Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dancing

Chassidim Dancing 2

My fiancée told me today that she liked this video, because chassidim in it, sometimes old and with gray beards, did not care how silly they looked while dancing. They were just dancing.

And on Simchas Torah we just dance. Dance, dance, dance. Dance with Torah. Simchas Torah is not about intellectual appreciation of Torah. It is not about Torah changing our lives, improving us. It is not even about our union with higher spiritual realms through Torah. It is about being Torah’s feet and legs.

And that is why it is such a holy day. On Rosh HaShanah we establish our relationship with G-d; we are judged, we are measured. On Yom Kippur, we establish our unity with G-d, the essence of our souls uniting with His Essence. On Sukkos we take that high level of unity and rejoice in it; allow it to flow around ourselves; encompass us; we live in this holiness and make it our dwelling.

But on Simchas Torah we make ourselves into a dwelling. A dwelling for G-d. We become Hashem’s feet. This day gives us strength to declare in our behavior and realize in our minds, throughout the rest of the year, that Hashem is literally everywhere. In every, even the most mundane, aspect of our lives, in our minutest everyday activities. Everything about us — every atom, every hair, every sigh, every thought, every smile and every tear — becomes an expression of His Will and His Glory.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

News Headlines

...from 2035 (if the liberals have their way):
"Ozone from electric cars kills millions in world's seventh largest country, California"
"Minorities trying to get English recognized as nation's third language"
"Spotted owl plague threatens Northwest"
"Baby conceived naturally; scientists stumped"
"Iran still closed; physicists estimate ten more years before radioactivity decreases to safe levels"
"Castro finally dies at age 112; Cuban cigars could be imported legally but President Chelsea Clinton has banned all smoking"
"George Z. Bush announces run for President in 2036"
"US Postal Service raises first class stamps to $18 and reduces mail delivery to Wednesdays only"
"New study: diet and exercise key to weight loss"
"Last conservative moves from Massachusetts"
"US Supreme Court rules punishing criminals violates their civil rights"
"Average NBA player over nine feet tall"
"Federal law requires registration of all nail clippers, screwdrivers, fly swatters, and rolled up newspapers"
"Congress authorizes direct deposit to campaign accounts of illegal contributions"
"Capitоl Hill intern indicted for refusing sex with congressman"
"IRS lowers tax rate to 70%"
[via ЗВЕРЬ]

G-d willing, our grandchildren will unearth this post and say: “Wow. This is what they feared the future would be like. Thank G-d the libertarians destroyed the government and set us free.”

P.S. While I was driving in the car, I had a thought that some Secret Service agent reading my blog may misconstrue the last sentence as a veiled threat to the President. Let me clarify: I am all for peaceful and victimless (not counting the bureaucrats’ paychecks) transfer to market anarchy.

Computer games make you more manly

Back in the day, while watching this video:



... I would have the same reaction as this commenter:
As I was watching this, not only did my hands become so sweaty that I couldn’t hold the mouse, but also did the steps of my feet.
Having recently played Assassin’s Creed II, however, where one has to do things like this (fully controlling the player’s actions):



... and like this (this wasn’t the hardest of the tombs, but it was the first one, so when I was playing it, my hands were sweating, and my language wasn’t the nicest):



... I barely had any reaction to the video above, even though it involves real people in real world. Especially considering the scenery was much duller than in the game. (Remember, there was no central planning or zoning laws in Venice or Florence.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Who am I?

Where am I in this picture?

MC Escher Three Worlds I

It’s hard to be between the worlds.

It is even harder to be in several worlds at the same time. Spread between them, like an electron sharing several orbitals. An electron can pull off being in two places at the same time, going through two slits simultaneously, down two parallel paths. But I am too big for that. And when the reality of my situation catches up with me, when I am forced to make choices... I start feeling like Bilbo. Too much butter spread over too little bread. A wire stretched too thin.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ad Hashem Elokecho



During Yom Kippur davening, while waiting for the rabbi to finish with his dvar Torah, I was reading through Rav Soloveitchik's commentary on the “liturgy”. Rav Soloveitchik commented on the line “Shuva Yisroel ad Hashem Elokecho” that “al Hashem” and “ad Hashem” have different meanings: one refers to returning to the paths of Hashem, while the other refers to returning to Hashem Himself. Rav Soloveitchik concluded that while certain Orthodox Jewish communities of today seem to have no problem of returning and keeping to the paths of Hashem, they have, unfortunately, little concept of cleaving to Hashem Himself.

I showed this to my rabbi who was sitting next to me, saying Tehillim. He read it carefully, smiled and answered: “[In order to cleave to Hashem Himself, one must] learn a ma’amor Chassidus [Chabad]”.

Just sayin’...

More on the topic:
Living in the times of Moshiach through the study of Chassidus

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Who needs to carry guns if we have police?

The last post was satire. This, however, is not funny (via arbat):
Connecticut invasion
The case of Erik Scott

I hope y'all feel safer next time you see a police "officer". More on the topic.

P.S. Comments from the blog:
— They say that people who go to work in police don't have a high IQ.
— They say that about any profession. [Except, somehow, science. — CA] But they don't say about any profession that only its members have the rights to carry weapons

Tough life as a protector of the state



More on the subject:



And:



Also:
Cops on video

Compare and contrast

I hope y’all had a nice Yom Kippur. Mine was all about love. And that, sometimes, is all you need... But more about that later.

For now, something completely different. Two songs. Ignore the visual content.

Exhibit Q:



Exhibit R (I am hiding a few past-nisht images, but music is completely instrumental):



And just as a bonus:



And a bonus-bonus:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Russia a century ago, in color



Some awesome stuff. Although for some reason it’s mostly Asian Russia that was photographed. Probably because it was more exotic to Europeans.

[via Mottel]

See more here (click on the links to see various photos).


(“Three Generations”)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Copyright Nazis

Down with lawyers

Talmud says: “If you have an inclination to kill, you should become a butcher. If you have an inclination to steal, you should become a lawyer. If you have an inclination to lie, you should become a journalist. If you have an inclination to do all three acts, you should become a politician.”

From Facebook:
Funny thing: in Japan, where everything else costs 2 to 4 times what it does in the US, healthcare costs much less and quality is higher.

It would be interesting to know how they do this, but two things come to mind: In the U.S. we have a system that subjects medical students to hazing and limits the number of medical students; in Japan, they limit the number of lawyers produced each year.

What Crown Heights used to look like



Through the eyes of a Brazilian journalist in 1976.

The gallery.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cops on video

Of bugs and men

Incredibly entertaining clip (some strong language in the middle and at the end):



Every time I see a police car or a motorcycle drive by, I get the same feeling as when I see a bedbug or a cockroach or hear of a hotel or an apartment infested with the creatures (which is not as often now that I have left the South, but let me use this opportunity to advertise this web-site).
        It is a feeling of seeing a parasite not so far away from oneself. A feeling of danger. A feeling of harassment. A feeling of disgust and brezglivost’, the word that Google translates as fastidiousness, but I don’t think the translation is quite right. The best way to translate it is by giving examples: not eating somewhere because you’re not quite sure the standards of cleanliness are high enough is brezglivost’. Not giving your hand to another person because he disgusts you so much (not necessarily physically) is also a case of brezglivost’.
        Then comes a feeling of waste.
        Saying that policemen in the present state (no pun intended) play an important role in the society is not too different from saying that fleas occupy an important place in the food chain and have their own niche in the ecosystem.
        Give me a break. They are parasites. The whole state and all its institutions is a case of parasitism. Has always been; shall always be, until it is replaced with freedom or righteousness (and the second will require a greater change in the nature of things than a lion lying together with a lamb).
        Any beneficial service that they do provide is offset by the negative influence on the society they have (think, for instance, about the amount of crime and deaths and human lives destroyed and corrupted due to the war on drugs or criminalization of prostitution). Private organizations would do a better job of protection than the thugs in the blue uniforms. As a result, by creating a monopoly of police, the police in fact precludes the organizations and individuals that would benefit the society much more from doing so. Even their good, then, is also evil.
        For some more light entertainment, read this.
        (In this, by the way, I differ from the conservatives. They — for instance, arbat — see the police as someone who works for them; they see themselves as the police’s employers. When they see a police car, they feel safe. I think that is simply a case of conservative naiveté.)

This was also interesting, but not as much as the clip above (for the record, besides casual use of caffeine and alcohol, I have never personally used any drugs):

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dira b’tachtoinim

Some Lubavitcher bochrim take an opportunity to put a tefillin on a man protesting against using chickens for Kappores:







Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A gutt yar to y’all!

On Rosh HaShanah, we make Hashem our king. How do we do that? By focusing on being his nation. After all, Rosh HaShanah is not the day when the world was created, but the day when the human being, the centerpiece of Hashem’s design, was created.

One simple kavanah to have is that when one has a privilege serving a king, taking out his garbage is as precious as being his first minister. Every single little bit of Torah and mitzvos is priceless to us.

On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, the Rebbeim Chabad did not speak — even words of Chassidus. They just concentrated on the idea of crowning the King and said Tehillim the whole day.

Remember, the way you spend the Head of the Year will reflect on how the Body of the Year will be spent.

Shana Tova U’Mesuka, ksiva v’chassima toiva! May we all meet the King of Kings this year, face-to-face, in this world, with the revelation of his Moshiach and coming of geulah.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Looking for a band to play at a wedding

I am looking for a traditional instrumental band (or just a group of musicians) to play at my wedding mid-January in Boston area, be"H. Must be able to play this kind of music:





Nothing electric!

Please contact me with any suggestions, advice, proposals (with price included), referals, etc. We are on a tight budget, so we are looking for someone who won’t charge too much (so, Musical School students rather than super-professional bands), but any suggestion is welcome.

2010

...was a good year for the governments.

In the US, the government prolonged a depression.

In Russia, the government through negligence allowed forest fires to rampage through the country, destroying houses, farms, and fields, killing tens and displacing thousands of people, raising daily mortality of Moscow from 6,000 to 10,000 cases a day (because of smoke), and causing billions of damage. Putin’s changes in Forestry Codex, reduction in firefighters forces, and other “reforms” are working well.

Production of grain in Russia dropped twice in this year. Putin is planning to ban grain export from Russia. As a result, grain prices are rising already, and food prices are projected to rise twice this year.

Now tell me: if those forests belonged to private individuals; if they were a private property, would their owners allow such things to happen?

But hey, President Medvedev proposed a change from “Militia” to “Police” as the name for Russia’s... umm...  police. It’s the first step in improving the effectiveness of police at catching businessmen.

Some pictures.

Some videos:





This is a great video (with appropriate “quotes” from Soviet movies):



Some people equate the word anarchy with chaos. I don’t know if it is possible to imagine a greater chaos that results from the government’s “order”.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Happy Birthday, Universe!



Tomorrow is the birthday of the Universe, the first day of Creation. Happy birthday and Merry Shabbos, y’all!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tanks and roads

Some nice Russian war songs.

A great scene from a movie.

And an American version:


Cute. But still too Western. :)

Another nice song:

Where there is a will, there is a shall

The story of Reb Yekusiel Lepler from Kuntres Limmud Ha’Chassidus:

* * *

In the days of the Mitteler Rebbe, the knowledge of the students in the field of Chasidus was astonishing. The Rebbe had instructed all young men not burdened with earning a livelihood to study Chasidus at least three hours daily. In time, every chasidic community boasted a growing number of youthful scholars. Later many of these young scholars became mashpi’imand teachers in different communities. This had a marked effect on the local chasidim, since the study and knowledge of Chasidus promptly increased.
        In the town of Lepli, there lived a chasid of the Alter Rebbe, a salt merchant by trade, named Reb Yekusiel. He was renowned as an oived (his first audience with the Alter Rebbe is recorded elsewhere) but his grasp of Torah, in general, and of Chasidus in particular, was extremely limited.
        Once one of the young mashpi’im passed through Lepli and spent a week there, daily reviewing from memory a discourse of the Mitteler Rebbe. The discourses he discussed were extremely abstruse and profound. The young man was exceptionally gifted mentally and an eloquent speaker. Every word he uttered was sparkling and clear; his audience was very impressed. Reb Yekusiel, no great intellect, could not follow the discourses. He grieved bitterly and castigated himself for being so obtuse.
        The famed chasid, Rabbi Shmuel Dov of Borisov, told me that Reb Yekusiel had described the incident to him. “Just imagine,” Reb Yekusiel said. “I was then about forty years old. For fifteen years I had visited the Alter Rebbe, and all that time I studied Chasidus to the best of my abilities. Suddenly, something new! A stripling, a mere chick, comes repeating the Rebbe’s discourses intelligently and enthusiastically; I listen and don’t understand. I can feel that the topics are deep, wonderful topics, but I don’t grasp a thing.
        “Every day, when I heard the lad and couldn’t follow, I was deeply distressed. Every discourse struck me like a hammer. I berated myself and resolved to master those discourses. I asked the lad to repeat them for me over and over again. He even did his best to interpret them for me, but my head was like a lump of wood and my brain absorbed nothing. Three weeks I kept that young man at my home. My family cared for the store while I spent days and nights on end laboring to understand what the young man taught me. To my sorrow, it did no good. He finally left and I was like a foundering ship. I fasted and prayed, but to no avail. So, I went toLubavitch, to the Rebbe.
        “For nine months, I hadn’t been in Lubavitch. I found a new world there—about fifty or sixty young men devoting long hours every day to Chasidus, reviewing the discourses and explaining them to each other. I arrived in Lubavitch on a Wednesday. That Friday, before Kabbalat Shabbat the Rebbe delivered a discourse, and the next day before Mincha a bi’ur [elucidation] on the discourse. I grasped the discourse and could repeat parts from memory, but the bi’ur was beyond me. To my utter amazement, the young men understood the bi’ur too. I was very troubled that I couldn’t grasp the bi’ur; I prayed all night and fasted the next day.
        “On Monday I had an audience with the Rebbe. I told him all that had happened at home, the visit of the young man to Lepli, his reviews of the discourses that he had heard in Lubavitch, and that I understood the simpler ones but not those that discussed deeper subjects. I also mentioned that I had understood the discourse of Friday evening but not its bi’ur.
        “The Rebbe replied, ‘Nothing stands in the way of will.’ He explained that though will is only a soul-power—not soul-essence—still it can control the soul to reveal the powers and senses in their essence. Will can certainly affect powers inferior to it, such as intellect and emotion, since it is their superior. When one truly wills, even his faculties are magnified.
        “Having heard from the Rebbe that everything depends on my will, I decided to remain in Lubavitch until I would begin to understand. Through travelers by way of Lepli, I notified my family of my new plans and instructed them to operate the business in my absence. Four months I labored physically and spiritually to accustom myself to concentrate on one topic for hours without interruption, and to review a single subject scores of times. I am forever indebted to one young man, Efraim Smilianer, who reviewed the discourses with me many times in succession until I was able to comprehend them. Usually I would seclude myself in the basement of the Large Synagogue or in the attic. Finally, that Tishrei I felt like a new man. I had ‘scoured the pot’ and had become a receptacle for Chasidus. I then returned home.”
        Before leaving Lubavitch, Reb Yekusiel had a most fascinating audience with the Mitteler Rebbe, but this is not the occasion for discussing it. From the account of Reb Yekusiel, we can glimpse a typical old-time chasid. When he was told in an audience that all depended on his will, he didn’t budge until he corrected his deficiency, regardless of any difficulties.
        My grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel, told my father, Rabbi Sholom DovBer, that the Mitteler Rebbe had divided his chasidim into groups. Besides the general classifications of intellectuals and ovdim there were sub-categories. For each group he wrote special discourses and books. For one group ofovdim he wrote Shaar HaTeshuva VehaTefillah part I, for a second group, part II, and part III for a third. For one group of intellectuals, he wrote Shaar HaEmunah, for another Ateret Rosh, and for the highest group Imrei Bina. Shaar HaYichud and Shaarai Orah discuss general concepts and are intended for all chasidim. Shaar HaYichud is the key to Chasidus, and Shaarai Orah, the alphabet of Chasidus.
        Once my father asked my grandfather a question in Imrei Bina, “Shaar Kriat Shema,” chapters 54-56, on the subject of “bread, oil, and wine” of Torah, Secret Torah and Secrets of Secrets, revealed and hidden and their intermediary. My grandfather explained fully and then said:
        “Imrei Bina was written by the Mitteler Rebbe expressly for Reb Yekusiel Leplier. Reb Yekusiel was a clod. Though earlier he had an audience with the Alter Rebbe, and a rich one at that, still, ‘you cannot place a head on an other’s shoulders.’ He had a sensitive heart and prayed with warmth. When the Mitteler Rebbe returned from Little Russia and settled in Lubavitch, he devoted himself to teaching the young men Chasidus. Reb Yekusiel grew envious and longed to share their knowledge. He toiled strenuously until he was capable of understanding the most abstract subjects.
        “Once I couldn’t understand a number of passages in Imrei Bina, in “Shaar HaTefillin,” chapter 32 concerning direct and reflected illumination, and chapter 37 concerning the creation of concept from its source. I worked over the problems and then had an audience with my father (the Tzemach Tzedek), to whom I presented my difficulties. He referred me to Reb Yekusiel who was in Lubavitch at the time and spoke of him at length. Among other things my father remarked that Imrei Binawas composed for Reb Yekusiel. I was to ask him my questions, and then repeat his answers to my father who would elaborate.
“Reb Yekusiel habitually spent hours daily in prayer, so I requested YosefMordechai the attendant to notify me when Reb Yekusiel had concluded. Later, after I finally questioned Reb Yekusiel, he pondered for a while and said, ‘I am a storekeeper. It is customary that before a storekeeper delivers the merchandise he receives payment. I have the merchandise. Pay the price and I will give it to you.’
        “I asked him what payment he was demanding, and he answered that I review the discourse delivered that Shabbat. Whatever he didn’t understand I was to explain, and what I couldn’t, I was to ask my father. I agreed. He then solved my questions so clearly and systematically that I was amazed to hear such words from a man mediocre, if not actually simple, in his knowledge of Talmud. He was remarkably fluent in the profundities of Kabbalah and Chasidus, and he discussed them elaborately, with deep and broad explanations.
        “When I repeated Reb Yekusiel’s replies to my father, he commented, ‘Reb Yekusiel is a living example of the Rabbinic saying4 that what you seek diligently you will find. He labored much and found much.’
“That evening Reb Yekusiel came to demand the stipulated payment, and I, for my part, reviewed the discourse. He paid close attention throughout. It is unforgettable, observing an old chasid listening to a discourse—every organ of his body listened! He asked that I be kind enough to repeat the discourse again at dawn the next morning, and I complied. At that time he presented his questions, most of which I had to refer to my father. I spent a week of utter delight with those queries and replies.
        “From that time on, whenever Reb Yekusiel visited Lubavitch we spent many pleasant hours together. He distinctly remembered everything he had seen since his first visit to Liozna in the summer of 1786. He was fond of remarking, ‘Every week I have an audience in my mind with the Alter Rebbe, asking him whatever I wish.’ For he remembered every audience he had with the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, and the Tzemach Tzedek. The Alter Rebbe had blessed him with longevity and he lived almost a century.”
        Rabbi Shmuel Dov of Borisov extravagantly lauded Reb Yekusiel’s abilities, declaring that he had never encountered so penetrating an intellect and so sharp and orderly a mind. Reb Yekusiel possessed the priceless trait of deep love for intellectual effort and no obstacle could deter him in his studies. When concentrating, Reb Yekusiel literally shut his eyes and ears and permitted nothing in the world to disturb him.
My father (Rabbi Sholom DovBer) said to me, “The narrative my father (Rabbi Shmuel) recounted to me about Reb Yekusiel’s extraordinary abilities and his attainment of greatness only through tremendous personal endeavor, how he converted himself from a clod to a powerful thinker—affected me deeply in my own development.”
        I have elaborated at such length here to demonstrate the fact that through genuine effort one can attain incredible intellectual heights. Everything depends solely on the person himself.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nigleh and Nistar

http://www.moshiach.ru/pic/old-chossid-pic-by-kaspinov.jpg

From Frierdiker Rebbe’s Kuntres Limmud Ha’Chassidus:


* * *
An example from the laws of sacrifices: “When a man will bring of you an offering to G-d...” The text should preferably have read, “When a man of you will bring.” The interpretation is, “When a man will bring” (note: the Hebrew yakriv also implies “approach”)—i.e., when one desires to approach the service of G-d, “of you an offering to G-d”—the initial step must be “of you,” of yourselves, the idea of approach and sacrifice being the offering of one’s abilities and faculties to Him.    
          Parenthetically, Reb Alter Yechiel, a Liozna teacher, once told my great-uncle Rabbi Boruch Sholom that he had taught Talmud to the Mitteler Rebbe on a profound level when his pupil was a lad of ten. Reb Alter Yechiel once asked him the meaning of the quoted verse with the observation noted. the Mitteler Rebbe replied, “When a man brings of you—when one offers to G-d all he has, then he is an offering to G-d (Havayeh)—higher than the nature He has endowed in time and space. This person is not merely an offering to Elokim, symbolic of Nature.”
          In civil law we find, “Two grasping a talit,” a garment, [each one claims, “I found it,” each one claims, “It is all mine”]. Talit refers to encompassing light, the spark of good implanted within material objects. When two grasp a talit, i.e. both perform a mitzvah with a physical object, they release and clarify the spark of good imprisoned within that object. They redeem the spark from “exile” in matter, and elevate the matter itself from its intrinsic crassness, since the material object was an instrument for fulfilling the Divine plan of creation.
          Now, the souls of the two who performed the mitzvah, upon their ascent to the True World, seize the talit, the spark that had been in the physical object, the material having already been purified and the spark elevated through the performance of the mitzvah. “One says, I found it”; he insists that his efforts redeemed the spark. The other claims that it was through his endeavors that the material became purified, and that he transformed it into a vehicle for G-dliness. Each demands, “It is all mine.” The ensuing discussion concerns the manner of purification to determine the reward due each disputant.
          In the laws of Shabbat we find the principles of the private and public domain [in which carrying is permitted or prohibited]. According to the inner interpretation they correspond to the Four Worlds: the private domain—Atzilut; the public domain—Briya, Yetzira, Asiya.

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