of music that I enjoy. This is true. But they are also videos of Judaism (as all my posts are — well, the serious ones, anyway). This one in particular.

From the same concerto, “critique” by Paul Tortelier:

And finally, a very important part (listen to the part starting from 1:52 — related to this comment to TRS’s post about Jewish music):

Feel the difference

Now I see why people buy iPhone.

Quickly create TinyURL in Firefox

To see how to create a tinyURL link in Firefox and have it automatically copied to your clipboard, read this.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Government repair service

OK, I was going to write a whole rant about government as a prelude to a video by ReasonTV and then decorate it with a simple cartoon or video about a man-orchestra.

But then I found this great illustration of the idea that something that is done by private, specialized businesses is better than by jacks-of-all-trades that each socialist government tries to be. (The video also shows what happens when two socialist government fight for the control of the simple people’s money, and how the people will always get more money when they go back to the idea of specialization.)

(HQ may be unavailable)

And now the original rant:

The government extinguishes our fires, sends our mail, builds and fixes our roads, educates our children, cures our sick, makes our poor richer and our rich poorer, takes our money and directs it to the science projects that we certainly will benefit from, takes our garbage, explores space for us, watches the volcano activity, fixes our electric lines and plumbing (and selects which utility companies should become monopolies), negotiates international trade treaties, runs buses, subway trains and streetcars (but alas, not railroad trains, long-distance buses, taxicabs or airplanes — at least, not yet), extends credit to and bails out businesses (with our money, of course) that we would certainly bail out had our money belonged to us; the government protects us from ourselves and makes sure we don’t make any decisions that would be bad for us (too bad it doesn’t tell us which brand of laptop to buy next or which cell phone carrier to sign up with).

Did I miss something?

Oh yeah, the government also passes laws from time to time and sometimes even fights crime, safeguards our rights and protects us from the enemies, but that’s secondary. Just like nobody buys an iPhone as a phone — it’s a toy that is also a phone — nobody expects the government to be just a safeguard. This original idea of the Founding Fathers — that the government should only guard our rights allowing ourselves to do everything else — is as ridiculous as a telephone that is used only as a telephone (or, at most, a communication device) and not also as a ping-pong racket, a grand piano, a lighter, a flashlight, a beer can opener, a micromanipulator and a car key.

Therefore, this suggestion by ReasonTV actually makes absolute sense. And I don’t want to hear any sarcastic snickering!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Of chickens, tzaddikim and Chassidim

(pictures taken from Artemiy Lebedev’s travels blog)

A very simple thought, consisting of a combination of my thoughts, my rabbi’s thoughts and my friend’s vort. If you think you know what I am talking about, just keep reading. Perhaps you don’t. Also, apparently, coffee helps ADD. I personally prefer pictures of Stokholm subway.

Last night, my friend Boruch told the famous story of Baal Shem Tov about a prince who thought he was a chicken. [Those of you who know the story can skip until the next brackets, after the picture.] Sitting under the table, without pants, clucking away, etc. Then came a big chochom and told the king he would cure the prince. He sat under the table, also without pants, also clucking away and eating corn. This went on for several days, and the prince started getting used to another “chicken”.

Then suddenly, one day, the chochom showed up wearing pants. Prince asked: “I thought you were a chicken?! How can you be wearing pants?” The chochom answered: “Sure, I am a chicken. Do pants define me? I know I am a chicken, so what does it matter that I wear pants?” To the prince this seemed reasonable, and he also started wearing pants. Then, in a few days, the chochom started wearing a shirt, then wearing shoes, then eating at the table, etc., etc. The prince followed his example every time and gradually started behaving again as a human being (or, even better, as a prince), still thinking, nevertheless, that he was a chicken.

[Those who knew the story can resume here.] What’s the point of the story? We are all souls in this world that think we are like goyim. In reality, we are not. There is nothing wrong with being goyim, but we are not them — we are something else. We do, however, look, feel and behave like them. After all, why not? So, this is the purpose of the tzaddikim — to show us that we are not goyim but Jews. The tzaddikim come down to our level, sit under the table with us, eating corn, and slowly they elevate us to what the appropriate behavior for Jews, for princes, is.

Add to that what the Alter Rebbe says in Tanya about how tzaddikim are like a head of the body, and each cell receives its livelihood from the head and therefore needs to attach itself to it — and therefore, we need to attach ourselves to the tzaddikim — and you have Chassidus.

But you do not yet have Chassidus Chabad. Because being a Chossid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is something additional. The Rebbe is not simply a tzaddik who tells us that we are not chickens and shows us how to behave ourselves. He is not simply the source of our livelihood, a channel through which Hashem’s blessing reaches our souls. He is the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Let me repeat myself: I am not talking simply about the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson. I am talking about the Lubavitcher Rebbe (whom, in our generation, the aforementioned Rabbi merited to become, fifty eight years ago).

What difference does this make? Very simple. The Lubavitcher Rebbe is a particular tzaddik whose Torah will not just connect a Jew to Hashem, and elevate him, and allow him to progress in his avoida and his middos, etc., etc.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe is a channel through which Chassidus Chabad enters this world — and as a result, he is the particular tzaddik whose Torah will teach a Jew how to bring geulah, how to bring Mashiach. He is a tzaddik whose Torah (combined with Torah of all the preceding Rebbeim Chabad) will teach a Jew how to connect the world with Hashem. How to realize on all levels, that literally ein of milvado, there is nothing but G-d (in this world, in the spiritual worlds, in all of reality, in all of behavior, in all of thoughts and in all of Torah), allow that realization completely transform his soul and behavior and bring closer the time when this will be revealed in and through this world.

Because this state of affairs (when Hashem will be revealed in and through this particular lowly world) is the reason and purpose with which Hashem created all existence, spiritual, physical and in between (i.e., not only our world, not only our world and the spiritual worlds “above” it, but also the infinite number of worlds that exist within the Simple Purity of His Light as it existed before the creation), and this state of affairs will be brought through our efforts, in this generation, specifically as a result of us following the teachings of the Rebbe that influence our generation — because of all this, Chassidus Chabad is the essential point of all Torah.

And the Rebbe, as a result, is Nosi HaDor, the leader of our generation. Let me repeat myself (because some people, including some very smart people who know much more Torah than me, seem to be confused about this): I am not talking about Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson. I am talking about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the source of Chassidus Chabad.

Now, being Nosi HaDor, the Rebbe is the source of instructions of how to bring Mashiach. He is also the channel through which we receive our livelihood, as Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya. This is true regarding all Jews — whether they know about this or not. Chabad Chassidim know about this (i.e., they do not think this way because they are Chabad Chassidim; they are Chabad Chassidim because they know this).

This is a special privilege. And a special responsibility. Not only do we have to know everything that all the Jews know and do everything that all the Jews do, but we need to know it and do it better. Because we are the shluchim of the Rebbe — through whatever medium this happens. And when we realize this and allow this to penetrate our consciousness, our perception and our actions, we receive a special blessing from the Rebbe in all we do.

Because we don’t do it for ourselves. We don’t do it for our physical pleasures, we don’t do it for the spiritual pleasures. We don’t do it for this world, for the world-to-come, for Lower Gan Eiden or for Higher Gan Eiden.

We do it for G-d alone. For the day when He and His Name will be One.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Interaction on a new level

Everyone knows, if you’re smart, you use Firefox.

This, however, may soon change with introduction of new interactive features from Opera.

Saving the planet

I am not sure if there is a better example of a typical liberal action and its consequences than this. This even beats my car-turning example.

Meanwhile, what’s really saving our planet is its magnetic field. Where does it come from? From the liquid metallic core churning inside the planet (your car’s alternator works similarly). Why is the core churning? Because of the moon, which is exactly right distance from the earth not only to cause the tides, but to make the liquid core move.


Had there not been the moon, the magnetic field would not exist, resulting in massive solar radiation preventing all life on Earth from existing. Not only due to the damage of the radiation itself, but because the “solar wind” would destroy and “strip” the atmosphere away — as can be observed in the North, where magnetic field is weak, and the solar radiation “burns up” the atmosphere (many miles above the Earth surface), resulting in the northern lights.

Demonstration of magnetic field (and the basic principle of an electric motor, i.e., opposite of alternator):

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What if it’s too hard?

Very little of value can be gained from television. Yet, here we are. Dedicated to people who look for spirituality in Judaism and try to find the paths that are attractive to them — what Chabad has to say about that.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Science progress in giant strides

Already we can see the effects the One President’s Wise Programs — in this case, on science. Let no evil tongues tell you otherwise.

And people are asking, what the hell does the Spendulus money go to? Why spend $500 million on monitoring volcano activity? Now you know, you dummy.

Heimish vs. Aimish

One time my rabbi was asked if a non-Jewish girl can come and observe the Kabbalos Shabbos, Friday night dinner, etc. I don’t remember if this was for a paper or a project or just out of curiosity.

He answered: “This is not a zoo.”

I don’t really understand this phenomenon (see also the article on

What was the point of this? So, to go to a theater is past nisht, because it’s a public act of bittul Torah. But to walk around Crown Heights with Aimish, showing off Chassidim to them as “not so different from you” and to the rest of the world as “cute little cartoon characters” (yes I stole this phrase from Stranger Amongst Us) is fine?

What exactly was the point of this? In what way is it Kiddush Hashem to associate ourselves with backward, primitive people who distrust technology because it will supposedly ruin their lives and push them away from G-d?

Let those who ban Internet associate themselves with the Aimish. The Chabad way is: “Everything that G-d created, He created for His glory” and “just because the fools worship sun, moon and stars, should G-d destroy His Universe?” We use technology and the rest of this world for G-dly purposes and thus make a dwelling place for G-d in this world. Also, we don’t draw the strength from banning things and creating walls around ourselves — we draw strength from making sure Judaism is internalized, deep and meaningful for us, not superficial and based on emotions and only simple faith. “Chochma—Bina—Daas”, man. (Even as Chassidim, we don’t hold on to our Rebbe’s gartel, but learn his teachings. The theology of Judaism.)

Yes, it is important to influence the “outside”, both Jews and, lehavdil, non-Jews. But these are religious, fundamentalist Christians. The whole time they were thinking: “This is all very nice, but these people killed our god.” They don’t allow technology take over their lives — good for them. Nu, so what does this have to do with us? They are superficially similar to Chassidim; yeah, this thought has passed through many people’s minds. It’s cute. But only superficially. It seems that the Aimish themselves saw this clearly too:

John Lapp and his wife, Priscilla, brought their three children on the tour. John Lapp said the ties to the communities might be more surface than substance.

"In some things we are alike, like our clothing and our traditional beliefs," he said. Priscilla Lapp added, "And in some things we are not. The biggest thing is that [that man] is our savior."

Also, everyone knows that journalists lie. And that they will paint anything two feet to the right or to the left of Brad Pitt as exotic and backwards. This tendency stems from liberals’ love to observe foreign primitive cultures and, as Arbat writes, to become distressed when the natives’ “natural culture” is disrupted by immunization shots or installation of toilets in their houses.

So, the best thing to prevent this is control what reaches the media. When you invite a bunch of Aimish to Crown Heights, you are sure to get these pearls:

Today's Lubavitchers wear the black hats and beards of their 18th-century forebears, speak Yiddish and refrain from turning on electricity or driving cars on the Sabbath. ...

However, both groups use one modern amenity — cell phones that kept ringing as they wandered through Crown Heights. And the Hasids ironically operate the famed B&H electronics retail store in Manhattan that serves customers from around the world. [What is ironic about this, I have no idea.] ...

The groups also toured a Jewish library and a "matzo factory," where round, unleavened bread was being made for the Passover holiday.

There, a cross-cultural misunderstanding caused one of the Jewish men to look at the Amish, and ask, repeatedly, "Are you from Usbekhistan?"

An Amish man, also confused, asked, "Afghanistan?"

Finally, as they were leaving, another Amish man announced to the matzo-makers: "We're from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania!"

The whole article presents Chabad, the community that brings to the world the essence of the primordial thought Hashem had before creating this world, as a lemming colony described in a National Geographic issue. Good job. Perhaps Rabbi Beryl Epstein would be better off by helping his wife clean the house for Peisach.

Update: I get it. This was an April Fool joke. Wow. Got me.