Friday, February 26, 2010

Where are you, Father?

There is a story I heard from my rabbi once. After one man died, G-d showed him the roads of his life. He saw all the places he’s been to, all the paths he has walked. And on those paths, he saw two sets of steps — his own and someone else’s. He asked G-d: “Whose are the second steps?" And G-d answered: “Mine. All your life I was right next to you.”

But then the man saw that in the most difficult places, the most marshy valleys, the steepest hills, there was only one set of steps. And he asked G-d: “Why did you abandon me in these places in my life?” And G-d answered: “I did not abandon you. I was carrying you.”

There are times in our lives, when we experience double concealment. Not only is Hashem hidden, as usual for this world, but he is doubly hidden. We doubt He even exists; we cannot see how He can possibly exist if this or that happens — where is He in our lives at these moments?

The answer that Chassidus provides is: He’s never been closer. His Light may not be revealed (which is why we experience darkness), but that means that His Essence is here. A child may not understand his father’s lecture on mathematics, and he is bored, but hey — it’s his father. And he is closer to his father than any of the students who actually understand and see his father’s brilliance. And when the child spends time with him, it’s not for the sake of the brilliance, but, again, because he just wants to be together with his father.

May we experience Hashem’s Light on this Shabbos and then His Essence this Purim and may we each bring Moshiach now.

Please say Tehillim or dedicate some mitzva for refuah sheleima of Chaya bas Golda Rivka.

V’atoh tetzaveh — the role of the Rebbe

[I am bringing this post up.]

Rabbi Paltiel’s lessons on the ma’amor V’atah Tetzaveh (also available from Kehos), the ma’amor we learn for Purim.

Frierdiker Rebbe’s Bosi LeGani was the most important ma’amor that he left for the chassidim after his histalkus. It was the ma’amor of the Rebbe’s generation — and the Rebbe revealed it in his Bosi LeGani’s.

V’atah Tetzaveh is the most important ma’amor for us, right now, post–gimmel tammuz. It’s the Rebbe’s message for us.

The famous explanation is that in this parshah, Moshe’s name is not mentioned and intstead he is called “atoh” (“you”), because when he said, “Take me out of your book” (if G-d decides to destroy His people, G-d forbid), he expressed his essence — his union with the Jewish people. Moshe Rabbeinu was a Rebbe. Rosh Bnei Yisroel.

The Rebbe takes this idea further and deeper. In what way was Moshe Rabbeinu the head of Jewish people?

The ma’amor talks about the role of a Rebbe, the Moshe Rabbeinu of the generation — to bring the oil of our souls, squeezed out by golus, to Hashem. To make Hashem real for us. It was Moshe Rabbeinu’s job to ask: “Are you Jews because of G-d, or are you Jews because you live in the miraculous circumstance, where Torah is obvious? Take a couple steps outside — will you still be Jews?”

That’s the advantage of Purim — then the question needed not to be asked. Jews were ready to do mesirus nefesh — for a whole year! — following the leadership of Mordechai and Ester, their example of mesirus nefesh. But then the question was: who is doing mesirus nefesh? Is it your G-dly soul, or is it you? In other words, it’s all very good to become machines and, when faced with a question “Will you bow down to idols or die?”, have revelation of ahavah mesuteres (hidden love) and answer, numbly, with the supra-conscious levels of your soul overriding all intellect and emotion, “Die”. But did this revelation of the essence of your soul penetrate the lowest levels of your soul? Surely not. They were merely suppressed.

So, this is the job of our generation. To allow the essence of our souls to be revealed, but, at the same time, penetrating even the lowest levels of our soul, not suppressing and destroying them. (And this, in turn, will lead us to bring about the state of affairs when G-d’s Essence is revealed in the lowest worlds, but does not destroy them.)

* * *

On the one hand, we have it comfortably. We are free from persecution. We are free to sit at homes, in our yeshivas, learn Torah all day. As some people say, things have never been better. Not just materially — spiritually.

And this view is the evidence that we are in the darkest golus. What are you happy about? The fact that you can sit all day and learn Torah? Have an amazing spiritual experience? Work on your avoida, your closeness to Eibeshter? Is this why the world was created? Where is the Beis Hamikdosh, where is revelation of Hashem in this world, where is ein od milvado and dira b’tachtoinim? (OK, I am done with the longest string of questions in my writing experience.)

This is the job of the leader of our current generation. To show this. To bring Hashem to us, make Him real, show Him in the Torah, in the mitzvos, in the world. And make golus real. Show what we are currently lacking — what we need to strive for with all our strength. The Essence.

May we reveal to ourselves and to the world this idea during the Shabbos and Purim. As one rabbi says, “It’s a very serious business — to be joyous.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

But not a snitch...

Another great scene from that movie. (Let me know if it is too quiet.)

“There is nothing like a sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that. [...]

Now, I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


In my town it is raining. Up north, in Fitchburg, it is still snowing, but here already it is too warm for snow. Winter is departing. We’ve had a few good snowy days, fewer than in some years, more than in others, definitely fewer than I remember having in Ukraine, but I am content.

In my heart, a hot summer was replaced by a lukewarm autumn, and then there was a long, bitter, cold winter. But it is warmer already, and I can feel the spring. Talk of hashgacha protis...

All my life I liked cold. Snow. Ice. Freezing wind in my face. Living for seven years in the South was torture for me. Not just because of the inbred American rednecks. Mostly because of the humid, hot climate.

In Chassidus, coldness is associated with something negative. With lack of passion. With cynicism. Frierdiker Rebbe once said: “A cold person is a step away from a heretic. A person must serve Hashem with passion and a warm heart.” (If you know the exact quote, please leave a comment.) One of the nicknames for a misnaged is “a kalte Litvak”.

One winter, Frierdiker Rebbe (before he had become a Rebbe) was standing outside, smoking. He saw a chossid walk out without a coat. He told him: “Be careful. You are cold.” The chossid answered: “And you?” The Rebbe responded: “I am protected.” Soon that chossid went off the derech. Frierdiker Rebbe saw that the cynicism, the coldness was taking over the chossid.

There is a story about Vilna Gaon. When he had heard that Chassidim use warm mikveh on Shabbos, he said: “It’s a good thing. The gehennim won’t be too much of a surprise for them.” When I read in Tanya that the people who delve into secular sciences for the sake of intellectual pleasure will be punished by the Hell of Ice, I thought that it’s a good thing that I like cold.

(Interestingly, it is in the South that I have started my journey towards Chassidus. The orbit on which I am right now is a result of the momentum I was given there, in the community of New Orleans. In Boston, the weather is nice, but I have never struggled so much in my life to stay afloat b’ruchnius. I won’t say much about the community. There isn’t much to say...)

I have just read a very interesting article by Naftali Silberberg called “Embrace your inner ice”. A quote from it:
They tried to cool our passion — and we are enjoined to never forget their chilling stab, and to utterly eliminate them from the face of the earth.

And on a personal level, there is an Amalek lurking within every one of us. It is the icy voice that attempts to inculcate us with apathy and immunize us against passion and inspiration. This Amalek, too, must be destroyed.

But how?

Well, the most obvious antidote to ice is heat. With enough heat you could melt a glacier.

But there's another way...


Cold. Benumbed. Arctic. Inflexible, rigid, and unyielding.

In terms of spiritual service, ice represents absolute and unshakable commitment to G‑d.

Not a commitment based on emotions (warmth), not one that rests on a foundation of love and awe for the Creator or an appreciation of the beauty and importance of serving Him. For ultimately, any such relationship is based on a feeling of self: I love, I fear, I feel, I like, I appreciate, I understand...

And when the service depends on my warmth and excitement, it will fluctuate from day to day, even minute to minute. Some days will be sunny and warm; others will be overcast and chilly.

But if the commitment isn't driven by warmth and passion, by what I want and feel, but by what is wanted of me — then it's steady and constant, and not subject to vacillations and swings. Because what I'm wanted and needed for doesn't change.
And that is the advantage of Chassidus Chabad, the Lithuanian Chassidus, the cold Chassidus. As Lubavitch chassidim, we have a nuclear reaction burning inside us. But it’s not a nuclear explosion; it’s a channeled, controlled reaction of a nuclear plant. OK, sometimes that nuclear plant becomes a Chernobyl, but that’s already the details...

Aggressive women

As a continuation of the previous post, I just thought that all women pianists that I’ve ever seen have been quite agressive.

Marta Argerich:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Coming out of the closet

...about being yeshivish despite having been raised MO.

A very funny post by FrumSatire.
At my parents’ suggestion, I started seeing a psychologist. He was a shul member, a friend of the family. He dabbled in hypnosis. Every time he heard the word “marmalade,” he would start singing the “The Whiffenpoofs Song” in Pig Latin. At our first session, I told him, “Modern Orthodoxy is hollow and hypocritical.” “Yes,” he replied, “but what don’t you like about it?” He suggested I go to an Ivy League college for a few years, then decide. I told him that we were created to learn Torah, not to study “The Architecture of the Igloo.”

On snobbism

Is one still a snob when his snobbism is justified? (A reference to TRS saying recently that I am a snob because I think that classical music is much better at expressing emotions than rap.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Listen to the Rebbe

Thanks to TRS for sending me this link. Interesting story there:
When the Alter Rebbe sent the manuscripts of the Tanya to be printed, he instructed the chassidim charged with that mission not to show the text to anyone. The chassidim, however, met a very great sage (his name was forgotten), and showed him the manuscripts. He perused them and was overcome with awe. Holding them in his hand, he exclaimed: “How illuminating! How illuminating!” Chassidim would say that with these words, he removed the light from the Tanya. Its inner G-dly power did not shine forth as forcefully and its intellectual dimension was emphasized.
While I don’t necessarily object the intellectual dimension being emphasized, this is a cautionary tale for those who reveal something (even if it’s true) that the Rebbe asked not to reveal. This should suffice for those of understanding.

For those without understanding who wear yellow flags: I am talking about you.

(Recently I was asked if I was “neutral”. I answered that I was “drive”.)

Pay Every Penny Saved to Israel

This clip is pretty funny for obvious reasons. But I think it can also serve as a cautionary tale. I think it’s rather obvious of what and for whom, so I won’t say more than that I find the mannerisms, the content, the form, and even mentioning the little son all too familiar.

Sure, everything was created in opposites. But I think there is more to it than that.

(Thanks to my chavrusa for the clip.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Quotes of the day

I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.
Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I'll waste no time reading it.
Moses Hadas
Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Just because the little girl discovered that the magical land in the wardrobe is full of jerks doesn’t mean that she should give up on it completely. Every magical land is full of jerks; otherwise, there would be no story.
— Me (aka, one of the jerks)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Make sure if affects you

The following post contains a detail that may be disturbing to some people; so, be warned.

Most people know the famous story with Mitteler Rebbe and the interrupted yechidus. Tonight, I found a detail about it which I had not known before. I can’t find the story online at the moment (if someone can, please leave a comment with a link), so I will summarize it as I remembered it.

The story went as follows. One day, a man entered a yechidus of the Mitteler Rebbe. Shortly after, Mitteler Rebbe interrupted the yechidus and canceled all other meetings for the day. He locked himself in his office, saying Tehillim. He secretary thought that something terrible must have happened, so he also started saying Tehillim. Other people present asked the secretary what was up, were told, and also started saying Tehillim. Soon, the whole place was saying Tehillim.

Eventually, when the Rebbe left his office, he explained what had happened. When a Jew would come into his presence for yechidus with a specific question, which usually had to do with some fault of character or avoida, in order to prescribe a method to fix this flaw, Mitteler Rebbe would “associate” himself with a Jew and find corresponding fault in his own character or avoida, albeit, on a higher level. (The Rebbe was able to do this being a neshama klalis, which is usually the point for which this story is told.)

With this particular Jew, however, Mitteler Rebbe was not able to find anything even remotely similar to what the Jew had done. This made him think that the flaw was so deep that it wass not even consciously perceived by the Rebbe himself. This upset the Rebbe, who started saying Tehillim hoping to gain knowledge of that fault. Eventually he was able to see it.

The story usually ends here, without going into detail about the specific aveira of the Jew and what that corresponded to in, lehavdil, the Mitteler Rebbe’s avoida.

Tonight someone told me what both were. The Jew who went to yechidus was working at a cemetery. He had seen someone beautiful being buried there and could not control himself, committing a forbidden act with the body.

Now, what was the corresponding problem that Mitteler Rebbe was able to find on his own level? Learning Chassidus but not letting it affect one’s character and avoida.

The only reason I posted this detail is that it is both a striking image and an important lesson for everyone learning Chassidus and being engaged one way or another in the world of Chassidishkeit.

Update (from a comment): “I heard that the Mittler Rebbe said that he sometimes says Chassidus that is too deep for anyone to understand, and even though he knows nobody will understand it he still gets enjoyment from teaching the Chassidus.

This was, on a very refined level, M'eyn the sin that this person did, since in that case as well all the pleasure is in the Mashpia, and the Mekabel gets nothing.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Some crazy *beep*

— Ma’am, what are the circumstances of your husband’s death? Was he ill, was he sick?..
— Was he swallowed?

So, speaking of craziness. What is an average crazy thing  that you expect a crazy French person to do? I’d say: wear pointy shoes and eat a sandwich of chopped pigeon liver. A Russian? Stay in a drunk state for so long he has no idea the state regimes have changed (true story from early 90s). A Crownheightster? To write an angry letter demanding that a local clothes store was closed because it sells elbow-less shirts (ok, maybe I am underestimating here a bit).

What about an American? How about feeding your cows live to an alligator that lives in a lake — excuse me, a bayou — nearby? I mean, I am looking at this scene and thinking: “Yes, it is totally believable that there is a lady living in Florida or Louisiana who does this.” (The scene itself is not halachically problematic, except the said alligator-feeding part, but it has some obscenity in it.)

— Officer, we have a problem with Hector.
— What problem?
— He went swimming.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Russian posts

I wish I had patience to write like this, translating all my English posts into the language of Pushkin, and all my Russian posts into the language of Douglas Adams.

I also wish I could write this well or be as smart in general.
OK, the program. I skipped about half of the lectures, preferring to hang out with friends, but I did take in some. Haven’t heard anything new, but did notice a certain (already oft-mentioned) tendency of the kiruv workers to pass their opinions as fact. For example, Esther Segal (a really good speaker, BTW) referred to the existence of a single primal Jewish soul as fact at least four times, whereas AFAIK it’s only a contested kabbalistic opinion, just like transmigration of souls is; and as Saadia Gaon said about that (free translation): “Gilgul? Bloody nonsense!”

Another speaker, one David Karpov, spoke about reconciling science and religion. He described three method of settling conflicts: 1) science must yield; 2) religion must yield; 3) let’s compartmentalize and not think about them. After dressing down these straw men, he offered a fourth alternative (to which I have long subscribed): science and religion speak about different things in different languages, and there can be no real conflict between them. However, while knocking the straw men down he mentioned Goedel’s incompleteness theorem and claimed that this was why science could never figure out the mechanism of emergence of life or put together a unified field theory. I collared him after the lecture and asked: first, Goedel’s theorem is formulated in the abstract, so why are you claiming as fact that it’s precisely those two problems that science can’t solve? Second, does it bother you as a Habadnik that the Rebbe had unequivocally chosen the first method, writing about how unreliable carbon dating is and how God must have created dinosaur bones in situ, etc.?

In response to the first question Mr. Karpov told me a story of a pauper who was making rounds of an apartment building, asking people to help a poor cello player, until one of the dwellers asked him to come in and play the cello he happened to have. “Just my luck to run into a cello!” muttered the poor man. “I, too, have run into a cello,” Mr. Karpov told me, “for I normally don’t count on my audience being familiar with Goedel’s theorem. You’re right, this is my personal opinion.” The answer to the second question was more equivocal: since the late Rebbe propounded the aforementioned opinion in the 70s and 80s, thereafter abandoning the topic, Mr. Karpov made a far-reaching conclusion that he must have changed his mind.

Read on.

This is why Chabad started in Russia. I mean, what Americans speak this way? And don’t talk to me about Rav Soloveitchik. He was educated in Berlin, and it’s not clear how much of what he wrote his followers actually understand (perhaps they understand it and merely use it as an excuse to break Halacha).

Also, all of you know this story:
The knight Godfrey, before leaving to the Holy Land on a crusade, asked Rashi to prophesy about the success of the crusade. Rashi answered that Godfrey would fail on the crusade and return with only three horses. Godfrey answered that even if one detail of this story would be off, he would kill Rashi.

Godfrey’s crusade failed, and he had to return back to Europe. But — with four horses! He was making sure they all four survived with great care. As he was about to enter his city, with bloodthirsty thoughts, a stone from the gates fell down on one of the horse’s heads and killed it. Godfrey, full of remorse, went to see Rashi only to find out that the great sage had died a few days before.
Well, the problem is that Godfrey died in the Holy Land. And Rashi died five years after Godfrey.

Vos iz bread pit?

One Friday night, in my yeshiva, a ba’al teshuva got up to give a dvar Torah and said something like: “a high school girl, who is only interested in Brad Pitt...”. At this point, one of the mashpiim, who was sitting across the table from me, looked up and asked in confusion: “Vos iz bread pit?”

I remember myself thinking at the time that bochrim need some “muggle studies” classes in yeshivos. (Now I know it would probably not save the situation.)

Perhaps Yossi and TRS could have Mendi Pelin do a news report about their encounter with the aggression of Crownheighters fighting against the sewer filth that innocent Jewish kinderlach reading Jewish blogs are exposed to.

Speaking of encounters, interesting news from Gizmodo.
Remember kids, if the green light goes on in your laptop, someone is watching you somewhere.
 Made you look, heh?

Cheilek elokah mima’al mamosh

My opinion on Martin Grossman has been expressed already in the post’s title. My opinion on the efforts to save him from death penalty is expressed in the same way.

But I find these pictures strange for so many reasons that I would not know where to begin.

At the same time, I think everyone should also read this.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where is Hashem?

I was talking to my pianofortical friend tRP today, and he complained about having no skills in mekareving atheists. Actually, that’s what I told him his problem was. This was prompted by him complaining that he’d invited an atheist friend of his to a Friday night dinner, and the friend refused, asking never to be invited again, explaining that he doesn’t want to do “anything religious” (what a weird notion for an atheist, huh?).

tRP’s response was: “What’s so religious about spending time with friends at a Friday night dinner?”

But that’s what’s ironic about this situation. An atheist sees a table with a bunch of Jews, some of whose heads and sometimes elbows are covered, with a rabbi in a hat (and a face covered with moss), candles, and children with angelic faces and thinks: “Religion! G-d! Cult! Fundamentalism!”

While a religious person at the table (or, even a frum person) is thinking: “Hey, I am just relaxing with my buddies. It’s Shabbos. Time to chill.” Even when the rabbi gives over a sicho which he looked through 15 minutes before Mincha, most people don’t really think about G-d. For them, it’s usually time to turn off their brains. And for the most part, discussion is never about Yiddishkeit.

So, ironically, the atheist should have nothing to worry about. I mean, he should, but he doesn’t.

As to the question what to do to mekarev him, my answer was: “Don’t talk to him about religion. Talk to him about life.” Unless his name is Marvin. In that case, don’t talk to him about life.

Also, now that we are on the topic of pianoforticism, TRS has recently called me a snob for saying that classical music is better at relaying emotions than rap is (I know what you’re thinking: a pot calling a kettle black. I agree). But listen to the following playing. Not a single note is wasted. It’s like I am seeing Brahms right in front me, smoking his pipe, drinking his beer, eating his sausage and crying, crying...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Elevating reishus

Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need — a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.
— Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

In this post, I described a person’s involvement in things “permissible but not necessary” (i.e., things which are neither muttar nor ossur) as “addictions”. I.e., if a person has to wear nice clothes to feel like a mentch, it’s similar to the Rebbetzin Rivka having to eat in the morning in order to daven. So, this person has to wear the nice clothes to function as a person, and therefore, as a Jew. But, I asked, wouldn’t it be nice if the person did not have such addictions?

In his fourth shiur on Tanya (in the Leap Year series), Rabbi Paltiel describes this differently. He does not use the concept of addiction. Instead, he looks straight at the purpose for which something in the realm of klipas nogah is used for. If a person dresses up nicely to feel more together in order to daven (or learn Torah, perform other mitzvos, etc.) better, then he elevated those clothes into the realm of kedusha. Clothes, nice house, nice food, entertainment, lots of money — if these things directly augment one’s service of Hashem, they are made holy!

If, on the other hand, they are used for their own sake, for indulgence, they are made into a sin; their spiritual status is lowered to that of sholosh klipos tmeios.

I cut out the particular part where he describes this. I found the language and the examples used rather interesting.

And yet, we find Alter Rebbe objecting to his grandson (not Tzemach Tzedek) wearing clothes in the latest Parisian fashion.

In other news, the value for the speed of light was (more or less) confirmed using chocolate; French President’s einekel had a bris al pi Halacha, while a famous Italian cooking show host was fired for using cat meat in one of his dishes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Demanding a timeless answer, or Tradition, tradition! (part 4)

In the famous sicho about Purim, the Rebbe asks the famous question: why is the name of G-d not mentioned in the whole of Megillas Ester? He gives an answer (brought down in our tradition) immediately: because Mordechai did not want non-Jews who would translate Megillas Ester in their languages to replace the name of G-d with, lehavdil, names of their deities.

The Rebbe, however, is not satisfied with the answer. He says: this might have been a good reason back in the day, but nowadays it’s not. We, however, have the same Megillas Ester. And it is eternal — both in its message and in minute details. Therefore, there must be a reason applicable even to us today that G-d’s name is not mentioned.

If you want to know the reason, you can learn the sicho in Yiddish or Loshon Koidesh (from what I remember, the reason was that during Purim, G-d’s Essence — which cannot be described by any name — was the main actor) or listen to it here. But what’s interesting to me is that the Rebbe is not satisfied with an answer: “Well, there were circumstances back in the day, which led to this state of affairs, and today we inherited the results, even though the reason for their appearance may not be applicable anymore. We should keep the results out of respect for the tradition.”

He is not satisfied just like all the “modernizers” of Judaism are not satisfied, but his approach is not to shed or “update” these customs, whose superficial reason may lie in the past, but to find and explain the deeper reason for their existence throughout the ages and, especially, today.

See a post I wrote a while ago: “Spiritual timelessness of Judaism” (it’s about Kislev, not Adar, but the message is applicable to the topic of this post). My main point there is that historical circumstances of Jewish customs’ or laws’ appearance are merely vessels which drew down the essence of the customs and the laws: the spiritual energy that is associated with them that allows us to connect (ourselves and the world) to Hashem through them.

Also, see part 2 of the “Tradition, tradition!” series.

[source of the image]

Masculinity... when you wear a pink shirt and still feel like a man. I actually like the lyrics of the song — very romantic (not joking). Mixed singing, but honestly, I can’t even hear the women; I think men’s voices are higher.

This video just shows once again that Russians (or, in this case, Byelorussians) can beat Americans at anything — even at looking metrosexual.

Now that we are on the topic of classy songs, I can’t help but bring this one out:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I like flutes

Enough said. (See the previous post for more Celtic music.)

Roinnt ceoil, le do thoil

For my rabbi who likes Celtic music. In this particular sequence, I like the first reel more than the others.

I apologize to le7 for this one:

 There is a Jew attending a local school who, like me, likes Martin Hayes. And just like me dislikes assholes.

For a long time my roommate thought the following song was about McDonalds. This is one of the songs I use to illustrate to English speakers how American songs sound to me (not in quality, in which they are greatly inferior, but in the percentage of words I understand).

After years of listening to this song in my car, I understand almost all the words:

Legacy of Galen, or Tradition, tradition! (Part 3)

I was reading some time ago the biography of Aelius Galenus, aka Claudius Galenus, aka Galen of Pergamum, known to most of people today simply as Galen, the famous doctor and anatomist of Roman Empire. Now, the figure of Galen is near and dear to the hearts of all students of Chassidus Chabad, since anatomy and physiology that can be found in the works of Chassidus (e.g., Tanya — including the famous descriptions of compartments of the heart, one’s seed coming from one’s brain, etc.) is borrowed from Galen.

But that’s not the reason that I am mentioning him today. As one could tell from a series of a few recent posts, I have been pondering for a while about the role of tradition in the life of a human being, a Jew, a Chossid and an amateur philatelist. Some of my thoughts are more positive, some are more negative (positive and negative in what aspect, you ask? good question...), some are more traditional (no pun intended), some are more heretical. After this meta-paragraph, let me present to you the part of Galen’s biography that caught my attention, namely, his legacy (you can skip to the bottom line after the quotes if you so desire):

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Regarding buzz

I don’t really like beer. I just drink it for the buzz.
— A colleague of mine

You know you’re not that cool when the Google Buzz fiasco has no effect on you, since apparently, you don’t have so many friends, enemies, ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends and crazy stalkers that total disruption of your privacy affects you that much. (Although, I do care about my privacy a little. I certainly hope no ex-girlfriends of mine read this blog.)

Regardless, a couple cartoons regarding Buzz from Gizmodo (click on the images to enlarge):

Also, an angry review of the Buzz fiasco by one lady who is much cooler than me (what made me think she’s angry?.. well, the title was a bit of a tip-off).

By the way, it’s certainly fun when somebody messes up. It’s especially fun when the giants mess up. As all the non-Roman contemporaries of  Teutoburg Forest massacre know. Of course, when the giant is falling, you start feeling a little sorry for it, as the contemporaries of the Battle of Adrianople can attest.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tradition, tradition! (Part 2)

[Part 1 here.]

There are two ways to look at traditions.

Russian field and billiards

Also, the same song from Dmitriy Khvorostovsky, with some landscape images from Russia:

As one of the comments on Youtube says, "La musique russe il n'y a pas mieux, les chanteurs vivent leur musique. C'est l'âme d'un peuple, on ne s'en lasse jamais."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Windows are dangerous

This is not another PC vs. Mac post. It's a reference to something my rabbi said when he heard a speaker express an opinion that owning Internet at home is dangerous because a child may use it to visit sites with terrible content. My rabbi commented on that: "Having windows in your house is also dangerous".

Monday, February 8, 2010


Two ways exist of uniting Jews with Torah. One is to bring Torah down to Jews. Another is to elevate the Jews up to Torah.

On Google Mail, one has labels to the left of the messages. The labels are used instead of placing the messages in folders. This way, each message can have multiple labels (e.g., "personal", "shidduch", "humor", "New York"), can be grouped with other messages in more than one way, and can be searched through multiple keywords.

One can assign a label to a message through the "Labels" drop-down menu. One can also drag: either drag a message onto a label, or drag a label onto a message.

The interesting thing is: if you drag a label onto the message, the latter stays in your Inbox but acquires the particular label (it becomes added to the left of the message's subject). Then you can repeat this with the other labels. But if you drag the message onto the label, it disappears from the Inbox and can be found by clicking on the label. Then, other labels can be assigned to it.

This reminded me of two ways a person can associate himself with Torah, with Yiddishkeit. One way is making "frum Jew" one of his labels. He is a frum Jew. He is also a medical student. He is also someone who plays poker. He is also someone who enjoys kayaking. He can be identified by any of these labels, but generally speaking, he is still in the same place he was before (in his "Inbox"), even though he acquired additional labels (and perhaps lost some) — one of which happens to be frum Yiddishkeit.

The second way is for the person to move fully from the place where he was and acquire for himself a completely new identity: that of a frum Jew. All that he is becomes seen (by himself and others) exclusively through the light of Yiddishkeit. And, inside that "location" (the mission given to one by Hashem), he may attach other labels, look at them, and identify himself with them, but only on the terms of the new main identity.

Which way is right? Which way does Chassidus (i.e., the Rebbeim from the Alter Rebbe to the Rebbe) say one should do it? Is there one way that's better for all, or is it different for each person? Can there be combinations?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Regarding poetry

Все ужасней и гаже стихи,
С каждым веком они только хуже.
Каждый мнит, что он с рифмою дружен,
А стихи невозможно плохи.

Все в поэзию прут – от сохи,
От тоски, от безделья и скуки.
Им бы делом занять свои руки,
Вместо этого пишут стихи.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Are daled amos enough?

It has become customary to say that a man needs only six feet of land. But a corpse needs six feet, not a person.
 — Anton Chekhov
I had the following conversation with someone as a part of Yud Shvat farbrengen. Originally I didn’t want to post it until I thought it through completely, but was nevertheless persuaded to post anyway. The topic of the conversation was how much a person should be a human vs. a chossid.

Regarding Russian roads...

Question: How come Russia has such bad roads?
Answer: It’s a form of national defense.

Some footage from German “Eastern front” (i.e., Russia) during WWII:

By the way, that song (which is very funny, if you speak this most cultured language) is from a very popular Russian movie Gardemariny (“Marine Guards” — think of it as Russian “Three Musketeers”), which had some of the cheesiest musical scenes in the history of the Soviet cinematography:

Of course, now that we are on the topic of cheesy Soviet music scenes — a little dance in Ivan the Terrible’s court:

Get out!

Dedicated to all the people in yeshiva/seminary/kollel and to all misnagdim.

Regarding pirates...