Thursday, December 31, 2009

Your move

Sometimes things that we do are small pieces of sand in a big pile. One piece out of place won't change much.

Sometimes a particular decision we make determines how the rest of the "game" will look like.

This is probably going to be the last post in this calendar year, so: may in the coming year, whatever the significance of its reckoning is, we find a way to unite the gashmius and the ruchnius. On every level.

And make as few stupid decisions as possible.

And have a little more bitachon in Eibeshter.

This is what I like to see

-1° | -4°
Snow Showers
3° | -4°
-2° | -6°
Snow Showers
1° | -3°

My summary of this calendar year

I attach no special importance to non-Jewish reckoning of time. If one, however, were to inquire of me to summarize my experiences in this passing calendar year, I would say: “yerida l’tzorech aliyah in all aspects”. Iy”H (regarding the aliyah part).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Which way is up?

Sometimes things happen, and your world is upside down.

rotating kitchen from Zeger Reyers on Vimeo.

One part of me wants to say: "Cool".

The other part of me wants to say: "How empty are their lives!" Both their lives and their lives.

Just a thought

"Oftentimes people bring up 'the daughters of Rashi'. Usually these are specific people who bring them up in a very specific context (which is unfair to these women — that they are brought up only in this context — but that's another story). I wonder if these people miss the fact that the daughter of Rashi was also the mother of Rabbeinu Tam [et al.]."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Moscow subway

(click on the image to enlarge)

From this website (click on the links above the map to toggle between color, black-and-white and comparison regime).

[Via Ilya Birman's blog. He also has very cool interactive map of Chelyabinsk street-car/tram routes. Click within the square to magnify.]

Moscow subway is rather pretty, especially when compared to one in Brooklyn.

A pretty cool story

It has a Canadian rabbi, a Russian Jewish taxi driver, and a Czech dynasty called Uzhik. What could be better?

Read here.

Takeh tachtoinim

"Forgive me my roads. In other lands the night is longer."

Starting 1:47:

On Neva stand hundred embassies

Above the federal buildings' yellow gown
A hazy flurry circles far and wide
Within the sled the coachman sits down
And with a broad gesture hides his coat inside.

Ships fall asleep. And in the evening, rocking,
Thick cabin windows fill to brim with light.
And monstrously — just like a fortress docking —
Russia is breathing heavily at night.

On the Nieva stand hundred embassies;
Admiralty, the sun, and silence glare.
The state's tight porphyry upon us sits,
Poor like an uncouth bodice made of hair.

Hard is the journey of the Northern snob —
Eugene Onegin's well-cliche'ed despair;
On Senate square are mounds of fallen snow
A bonfire's smoke, and chill of steel made bare.

The ducks are sipping water, and the gulls
In waving folds of sea are gently lurking
Where, selling lumps of beef or tender rolls,
Like opera singers peasant men are walking.

Into the fog a row of birds is flying:
Self-loving, modest march can't wait.
That goof Onegin, poverty decrying
Is breathing gasoline and cursing fate.
— Osip Mandelstam


Я вернулся в мой город, знакомый до слез,
     До прожилок, до детских припухлых желез. 
     Ты вернулся сюда, так глотай же скорей
     Рыбий жир ленинградских речных фонарей,
     Узнавай же скорее декабрьский денек,
     Где к зловещему дегтю подмешан желток.
     Петербург! я еще не хочу умирать:
     У тебя телефонов моих номера.
     Петербург! У меня еще есть адреса,
     По которым найду мертвецов голоса.
     Я на лестнице черной живу, и в висок
     Ударяет мне вырванный с мясом звонок,
     И всю ночь напролет жду гостей дорогих,
     Шевеля кандалами цепочек дверных.
— Осип Мандельштам 

Sometimes I really do miss Russia.

Photographs by A. Petrosian. Click on the images to enlarge. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Some masterclasses

I've posted some of these before.

If you can understand the Russian and the French accent, what they are saying is actually rather profound.

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)
You know, in this place, I think, Dvořák had tears. He think about something very sad, that he alone. And you know, I tell you: it is enormous help to artist, to musician, just imagination... not just something in music, but around music. Once, when I was very-very young, I rehearsing [...] sonata by Brahms, first movement. You know this ... [plays].

I rehearse it with Svyatoslav Richter. And Richter ask me:
— Slava, what you think, which weather was outside of his room, in the street, in moment when he composes.
I tell to Richter... I was young, very stupid... I tell to Richter:
— I... you know, Slava, particularly in this moment I was not in Vienne with Brahms. Not in Vienna. That's why I don't know which weather.
And he tell me:
— You know, I am sure, that in this moment rain in the street. And he coming to the window, and he see very gray, and rain. And he coming to piano and start compose.

You know, he opened for me feeling.

From the same concerto, “critique” by Paul Tortelier (starting 1:37 — incredible):

Good taste is made of thousand disgusts.

Béla Bartók's String Quartet No. 1

It is said that when Moshiach comes, we will be able to see the world but also see Hashem in it. Some tzaddikim already live on such a level.

It is amazing how well sometimes music relays one's emotions and can connect to emotions of the other.

Movement III.

Sometimes I miss Russia...

(click on the images to enlarge)

From a friend's friend's FB account.

Sprayz ikh mir

(Artur Grottger, “Jews in front of an inn” — for some reason there is something about this picture I don’t like)

A song by Klezmatics here. Contact me if you want the mp3.

Lyrics from the Youtube version:
Shprayz ikh mir mit gikhe mit gikhe trit,
Nokh a ferdl tsum yarid, tsum yarid.
Mitn tayser kling ikh mir, kling ikh mir,
Un a lidl zing ikh mir, zing ikh mir.

Tsu der shtot iz vayt, nokh zer vayt,
Shteyt a kretshmer bay der zayt, bay der zayt.
Brayt tse ofn iz di tir, iz di tir,
Kretshmer gib a glezl, gib a glezl mir.

Nokh a glezel, nokh eynz, nokh a gloz,
Gizt mir on der bale, der balebos,
Vos mir shtot un ven mir ven yarid,
Az keyn ferdl darf ikh nit, darf ikh nit.

Dos ferdl hob ikh nit gekoyft, nit gekoyft,
Un dos gelt shoyn lang farzoyft, lang farzoyft,
Un far tsores shpring ikh mir, shpring ikh mir,
Un a lidl zing ikh mir, zing ikh mir.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Choices, choices, choices...

Even though I have become disillusioned with chess, I still think this is rather cool. (I wasn't able to play the game, by the way; maybe it's down.)

(how computer sees a chess game)

A prelude to a small post about life and decisions, to be written a little later.

Easy and thoughtful fast to everyone.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I have to say...'s a rather crazy thing we are doing, Watson.

(Leonardo da Vinci. A page from the journal)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The game of Go

Tonight seems to be an especially appropriate night to advertise one to the greatest board game ever invented, toppling even chess, namely, the game of Go (I am capitalizing it to differentiate it from the verb, but one really doesn't have to).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From Dovlatov

Russian-Jewish Soviet dark humor (translated by yours truly a while ago, so if the content sucks, blame me):

Roads everywhere

In what other language do you have an adjective from "forced labor"?

(full version here)

One of my favorite poems. A different and fuller version (I prefer Karachentzev above):

By Marina Tzvetayeva (Марина Цветаева)

Всюду бегут дороги,
По лесу, по пустыне,
В ранний и поздний час.

Люди по ним ходят,
Ходят по ним дроги,
В ранний и поздний час.

Топчут песок и глину
Страннические ноги,
Топчут кремень и грязь...

Кто на ветру — убогий?
Всяк на большой дороге —
Переодетый князь!

Треплются их отрепья
Всюду, где небо — сине,
Всюду, где Б-г — судья.

Сталкивает их цепи,
Смешивает отрепья
Па́рная колея.

Так по земной пустыне,
Кинув земную пажить
И сторонясь жилья,

Нищенствуют и кня́жат —
Каторжные княгини,
Каторжные князья.

Вот и сошлись дороги,
Вот мы и сшиблись клином.
Тёмен, ох, тёмен час.

Это не я с тобою, —
Это беда с бедою
Каторжная — сошлась.

Что же! Целуй в губы,
Коли тебя, любый,
Б-г от меня не спас.

Всех по одной дороге
Поволокут дроги —
В ранний ли, поздний час.

5 апреля 1916

Monday, December 21, 2009

Avrohom Ginin

An excerpt from his biography, talking about how life was in Moscow shull after the war:

A fairy tale about a wild boar

A very famous song by Vladimir Vysotsky. If you don't get Vysotsky (you don't have to like him), you don't get the Soviet culture.

The video is quite stupid, but it's the only one on Youtube with this song (update: there is another one, and it's even more stupid).

Lyrics in Russian here. Loose translation in English here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A thought from the road

Coming back from an emergency trip to NY (during which I had to respond to a family tragedy, but as a result lit all the candles of the menoira in a household, where not a single candle had been lit during the whole Chanukah), I had an interesting occurrence. Actually, it was rather commonplace, but it made me think of a conversation I recently had with my rabbi.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Refuah sheleima

Please daven and say Tehillim for refuah sheleima of Chaya bas Golda Rivka.



A copy of a post from last year:

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

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

Old army song

Bulat Okudzhava. The clip has photos from the First World War.

Here’s another one:

Google Translate

I posted something somewhere in Russian and was wondering how it would look if translated in English through Google Translate.

The original (Ch. 20 of Alter Rebbe’s Iggeres HaKoidesh, with commentaries):
На самом деле здесь имеется в виду следующее: они, [эти элементы, составляющие “костяк” мироздания, воплощают в себе не самый существенный] аспект Б-жественной эманации, [передающий способность] творить Нечто из Ничто, [ибо их связь с сутью Эйн Соф носит не субстанциональный*, а лишь функциональный характер, поскольку они участвуют в акте творения].
Подобно самой сути Эйн Соф, [обладающей способностью творить принципиально новые объекты, эти элементы наделены тем же свойством], а не только возможностью образовывать последовательность сущностей, соединенных с ними причинно-следственной связью.
* В своей книге, Тора Oр, автор делает следующее утверждение: “Суть Всевышнего не в том, что от Него образуются миры”. Созданиям известны лишь те аспекты Всевышнего, которые нашли свое выражение в творении.

The translation [sic — the brackets are in the original]:
In fact, there is the following in mind: they [the elements that make up the “backbone” of the universe, embody not the most important] aspect of a divine emanations, [transmitting ability] to create something from nothing, [because of their connection with the essence of Ein Sof is not * the substantial, but only a functional one, because they are involved in the act of creation].

Like the very essence of Ein Sof, [possessing the ability to create entirely new objects, these elements are endowed with the same property], not only the opportunity to form a sequence of entities connected with a causal link.
* In his book, Torah Or, the author makes the following statement: “The essence of G-d is not that from him formed the worlds.” Creation known only to those aspects of G-d, which found expression in the world.
Overall, not bad, I must say. In my experience, online Russian–English translation has been quite horrible. The last sentence should say: “To creation are known only those aspects of G-d...”.

A question of logic

Please answer the poll on the right. Any questions as comments here. Please no answers with explanations.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Time magazine men of the year: a collage

(Joseph Stalin, y"sh  — twice)
(Adolph Hitler, y"sh)
(Wow, that's an unflattering painting. Anyway: John F. Kennedy)
(Vladimir Putin — with some barrel distortion)
(Barack Obama)

And now... drum roll...

(Ben Bernanke, Mr. “We screwed up your economy, but it could’ve been much worse”)

By the way: that picture of Obama above? I always wondered what it reminded me of.

I rather prefer William Wallace’s haircut, though.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Boris Dubov, an artist

I like the paintings of Russian Jewish artist, Boris Dubov. Not all (not his surrealist paintings), but many of them (more traditional ones).

See this web-site for his “Judaica” art.

Although, am I the only one, or do the works of this sort seem a bit cliché after a while? Somehow, I like this work a lot more.

Ani Hashem Loi Shanisi, part 1

(No, that's not a lame attempt at a pun.)

Hemshech “Mem Gimmel”,  ma'amor “Tannu Rabannan – Neir Chanukah”. Rebbe Rashab asks the question: “How can you say, ‘I, Hashem, have not changed’, if  indeed you see a tremendous amount of change from one world to another?” E.g., from Atzilus, the world of revelation, which is one with Hashem (“He and His causations are one”) — to the point that, for instance, Chochma of Atzilus is called literally the Brain of G-d — to our physical world, in which G-d is almost not revealed. That’s a big change. And since G-d creates the worlds, surely it means the change in Him, no?

Or, how can you say that G-d does not change if He is in control of every single atom’s movement in the Universe? Same logic.

There are many answers that Rebbe Rashab brings to explain this, from more philosophical to more profound. The first time I learned the ma’amor the following answer caught my attention because of its novelty to me:

In order for something to change, it needs a form. A metzius. The whole concept of change can be actualized only through that form.

G-d does not have a form. His revelation takes forms, but His Essence has no form, because it cannot be defined, constricted to a specific metzius. Therefore, His Essence is beyond the concept of change.

How about that? It’s not the deepest answer (that G-d’s mode of creation of the world is “yesh me’ayin”, ex nihilo), nor the most philosophical (that if you have simple infinity, a finite exertion of creative energy cannot cause change in it), but for me it is somehow the coolest.

Then again, some of the more skeptical folk may say this is just an excuse. Which is why you have to learn the rest of the ma’amor.

Another interesting thing about the above explanation is that the smarter a person is the less he thinks he understands it. (Actually, I think there may be some sort of inverted parabolic function.)

[Picture by Boris Dubov]

Come on...

Let me be one more blogger joining the ranks of those who say that whatever your political views (or, which seems to be the main case here, views about adultery and promiscuity), rejoicing over a 73-year-old men having his teeth and nose broken by a mentally unstable person is quite low.

(This is not a sign of support of this low-life's public and private behavior either.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Proof: a repeat

Since the proof has not been answered correctly yet, I am bringing it up. Taken from a book by famous American mathematician. Translated from Russian to English.

Making everything the best it can be

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday, in which I confessed that I have no idea what the avoida of women in Yiddishkeit and in Chassidus is. Which is still true.

My friend answered: to make things and people the best they can be. Or something along those lines.

I could say that I have these problems and those problems with the answer, and a different set of problems with the alternative answer, but the most intelligent thing I will say is that I still don't really know. (In general, ignorance seems to be my predominant state lately.)

But seeing this joke just now (on this blog) reminded me of my friend’s assertion:

The governor of Texas and his wife are driving through a small town and getting gas. The governor notices that his wife is looking very closely at the gas station attendant filling them up. He remembers that she was born and  grew up in this very town and figures out what two plus two is. After they drive off, the following conversation ensues:

— Hey, aren’t you from this town?
— Yes, dear.
— And you dated a few guys in this town before you moved to Dallas and met me, didn’t you?
— Yep, sure did.
— Hmm. This is really just a wild guess, but is there a chance the guy filling us up was one of them?
— Yeah, you got it. He was my former boyfriend. Didn’t recognize me though.
— In that case, can I ask you what you were thinking about when you were looking at him? Were you thinking that had you married him instead of me, instead of being a wife of the governor of Texas, you’d be married to a gas station attendant?
— No, I was thinking that had I married him, he would be the governor of Texas.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Math and science

For mathematicians, science is just an opportunity to apply their field.

For scientists, math is an opportunity to make their field work (for ideas to emerge from one another, be understood, be predictable, be testable, etc.).

So, for mathematicians, science is a keli for their light. For scientists, math is like horseradish that you eat with gefilte fish. It's not that you can't eat fish without chrein. Or some herring with vodka. It's not like you can't drink vodka without herring, but herring makes it easier to go down. (Plus, everyone knows that a real farbrengen always has herring in it. The same way everybody knows that real science must have some math in it. And real Biology must have some Molecular Biology, even if your project is not about genetics at all.)

I know a person who would say: "Let's go buy some beer. I am in a mood for dried fish. Which beer? Preferably light, but I don't really care. I just like the fish." When asked why not eat fish right away, he would answer that everybody knows you only eat dried fish with beer.

The same way some mathematicians who come to my school really only want to do Math. They don't really care about science (physics, chemistry, Neuroscience, etc.). But they feel silly doing fundamental Math; they want to be doing something applied, whatever it is. The problem is: you really need to care about the science part in order for your Math models to make sense. I guess this may be the difference between art and science; in art, it doesn't really matter (well, for the last hundred years or so) that your work is realistic and is a good depiction of the world out there (I am not criticizing; I like abstract art).

If you think my mosholim are stupid, I don't care. I am not making chiddushim here; I am reminiscing. Also, if you don't like herring, you're a kalte misnaged. Or you haven't tried good herring.


A lot of people nowadays think they know what it means to drink. If you want to learn something, learn from professionals.

In this scene, a friend of a lady who broke a man's heart came to convince the man that he is being an idiot and should come back. The background story is not important; watch the interaction between two men. Skip the scene with women crying. It's not important for the story. (Dubbing is a little off.)

I like this scene a lot too (there is a woman reading poetry, but not singing).

Foreground vs. background

On the poster it says: “Moscow is a territory for small business.”

From Norvezhsky Lesnoi’s blog.

A pseudo-proof

“Obtuse angle (>90°) is sometimes equal to a right angle (90°)”

Assume the figure ABCD is a square. Divide the segment AB in half and through the point of division (E) create a line perpendicular to AB. This line will intersect the opposite side of the square (DC) at F. Such that DF = FC.

From the point C, create a segment CG equal to CB. Connect points A and G with a line and divide the segment AG in half by a point H. Then, from the point H create a line HK which is perpendicular to the segment AG.

Because the segments AB and AG are not parallel, the lines EF and HK are also not parallel. Therefore, they will intersect at some point (call it K). Let’s connect the point K with points D, A, G and C.

Triangles KAH and KGH are congruent (equal?), because they have a common side HK, because AH = HG, and because the angles at H are right angles (both equal to 90°). [Here we are invoking a well-known theorem that says that if two triangles’ sides and the angle between those two sides are equal, the triangles are congruent.] Therefore, KA = KG.

Triangles KDF and KCF are also congruent, because they have a common side FK, because DF = FC, and because the angles at the point F are right (both equal to 90°). Therefore, KD = KC, and angle KDC is equal to angle KCD.

Besides that, DA = CB = CG.

Therefore, the sides of the triangles KDA and KCG are equal. Therefore, angles KDA and KCG are equal. Let’s subtract from them the equal angles KDC and KCD. It is obvious that the results of the subtraction should also be equal; i.e., that angle GCD = angle ADC.

But, the angle GCD is an obtuse angle (>90°). While the angle ADC is a right angle (90°).

Therefore, sometimes, obtuse angle is equal to the right angle, which is what was required to prove and what is so far from the truth.

Political correctness, you say?

(via Gizmodo)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Glass blowing

I present to you J.W., one of my suitmates in college (physics, math and glass blowing triple major). Thanks to my other friend for posting this video on her FB profile.

Happy Chanukah, yidden!

The song for tonight: Banu choshech.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some news and ads

These were sent to me by a friend.

Happy Chanukah

No new thoughts this year. Just a selection of old ones.

"The Essence of Chanukah: Beyond Definitions"
"G-d or nature?"
"Spiritual timelessness of Judaism"

A post that doesn't have to do with Chanukah per se, but explains the idea of Essence vs. revelation, which was touched upon in the first post mentioned above.

Chanukah is a good time to learn the topic of Ani Hashem loi shanisi. Why? Because it's discussed in Mem Gimmel: Tannu Rabanan, which is connected to Chanukah (well, Tosfos vs. Rashi questions regarding Menoira is the ma'amor's passport). I will try to present to main idea of the ma'amor over the holiday.

By the way, my rabbi told me a story once. He gave over the sicho of the Rebbe, in which the Rebbe asnwers Brisker Rav's question regarding how could the oil be miraculous and be kosher at the same time. In order to to a mitzva, one needed regular oil and regular fire — normal according to the laws of the world. The Rebbe explains that what happened was not that the oil was burning more slowly or lasted longer, but that it was burning and not burning at the same time.

This was not a miracle, but a nimna ha’nimnaos — a contradiction of the laws of logic. Which is possible when only the Essence of G-d is revealed. Which is why Chanukah is on a such high a level, and why it will be celebrated when Moshiach comes. Fine.

When my rabbi finished his talk, somebody in the audience asked: “Why can't you say that the oil was really burning, and the Halacha was being kept and not kept at the same time?”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How the Rebbe saw Torah

An excerpt from Rabbi Paltiel's class on ma'amor Vayeitzei (hemshech Samech Vov), where he describes a story of one talmid chochom comparing the Rebbe to Rambam and describing how both saw Torah. This also explains why it's so valuable to learn your daily Rambam (besides hiskashrus to the Rebbe).


The whole shiur (second from the series) is very nice too. Elucidation of the idea introduced in the first shiur that pnimiyus Abba — pnimiyus Attik, that in Chochma of Atzilus (Abba), there is a package of Atzmus, Hashem's Essence (which is copied, literally, in Attik). Which is why we can reach Hashem's Essence not only through mitzvos and mesirus nefesh, but also through struggling in Torah.

He brings an interesting illustration. In Tanya we say that nefesh elokis is a part of Essence, literally, and then we start talking about Chochma Ila'ah (the Higher Chochma) being the source of the souls, just like the brain of the father is the source of the nails of the son. Wait a second, how did we get from the Essence to Chochma all of a sudden? Because the Essence is packaged in Chochma (which makes it accessible through toil in Torah).

Which shows again: we learn Tanya, and we have no idea what we're learning. (We, Nicholas II.)

A conversation about Chanukah

To be followed by a translation (maybe).
- Папа, а как мы победили греков?
- Беезрас ашем!
- Тогда зачем нужны Маккавеи?
- Они были только солдатами. Ашем помог им, беезрас ашем, и, барух ашем, они победили.
- Маккавеи были солдатами???
- Аааа.. солдатами Ашема, цеваот Ашем.
- А, ну я понял, они были хабадниками!
- Нет! Нет! Тогда хабадников не было.
- А у Йегуды Маккавея было оружие?
- Да.
- Так, наверное, Йегуда был хилонимный или вообще гой?
- Хас вешалом, почему вдруг он был хилонимный?
- Но ведь только хилонимные идут в армию!
- Когда-то религиозные тоже служили в армии.
- Так почему Маккавеи служили в армии, а мы нет?
- Это потому, что Тора нас охраняет.
- Но почему тогда Тора не охраняла их?
- Слушай, почему бы ты не пошёл бы к Мойши поучить мишнайот?
- Маккавеи учили мишнайот?
- Учили Тору, много Торы.
- И не работали?
- Хас вешалом!
- Так, наверное, Антиох давал им деньги?
- Ну нет, не совсем. Они работали кое-где и зарабатывали что-то.
- По-черному, как наш дядя Янкель?
- Янкель не работает по-черному!
- Так как же работал Матитьягу?
- Он был крестьянином.
- Ааа, он был таиландцем?
- Боже упаси, почему таиландцем?!
- Так как же он работал в поле в костюме и белой рубашке?
- А почему ты считаешь, что он был в белой рубашке?
- Так Мойши сказал мне, что настоящие евреи носят только белые рубашки.
- Ты слишком много времени проводишь с Мойши. Но вообще-то он прав!
- А что хотели Маккавеи ?
- Они хотели самостоятельное государство, без греков.
- Так мы тоже этого хотим ?
- Да, только нельзя говорить про это - мы же не сионисты!
- Папа, папа, я хочу быть солдатом, сионистом, маккавеем!!!
- Ты что, с ума сошёл??? Гевалд!
- Папа, я пошутил, я пошёл на концерт хасидской музыки вместе с Мойше.
- А, хорошо, передай привет его отцу !


Yes, I know, it's an old joke, but I saw it again today...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What's missing?

I started answering Altie's post, but realized that my answer is very long, so I am just going to publish it as a post instead.

The question is: does a Jew know enough how to be a mentch only from learning Chassidus?

Soviet Sherlock Holmes

Continuing the topic of the Soviet cinematography, this is the Soviet depiction of Sherlock Holmes (played by Vasiliy Livanov):

Here Sherlock Holmes talks to Dr. Watson about Chapter 8 of Tanya (click here to see English translation of their conversation):

Swiss army

No, not the pen knives. I am talking about the biggest badasses in Europe, pretty much since Middle Ages. All men are required to serve in the Swiss army. And when they leave the army, they take their rifles with them. And regularly practice in using them. Including at an annual shooting festival, paid by the government.

Result? The government is scared of them. Neither Mumbai nor Obama (FDR, Stalin, Hitler, whoever) are likely to happen in Switzerland.

This man realized importance of knowing how to defend yourself while visiting a Holocaust museum (~2:01):

The key to freedom is ability to defend yourself. And if you don't have tools to do that, then you're at the mercy of whoever wants to put you away.
Now, you would think that Swiss streets would be constant gang war zones, right? Well, the country has one of the lowest crime rates. And it's not like the country has nothing to steal.

RIP: Tikhonov

Today a really ingenious Soviet actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov passed away. There was a lot of evil about the Soviet Union. But some things were great. Cinematography was an art, not just entertainment. And the actors were artists.

Tikhonov played in a wide variety of movies. As a young actor he played count Volkonsky in War and Peace (“I said that a fallen woman can be forgiven. I did not say I can forgive her”). A soldier in They Fought for the Motherland, a teacher in Let’s Live until Monday (“Love is blind. Earn their respect first”), etc., etc.

His most famous role, however, will always remain that of the Soviet intelligence officer, Max Otto Stirlitz (aka Maxim Isayev) in the Nazi Germany.

This is one scene from the movie, Seventeen Moments of Spring. In it, he is sitting in a cafe and is trying to remember when was the last time he had seen his wife. It is, I believe, 1944 or ’45, and the last time he’s seen her was in something like 1938. At that point he also had not seen her for a while and was already deep in the Nazi ranks. Soviet intelligence arranged a meeting, but all they could afford to do (because of the Nazi eyes being everywhere) is to sit in a cafe for a few minutes across from each other. Although the movie is not silent, in this scene there are no words.

There is a color version of this scene which looks very nice, but somehow I prefer the original.

Another scene, a little lighter:

— Well, in any case, I did not say that.
— Better I play for you, and you shall dance. I haven’t seen how people dance for a long time.
— Hmm, I am ready.
— You know, I have often wondered: why do you show such tenderness for frau Saurich? She says you remind her of the older son... Or maybe she reminds you of your mother?.. Then why?
— Simply... of all people who live on the Earth, I like children and old people the most.
— Is that so?.. I don’t think I belong to either.
— No you do not.
 What is remarkable about the scene, the movie and the whole Soviet cinematographic industry is eidelkeit. Something one does not see either in American movies or in modern Russian ones.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A few more vertlach from the farbrengen

The Rebbe once mentioned that between Yud Tes Kislev and Chai Elul there are exactly nine months. Which means that Alter Rebbe was conceived on Yud Tes Kislev. This shows that the day is takeh at the core of Chassidus Chabad.

After saying that, the Rebbe commented that if you look it up on the calendar, that year was a leap year. So, there were actually ten months between the two dates.

The thing is, continued the Rebbe, that tzaddikim require an additional month for the development.

Rabbi Paltiel comments: had the Rebbe not told us that the year was a leap year, nobody would have looked it up. He would totally get away with it.

This made me think. How many things the Rebbe said that we later look at in a greater detail and say: “Wait a second... What about...? But isn’t it...?” We have to remember that we don’t know all the details.

* * *

The famous story about the gem that needed to be ground up for the king’s son who got sick went on like this. Baal Shem Tov had an inner circle of students and an outer circle of followers. He was the Rebbe to a wide range of people but he taught Chassidus to a select few. The Maggid was the Rebbe only to his talmidim, but he was less selective about whom to take as a student than the Baal Shem Tov.

One of the tzaddikim, original talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov — let’s say it was Karliner Rebbe — was disappointed about the lower standards of selection process and criticized the Maggid about it. One day, he went from the shull to the outhouse. As he was walking back through the courtyard, he saw a piece of paper on the ground. He bent down to pick it up and saw that it had Baal Shem Tov’s Chassidus written on it.

What happened was that one of the talmidim of the Maggid wrote down on a piece of paper his vort and then copied it into his notebook. Then he got rid of the original piece of paper. He should have torn it up first, but he just threw it into the furnace. Because of the back draft, the piece of paper flew up the chimney and out of it, landing in front of the outhouse.

Karliner Rebbe got very upset about it. He walked in, furiously, back into the shull. The Maggid, sitting in the other room suddenly started feeling heaviness creeping in onto him and began sensing that it is Karliner Rebbe’s kipeida.

Meanwhile, in the shull, Alter Rebbe was sitting learning. He sees Karliner Rebbe walk in with a piece of paper in his hand and the expression on his face. Immediately catching on what happened, Alter Rebbe gets up and comes over.

Karliner Rebbe goes to do netilas yadayim, and as he is doing netilas yadayim and then saying Asher Yotzar, Alter Rebbe is saying the story about the king’s son who got sick, for which purpose they ground up the king’s most precious jewel, most of which ended up on the ground, but some of which got into the prince’s mouth, saving his life. (Rabbi Paltiel comments: he was saying the whole story while Karliner Rebbe was washing and saying Asher Yotzar. Either Alter Rebbe could speak very fast, or Karliner Rebbe had a lot of kavanah.)

As Alter Rebbe finishes the story, Karliner Rebbe smiles and finishes Asher Yotzar: “...rofei chol basar u’mafli la’asois” (“...who cures all the flesh and makes miracles”). The Maggid feels the heaviness of the kipeida lift off from him. Later he told Alter Rebbe: “From now on, every year that I live I owe to you.”

* * *

When the talmidei Maggid decided to create a counter-herem against misnagdim, they decided to put a kipeida on Vilna Gaon so that he would lose his mind. For this they needed a greater scholar than him. The two of them traveled to see Alter Rebbe and told him what they wanted to do. Alter Rebbe answered: “This will be chillul Hashem”. They asked again and again, and Alter Rebbe refused again and again.

Mitteler Rebbe was sitting outside the door and learning with Reb Aron Strasheler. The two talmidei maggid raised their voices in the argument, and one of them said: “If you refuse, chillul Hashem will come on your family through one of your children.” When Mitteler Rebbe heard this, he fainted. Hearing the commotion outside, Alter Rebbe walked out and saw Mitteler Rebbe on the floor, with chassidim surrounding him. He put a hand on his head and said: “It doesn’t mean you.”

Alter Rebbe’s youngest son, Moshe, ran to Alter Rebbe and grabbed his legs. Alter Rebbe put a hand on his head and was coming back to his office. One of the talmidei Maggid told him: “You have one more chance.” Alter Rebbe repeated: “It will be chillul Hashem” and got in response: “Chillul Hashem will come through one of your children”, with Moshe standing right there. The rest is history...

Victory of Yud Tes Kislev

Victory of Yud Tes Kislev and Chassidus in general is over this mentality (among other things). In particular, the first two points. I mean, Alter Rebbe was pretty much told so by his teacher the Maggid and by Baal Shem Tov.

It would be fun to explain what exactly is wrong with the post, but I have no time, and most people who know anything about what Chassidus is will realize the silliness of the post's contents.

(Link originally referenced by Dixie Yid.)

Yes, we can...

I suppose this is a bit like singing Ho'Aderes ve'ho'Emunoh using the tune for Marseillaise.

(Despite the above sarcastic remark, I do like the video.)

Yud Tes Kislev farbrengen

In Lubavitch, there is blind faith with an explanation. In Breslov, there is blind faith. Everything is G-d. There is not even yetzer ha'rah. Imagine you're walking on the street, trip and fall on your face. A Breslover would say: "G-d just punched me in the nose."

A farbrengen tonight with Rabbi Yossi Paltiel in the place of re-doubled darkness and kaltkeit. Some of the stories I've heard before, but some I have not. Overall, an amazing talk as usual (close to the end of the talk, I've seen at least two people wiping off tears). I apologize for poor sound quality; I think I placed the recorder too close. Although the sound improved after e's uncle turned off the microphone.


After the official talk, there was a long farbrengen, parts of which I might post later after some heavy editing. At the beginning, Rabbi Paltiel told a story of a guy whose name was Reb Reuven Dunin. His father was a Litvishe Yid, but he himself fried out and became a Zionist. He drove a tractor working with other people on cultivating land in Haifa region.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do you understand it?

I've been up for about 24 hours, ever since I woke up on Shabbos morning. Which included a four-hour drive. Which means I don't have energy to write right now the several posts I wanted to write. Maybe later.

So, I give you my old post instead. To be continued... Gutt Yom Tov.

Actually, just before I go rest a bit, I can't help but give a little thought. Answering the question "Who is G-d?", Rav Saadia Gaon answered: "Ilu yadativ, hayisiv" — "If I knew [Him], I would be [Him]." Which makes sense. And is a separate topic on its own.

The thing is: Rebbe Rashab once said that when he meditated on Chassidus Chabad, on G-d, on His relationship with the world, on the purpose of the world's creation, on G-d's Essence and Revelation, etc., etc., — while meditating on all this, Rebbe Rashab "yadativ ve'hayisiv". "I knew Him and I was Him." There are several ways to understand this statement, and intelligent people will pick the more intelligent way.

And here comes the politically incorrect bit. A lot of people say that they have studied Chassidus. A lot of people say they have studied Chassidus Chabad. But, they say, "Chassidus is not for me. I can't say I am a chossid. I have learned Chassidus, I understand and know what I have studied, but..." My answer to that? "Ilu yadativ, hayisiv." If you knew it [Chassidus], you would be it [a Chossid]. No way around it. Sorry...

In my humble opinion. (Hey! No snorting!)