Sunday, October 31, 2010

Brief overview of Polish history

While I was watching this video, it was interesting for me to note that as usual, all the progress in Polish society shown here was done by private individuals, while all the destruction, the death, the poverty and the misery was wrought by the governments (both of Poland and of the neighbors). Female singing only at the very beginning.

Animated History of Poland [FULL VERSION] from styczek on Vimeo.

Also note that the Poles were the first to invade Russia and have been bad neighbors of both Russia and Ukraine long ago before Russian Empire annexed Poland. (It was the outrage against Polish landlords occupying Ukrainian lands that led Bogdan Chmel’nitzky, may his name be blotted out, on a series of rebellious and bloody rampages in which civilians — including thousands of Jews — suffered too.)

Also, wasn’t that Beethoven playing at 5:20? I mean, I also don’t like Chopin, but still — seems a little rude...

Parshas Toldos — different paths in the service of Hashem

[a re-post]
(our goal is to dig beneath the surface)

I don't have much time, so I will write briefly (to the extent possible):

Two brothers

Path of Eisav: focused on physical, uses spiritual to find inspiration for the physical. G-d is an ATM machine. Torah is a Divine wisdom that helps us how live our lives (be more successful physically, more inspired spiritually, have a nicer community). Sounds familiar?

Path of Yakov: focused on spiritual, on G-d. Uses physical to enhance his relationship with G-d by "uncovering" the truth of Divine concealed in the physical. The physical is only for the purpose of spiritual.

* * *

Argument between Rivka and Itzchok

The latter saw a great potential in Eisav, "a man of the fields". If only he could be made into a mentsch, Eisav would draw greater Light from Above ("where ba'al teshuva stands, a tzaddik cannot stand"). Rivka: mother, home, identity, rejuvenation. Itzchok: father, work, going out into the world, transforming it. Normally, "father" aspect is more important — we came into this world to transform it. Can't sit and learn Torah all day long. Furthermore, in order to support "home", one needs to dedicate time to "work". In order to reach G-d's Essence, we can't stay in the Higher Worlds; need to come down here and do "work" (avoida).

But — whenever "home" is in danger, whenever "work" threatens to swallow us whole and take us away from home, whenever this physical world threatens to conceal G-d to the point we completely forget about him, "mother" wins. Don't forget why you go to "work" — for the "home".

and shov. A soul wants to go up to G-d, but then remembers that G-d wants it to be here (and, indeed, here is where G-d is found). Then, it returns into the world. But a point may come when you are too engrossed in the world, when you forget about G-d, or even if you don't forget, you treat G-d and Torah as your servants — you need them to be successful in this world, you derive inspiration from them during your life in this world. Then, you must go back up for rejuvination of your soul. Practically speaking: go to a Shabbos dinner in your local Chabad House. :)

* * *

Most converts to Judaism were descendants of Esav. The sparks of holiness that existed in his service were eventually elevated in later generations. "The head of Esav is next to Yakov".

Almost no descendants of Yishmoel converted to Judaism. Instead, they created a culture of death worship.

* * *

All of the above and more can be discovered in Kehos edition of Chabad-Chassidic commentary on Parshas Toldos.

* * *

A message from my rabbi:
In this week's Torah portion, we read about the first anti-semite — Esau. Jacob, the third of our patriarchs, was forced to flee his home, because of the threat of murder from his brother, who wished to kill him

Our Rabbis saw Esau as the archetype of the antisemite, who, for whatever reason, has a murderous hatred to Israel, wishes to annihilate him.

As Jacob leaves his home in Be'er Sheva, and is forced to flee, he could be justified in being downhearted. Charged with the mission of carrying forward the legacy of his father and grandfather, he could see his task as impossible, considering the murderous hatred that he is destined to face, forever.

But, Jacob's response is not despair. Instead, Jacob faces the challenge head-on, and decides to build a Jewish home and family. He has 12 sons, and finally returns to Israel, and even triumphs over the challenges of his brother's hatred.

This response is the eternal Jewish response to the hatred that we have faced throughout our history. We will continue to build, to grow, to teach and to live according to the traditions that we have received from our Patriarchs. And, eventually, we will triumph over the hatred of our enemies, and we will usher in the era of Moshiach.

May it happen, very soon!

Rabbi Gavriel, left, and Rivkah Holtzberg were killed in one of the worst terrorist attacks in Indian history. Here, they're seen attending to the wedding of a local Jewish couple.

Gavriel and Rivka Holzberg were Lubavitcher Rebbe's shluchim in Mumbai. They joined ranks of millions of Jewish souls that performed acts of mesirus nefesh throughout our history. Their goal was to bring Mashiach in our time, as soon as possible, by spreading the teachings of Chabad Chassidus and performing acts of ahavas Yisroel, unconditional love of a fellow Jew. We can help them — and all the other Chabad shluchim — in their goal through our actions. Today. Right now.

You are my sunshine

Havaya is the sun, and Elokim is the shield.
 — Chassidus

I’ll always love you and make you happy,
If you will only say the same.
But if you leave me and love another,
You’ll regret it all some day.
 — Johnny Cash

These pictures taken by an astrophotographer Alan Friedman had the sunlight reduced so much that we can see the surface of the sun itself more clearly. Click on the link above to see larger versions of the images.

Another picture of the space (source):

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Will to the congregation, or Tradition, tradition! (part 7)

I have been thinking today about the concept of authority in Judaism (both authority of a Rebbe and authority of a posek) and remembered this post, in which I quoted from a book by David Hartman, where he proposes a new order of Orthodox Judaism, in which halachic and hashkafic decisions will no longer be bound by the authority of community and authority of tradition, but instead will be determined by human reason alone. You can follow the link to the post to read the summary of the chapter and the excerpt delineating this “new order”, but this is the key part:
A whole new way of life emerges when we maintain that community does not define the contents of truth. Once tradition need to justify itself in the court of universal reason, it can no longer demand obedience to itself as the highest virtue nor can it regard such obedience as the way to spiritual excellence. [...] Arguments from authority [that] presuppose acceptance of the authority which derives in turn from a loyalty to the community which legitimates that authority [shall be abandoned].
So, today I was thinking about the role of a posek. When the whole controversy with Sara Hurwitz was happening, I called my rabbi, and we spoke a bit about the controversy, the role of the rabbi, how American Jewry hijacked the role of a Christian priest and applied it to a rabbi, and other interesting topics. I asked him: what makes someone a posek? Yes, he has to have a smicha. Yes, he has to go through the process of shimush. But what then? “Are you asking me,” said my rabbi, “when does the magic start?” I said: yes. He then replied: the magic starts when a community designates someone an authority in Halacha. This is what makes him a posek. This is what gives him an authority to make chiddushim in Halacha.

Rav Moishe Feinstein basically answered the same when he was asked how he became a posek. He said: someone had asked him a sha’aleh, and he gave a psak.

So, now, let’s think about what this means. Torah is bli gvul. It is infinite. It comes from the essence and will and wisdom (which are not the same thing) of G-d Almighty, who Himself is beyond all thought and comprehension. So, what makes us think that we can know His Will? Nothing. We can’t. “No thought can comprehend Me”, “for My thoughts are not your thoughts”.

We cannot know G-d’s will. That is why the whole liberal talk of “I know what G-d wants from me because it’s in my heart” is nonsense. It’s termites (see the quote at the beginning).

On the other hand, He has made His will known to us — through Moshe Rabbeinu, through His prophets and through His teachers, the authorities in each generation, from whose decisions we are admonished not to deviate either right or left. But why? Why does He make it known to some people, but not to everyone? What’s the algorithm? Where does the magic start?

And here we come upon the famous story with the Rav of Prague, Noideh b’Yehudoh (source):
Prague was once a great Torah center, and when the rov had passed away they sought a fitting replacement. Obviously this man would need to be a Torah giant, and to make sure that he was, the scholars would test every prospective applicant for the job: first the rov had to deliver a high-level Torah lecture and the scholars would try to disprove it — this was no easy task, not that unlike being thrown to lions. Should they be unable to find a hole in his lecture, they would start asking him legal questions that a rov would have to know. If he passed the questions he could be the new rov. However, each applicant that came to the test would eventually fail, so Prague went without a rov for some time. Eventually a young man, R’ Yechezkel Landau, came to be examined. He did very well and the examiners just couldn’t stump him, so finally they started asking him halachic questions that were so complicated that they could practically never happen — and he finally gave them an answer they didn't like.

They began to shout, and brought out books to prove that he was wrong, and therefore unworthy to be rabbi in their city. “Ok,” said the young man, “but first I’d like to explain something to you. You see, a rov is a human being, and humans can err. However, if a rov is honest and dedicated — if he does his utmost best to fulfill his role — then G-d protects him from mistakes. This is so that he shouldn’t mislead his flock. You, however, are asking me questions that are irrelevant — they never happened and they never will happen — therefore, there is no protection in this case, since my flock is not at stake, only my honor is. And for honor there is no special protection from above.” And they took him to be their rov (later known as the Nodah B'Yehuda).
This is an answer to the question of why would Hashem reveal His Will and Wisdom, infinitely removed from our understanding and our level of reality, to a rav. For the sake of the tzibbur.

And that is why the “arguments from authority [that] presuppose acceptance of the authority which derives in turn from a loyalty to the community which legitimates that authority” are important. Hashem’s Divine Providence guides the Jewish Nation. He wants His people to carry out His Will. And that is why He shares it with those whom the communities establish as their leaders and authorities.

More on the topic:
Tradition, tradition! (part 2)
Surrounding children with holiness

Thursday, October 28, 2010

First in thought: seeing things from the spiritual perspective

In this week’s parsha, Chayei Soroh, we find Eliezer giving two different accounts of his meeting with Rivka. One detail from the two accounts concerns the order of asking Rivka’s name and giving her jewelry.

The way Torah describes it (Bereishis 24):

22. Now it came about, when the camels had finished drinking, [that] the man took a golden nose ring, weighing half [a shekel], and two bracelets for her hands, weighing ten gold [shekels].כב. וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלּוּ הַגְּמַלִּים לִשְׁתּוֹת וַיִּקַּח הָאִישׁ נֶזֶם זָהָב בֶּקַע מִשְׁקָלוֹ וּשְׁנֵי צְמִידִים עַל יָדֶיהָ עֲשָׂרָה זָהָב מִשְׁקָלָם:
23. And he said, "Whose daughter are you? Please tell me. Is there place for us for lodging in your father's house?"כג. וַיֹּאמֶר בַּת מִי אַתְּ הַגִּידִי נָא לִי הֲיֵשׁ בֵּית אָבִיךְ מָקוֹם לָנוּ לָלִין:

vs. the way Eliezer described it:

47. And I asked her, and I said, 'Whose daughter are you?' And she replied, 'The daughter of Bethuel the son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him.' And I placed the nose ring on her nose and the bracelets on her hands.מז. וָאֶשְׁאַל אֹתָהּ וָאֹמַר בַּת מִי אַתְּ וַתֹּאמֶר בַּת בְּתוּאֵל בֶּן נָחוֹר אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לּוֹ מִלְכָּה וָאָשִׂם הַנֶּזֶם עַל אַפָּהּ וְהַצְּמִידִים עַל יָדֶיהָ:

So, we see that in the former description (that of Torah), first “the man” gave Rivka the jewels and only then did he ask her about her family. In Eliezer’s description, he first asked her about the family and then gave her the jewels.

Some commentators (such as Abarbenel) say that when making all the changes to his story, Eliezer made a diplomatic calculation: he tweaked the story in such a way that it would not seem strange or offensive to the parents of Rivka. So, while in reality he relied completely on Hashgacha Protis to guide him to the right person and thus “blindly” gave the jewelry to Rivka, when he was telling the story to the parents, he de-emphasized such a weird (to them) behavior.

Which is a lesson to us all: when talking to others, whose level of observance, or chassidishkeit, or emunas Hashem, or views in general differ from ours, we should not focus so much on the differences and not to draw attention to those things that our audience may find offensive or strange or that it would laugh at. This way we will be successful in our task to influence our audience.

* * *
Other commentators (I think it may have been Rabbeinu Behaye) say that “the man” described by Torah is actually M., the head angel. Eliezer was accompanied by Mr. M. on the first part of the journey. M. was the angel who shortened the length of the journey to one day; he gave Rivka jewelry; he changed the plates around so that Eliezer does not get poisoned. (It says that he even accompanied them on the beginning of their journey back, and only once they were on their way did he depart.)

So, in the first case, the angel already knew who Rivka was, and so he “gave” her jewelry: he designated in his mind (so to speak) that the jewelry should go to Rivka, even before she told Eliezer about her family. From Eliezer’s perspective, however, things were different: first he asked Rivka about her family and then gave her the jewelry.

This is an example of how sequence of events from the physical perspective can be different from the sequence of events from the spiritual perspective. Oftentimes we find discrepancies between our observations of the physical world and, lehavdil, that which is written in Torah. We must remember, however, that Torah contains in itself multiple levels of reality, including a multitude of spiritual levels and the physical level. Things may be true from a physical perspective one way, and may be at the same time true in a completely different way from the spiritual perspective.

* * *
In the song Lecha Doidi from Kabbalas Shabbos we say about Shabbos: “Soif b’ma’aseh, b’machshavah tchillo” — “Last in deed, first in thought”. Meaning, that Hashem created Shabbos last (of all days of creation), but in His mind if came first. The same can be said about our world (it came after the spiritual worlds, but the purpose of the creation is the physical world, into which a Jewish soul can come to do the mitzvos with the physical matter of it), and the same can be said about the Days of Moshiach. Though they will the last, seventh, era of the Creation, they, indeed, are the reason and the purpose for the existence of all the reality.

It says that tzaddikim already live in the Days of Moshiach. The unity between G-d and this world which will be manifest to us all during the time of geulah is already revealed to the tzaddikim: they already live on the level of ein od milvado — “there is nothing but Him” — and perceive the world this way. Just like the angel from the story above saw things from the spiritual perspective, just like from his point of view, the jewelry was already given, tzaddikim too see the world from the spiritual perspective first and see the jewel of creation, the Days of Moshiach, already given to the world and to Jews.

This is why we must cleave to the tzaddikim and follow their paths. I have heard it said about the Rebbe that oftentimes he demanded things of his chassidim which intially seemed impossible. At the first glance one might think that the Rebbe was an idealist, living in a fantasy world. It is true that the Rebbe was an idealist, but he was also a realist. He was simply walking ten steps ahead of us and telling us of how to follow him.

Oftentimes the instructions of the Rebbeim, the leaders of our generations, may seem strange and “backward”. Surely, we say, we can see with our eyes that things are the other way around, not the way the Rebbe says. But we must remember that the Rebbe already sees the true reality; he does not need the test of time to reveal its truth. And it simply makes sense to follow him.
More on the topic: “First in Thought

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


A simple idea that many people don’t fully comprehend.

Money represents willingness of other people to provide you with necessary things, while you provide them with some kind of service or product that they value. Let’s say you paint. Professionally. You create beautiful works of art. But you’re poor, because people do not appreciate your art. “Ugh,” exclaim some people, “to measure art in dollars and cents!” Well, it’s not really the art per se that is being measured. What is being measured is willingness of other people to grow your food, obtain and transfer electricity to your home, provide you with housing, make clothes for you, assemble together cars, computers, and iPods (not to mention make easels, brushes, paper and paints) for you — all in exchange of your creating your paintings. And people may just be unwilling to do that.

See, I may value my neighbor’s paintings. I may value them very much. But I may still be unwilling to cook for him, do his laundry, cut his grass, and educate his kids so that he can be free to paint and maybe give me one of his paintings. Sorry. There are things that I can do during the day that I value more.

This is what society is all about, in the end. The ultimate value of society is division of labor. I grow food. You chop wood. He makes tools. She makes clothes. Then we exchange them. Instead of each of us growing his own food, chopping his own wood, making his own clothes, etc. That way each person can focus on doing whatever he wants to do or can do best. Or what is more demanded or valued at the time. Or what is less supplied at the time. All of which is measured (in a market society) in money.

Money is merely a medium for exchange of the services that different members of society provide for each other. There is nothing inherently dirty, ugly, or nasty about it; no more than there is anything inherently nasty about one person doing a favor to someone in exchange for another favor.

(And just like services can be done for free, just like products can be given as gifts, money can be given as a gift too. There is nothing “not nice” about that. You’re merely giving a choice to your friend which of the products or services of the society to select from for himself.)


Another wonderful piece from Gonzales. Despite somewhat noisy recording, it is a very nice clip; very strong performance.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A blitz duel on pianos; singalong

I love duels! And I love piano music. So, here goes:

More by one of the two pianists (Gonzales) — a singalong:

Besides the fact that I really like this music, I like the above because in the age when the music listened to by the majority (Jews and non-Jews alike) is not only bad music but in many cases not music at all (in that it fails to stand on its own feet and convey emotions successfully), this guy is doing propaganda of good music in general and piano music in particular.

[via Ilya Birman’s blog]

Damn, this is fine (another piece that I liked from the same album here):

(click ↑ on 720p for higher quality)

The impossible Danish

[via my chavrussa, TRP]

I feel like the same thing will happen at some point to the Western Ukrainians.

From the comments to another clip:
Halvtreds is not exactly “half sixty”. [...] 
Halvtreds comes from halvtredsindstyve where –indstyve means multiplies of 20 (or snese in Old Danish). The halvtreds, meaning 2½, comes from Old Danish that defines the basic number (3) minus a half, hence 2½ . The only word still in the Danish vocabulary of those is halvanden meaning 2 minus one half, hence 1½. The rest is only used for numbers.
Were it any other country (like France), I would say something like: “No wonder they offered no resistance to the Nazis”¹ or “no wonder they now have socialism”, but I actually like the Scandinavian people (not their political system, but the people and their history), so I won’t say that.

Another clip (with some profane language).

If you think this is a joke, here is an incident that happened on Danish TV, whose explanation was in the comments (I am correcting the English grammar):
The host in the studio attempted to ask when [the reporter] had last been travelling, but failed in grammar, and thus said 'rejsning' rather than 'rejste sidst'. [...] The reporter answered: "This morning, I think".
The first video reminds me of when I had just come to the US. I boarded a bus and asked: “Excuse me, does this bus go to LSU?” The bus driver, possibly baffled by my accent, responded in her Southern jargon: “Who?” I, somewhat confused, responded: “The bus? You? I?”

¹ My professor of Latin once said that the reason why the Greeks lost to the Romans was the fact that Greek  language has a complex system of articles, while Latin (as all civilized languages such as Russian) has no articles. So, while the Romans were issuing quick laconic commands on the battlefield (such as “de oppresso liber”, which means “command the front line to retreat laterally, bring out the reserves, and flank the jerks with our Numibian auxilaries”), the Greeks were thinking about which articles to use. As a result, the Romans ended up ruling over the Mediterranean, while the Greeks ended up serving as grammar tutors to the Romans’ kids.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Coachman, don’t hurry the horses

Awesome song and awesome performance. One of the few on YouTube. This guy gets this song.

Having high standards pays off when you find something nice.

More by the same singer — a song about cavalry. Despite poor video and the audience clapping, the performance is very strong:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Doing your best

[A re-post.]

This Shabbos I heard an interesting dvar Torah from my rabbi.

In parshas Veyeira, Avraham did four things (amongst many others): he showed hospitality to strangers, he argued with G-d regarding destruction of the two cities, he kicked out his concubine and Sara's servant Hagar and her son Yishmoel, and finally, he participated in akeidas Yitzchok — an almost-sacrifice of his son.

This sequence of events is interesting in that it tests the main trait of Avraham's character — his kindness. Now, the first act, showing hospitality to guests, was not really much of a test. It was a natural thing for Avraham, who was a man of kindness (to the point that it says in one Midrash that during Avraham's lifetime Hashem's attribute of Chesed, kindness, complained that it's been replaced by Avraham). The second act was more difficult, since it involved arguing with G-d, but it was also quite a natural thing to do: Avraham had to argue in favor of people who were going to be destroyed, trying to find even one righteous person in their midst.

With the third act, however, we are already finding Avraham doing that which is not natural to him. And I am not only talking about arguing with his wife (it's not clear what took more guts: arguing with her or with G-d). Avraham had to send to possible death his son and the concubine who gave him birth. And sure, Sara's reasons were perfectly valid: she was looking at the bigger picture of transmitting her's and Avraham's message and purpose in life and creating a Jewish nation. When it became obvious that Hagar and her sone were not the right medium for it (and in fact would be counterproductive to this effort), Sara had to "let them go". Nevertheless, it took pursuasion from G-d for Avraham to do that which was completely against his essence: to apply gevurah, strictness.

The fourth act, however, was a paradigm shift in difficulty, and it was the one that made Avraham into a Jew. Avraham had to go against his character completely, against everything that felt right to him, for no obvious reason except G-d's word. One lesson in that was that G-d's word was enough. A Jew cannot determine himself what his service to G-d is going to look like; he has to listen to what G-d demands. The other lesson was that a Jew may have to go completely against his nature and change his nature in order to serve G-d. The third lesson, which was the essence of my rabbi's dvar Torah, is that sometimes you have to do something that feels wrong. If you know objectively, rationally, that it is right, but subjectively, intuitively, it feels wrong — well, you have to go with the truth. Truth is not sentimental. Especially when we are talking about eternal truth, about connection to Hashem. (And presumably, in a Jew's life, everything is, one way or another, about connection to Hashem.)

For myself, there is another lesson yet. Sometimes when dealing with those who are dear to us, with our friends, with our relatives, with our parents, with our loved ones, with G-d Himself, we tend to do what feels right to us. What we are accustomed to, in a way that makes sense to us. Sometimes, however, it is not the right thing to do. Sometimes (or maybe always), the right thing to do is to find out what makes sense to and what is right for the other person — and do it that way, even if makes no sense to you, even if it "feels" wrong, even if you would not want this done this way to you. Because, if you're doing something for the other person, you have to do it for that person, not for you.

So, don't say "this is the best I can do". Because what you're really saying is: "This is what I do; this is my modus operandi, and here is my best effort at it". You have to stop doing what "you do" and start doing what the other person needs. If you truly love and care about the person.

Of course, as our Sages say, the biggest distance is between a person's mind and heart, and sometimes one's neck is quite narrow. Sometimes it takes time between knowing what is right and starting to do it. But even knowing what is right is already a good start.

I think.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Coincidence or Hewlett Packard?

As Einstein once said, "Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater."

He also said: "Randomness is G-d's way of staying anonymous*." On that note, I present you with the following article from "The Five Most Mind-Blowing Coincidences that Could Find in a Day of Doing Research".

* He got that from Tosfos on Bava Metzia. Everyone knows that Einstein was a fan of Tosfos when he wasn't busy patenting designs for refrigerators. More on Einstein:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yanukovitch and a wreath

A tale in the style of Nikolai Gogol. It is actually made as a silent video, so those without sound can still get as much out of it as anyone else.

(For those of you who think this is just slap-stick humor, you have to have lived in Ukraine in order to get the insipidness of all the state "occasions".)

If there is a state better suited for libertarian anarchy than Russia, it's Ukraine. While in Russia there is a strange combination of authoritarian rule and chaos, in Ukraine there is chaos on all levels. Market anarchy really could not produce any more chaos, crime, despair or hardship than there already is.

Monday, October 11, 2010


A repost, from Kehos Chumash on parshas Lech Lecha:

* * *

Go from your land and from your birthplace: go away from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you:

Metaphorically, this command is given to every soul about to be born, which must then descend from its source in the heavenly spheres through progressively lower gradations, gaining more definition, self-awareness, and distance from G-d at each step, until it reaches the physical plane. Its next step is to begin the process of ascent, traveling back in the opposite direction to transcend the shortsighted perspective of the body. Finally, it must then transcend even its own holy inclinations. This verse thus can be explained as follows:

Go: Descend from the highest levels—

From your land: The word for “land” (eretz) is related to the word for “will” or “desire” (ratzon). “Land” therefore alludes to G-d’s will, which is identified with the sefirah ofketer. The soul is thus told to take leave of its lofty roots(keter) and descend to the next level, chochmah.

From your birthplace: Divine insight (chochmah) is called “father”, since chochmah “fathers” and gives birth to ideas. The soul must leave this level as well and descend even further, into the realm of understanding (binah).

Your father’s house: Binah is the womb where the seed ofchochmah is developed and expanded, which is why it is called “your father’s house”. The soul must descend even further—

To the land, i.e., to the physical world: This is the ultimate, most difficult descent, yet through it the soul arrives in this world, which is the “land”—

That I will show you: The non-descriptive “I” refers to G-d’s essence, which is likewise beyond description. G-d promises the soul that in the merit of descending into this world and fulfilling the commandments, it will be shown the “I” of G-d, enabling it to cleave to G-d’s essence [through Torah and mitzvos].

Once the soul enters this world and becomes garbled in a human body, it is commanded and given strength to—

Go: this time in the opposite direction, from the lowest sphere to the highest—

From your land: “Land”, as we have explained above, alludes to will and desire. Firstly, the soul must transcend the animalistic desires of the body. It is then told to go—

From your birthplace: i.e., to transcend the assumptions and limited perspective of the intellect and emotions of the ego. It must then go—

From your father’s house: i.e., to transcend those behavioral habits that it acquired and became accustomed to due to a faulty education and less-than-perfect environment. It must go beyond all of these limitations—

To the land that I will show you: to a holy place, such as a synagogue of place of Torah study, where desires of the Divine soul dominate and prevail.

Only after we have successfully transcended the limitations of the body’s animating soul can we then proceed to the next task, that of transcending even the inclinations of the Divine soul, its own ratzon (land), chochmah (birthplace), and binah (father’s house), and reach a level that is beyond reason, “the land that I will show you”, a place where the soul does not merely comprehend Divinity [as was before the birth, in the Upper Worlds] but actually sees it.

[Based on Likutei Sichot, vol. 1, pp. 15–18.]

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I am not crazy

I had the bits and pieces and this song stuck in my head since I had pizza with my fiancée in technically the only kosher restaurant (if one keeps Lubavitch shechita) in town about a month ago, but could not remember what the song was. Today my faith in my weird memory was vindicated. (I still have no idea why I know this song. And I don’t particularly like the lyrics.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Parshas Noach — the role of the rainbow

[a re-post]

In this audio-shiur, Rabbi Paltiel discusses the role of the rainbow as a guarantee that the world would never be destroyed. Why a rainbow? What does it mean that the rainbow is a guarantee by G-d — isn’t it just a physical phenomenon?

That’s the whole point. It is a regular physical phenomenon, which was created de novo in the crucible of the Flood that changed the physical and spiritual laws of the Universe (Rashi comments that during the Flood, sun was suspended in the sky and time did not move). Nowadays it is a regular occurrence, in which we can see a direct promise of G-d. This is representative of hashgachah protis, Divine Providence.

Miracles can be of two types, says Rabbi Paltiel. One type is a direct violation of nature — e.g., the splitting of Yam Suf, the suspension of the sun, manna descending from the sky. The other type is a miracle occurring “through” the nature, without breaking its order. An example of the second type is the miracle of Purim. No natural laws were broken: right people were in the right place in the right time, making right decisions. This is the type of G-d’s involvement that is mentioned in the commentary of Bava Metzia (the volume of Talmud starting with discussion of laws regarding lost and found objects — which, both the loss and the discovery of the object, are seemingly random): G-d involves himself in the world, but in such a way that His involvement can be attributed (if one wants to) to random occurrences. Lehavdil, Einstein said a similar thing: “Randomness is G-d’s way of staying anonymous”.

This is what we call Divine Providence — when we attribute a natural occurrence to G-d’s involvement. Of course, a student of the second book of Tanya will tell you that all reality happens through G-d’s direct and willful creation of the world; G-d is constantly involved with every aspect of creation which He constantly brings out of nothingness into existence. Here, however, we are talking about a situation when Divine Providence can be readily observed — a ray of light penetrates through a veil that conceals the Creator from this world. Yet, this light could be interpreted as another shade of darkness, if one wanted to — it is clothed in the darkness.

This type of miracle is of an even higher order than an open miracle. It takes no effort to just circumvent the laws of Nature — indeed, they are nothing but a shell covering up the truth anyway. A miracle of such kind is no display of G-d’s Oneness with the world, the absoluteness of His existence. Chassidus (hemshech Samech-Vov, for example) teaches us that revelation of light does not come from the deepest and most essential aspects of G-d. Light and revelation of the truth of G-d’s existence is a natural state of affairs. C’est normal, as French say.

The concealment of the light and creation of the darkness is what takes a more essential “effort” (so to speak). It goes against the essential desire of the existence to reveal G-d in it. That is why it takes G-d’s Essence, not just his Light, to create the material world, and that is why the material world seems to have independent existence — only a world created with G-d’s Essence that itself has no source can have such a property (the upper worlds, created with the Light, reveal their dependence upon their source, because Light, being Ein Sof — Without End — is, nevertheless, not without a Beginning).

The revelation of of the light together with darkness, then, is a revelation of even a higher caliber. Before the flood, such a revelation could not happen. Such a revelation would destroy the world. After the flood, a possibility of revealing the light bound in the darkness was created. This is what teshuvah is all about — ability to turn one’s sin into a virtue through repentance. This also, says Rabbi Paltiel, is a lesson to our everyday life. We must see rainbow in everything that happens to us: we must see that every occurrence in our lives is an act of G-d, despite having ability to be described through laws of physics, biology, economics, etc. All our success and livelihood comes from G-d. It does not mean we can sit around and wait for success to happen. We must build our own Arc, despite the fact that it is up to G-d to deliver us. What we must realize is that our (required) efforts are nothing but a vessel filled with G-d’s blessing.

Living in such a way, we will complete the work of the Flood. Not only the rainbow, but every single aspect of physical reality will be a revelation of G-d inside the material world, Light revealed in darkness. This is what the Messianic Era is all about, and our efforts in living our life with recognition of G-d’s Oneness with the world (which we openly reveal by performing mitzvos in this world with this kavanah) draw it closer. May it come speedily in our days.

(I recommend listening to Rabbi Paltiel’s shiur for more details and much better presentation.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Liberal humor

In the style of Lavrentiy Beria:

This is also (almost as) funny (gotta say again: kick-ass music despite the disturbing contents):

Which was reminiscent of this:

[videos via arbat]

P.S. After reading this (about Beria):
In 1924, he led the repression of a Georgian nationalist uprising, after which up to 10,000 people were executed. For this display of "Bolshevik ruthlessness", Beria was appointed head of the "secret-political division" of the Transcaucasian OGPU and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
 ... I had two thoughts: (1) no wonder the myths of blood-sucking monsters (vampires, etc.) were the most prevalent in the Eastern Europe, (2) no wonder Russia considers itself the Third Rome. That's why I am not so worried about America. The worst kind of monster it can produce is in the style of Woodrow Wilson or FDR.

I will leave you with this thought: