Monday, November 30, 2009

FB, wth?

OK, I understand security check on FB (having to type in two words before posting something on your friend’s wall to prove that you are of a human species). Annoying, but livable. There is no perfection in this world of lies.

I understand using words like “krieger”.

What I don’t understand is using words like “Westmorelands”. Is that even a real geographic location? Sounds like one of those places where a hero of some RPG game is supposed to travel to get the cooperation of the king of dwarves in the war with the dark elves.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Two worlds

Another day, I needed to print out for someone a page of Gemara with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s Russian commentary. I was, however, out of paper. No problem — I just took a Neuroscience article I had printed out and placed it into the printer, hoping that Gemara pages would print out on the empty side. When the first page came out, I realized that I had put the pages in facing the wrong way.

Looking at the mix of Russian, English, Aramaic and Hebrew (not to mention the figures), I though that this was actually a pretty good representation of my current life:

(click on the image to enlarge)

And so I go through my life, trying to look at Torah through the prism of my secular background, trying to look at my secular world through the magnifying glass of Torah, and trying to make sense of both.

It also reminded me of a painting by Escher, with a similar title:

(“Three Worlds”, Mauritius Escher)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Our wisdom
(Adin Steinsaltz)

I decided to re-publish the end of the last post as a separate post.

I had a discussion [on Thursday] in the car. I said that one can learn a lot about life from Yiddishkeit. Not only explicitly. One learns and learns, and then the logic of what he is learning, the relationship between the concepts, can be applied to everyday situations, decisions, problems. I can see it in Chassidus; I am sure it is certainly the case with nigleh as well.

I got in response: you can get the same from Biology. And Physics. And Math. And literature. From learning how to play balalaika. I answered: sure. But what I am talking about is Jewish chochma. It’s appropriate for us as a source of advice in life. Not that we should ignore other sources. Probably.

But the point is: “If they tell you that other nations have wisdom, believe them. If they tell you the nations have Torah, don’t believe them.” There is a difference between wisdom and instruction of what one’s life is all about. And by the way, voz is chochma? Chochmas ha’Torah. A non-Jew (or a secular Jew; or a presumably frum Jew using secular sources) can write a book analyzing some sugya in Talmud. And everything that he will write will be true. But it won’t be Torah. It will not be Hashem’s Will of how you should live your life.

More about the last point (what learning Torah really means) here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

We don’t need no education

Here is an article on Vos Iz Neias that cites an opinion of a “world-renowned obstetrician” that husbands don’t belong in the delivery room. I have my opinion about the content of the article, but my opinion is not the point.

Traveling through darkness

For a dvar Torah explaining the significance of Yakov Avinu leaving Be’er Sheva in his preparation to go outside of Eretz Yisroel as a lesson for the importance of Shabbos as we are living “outside” of Eretz Yisroel, in the exile, please see the latest post at “Geshmack Dvar Torah of the Week” blog.

They will not see me

A repost with the nasty parts taken out after being called a hater for including them l’hatchillo.

Recently, I heard a question: “What do you think is the biggest problem with Judaism today?” One of the answers was: “That in recent times [last few centuries], Judaism has become much more chumra-oriented than before.”

I have no idea what my opinion is on what he said. Yes, maybe, he is right that this is the trend. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it just appropriate? I have no idea. Certainly, to me there seems to be a problem in approaching everything in Judaism and our lives from chumra perspective. Certainly, to me there seems to be a (possibly even bigger) problem in doing whatever you want in life, and then making sure, b’dieved, that you haven’t violated Halacha. If barely...

I was listening to something today, however, which made me think about this question. Rabbi Paltiel was discussing in a shiur (third one) on the ma’amor “V’yishlach” (from hemshech Samech Vov) the idea of getting to Atzmus Eloikus, the Essence of G-dliness. Why, he said, can we not get to it? Because we are trying too hard. Every time we are trying to get somewhere or get something, we are only able to grasp some level of gilui, revelation. Atzmus cannot be b’gilui. Essence cannot be revealed. So, the harder you try, the more elusive it becomes. You will get to some level of G-dliness through a positive effort, but not the Essence.

So, how can you get to it? Through mitzvos loi ta’aseh, negative commandements forbidding us to do certain things. Because by following them, one is not actively doing something, reaching somewhere, but in fact he is just staying away from something. But — for the purpose of Hashem. (This, says, Rabbi Paltiel, is the difference between a Jew not trying to get to G-d and a sinner, or a cow, not trying to get to G-d.)

As an illustration of the idea, Rabbi Paltiel tells a story. After the passing of the Rebbetzin Nechama Dina, the Rebbe’s brother-in-law, Rashag, wanted the Rebbe to have a seider together with him. The Rebbe answered: “On Peisach I sit by myself.” So, Rashag asked him again several times and then sent a shliach: a chossid of the Rebbe, Rabbi Simson, who was older both than the Rebbe and the Rashag, and was a deep person. Rabbi Simson could not say “no” to Rashag, but could not ask the Rebbe to do something that the Rebbe didn’t want to do. So, he walked in into the Rebbe’s office, stood there without saying anything, and walked out.

Later, at the end of Adar, Rashag asked the Rebbe again about his plans for the seider. The Rebbe answered: “As I said, on Peisach I sit alone.” Rashag asked him if he talked to Rabbi Simpson. The Rebbe answered: “Yeah. He was here and stood silently. And his silence spoke.”

The other story is about something that happened to a very holy and deep Jew during the War of Independence in Israel. There were snipers everywhere, and it was impossible to go out. There was no food, and the man said he would go out to get the bread for his little daughter. His wife said: “You can’t go. They will shoot you.” The Jew answered: “I will go. I will not see them; they will not see me.” He went, got the bread and came back. How? Was he invisible? No, if a camera took a picture of the street, it would capture the man’s image. It’s just that he didn’t care about the world, and he made the world not care about him.

Hashem is not hiding. He is just not seen. Because we keep looking. But when a Jew does a mitzva loi ta’seh, he does something for Eibeshter, but he is not looking for Him. And thereby he reaches Hashem’s Essence.

* * *

This all reminded me, lehavdil, of this master class, in which András Schiff says: “Silence is the most beautiful thing in music.” Which is reminiscent of, lehavdil, the message of the later chapters of Alter Rebbe’s Sha’ar HaYichud ve’ha’Emunoh (second book of Tanya), in which he explains that concealment of G-dly Light comes as much from G-d as the revelation of the Light. In fact, when the G-d reveals His Light, that’s not a big deal. That’s status quo. C’est normal, as the French say. When G-d conceals the Light — now, that’s a sign that takeh der Eibeshter is involved. Which is a very encouraging idea for us, when in our lives something negative happens, G-d forbid.

My pianist friend says: when some musicians play, silence is the most beautiful part of their music... :)

Some chassidish Chopin

Actual music comes in at around 0:40.

And lastly, a piece that more talented pianists play with an orange:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A chassidish pianist

Playing Beethoven while thinking about shtickle Ranat one learned the night before. Dira b’tachtoinim?

Update: Playing Rachmaninoff on Beethoven pianos while thinking of Rebbe Rashab’s Chassidus? Even better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not in peasant years

Life! Don't talk to me about life.

I attended a really awesome talk by a visiting post-doc this morning. In which he talked about squirrels, college students, pregnant women whose brains should be drunk but are not, hibernation and bloodletting.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A gypsy song; some Jewish Indian music

The name of the song is “Mardjandja”.

I have already posted this song (played by two guitars). My pianist friend says he likes this guitarist more (more soul):

For those preferring Jewish music, in the honor of the recent yortzeit of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg:

“We came to disperse the darkness”
(sourcedownload the video)

More of the music by the guy on the right.

Are you guys hot?

As we all know, our climate is getting hotter. Or so the “scientists” say. Now, I personally am the last person to make idiotic statements about science that some frum Jews and Conservatives make (and I am allowed to say that being a frum Jew and somewhat of a Conservative myself). If the evidence says X, the world looks like X, whether or not it contradicts our tradition (of course, it doesn’t deny the tradition, but the contradiction is there).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Read more

Read here about implementing the Read more function. Useful for bloggers like me, who write long posts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Torah’s view on the ideal government: a discussion

The discussion on Moshiach is OK, but I was not too impressed by the content of the conversation at the beginning.

Interesting little question about the Rebbe asking Rav Moishe for halachic opinions and the possibility of Rebbe making mistakes.

Form is very nice, though. The menchlachkeit of the conversation is especially refreshing. Nobody’s banging the table, screaming out “vos hakstu chainik?!”, or getting personal. Not to mention that nobody got sprayed with mashkeh.

A month of happiness

From an e-mail by Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver containing the Rebbe’s hora’os for the month of Kislev.
The following are some of the auspicious dates that occur in the month of Kislev:

1st of Kislev: The Rebbe returned home in 5738 (1978), having recovered from a heart attack.
2nd of Kislev: The books were returned to the Lubavitch Library following a lengthy court case in 5748 (1987).
3rd of Kislev: Marriage of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, in 5564 (1803).
6th of Kislev: The Rebbe’s engagement in 5689 (1928).
9th of Kislev: Birth and yahrtzait of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Mitteler Rebbe; he was born on the 9th of Kislev, 5534 (1773), and passed away on the same date in 5588 (1827).
10th of Kislev: Release of the Mitteler Rebbe from Czarist imprisonment in 5587 (1826).
11th of Kislev: The Rebbe was called to the Torah in preparation for his marriage in 5689 (1928).
14th of Kislev: Marriage of the Rebbe in 5689 (1928).
18th of Kislev: Completion of the annual study of Tanya.
19th of Kislev: Yahrtzait of the Magid of Mezritch in 5533 (1772).
19th-20th of Kislev: Release of the Alter Rebbe from Czarist imprisonment in 5559 (1798); this date marks the “Rosh Hashanah of Chassidus.”
20th of Kislev: The Tanya was first printed in 5557 (1796).
26th of Kislev: The Alter Rebbe received the first edition of Tanya in 5557 (1796). Bris of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Rebbe Rashab, in 5621 (1860).
27th of Kislev: Release of the Alter Rebbe from his second imprisonment, in 5561 (1800); this coincided with the third day of Chanukah. Although he was freed, he was required to reside within the city of Petersburg.
29th of Kislev: Release of the Alter Rebbe from his second imprisonment — according to alternative accounts. The Rebbe suggested that significant developments in his release occurred on both the 27th and the 29th of Kislev.
I personally welcome this month, because, with all due respect, this Cheshvan was supposed to be very happy for me, but turned out to be one of the unhappiest months in my life (in a revealed way only — and even then, not in all areas, since there were some things which went very well, boruch Hashem… and of course, b’pnimiyus, everything was a blessing from Eibeshter).

In retrospect, actually, it makes a lot of sense. Which brings me to my main question: why so much simcha in Kislev? Why less simcha in some other months? How did it happen that we have holidays in particular days and not others? Coincidence? Random historical occurence? The following is an exerpt from a post I wrote last year, around Chanukah time.

Some shiurim for Rosh Choidesh Kislev

Rosh Chodesh Kislev 2007 : Part I
Rosh Chodesh Kislev 2007 : Part II
Why is Rosh Chodesh Connected to Women?
A Chassidishe Month — Kislev!
A recap of an old post of mine and some thoughts on Gemara to follow later tonight. Right now I am busy with the shidduch business. (For mice... :) Some breeding to set up.)

Evidence for Judaism. Links from Rabbi Gottlieb

What University education really gives
you is the knowledge how to use sources.
— Andrzej Sapkowski

A friend of mine asked me to send some evidence for Judaism. I usually recommend Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb's stuff for the start. Here's my response, which includes other links for Rabbi Gottlieb that I found useful in the past.


Sometimes someone who is twice older than you does something, and you’re sitting there, planning what to write in response, what to say, how to explain your position, blah-blah-blah.

And then your sense of humor kicks in (usually when it’s really late… coffee also helps). And you want to write only: “How old are you? Which perek of Tehillim do your read every day? Are you fourty five? Fifty five? Fifteen?”

And then you sit back, and ask yourself: “If he does this, what can you expect from … ? From yourself? From … ?”

And suddenly it is so easy to be non-judgmental. And forgiving.

Too good

Same place. Too tired to translate. Cats.
Вопроса, в кого у нас такие дети, у меня не возникает.

На только что прошедший Пурим Муся наряжалась кошкой. Надо сказать, наряд кошки - гораздо более экономная вещь, нежели наряд принцессы, которым мы щеголяли в прошлом году (впрочем, это и логично - принцессам много чего надо, а у мудрых кошек всё своё). Ушки, хвост, манжеты, мой любимый меховой шарф (от сердца оторвала, но уж больно к костюму подошел) и старательное рисование по ребёнку.

Мы даже провели тренировочное гримирование, за день до праздника - чтобы юная кошка могла оценить, нравится ли ей орнамент на лице, и если что - у нас было бы время его переделать. С утра надели костюм, разрисовали морду, напугали шипением и мяуканьем кота Васю и отправились в детский сад. По дороге к саду нас встречают Коллега с Котяней ("когда Джордж кончит жизнь на виселице, худшим упаковщиком в мире останется Гаррис" - только они приходят в садик еще позже нас).

Девушки парой идут впереди, мы с Коллегой - за ними. Киваю на роскошный мех, обвивающий Мусины плечи:
- Узнаёшь?
Непроснувшаяся Коллега, с сонным ужасом:
- Вася?!?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The dichotomy of chessed and snagkeit

I was reading recently a book (unfortunately I forgot the title), in which the author talked about the idea of chessed. He was giving examples of chessed and explaining why it was important for Eliezer to make sure Rivka would offer him to drink (in parshas Chayei Sara), etc., etc.

Interesting blog

Bringing Advil to one Jew may result in another Jew (who is also interested in Kabbala) reading your blog. That’s what happens.

Anyway, I already like a man who puts most of a posts in footnotes.

A little fan fiction

A very nice story about crossing of the Yam Suf, unfortunately in Russian only. I am considering translating it.

From the same blog:
I come home rather late, and Musya misses me. That is why at home I am in a mode of a kengaroo: whatever I do, she is hanging on me.

— Musya, — I tell her, — wouldn’t it be good if you had eight moms?
— Eight moms? — she says, excited. — What for?
— Well, you know, — I explain. — Out of eight at least one would always be home. And you wouldn’t be bored.
— No, — eagerly protests Musya. — I don’t want eight moms. Because even if one were always home, I would still miss the remaining seven all the time.

Anyway, she has an interesting value system, which I am in no hurry to correct. For example, I am explaining to her the meaning of the [Russian] saying: “not all is gold that shines”.

— You see, — I say, — there are things that look very valuable; they “shine”, literally or figuratively. And in reality, they are not golden; meaning, not of real value.
— I see, — she says. Thinks somewhat and adds: — I know such a thing.
— Mmm?
— A gem! It is shiny, right? And looks terribly beautiful. But there isn’t much to do with this beauty. You know, you can insert it into a ring, put it on yourself... and that’s it.

And really. That’s it.
Good stuff.

Seeing beyond the broken pieces

An amazing article by a friend of mine, a former fellow attendee of a local Chabad House, now studying at Mayanot in Eretz Yisroel. Very good stuff. An excerpt:
I had made up my mind. I grabbed the discarded pieces out of the garbage can, and I began to reconstruct my new puzzle, gluing piece by piece. By the end of the class, I had a new masterpiece. A well-loved, painfully delicate, perfectly imperfect masterpiece. It wasn't a mistake anymore. It was art. It was whole.

Most of us tend to miss the forest for the trees. What we observe, we see as isolated and disconnected. Instead of hearing a song in the noise around us, we hear a series of clangs and screams and vibrations. Instead of seeing a dance, we see a kick, a turn of the head, and a raised arm. The thing is, a kick is just a kick, and a clang is just a clang. A hand doesn't do much good if there's no arm to extend it, and the arm is useless if there are no legs to walk it. Nothing in this world can function on its own. Alone, every single thing in existence is nothing. And yet, if any one morsel of this universe were missing, our world, too, would be nothing.

Everything, be it a ceramic shard, a bang on a drum, the palm of a hand, or a human being, is one part of a whole. Sometimes, it takes first being broken to realize what the whole entity is. For the hamsa plate to become complete, it had to first crack into pieces. It hurts when you scrape your knee; suddenly, you're missing a part of it. The heart aches and yearns for years before you find the other half of your soul it previously thought to be its own entity.

Read on.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kinos ha’shluchim

Watch live here.

(starts at 6 pm)

Cuano el rey Nimrod

Some more good stuff from Bahaltener Pinkos. Two versions of Cuano el rey Nimrod, a song about Nimrod and, lehavdil, Avraham Avinu, in Ladino:
קואנדו אל ריי נמרוד (Cuando el rey Nimrod) (by Abraham Ferera)
One more version קואנדו אל ריי נמרוד (by Yehoram Gaon)
To see full lyrics in Ladino, with English translation, visit the original post.

Although I’ve obviously heard of Ladino before, I never heard it spoken and sung. It has what I like in languages: the hardness resembling that of Spanish or Russian with some softness in between. Like a crunchy eclair with gooey filling.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Polite indifference

I overheard a conversation on Shabbos (about philosophy of language), in which someone was saying: “When I am walking on campus, and I see someone I know, I say: ‘Hi, how are you?’ If this is a foreign person, he may start actually telling me how he is, because he doesn’t know that in American culture, saying ‘Hi, how are you?’ is just saying ‘Hello’, and answering ‘Fine’ is saying ‘Hello’ back”.

Of course, I’ve known this for all ten-eleven years I’ve been in this country, and it even makes some sense. But as I was listening to the conversation, I caught myself thinking that I would never get used to this feature of American culture — polite indifference.

(This has nothing to do with forms of greeting, by the way.)

Jewish life in Poland

(am I the only one to whom this Galicianer Yid looks like a Jewish version of, lehavdil, Viggo Montersen?)

To see many beautiful photographs of Polish Jews, visit a photo collage by Bahaltener Pinkos.

By the way, although the official version is that my family came to Ukraine from Poland (settling in Shpola), my grandmother and her sisters speak in Galicianer accent of Yiddish (and so did my great-grandmother). My grandmother is very annoyed at my Lithuanian Yiddish, which I picked up from Lubavitchers (mixed with the influence of German I took in college).

(click on the images to enlarge)


Going back to this post...

I hate attempts to popularize science. I mean, some of them are quite good, but most are uber-lame.

Gutt voch

Dedicated to old people, musicians, and couples of all ages. People say love fades with time. Not always... (This couple has been together for 62 years, and this year, the man will be 90 years old.)

Here is to moving on:

Here’s to getting where you’re headed:

Friday, November 13, 2009

You should’ve sighed before you sinned

A story I heard from my rabbi, who may have heard it from Rabbi Altie Bukiet, the shliach of Lexington, MA (not sure).

When Frierdiker Rebbe and his chassidim were in Warsaw, there was a rich Jew, who wanted to provide them with hospitality and therefore built a big sukkah for them. One night they were sitting in it, farbrenging, when the Jew walked in, looked at them and sighed. Frierdiker Rebbe lifted up his head, looked at him and said: “You should have sighed before you sinned.” The Jew, shocked, asked: “What?” and walked out.

It turns out that earlier that evening, he had visited a theater (of sorts), and when he came back, he saw the contrast between the Rebbe sitting together with his chassidim, talking about Hashem, and the place where he had just been. So, he sighed. To which the Rebbe replied: “You should have sighed before you sinned.”

This story is of a similar character to the saying attributed to Rebbe Maharash, Frierdiker Rebbe’s grandfather (whom F"R is said to have resembled physically): Lehatchilo ariber (“higher a priori”). Some people, when something negative happens in their lives, or when they themselves do something wrong, make a decision to live on a higher level, to repent, to improve. Or, when they see an obstacle in their lives, they decide they have to elevate themselves, improve their character or way of life to climb over it.

While this is a proper thing to do b’dieved (post factum), Rebbe Maharash says you can do even better: live on a higher level to begin with. Don’t wait for something negative or troublesome to happen in your life to urge you to improve. Improve without it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Netzach and hod

A friend of mine asked me what netzach is. I gave him this old post of mine to read.

Now, what is hoid?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bumper sticker

(via 10_4; click on the image to enlarge)

G-d and His potentials

A shiur from hemshech Samech Vov by Rabbi Paltiel that briefly reviews preceding answer to “Why Hashem created the world” and goes into meat and potatoes: explanation of the concept ein koach choser poel l’ma’alah — no power Above is lacking expression.

The question is: does Hashem need to “express” Himself in his Creation? And if He isn’t expressing Himself, is He missing something? Arizal seems to think so. Of course, one cannot say that Hashem is missing something — so, that’s why this world is here.

Rabbi Paltiel explains that first of all, Hashem has no powers Himself. No powers are intrinsic to Him — He is simple and has no parts, no “programs” to be found “inside” of Him. Hashem in His essence has no “personality”, no intellect or emotions. He creates them as tools — and if they are not expressed, they are lacking expression.

But, there is a footnote: “The reason we have just given is not a real reason.” Why? Because no possibility is missing up High. Hashem has no deficiencies.

Second, Rabbi Paltiel explains the difference between G-d and G-dliness. Eibeshter and Elokus. What is Elokus? Something between G-d and Creation — a concept that exists only in Kabbala and not in Chakirah, Jewish philosophy.

Third, Rabbi Paltiel explains that not only is there no lack in Hashem, but also no lack in His Light. (“If Atzilus has a brain, the moment Hashem creates it, it is full of all possible knowledge.”)

Finally, a resolution is reached, and why Arizal’s reason for creation of the world cannot be the deepest one is explained.

As a bonus, a very important topic — the differences between koichos and yechoilos (powers and potentials) of G-d — is covered.

Listen on.

People of artistic persuasion may appreciate the moshol at the beginning. Or not. :)

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve learned the hemshech or if you have any significant background in Chassidus Chabad. This is a crucial concept in understanding of our understanding [sic] of Hashem.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Can you trust your intuition?

Some people believe in figuring out things using intuition, not intelligence.

Others find this idea strange, to say the least. It seems to them that after all, being a human being is all about using one’s rationality, in knowing why something is wrong or right, good or bad, etc., not just getting a feeling from somewhere deep inside, over which one has no control.

It seems to me, intuition is only useful at the beginning, if you need a push to one direction or another, or in the middle, if you are stuck and don’t know where to go next. Or if you can’t follow the logic.

But not in the end, when you have to make a decision. I mean, if I’m making a decision for something or against it, it seems to me that I want to know why I made it; I want to be able to explain the logic to any stranger, not tell him that some mysterious force inside my pushed me towards this or against it.

Maybe it’s because I like to be in control.

Of my life.

I mean, sometimes it’s all about probabilities and uncertainties, but still, better some control than no control at all.

A lot of people believe that because things are in Eibeshter’s hands, we don’t have responsibility to take control and make decisions. Learning Jewish philosophy shows us they are wrong. Learning Chassidus shows us why they are wrong.

History (and future) of computing

(Trillions from MAYAnMAYA on Vimeo.)

The essence of the video is: recently we had very few computers. Now we have a lot. In very near future, we will have so many that what we have right now will feel like a kindergarten child’s mid-afternoon fantasy.

So, how are we going to handle this? Trillion(s) of sources of information connected and communicating in a complex, chaotic way? Right now we have no tools to handle this and no idea how to get those tools. But we can ask for advice from Hashem. Or from Nature, whatever view you prefer.

Because if you look at our body, it has trillions of cells (each designed in a much more complicated way and handling much more information than a single computer) communicating with each other and doing so successfully to allow our bodies to live (in fact, so successfully that you go through your day not giving it much thought how much information exchange needs to happen in order for you to do your basic tasks for a minute — forget something as complicated as playing a violin, or giving a lecture, or... I don’t know... fencing).

I mean, we don’t think about it much, and we take it for granted, but that thing between our ears, the human brain, is the most complicated structure in the whole known Universe. And female human brain is probably the most complicated structure in both known and unknown Universe. Think about it... Next time you want to ride a motorcycle, think twice. If not out of respect to yourself, then at least out of respect to your Creator.

P.S. Although, there is something I am probably not getting. How will we have trillions of computers? Right now we have, what, seven, eight billion people on this planet? Let’s say, in the nearest future we will have 10 billion people. So, if we have a trillion computers, that’s 100 computers per person?

If so, kinda cool…

Monday, November 9, 2009

Why yes?

In parshas Vayeira (yes, I know, I am a week late), Avraham tells Sara (translation from
Behold now I know that you are a woman of fair appearance.
And it will come to pass when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’, and they will slay me and let you live.
Please say [that] you are my sister, in order that it go well with me because of you, and that my soul may live because of you.
A Midrash asks: what does this mean that “now he knew” that Sara was a beautiful woman? He hadn’t known it before? It answers: when they were crossing Nile to go to Egypt, Sara dropped something (I think a scarf) in the water. Avraham bent down to pick it up and saw Sara’s reflection in the water. Then he realized that she was a beautiful woman. Before that, apparently, he had not looked at her to see if she was beautiful or not.

My rabbi asked the question: there are so many requirements and prohibitions in Torah, and a Jew has to keep them all. Let the man look at his wife. Why not?

And the answer is that Avraham did not live his life like everybody else. Before doing something in life, he didn’t ask “why not?”, he asked “why yes?” If he was able to achieve his purpose in any area (e.g., having a loving marriage) without something (e.g., focusing on physical attraction), he didn’t need this something in his life.

This lesson is directly applicable to us. OK, we are on a completely different level from Avraham, and in order to have normal marriage, we cannot be like him. In fact, Jews were already on a different level in Egypt, and that is why Jewish women’s mirrors (with which they beautified themselves) were accepted as a donation for building of the mishkan.

But in our lives in general, before doing something, we have to ask a question: why yes? Not desire to do something and do it, unless it is prohibited by Halacha (and if it is, find a loophole out of the prohibition, ask three, five, ten rabbis, until one gives you a heter), but do the opposite. Ask yourself: in what way does this connect me to Hashem? And if it doesn’t, why am I doing it?

This is the standard shpil, you can hear it from many Chabad rabbis, in many a Chabad House.

But there is something more. There is a difference between Avraham and us. He lived before Mattan Torah, and we live after. We live after the time when it became possible to make mundane holy.

Furthermore, we live after the revelation of Chassidus. After revelation of Chassidus in a form that can be internalized: through Chassidus Chabad. And learning Chassidus Chabad allows you to answer the question “why yes”. It allows you to find a way “how yes”. Not so that you can do already whatever you wanted to do and not feel guilty about it (even on the most Chassidish, most eidel level).

But so that you can bring G-dliness into one more aspect of this world’s reality. Make holy one more thing that was mundane.

An incredibly amazing shiur

Besides the fact that it talks about amazing topics (how does gilui, revelation, happen vis-á-vis soveiv and memaleh kol almin? where in Seider Hishtalshelus can you say that Soivev Kol Almin “starts”?), this shiur is full of something wonderful: Rabbi Paltiel going off the tangent many times to explain crucial concepts to annoying bochrim. Just absolutely incredible.

Minimum knowledge of Hebrew and general concepts in Chassidus Chabad preferable, but not too much required. Anything you don’t understand — ignore and keep listening. Trust me: even if you understand 10% of what’s said in a general sense, it’s worth it.

For me, the most interesting question is at the end. We say “Chochma starts here” (above Bina, in the world of Atzilus). What about “above” that level? Does above that level Hashem have no chochma? Is He, chv"sh, a non-intelligent Hashem? If not, and if He does have Chochma, in what sense does He?

Another interesting question is: we learn so much Chassidus, and in the end, we learn that we can know nothing about Hashem. A Jew who doesn’t learn Chassidus knows the same thing. Why learn Chassidus?

Then we learn all the Kabbala and learn about all the levels in the Infinite Light, Oir Ein Soif, Lux perpetia. And then we learn that all the real action is here, in this finite, dark, physical world, in doing a single mitzva, in learning Halacha, as it is revealed to us, as it talks about the physical concepts. So, a Jew who learned only Gemara all his life knew all that too — except he didn’t waste his time learning Chassidus; he relied on emunas tzaddikim. So, why learn Kabbala?

The last question is only briefly touched in the shiur, but it also helps to use one’s own head to think. Listen on.

USSR through the eyes of an American photographer

From 1950s and ’60s.


Click on most images to enlarge:

(Boris Pasternak, author of Dr. Zhivago — besides other works)

(going to a collective farm for some Obama-style community effort)

(in a Moscow shull)

(quick foto)

(skiing in a Petersburg suburb)

(buying books)

(soccer match)

(“Wazzup, comrade?”)

(Ukrainians. ’nuff said…)

(some peasant father–son bonding)

(at a hippodrome)

More here.

A hand

Friday, November 6, 2009


I can’t not post this. The fourth movement from Sviridov’s Blizzard (see last post for context). Starts with a grave introduction, but wait for it…

All Russia is in these sounds. Russian culture may be not shiny, but it has depth and sharp focus. I am not just talking about gashmius — mostly about ruchnius.

After all, where did Chabad movement start? :) Sure, it is rooted deeply in Yiddishkeit and its sources, but it used the sparks of a certain land.

P.S. The other advantage of Russian culture is that Russian language allows double negatives.

More troika

For those of you who found the musical accompaniment in the last post boring, here’s another piece, a much more exciting one. It is also called “Troika” and it is the first movement of Sviridov’s “Blizzard” based on the famous short story (a Wikipedia article with plot) by Alexander Pushkin. Besides the music, enjoy some troika- and winter-related images.

The famous waltz. Just listening to this brings images of St. Petersburg to my mind.

Sviridov is a very famous Soviet composer. His most famous piece was a theme for evening news. It is called “Vremya vperyod” (“Time forward”). Although the piece above is more gentle, it’s easy to recognize similar handwriting. The evening news theme starts around 1:00.


The word troika can mean different things in Russian language (see Wikipedia entry), but in this case it means a carriage with three horses. It can be small, like in the above picture, or bigger. For some reason, in Russian mentality, it’s a very romantic image, symbolizing life moving forward, a country (usually Russia) going through changes, or a person’s destiny.

Some balalaika music on the topic (at the beginning you can hear the bells which were usually attached to troikas):

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Abusive rabbis

An interesting article: “What to Do with Abusive Rabbis: Halachic Considerations”. A quote (all comments except the first one are the author’s):
{Rambam,} Hil. Sanhedrin 2:7:

“[Choose] wise and understanding men, [known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you]” (Deut. 1:13) refers to those with wisdom; “known to the tribes” refers to those who are well regarded by others. How is it that they are well regarded? In that they are magnanimous, humble, and friendly, and their speech and dealings are pleasant.

When it also says, “[And you shall choose out of all the people] men of valor, [such as fear G-d, men of truth, hating unjust gain]” (Ex. 18:21), this refers to those who excel in [the observance of] the commandments, who set high personal standards [of behavior] and who control their evil inclinations, such that there is nothing about them that is objectionable, that they do not have bad reputations or unsavory histories.

Included in [the requirement of] “men of valor” are those who have the courage to save the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor, as it says, “And Moses arose and saved them” (Ex. 2:17). In addition, just as Moses was humble, so every judge must be humble; “G-d fearing,” as it implies; “hating unjust gain,” hastening after riches, even their own, and they do not run to amass wealth…; “men of truth” that they are personally motivated to pursue justice, love truth and hate violence, and flee from all kinds of immorality.
The main question of the article: is it possible to separate the content from the source? Should we listen to a smoking doctor? Should rabbis be held to higher standards than average (frum) people? What about frum people in general?

P.S. A riddle from Mottel with a nice video.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some quotes

… from my favorite writer, Andrszei Sapkowski.
You never get a second chance to make the first impression.

There are presents one should not accept, without being able to repay with something equally valuable.

Betting people can be of two types: fools and scoundrels. The first one bets, but doesn’t know. The second knows, but bets.

If you decide to commit suicide, don’t involve other people. Just hang yourself quietly in the stables.

To love is not just to take, but also to sacrifice.

To be neutral doesn’t mean to be uncaring or lacking empathy. One doesn’t need to kill one’s emotions. It’s enough to kill hatred.

We know very little about love. It’s like a pear. Sweet and of a certain shape. But try to define the shape of a pear!

Don’t confuse the night sky with stars reflected in a puddle.

Life is different from banking in that it knows debts, which can be repaid only by making new debts.

You can’t pay for something priceless. There are those who say that everything has a price. They are mistaken. Some things don’t. It’s easy to recognize such a thing: once you lose it, you can’t get it back.

Every moment has eternity in it. And eternity is made up of such moments.

Love is like pain from kidney stones. Before you experience it, you have no idea what it’s like. And when others tell you, you don’t believe them.

Love laughs at rationality. That is why it’s so attractive.

Progress is like a swine herd. Pigs are good for agriculture. There is salted meat, bones, holodetz with horseradish. In other words, benefit. So, don’t turn up your nose and complain that there is shit everywhere.

We can cause hale, but we can’t stop death. Although, seemingly, the second should be easier than the first.

I don’t want to be sorry for doing nothing, for hesitation and doubts. If I am going to be sorry for something, let it be decisions and actions.

That the world will be renewed I believe. That it will become better — not so much.

The real king is one that has a queen. Who has a queen has a kingdom.

If you’re being hanged, ask for a glass of water. While they’re bringing it, who knows what will happen?

With time comes a point when you either need to do your business or abandon the restroom.

If Evil is trying to hurt you, hurt it first. Preferably when it expects it least.

You know what University education gives somebody? Knowledge how to use sources.

Everyone can predict future. A lot of people do it all the time. It’s not a big deal to predict future. A big deal is to do it accurately.

I’ve seen war. I’ve seen many marshalls, generals, officers, get’mans, knights, strategists. I’ve seen them standing over maps with red arrows and little pins. This, they explained, is war machine. It’s all about organization. Order. Without organization, no war can happen. This makes it even more ironic that the real war — and I’ve had a chance to witness several real wars — in terms of order and organization resembles a brothel on fire.

There are things you understand immediately, without words. Or never.

Ignorance does not excuse thoughtless acts. If there is something you don’t know, ask for advice.

Wisdom is ability to ignore stupid advice.

Do you know how to recognize historic times? When a lot of stuff happens very quickly.

All troubles of the world are from thinking. When people completely incapable of it try their hand at it.

The most hated people are snitches who do their job for little pay.

The question is not what we will be accused of, but what we will acknowledge.

People believe in stupidity that is repeated often enough.

We did something good, so we need to pay for it. Every foolishness needs to be paid for.

Everything can be accomplished. The only question is: how?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Court singer

Some courts have court jesters (think Joe Biden). Some courts have court singers.

In case it’s not clear, the court singer is on the right. On the left is the court jest… I mean, the President of Russian Federation.

By the way, in Russia there used to be an expression: pridvornyj yevrey, a court Jew. In our times, it’s people like Richard Goldstone. Times have changed. Back in the day, lowlives like this fellow ratted out other Jews to KGB. In our times, they slander Israel to the United Nations. Choosing between KGB and UN, I’ll pick UN anytime. Don’t get me wrong, they are both pretty evil, but at least KGB accomplished what it set out to do and had some… chutzpa.

P.S. Can an immigrant from South Africa to the US (or a child of two such immigrants) call himself an African American?

Alle brider

And another klezmer song (previously featured).

French way

… of dealing with flu.

If you’re not entertained by the accent alone, just keep watching.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lost Soul Blues

What's friendship? The hangover's faction,
The gratis talk of outrage,
Exchange by vanity, inaction,
Or bitter shame of patronage.

— Alexander Pushkin

Nice tips

The dude in the picture is the governor of Chukotka (if you are in Alaska, looking west over the Bering strait, that’s what you see), owner of Chelsey soccer team, and one of the most influential Jews of Russia.

In other news, a question: what is worse — to read secular literature (including fiction) or to listen to secular music?