Monday, March 29, 2010

Gutt Yom Tov!

I wish everyone kosher and freilichen Peisach and that this year not only are we able to overcome our limitations, but that we use the limitations themselves for the purpose of reaching the greater depths.

The only reason Jews went into the Mitzrayim was to receive Torah. The only reason every Jewish soul descended into this world is to make Dwelling for HaKadosh Boruchu. May this task be completed now, in a happy and pleasant way!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

With all your essence

We learn from the Haggadah that Hashem redeemed us from Egypt with his Essence (“not with an angel, not with a saraf, not with a messenger”). This was done, because in our “levushim”, our external characteristics, we have fallen — Hashem had to evoke the Essence of our soul in order to awake our true identity.

The same way we learn that Rabbi Akiva argued that each plague consisted of five sub-plagues. These five levels correspond to the four levels constituting the fabric of reality¹, plus the fifth, essential level. This, again, shows the true nature of the Exodus — the miracles performed penetrated the world to its core, softening it up for both our redemption and the giving of Torah (which would allow the union of the spiritual and the physical, heretofore not possible).

The practical lesson for us is that we have to use our essence when serving Hashem. We cannot treat being a Jew as a levush, as a role. “I am a student, I am a brother, I am a husband, I am a citizen, nu, I am also a Jew.” We cannot just use an aspect of our personality for Yiddishkeit — an angel, a saraf, a messenger. We have to use our full self, “down to its innermost depths”.

And in learning and doing mitzvos, we have to get to the deepest level — to the fifth level of Torah. Everybody knows there is parde"s: the four levels of interpretation of Torah (literal, allegorical, homiletic and mystical). Just like there are four levels of the soul (nefesh, ruach, neshama, chaya). Just like there are for worlds (Asiyah, Yetzira, Briah, Atzilus). But behind all this there is the Essence. At the core of the worlds there is G-d Himself. At the beginning of Hashem’s four-lettered Name, there is the tip of the Yud. At the core of the soul there is Yechida. And at the core of Torah there is Chassidus.

Using Chassidus we can see the Essence in everything, and we can allow ourselves to “leap over” our internal and external limitations. I am not talking about just limud ha’Chassidus, the learning of Chassidus Chabad. I am also talking about darkei ha’Chassidus — the paths of Chassidus Chabad. These paths are the roadmap to geulah, the time when the hidden fifth level will be revealed in the outer four.

Just like the ten makkos, each consisting of five levels, “softened up” the world, preparing it for the Exodus and for giving of the Torah (the union of the spiritual and the physical), the same way Chassidus Chabad, when studied and practiced by every Jew, brings closer the time of our redemption and the union of G-d with His world.

¹ These four levels are traditionally knows as air, fire, earth and water, which the Rebbe says correspond to the electromagnetic, gravitational, strong nuclear and weak nuclear forces. The fifth level corresponds to hyulie — the aspect of reality which contains the potential for existence, out of which all reality comes out.

On the other hand, in the computer game Quest for Glory IV: The Shadows of Mordavia (my personal favorite in the series), the fifth secret element was pizza.

Ministry of Magic

He had remained speechless throughout Fudge's kindly explanation that there were witches and wizards still living in secret all over the world and his reassurances that he was not to bother his head about them as the Ministry of Magic took responsibility for the whole Wizarding community and prevented the non-magical population from getting wind of them. It was, said Fudge, a difficult job that encompassed everything from regulations on responsible use of broomsticks to keeping the dragon population under control (the Prime Minister remembered clutching the desk for support at this point). Fudge had then patted the shoulder of the still-dumbstruck Prime Minister in a fatherly sort of way.

“Not to worry,” he had said, “it's odds-on you'll never see me again. I'll only bother you if there's something really serious going on our end, something that's likely to affect the Muggles — the non-magical population, I should say. Otherwise, it's live and let live. And I must say, you're taking it a lot better than your predecessor. He tried to throw me out the window, thought I was a hoax planned by the opposition.”

This reminded me of the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter. Except its goal was not to protect the wizards but to protect the muggles (or so I am told).

Which brings me to my main point: [censored] “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they are not really out to get you”. (You have to apply this saying inside-out in this case.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Sources explaining Kuzari Principle and the rational basis for faith in G-d:

1. Gutnick Rambam, chapter 1. I think this is a superb book, by far not only as the Rebbe’s commentary on the 8th and 9th Principles of Rambam, but mainly as the exposition of how Chassidus Chabad views nigleh: its origins (spiritual and physical), its process, its evolution, etc. Another three chapters from the book: “Co-Existence of Contradictory Truths in Judaism”.

Interesting quote pertaining to the current events:
On the night of the Fifteenth of Nissan (Pesach) it is a mitzvah to recount the story of the Exodus from Egypt in response to a question from one’s son: “When your son will ask you... ‘What is this?’ you should say to him, ‘With a mighty hand G–d took us out of Egypt’ (Shemos 15:14)”. But even after the son’s question is fully answered on the first night of Pesach, he nevertheless is required to ask it again on the second night! So we see that questions and initial presumptions are as much a part of the Torah as the answers themselves, such that they must be repeatedly studied and emphasized.
2. Having said that, I think the first chapter of the above book is not the best source on Kuzari in existence. To date, I believe the clearest explanation of Kuzari Principle and rational basis for belief in G-d is one by Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb in Chapter 6 of his book (I would also read chapters 2 and 3 for general discussion of how one should approach the reasons to be religious).

(I am well aware there are many books explaining the book of Kuzari in detail. First, I am only referring here to online sources. Second, I am talking about specific explanation of Kuzari Principle and clear elucidation of its logic and application.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rambam and “Moshiach from the dead”

Without going into the discussion of the topic myself and giving my own thoughts on it, I just wanted to post these links, which in my opinion have the best, the clearest and the most detailed argument regarding the issue online (at least from Lubavitch perspective). In them, the author discusses what the famous statement in Rambam means and how it can be and should be (according to the way one has to learn Rambam¹) interpreted.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Different styles in leading

I may have posted this before. Courtesy of TRP.

Creativity is not being afraid to make mistakes

[I am reposting this.]

A little girl was drawing something. Her teacher asked her: “What are you drawing?”
“But nobody knows what G-d looks like!”
“They will in a second...”

If you are not really interested in the subject, you may find yourself interested in the speaker’s accent and English humor. I especially liked the part about professors (“College professors exist in their heads — and a little to one side”).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


My grandfather on my father’s side was a partisan in Belarus’. The partisans were parachuted into a Nazi-occupied area and lived in small communities in forests. Their goal was to disrupt local Nazi operations — a mission they continued to fulfill until the main forces liberated Belarus’. (On this map, green areas were under control of partisans and were mostly in the forest-rich Belarus’, Northern Ukraine and Western Russia. Partisan missions went as far as Russia, Southern Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Eastern Poland.)

They constantly hunted the Nazis and were constantly hunted by them. They could be betrayed at any moment by the civilians and oftentimes were. In many cases, partisans burned down the villages of suspected collaborators, while Nazis burned down villages of suspected partisan sympathizers.

There were people who could betray you among your closest friends, and there were people among Nazis whom you could make contact with. And there were people who were playing on both sides or suddenly changing sides. In other words, nobody could be trusted.

My father said that his father never talked about what he had to do during the war.

This scene from a recent Russian serial film shows a group of partisans taking a Nazi-occupied fortification and headquarters in order to recover documents regarding chemical weapons. Another group is working on stopping a train carrying these weapons and blowing it up. This is all happening next to the town of Baranovichi, which is prominent in Chassidic history.

What is interesting to me is to observe how cheap a human’s life was during a battle. Your friend with whom you shared the same spoon and the same tent could fall right next to you, and you had to keep on going — or share his fate.

The whole episode is interesting, in my opinion. I find the very last scene fascinating.


Gemara states: “a kasha never killed anyone”. (“Kasha”, in this case, means a question or a logical paradox, not a cereal food from Eastern Europe. Because the latter has indeed killed people from time to time. Mostly by its bland taste, but sometimes through rat poison added by an angry wife. Anyway, back to the main point... By the way, be my guest to skip until the main point below.)

Ah, war, war...

Эх война, война, война...
Дурная тетка, стерва она.
А война, война идет,
А пацана девченка ждет.
— Любэ
Interesting clip about everyday realities of WWII. Also, a nice song. (Here is an English version with the translated lyrics on the right in the info section. For ladies only, here is a version with a woman singing. As a rule, Russian sounds 10 times more beautiful when it’s sang or spoken by a woman.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Release the floodwaters!

Since I have no time to write new posts (life, Watson), I am referring you to an old post of mine, which has nothing to do with the parshah, with Peisach, or with any of the current events... or so it would seem. It’s quite long, but do not despair.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Old vs. new

Don’t think that by doing mitzvos, you’re increasing the amount of G-dly Light in this world, and eventually, as a result of that Light, Moshiach will come. That Light is the light of Geulah.

P.S. Please answer the new poll on the right. It’s actually a serious question (not serious in the sense of pertinence to immediate life, but serious in the sense that each of the first three answers is a response of a particular school of thought in Yiddishkeit).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gedeilim experience

This Shabbos I had a pleasure to read a book about a great Jewish luminary.

Let me start over.

I was staying with a very nice Lubavitch family, and in their basement found a book about one of Israeli “gedeilim”, which I was scanning through while waiting to depart for mincha. Then I read some more. Then, before going to sleep, some more.

Suddenly I realized why Circus Tent publishes all these misnagdim-bashing posts and makes fun of “gedeilim” biographies.

You know how the Rebbe sometimes analyzes a sugya in Gemara or Rashi or Chassidus and shows how there is a problem in the traditional understanding of the concept? He takes it apart — and for a few seconds, you realize that indeed, this makes no sense — until the Rebbe goes down a few spiral twists and uncovers the hidden depth in the sugya. And suddenly, everything is illuminated. It’s a bit of a yerida l’tzorech aliyah experience. Descent for the sake of ascent.

Well, this book was full of experiences of yerida without an aliyah. I would read a story about this rabbi or some contemporary of his and wait for a punchline... and it wouldn’t come.

Just an example. The book relates how the rabbi was at some sort of simcha with a bunch of other gedeilim. Suddenly, the Lebanese (Turks? Syrians?) started shelling the city. People ran into the building from the street searching for cover, tables with drinks and food were turned over, lights went out, everyone was lying on the floor, screaming. One of the people asked the main character of the book: “Rabbi, what should we do?” The rabbi answered: “Say vidui.”

That’s it.

Umm. OK. If the book wasn’t so thoroughly dry until that point (it mostly lists how many pages of Gemara per week the rabbi would manage to learn at different points of his life), I would suspect this to be an attempt at deadpanning humor.

The book continues. Later, people asked this rabbi: “And what was R’ Aaron Kotler doing at this moment?” He smiled and replied: “What was the leader of our generation doing? He was pleading for his life. He was crying: ‘Please, Hashem, I don’t want to go yet. I still have so much of your Torah to learn.’”

Hmm. Alrighty then...

Perhaps I lack the required eidelkeit.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Being a jerk intentionally vs. unintentionally

In his famous sicho (second one here: “Conditional Guilt Offering”), the Rebbe says the following:
In general, sacrifices atone for sins committed unintentionally, for even a commandment violated unknowingly requires atonement. Although the person did not intentionally sin, the fact that his unconscious thoughts led to such behavior is an indication that he is spiritually lacking. For if he was not lacking, he would not have sinned, even unintentionally, as it is written: “No evil shall befall the righteous.”

A person is held responsible and therefore must bring a sacrifice for a sin committed unintentionally because it is his fault that he sinned. Before committing the sin, he conducted himself in a beast-like manner. This strengthened his animal soul, leading to his unintentional commission of a sin.

This reflects a further point. A person’s unconscious behavior what he does without thinking is often a powerful indicator of his nature, reflecting his fundamental concerns and sources of pleasure. A tzaddik derives pleasure from G-dliness, therefore his deeds involve good and holiness. When, by contrast, a person unknowingly commits a sin, this indicates that undesirable factors are his source of pleasure.

Indeed, from a certain perspective, the blemish generated by committing a sin unknowingly can be considered more severe than that resulting from the conscious commission of a sin. The fact that a person consciously performs a deed says nothing about the extent of his involvement. There are times when he does something willingly, but his heart and mind are elsewhere. But when an act is performed without conscious volition, it reveals something about a person’s true nature, telling us about the inner “I” that lies deeper than his conscious self. Instinctively, this inner “I” directs his conduct, leading him to perform certain deeds unconsciously.
This reminds me of what a chossid once said: “I almost prefer it that a person inconveniences someone intentionally, than if he does it because he doesn’t know better. In the first case, he knows full well the results of his actions — but, nu, he decided in this case to choose his own pleasure (or whatever it was). He knows he is acting as a jerk, just in this case he succumbed to his yetzer ho’rah. In the second case, however, he doesn’t even have a concept of thinking about what effect his actions will have on other people — it’s as if other people don’t exist.”

Recently, I found myself in agreement with the chossid. I was wondering about what is worse: when a person hurts someone intentionally or unintentionally (not accidentally, like stepping on someone’s foot — the hurt is a direct result of his actions and could be foreseen; just the person never gave it a second thought and never considered for a second he is actually hurting someone else; or, perhaps, someone else’s feelings did not matter). In both cases, it’s rather terrible, but perhaps the person is a worse human being in the second case...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Get a job!

Jensen and Smith (Journal of Population Economics, 1990) report:
This paper analyzes the effects of unemployment on the probability of marital dissolution. Based on panel data for a sample of Danish married couples, we estimate a dynamic model for the probability of marital dissolution where we take into account the possible effects of unemployment for both spouses. We also control for other factors such as education, age, presence of children, place of residence, health and economic factors. The empirical results show that unemployment seems to be an important factor behind marital instability. However, only unemployment of the husband has an effect, and this effect is immediate.
Who knew, eh?

The only question is: would the above study consider husbands who warm the bench sitting and learning Gemara (and take the numerous coffee breaks) all day long employed or unemployed?

(For the cynics in the audience: no, I didn’t change my opinion of the so-called social “sciences”. I only quote from their studies when they support my point of view.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Theodore Bikel

Of his Yiddish songs, I like Kum Aher du Filozof (a snag friend of mine used to say he liked this song because it makes fun of both chassidim and maskilim).
Tzu veystu vos der Rebbe tit
Beshas er zitst bi’ychides?
In eyn minut er in himl flit
Un pravet dort shalesh-shides.

His Russian accent is most charming:
Dark Night (original). I used to listen to this song over and over on a record.

What’s sadness to me?

Gypsies coming home (a rather liberal interpretation, but a very nice one)
(For the last two songs the titles in the player are wrong.)

From Songs of Russian Gypsy.

Be proud not of your ignorance

I find it annoying when people say, with hidden pride, that they don’t know Math, science, philosophy, don’t read serious literature, don’t know anything about a particular area, and therefore, they are not burdened by the problem of thinking about it, which makes their life so much simpler.

Or, equally, when people say in an off-handed manner something like “Well, I don’t know all these laws/minhogim/terms/names of holidays/have never studied Chassidus/philosophy/halacha/Kabbala/Gemara/Tanach”.

I am ok with admitting ignorance, sometimes even in a joking manner, but boasting of it is beyond me.

“I don’t do anything smart. I try to think little and know the bare minimum. In fact, a day on which I have stuck as closely as possible to my basic biological functions is a day well lived.”

Be tzniusdik

This is what happens when motogs intermingle excessively.

Somehow, even though I believe in blowing the brains out of someone who insulted your wife, I don’t find this scene so pretty or graceful.

According to the official Russian story, Pushkin wanted to defend his wife’s honor, but was not bloodthirsty, so he shot off baron d’Anthès’s coat button. Pushkin’s opponent was not so honorable. (Another “official” version, which the above clip follows, is that d’Anthès cheated, firing a step before reaching the boundary.)

Also, I’ve read the detailed pathologist’s report of Pushkin’s autopsy here. Apparently, in the last hours before his death, he was in so much pain, he tried to find a handgun to shoot himself, which his friend did not allow. According to the tissue damage report, the scene above actually seems rather accurate.

A story by Pushkin himself about a duel.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Molecular Biology and oral tradition

This post is not about Biology. But it may pollute your neshama, if you’re not careful. Better take your laptop to the bathroom while reading this (read the last line here).

A conversation between a graduate student, a technician and a post-doc:
— Can you precipitate cDNA-1 for only 3 hours after RT [reverse transcriptase reaction]?
— How many cells?
— 50.
— Hmm. No, I wouldn’t do it. Do overnight. By the way, you know, some people precipitate at room temperature. I don’t believe it [the method].
— You don’t believe it?
— I’ve never done it myself.
— I’ve heard people precipitating not at −20 but at +4.
— I’ve never seen these data. You can try and tell us how it looks. But the more important part is spinning.
— For 30 minutes?
— Some people do even 10 minutes. I would do an hour if you’re worried.

— Here’s some DNAse. But you know, K. warned me it’s fragile. Be gentle with it.
— Be gentle with it?
— Yes, don’t mix it by pipetting up-and-down. Just tap it, like you do with other enzymes for RT.
— OK, so how much do you add?
— Hold on, I have it here. [Takes the protocol for the main reaction. The notes for DNase application are hand-written on the margin.]
— Thanks. Let me copy that.
Oral tradition... And much of this stuff is like black magic. So much of it seems subjective, but it works. Discoveries are made. Cancer is treated much more successfully. We know so much more about brain development.

Much of it is in the books, protocols, published. But the way the information is transmitted is, at least initially, from person to person. And many of the tricks are not written anywhere. Most importantly, it’s nearly impossible to follow a protocol successfully without someone physically showing you how at least once.

I wonder if this is how the transmission of mesoira looked like.

Kids’ literature

“One must write for the children the way one writes for the adults: except, better.” — Korney Chukovsky

Perhaps it’s true not just regarding writing.

Of course, reading some contemporary Jewish books, one sometimes finds the opposite: they are intended for adults, but are written as if for children, except worse.

In other news, are you ready for Peisach? (I am not; I don’t even know where I’ll be spending it.) These people are.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tradition, tradition! (Part 5) — Shtreimels

I guess shtreimels were indeed the hats of Polish nobility:

Of course, when your scenery looks like this —

— there is a reason to wear a warm woolly hat. And wearing it was a sign of nobility, because a hat like this cost a good amount of money. (Above pictures from some 17th century Polish footage.)

On the other hand, in this weather...

...perhaps such clothes would be more appropriate:

I refer you to my earlier post about traditions (see part 2).

(It is well known that the Lubavitcher Rebbeim did not wear a shtreimel outside of Lubavitch. I suppose the climate in Crimea or Carlsbad was much softer...)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Modern War of the Worlds

Everyone knows this story about radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’s novel about alien invasion of the Earth:
Some listeners heard only a portion of the broadcast, and in the atmosphere of tension and anxiety just prior to World War II, took it to be a news broadcast. Newspapers reported that panic ensued, people fleeing the area, others thinking they could smell poison gas or could see flashes of lightning in the distance.

Richard J. Hand cites studies by unnamed historians who "calculate[d] that some six million heard the CBS broadcast; 1.7 million believed it to be true, and 1.2 million were 'genuinely frightened'". While Welles and company were heard by a comparatively small audience (in the same period, NBC's audience was an estimated 30 million), the uproar was anything but minute: within a month, there were 12,500 newspaper articles about the broadcast or its impact, while Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as Hand writes, as "evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy."

Now see here:
Moscow — Millions of Georgians wrongly thought their country was being invaded after a spoof prime time news broadcast showed Russian tanks heading towards the capital Tbilisi and said the president, Mikheil Saakashvili, had been killed.

The spoof was broadcast on Imedi, one of Georgia's biggest TV channels, and most viewers missed a brief announcement at the start of the 30 minute broadcast explaining that the news bulletin was a simulation of "the worst day in Georgian history."

An agitated newsreader told shell-shocked viewers that the country's opposition had called in the Russian military to quell political unrest and showed key opposition figures apparently agreeing to work with the invaders.

The bulletin caused panic across the strategically vital former Soviet state which is still struggling to come to terms with fighting and losing a short sharp war against Russia in 2008.

Gripped by panic, mobile phone networks crashed, people started fleeing the capital, crowds rushed to stock up on vital foodstuffs, and there were reports of volunteer fighters preparing to resist. Other TV channels interrupted their own broadcasts to show Imedi's footage and, for a short period, some Russian media began to broadcast the "news."

When Georgians finally realised that the news bulletin was a spoof they were furious. Crowds mobbed Imedi's headquarters and opposition politicians angrily denounced the TV channel which is run by a close ally of the president, Mr Saakashvili.

Literary reflex

Literate people raised in certain cultures respond instinctively to particular scenes or events of life by having similar scenes from their favorite books come to the surface of their memory.

For instance, the vast majority of people raised in the former Soviet Union upon seeing this picture (from the previous post):

(click on the image to see in full glory)

... will hear the following words in their mind (at least the first sentence):
The darkness that came from the Mediterranean Sea covered the city hated by the procurator. The hanging bridges connecting the temple with the dread Antonia Tower disappeared, the abyss descended from the sky and flooded the winged gods over the hippodrome, the Hasmonaean Palace with its loopholes, the bazaars, caravanserais, lanes, pools... Yerushalaim — the great city — vanished as if it had never existed in the world. Everything was devoured by the darkness, which frightened every living thing in Yerushalaim and round about. The strange cloud was swept from seaward towards the end of the day, the fourteenth day of the spring month of Nisan.

It was already heaving its belly over Bald Skull, where the executioners hastily stabbed the condemned men, it heaved itself over the temple of Yershalaim, crept in smoky streams down the temple hill, and flooded the Lower City. It poured through windows and drove people from the crooked streets into the houses. It was in no hurry to yield up its moisture and gave off only light. Each time the black smoky brew was ripped by fire, the great bulk of the temple with its glittering scaly roof flew up out of the pitch darkness. But the fire would instantly go out, and the temple would sink into the dark abyss. Time and again it grew out of it and fell back, and each time its collapse was accompanied by the thunder of catastrophe.

Other tremulous glimmers called out of the abyss the palace of Herod the Great, standing opposite the temple on the western hill, and its dread, eyeless golden statues flew up into the black sky, stretching their arms out to it. But again the heavenly fire would hide, and heavy claps of thunder would drive the golden idols into the darkness.

The downpour burst unexpectedly, and then the storm turned into a hurricane. In the very place where the procurator and the high priest had had their talk around noon, by the marble bench in the garden, with the sound of a cannon shot, a cypress snapped like a reed. Along with the watery spray and hail, broken-off roses, magnolia leaves, small twigs and sand were swept on to the balcony under the columns. The hurricane racked the garden.

At that time there was only one man under the columns, and that man was the procurator.

Friday, March 12, 2010

One, who thinks clearly, relates clearly

The above phrase is a Russian saying usually given by school teachers to students inquiring why they must learn how to write well. Learning how to write well does train one to think clearly. (Usually.)

The problem with most cases of bad writing is not confusion but cognitive dissonance. It’s not that what is written is unclear to you, but that your mind “trips” over an ugly expression or bad grammar. It’s like eating soup which has a slightly weird taste. Yes, you get the nutrients in, but because of that one little thing that’s off, you get no enjoyment. (Of course, this is all happening on Shabbos, which is the only time a frum Jew enjoys his food.)

And by the way, if your mind does not trip, it just means you have bad taste.

Anyway, what brought this on, you ask? This story from a article:
Legend has it that the late Albert Einstein, having just completed a paper and in need of a clasp, spent a considerable amount of time trying to straighten-out a clip that was twisted and unusable. While struggling with the dysfunctional object, his assistant discovered a new box of perfect clips. Einstein took one of the new paper clips reshaped it and used it as an instrument to repair the old bent one.

In response to his assistant’s bewilderment, the renowned physicist declared: “I had just established a new objective; once set upon a goal I’m not easily deflected.”
Who was struggling? Einstein or the assistant? Also, doesn’t “late” here mean that Einstein was dead while doing all this?

And yes, cute story.

Good Shabbos.

G-d and existence of evil

On the topic of darkness existing vs. not, see this class on parshash Shmois:
In the following class, Rabbi Paltiel brings a very interesting analysis of Moshe Rabbeinu’s inability to speak — including Rambam’s philosophical analysis of the question of whether absence of ability to speak is actual characteristic or a lack of characteristic (is darkness an independent entity or is it merely absence of light?). Rabbi Paltiel compares and contrasts Rambam’s (and generally philosophical) approach to that of Chassidus.

The Speech of Moshe

I would also post a video of a debate about existence of evil vs. benevolence of G-d, but I won’t do so out of humility. But if someone wants it for the purposes of enlightenment, I can send you the link.

Polish duel — an explanation

Apparently, a lot of my readers misunderstood what’s happening in this scene. I even got an agry e-mail saying: “Interesting, I havent seen swordfight ending with one guy dying because his head was split in half... I think ever”.

My response:
That is not at all what happened!

The short guy didn’t want to kill the tall guy, because the latter would be useful in the war against the Swedish. So, he just tapped him in the head with the sabre (probably bruising the scalp and giving him a light concussion). Didn’t you hear what he said to the fallen guy’s chevra? Something like: “Now he is mine. And don’t worry: we don’t kill the wounded — a king’s custom.”

The clip actually shows how rational thinking and honor of man’s life prevailed over testosterone (of which both had enough). This is what it means to be a real man (not “human”, but davka male) — someone who can be a badass with his sabre, when needed, but then in the critical moment, can control himself to give his opponent a slight tap instead of killing him.

IIRC, samurai got to the level of proficiency with their katana swords to the point that they were able to split a fruit (and some say a rice grain, and some say a watermelon) lying on their assistant’s neck without killing the guy. (Now, how many assistants they went through before achieving this level is not clear from the history.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

So racist!..

An excerpt from this article:
The 2nd story involved a family who had a lady clean and cook for them for many years. They loved her as she was part of their family. As years passed and the lady wanted to retire, she bought a house in her native Poland. The family drove their beloved house keeper to the airport.

By the last checkpoint where the family couldn’t follow her any further she stopped and said: “Well now that I'm leaving you are surely going to miss my cooking!” “Oh yes, we definitely will,” the family said warmly.

Smiling she said to them: “You know, whenever I cooked for you, I always added a special ingredient with a special flavor: pork. That’s why you liked my cooking so much!” Their close ‘family friend’ turned around and walked to the plane leaving the family completely and utterly stunned.
But of course, the Chazal were just racist in all their laws and restrictions regarding intermingling of Jews and gentiles, laws about their wine and milk products, kashrus in general, not lending a gentile your dog, etc., etc. Nothing similar to what Chazal were worried about has ever happened since the times of Babylonian exile — for sure not in our times...

(Regarding the article itself: both a Jew and, lehavdil, a non-Jew can steal, r"l. Especially if paid “a few bucks an hour” — which doesn’t excuse anything, of course. But a Jew probably won’t put pork in your soup.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I’ll elevate it, part 2

In the part 1 I described that chassidish yetzer horah sometimes tells us that we will be able to elevate something which we clearly know is forbidden or not advisable for us (on whatever level) as a chassidish excuse to engage in it. E.g., a bochur tells himself that he will do kiddush Hashem or have a mivtzoim opportunity by going to a baseball game, while in truth he just wants to go to the game.

But the opposite perspective is also true. Baal Shem Tov teaches us that anything that the animal soul desires has a spark of G-dliness in it which the G-dly soul could elevate — and that is the ultimate reason why a Jew desires this thing. Sure, at the moment he desires it with his animal soul, but the animal soul would not even pay attention to it, if the G-dly soul did not sense an opportunity for itself there too.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

All roads lead to Moscow... I mean, to Moshiach

This post contains long quotes, but also summaries of their content right after, so those with brains eaten away by ADD, do not despair, skip the quotes and enjoy the post. Or else...

Od yeshama...

Typical scene in Western Ukraine... (For TRS and other fundamentalists who don’t watch YouTube — Jewish content here.)

How manifold are Your works, how wondrous Your creations!

“... in Your wisdom you have made them all.”

[Or, for the heretics in the audience, something about evolution and billions of years and millions of miles of genetic material copied and re-copied to produce this.]

A short macro video by Marco Faienza about his father’s little garden. It starts off a bit slow, but after about 1:35 it picks up.

My Father's Garden from Mirko Faienza on Vimeo.

This all looks nice at a distance, but I actually am not a fan of the creatures with exoskeleton getting close and personal. My friends’ home was infested yesterday with black ants, lady bugs and weevils. It’s especially dangerous, since they have a small child who is not averse to picking anything up and putting it in his mouth.

Make sure you don’t keep garbage inside your home.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Living in times of Moshiach through study of Chassidus

From Mitteler Rebbe’s biography:
[Mitteler Rebbe’s] greatness was not just in the abundance of ma’amorim he said or their length, it was also because of the tremendous depth of his explanations.

Commenting on that depth, the Rebbe Rashab said, “My hair fell out from concentrating on the Mitteler Rebbe’s Imrei Binah*.”

As for publicizing Chassidus among the chassidim, the Mitteler Rebbe encouraged his chassidim to constantly discuss Chassidus among themselves. This desire of his became their reality.

Perhaps this is why the chassidim say that the Mitteler Rebbe’s chassidim felt as if they were living in the days of Moshiach. The Rambam writes that when Moshiach comes, the world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem. For the Mitteler Rebbe’s chassidim, this was their  reality. They were constantly immersed in the study of Chassidus.
* Incidentally, I was given Imrei Binah as a present for my birthday, so if someone wants to be my chavrusa in learning it, please contact me.

* * *
In other news, this dude looks so Russian! Look at his energy and see the sparks which Chassidus Chabad absorbed.

Frierdiker Rebbe on “Modern” Judaism

Founders of the German communities, see what fruit has grown from the tree you have planted. You killed all positive feelings; you caught them like fish in a net. You squeezed out any juice. You exchanged the honor of Torah—of Jewish wisdom—for the games and idols of the non-Jews. The soul of G–d has been ripped from them. Who has wrought this shame? Was it not done in the name of the Torah, stirred together with alien thoughts? Who asked you to do this? What spurred you to do this? It was only the thirst for secular sciences, the wisdom of Jepheth, which has now completely consumed the Torah of Shem.
— Frierdiker Rebbe

It’s very interesting to me that if one reads Mendelsohn’s writings (sometimes quoted in Hirsch Chumash), one doesn’t see anything too problematic. Most of the times he sounds a bit MO; oftentimes, of all the sources quoted (in that particular instance, Ramchal and a few contemporary Jewish philosophers), his thoughts are the most chassidish ones (e.g., he says that fulfillment of a mitzva is more important than understanding of it — yep, the same Mendelsohn).

An exerpt from the letter by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe about him and the long-reaching effects of his on German Judaism. As always, both the content and the form are amazing.

The point of the letter is relevant to today’s American Jewry as never before. Don’t tell me that the imagery that the above quote paints is not familiar to you. One doesn’t have to use labels to feel it.

Happy 8th of March to all women!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

We want it now

Sometimes they are just words. Sometimes they are words with understanding behind them. It’s the feeling that’s more difficult to achieve.

“Geula Medley” by Moshe Benasher.

Other niggunim by Moshe here (check out “Shamil”).


To clarify the last post:
Chassidus binds being religious and being human in a way that nothing else does. Not by compromising religion. And not by compromising humanity. But by saying that humanity is G-dly. And at the core of being a person is G-dliness itself.

Also, a nice post: “Shabbos is not a day of rest”.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

AC vs. DC

There is a difference between bringing Torah down to people and bringing people up to Torah.

There is a difference between making Judaism modern and making everyday life Jewish.

There is a difference between conquest and assimilation.

It’s the difference between being a moderate and being a libertarian. In one case there is a compromise. In the other — maximization.

Regarding da’as

Everyone knows that tiferes is a combination of chessed and gevurah. Chessed wants to give infinite amount of goodness; gevurah wants to give nothing. Chessed wants to reward; gevurah wants to punish. Chessed is kindness; gevurah is severity. Convincing a drunk Israeli who is behaving like a beheima that he should go home to his wife (and then walking him home) is chessed. Punching him out and calling his wife to come collect her husband is gevurah.

Now, tiferes is the combination of the two. It’s not red; it’s not white; it’s a garment with stripes of red and white. It is a midda that successfully combines both emotions. That is why on the kabbalistic representation of the spheros, it’s in the middle — it’s a combination of right (chessed) and left (gevurah).

Now, da’as is also in the middle, and in the Chabad’s version of the tree of 10 spheros, it’s preceded by two spheros: chochma and bina. I always wondered whether the same way that tiferes is a combination of chesed and gevurah, da’as is somehow a combination of chochma and bina. Based on their traditional explanation, it’s hard to see how this is the case. Chochma (“the father”) is the beginning of a thought, its pure knowledge without explanation of the details. Bina (“the mother”) is a development of the thought to the point of understanding its details. Da’as (“the child”) is the connection of the thought to emotions, to reality — it’s the “care” about the thought.

Reading Mitteler Rebbe’s biography today, however, I saw the following:
Author’s Note: I read in In di Getzalt fuhn Chabad, written by a son of one of the Tzemach Tzedek’s chassidim, that chassidim say that Alter Rebbe once said: “My brother the Maharil writes exactly as I say it. My son [Mitteler Rebbe] writes it as I mean it, and my grandson [Tzemach Tzedek] writes it as I say it and as I mean it. This, in essence, is Daas; a combination of Chochma and Binah together.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Love is not enough; relationship with the Rebbe

We learn from today’s — both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s — Tanya (in the Chitas cycle) that love of Hashem is not enough to make a dwelling for Shechinah, Hashem’s Presence. Because when A loves B, there are two elements: A and B. When a Jew (even a tzaddik) loves Hashem, he is still a “someone” who loves Hashem.

And, as we know from earlier chapters (starting with chapter 6), Shechinah rests only on something which is completely nullified to Hashem. So, when a person is in a state of love or fear of G-d, even though it is a great state, he is not completely nullified to G-d.

On the other hand, when someone does a mitzva, he is fulfilling the Will of Hashem (which is one with His Essence), being an instrument for the expression of Hashem’s desire. At that moment, he is completely nullified, and as a result can be said to have Shechinah rest on him.

In Friday’s Tanya, Alter Rebbe explains that when a person does a mitzva in speech and thought, he is only using his G-dly soul. When he is doing a mitzva in action, he is also using his animal soul, utilizing its energy and making it a vessel for G-dliness. This is why doing mitzvos in action is the ultimate level of making a dwelling place for Hashem in the lower worlds.

(The same is true regarding a love of a husband to his wife. What use is his love if it’s only in his heart? He has to express it. But if he tells her how much he loves her and brings her roses, but doesn’t take out garbage, does he really love her? As they say, love starts not in the bedroom, but in the [vacuumed] living room.)

This can be translated to our relationship with the Rebbe and Chassidus in general. It is not enough to be a chossid “on paper” — i.e., to learn and understand Chassidus and to love the Rebbe. I cannot say that it is completely useless, G-d forbid, but if a person says that’s all he ever wants to be, it seems to me to be a mockery of what Chassidus is all about. One must also do what the Rebbe wants, in the realm of speech and thought, but especially in the realm of action.

This has to do with both the realm of Chassidus (e.g., mivtzoim) and the realm of nigleh — including fulfillment of Halacha, starting from living according to Shulchan Aruch and ending with following even specific minhogim of Chabad (whose significance one sometimes does not understand, thinking it’s just a “shtick” — which for many people it is, but this does not detract from their value and importance).

Reb Dunin's yechidus

A couple encounters of Reb Reuven Dunin (mentioned before) with the Rebbe.

From here:
“How do I know whether I am fulfilling the Rebbe's will?”

Putting down the bundle of letters, the Rebbe calmly answered, “If you act in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], then you know you are acting in accordance with my will. For if not, that means there are doubts about whether I fulfill the Shulchan Aruch.” [...]

“The thoughts that come from the yetzer [inclination] — you have to grab the yetzer by the sleeve and toss him out, and do what you have to do. Do not get into arguments with him; instead, turn your thoughts towards Torah matters, to whatever is necessary. [...]”

From an e-mail sent by Rabbi Kirschenbaum, the author of the above blog (I can't find a post with the same contents):
“Why are you so angry? What is the reason you are not someach (joyful)? I told you that I wanted you to be be'simcha. If you don't do my work with happiness, then you are not fulfilling my will, and you are not performing in the same way that I am.

“Because I can't be everywhere at once. I can't be in Holon, Kfar Chabad, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Eilat, Paris, Melbourne — and also in Brooklyn! Therefore I send out shluchim. I chose for you to go to Haifa and I want to make you a high commander, a general. I would hope that knowing what I want would be a source of joy that would stay with you — just knowing that the one who is being commanded is doing what his commander wants.” [...]

“It is not enough that you and your wife are Chassidim,” he added. “The children, too, must be my Chassidim and their material needs properly met. I want your whole family to be comfortable, so that they will be the finest Chassidim they can be.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On laptops, part 2

If Ruven throws Shimon’s laptop from a window (while Shimon is watching*) and Levi catches it — let’s say if Levi can keep it, because the laptop is hefker, does Ruven have to pay Shimon for the laptop? Ruven can tell Shimon: “Why do I have to pay? I didn’t break the laptop.”

Update: I was asked: “Which laptop?” Why, MacBook Air, naturally.

* Shimon has to be watching, so that he can do yeush on his laptop while it’s flying out of the window and make it hefker.

Monday, March 1, 2010

On laptops and babies

Please answer the poll on the right. The question (for posterity) is:
If a laptop is thrown out of the window, and before it reaches the ground, I smash it with a baseball bat, I am not liable for it, since I “broke an already broken thing”. What if I catch the laptop? Do I get to keep it, or can I return it?
 I don’t know the answer, but one possible reason why I would have to return it is that by catching it, I have retroactively shown that its status was not “broken”. (But didn’t the person do yeush by throwing it out of the window?)

This is similar to the case of “proving” that a kohen is not a kohen (e.g., when two people are engaged, then they realize that the guy is a kohen and that the girl is forbidden to him — the rabbis will sometimes use loopholes to look for “evidence” that the guy is not a kohen). Alternatively, it may be similar to the situation with a get, where the latter goes back in time and makes it as if the marriage has never happened. Or with teshuva that likewise goes back in time and erases a sin (or transforms it into a mitzva).

* * *

What does this have to do with babies? Rava, I think, rules that if the same scenario happens with a baby, chv"sh, the person with the bat is still a murderer. Because as long as the baby is still alive, even while it’s flying to its imminent death, one cannot say that its life is so worthless as to make it dead.

Which is a moshol given to the idea that we cannot say that the life of someone who is in coma is worthless, as long as he is alive halachically. Just being alive and lying there, the person already does something good. How? A soul of a person is compared to a candle. Just being in this world, it already introduces light into it, even if only on a spiritual level.

Which is why (besides other reasons) it’s good to have babies.

(Since some people have a problem with the concept of a metaphor, an allegory, an example, an imagined scenario, etc., let me state emphatically that I hope the said scenario never happened and never will, iy"H.)

Update: I just spoke to my rabbi, who told me that almost everything I wrote here is false. I shall investigate further and get back to you.

How I spent this summer

And by “summer” I mean Purim. A short essay.

I’ll elevate it

In the haftorah for parshas Zahor, we read the following exchange between Shmuel the prophet and king Shaul:
13. And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “May you be blessed of the Lord; I have fulfilled the word of the Lord.”
14. And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears? And the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”
15. And Saul said, “They brought them from the Amalekites, for the people had pity on the best of the sheep, and the oxen, in order to sacrifice to the Lord your G-d: and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
16. And Samuel said to Saul, “Desist, and I shall tell you what the Lord spoke to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak.”

17. And Samuel said, “Even if you are small in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you as king over Israel.
18. And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and you shall utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and you shall wage war against them until they destroy them.’
19. Now, why did you not hearken to the voice of the Lord, but you flew upon the spoil, and you did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord?”
20. And Saul said to Samuel, “Yes, I did hearken to the voice of the Lord. I did go on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and I brought Agag, the king of Amalek alive, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.
21. And the people took from the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the ban, to sacrifice to your G-d in Gilgal.”
22. And Samuel said, “Has the Lord [as much] desire in burnt offerings and peace-offerings, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than a peace-offering; to hearken [is better] than the fat of rams.
23. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Since you rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you from being a king.”
There is a concept called “chassidish yetzer horah”, or “a yetzer horah that wears a kapoteh” — a yetzer horah that uses chassidish excuses. For example, when a chossid tells himself that something is wrong for him: some action, some pursuit, some environment, the yetzer horah then answers: “You are right. It’s not such a great thing; it’s not ideal. But we were sent into this world to elevate it — you will interact with this phenomenon which on the surface is wrong for you and will mekarev it to Hashem.”

This can range from going to a baseball game (which every chossid knows is pure evil, but perhaps he tells himself that he will somehow “elevate it”) to being in a relationship (of any kind) that is clearly wrong for one reason or another for a chossid, but he excuses it by telling himself that he will bring the other person in the relationship closer to Hashem, influence the person (even though deep in his heart he knows it’s hardly possible in this situation).

It can also include doing something that the Rebbe clearly said is wrong for a Jew or a chossid. The same excuse is applied: perhaps this situation can be “sacrificed to your G-d in Gilgal”.

Well, yes, it is true that we were sent into this world to elevate it. But we have to do it according to Hashem’s Will and according to the instructions of Moshe Rabbeinu of our generation. We must be very careful when trying to determine whether what we are doing is really appropriate, and whether we are really making a sacrifice that Hashem commanded or are just using this as an excuse to have a barbecue. “To obey is better than a peace-offering; to hearken is better than the fat of rams.”

[Part 2 here]

We don’t need no education, part 3

[Part 2 here.]

This is what (sometimes) happens when Jews don’t learn (almost) any chochmas chitzoinius:

(click on the image to enlarge)

A report on Purim spent in the holiest city of Jewish diaspora to follow at some point in future, iyH.

[Thanks to Altie for the picture.]