Monday, March 31, 2008

The strange

Life is pretty strange. I think I may have mentioned that once or twice before. For example, it's snowing now. Who wants snow on the thirty-first day of March? Isn't it odd that the weather is behaving in a manner that is contrary to most people's wishes? When I say that life is pretty strange, this is the kind of behavior I'm referring to. You want another example? I'll give you another example. You know, that's what we're all about here; making people happy. Yesterday, as I mentioned, I gave a nice amount of charity ($40-$50) to some poor Yerushalmis. Today I called up Bank of America to inquire about my overdraft ($40) and guess what? It's not there anymore! Isn't that great? Isn't G-d great? If I was only Arab, I would be shooting my Kalashnikov into the air now and wounding some innocent bystanders. As it is, I'm Caucasian, so I'm celebrating with some seltzer.

Some people think that using the same basic set of words constantly is a bad idea. I'm one of those people. It really bothers me to no end, not the least because I find it irritating when I read repetitive shtuff. Sure, the thoughts contained therein may be different, but their expression, through words, is just as important as the ideas themselves. Of course, badly written genius is better than eloquent stupidity. Still, I would love the ability to smoothly write the biggest idiocy and have it sound great. Yeah, the genius bit would be nice too, and the truth is I'd take either. Instead though I'm muddling around somewhere in the middle, bereft of the benefits of the big lie, without the elegance of the cannabis induced brain flash.
You liked that, eh? But it's really true. Oh, sorry, my pretension alarm just went off, I'll have to stop acting like I know something and instead get down to brass tactics, as the Rosh often says.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


You'll all be happy to know that I'm writing this at 11:10 tonight. The earlier it is, the less snarky I am, which translates into savings for the whole family! A recent comment from a friendly lion asked me to expound a bit on free choice and all the wonderful shtuff that goes along with it. At the J. Immanuel Shochet speech I attended a few weeks ago someone asked him the famous question of free choice and G-d's knowledge. They said, "Do I have free choice?" Immanuel answered, "Yes." "Does G-d know what I'm going to do before I do it?" The answer, again, was, "Yes." The questioner looked more confused than a beached (and possibly bleached) whale in Wisconsin, and the Rabbi said that by Hashem there is neither time nor space, plus he knows everything, plus you have free choice. Does this make sense on a purely intellectual level? Perhaps if you've pumped enough LSD into your system it does. But for any regularly thinking person, it makes no sense. It's even worse than Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which gives me goosebumps whenever I lie for literary effect.
As for the choice between idols and G-d, I don't recall the Maamar giving a specific answer, but it seems to me that in our little pea brains we can make a comparison between the two, at least to some degree. After all, they each have advantages and disadvantages. I'll leave it to you, my faithful readers, to work out each one, but what I can tell you is that just because I can be really snotty and self-righteous when I learn and write a Maamar it doesn't mean that I don't behave just like every other ape out there. Heck, I even write run on sentences like a monkey! Of course, my grammar is better than a chimpanzee's, but that's hardly the point.
In other news, two meshulachim (tzedaka collectors from Israel) came to our door today. The first caught me washing the front window, and the second interrupted an afternoon nap. I'm always so embarrassed when these guys come, which fortunately isn't so often, because we live in the beautiful midwest, and few people bother to beg out here. I wish I could just give my $25 (to each-yeah, I'm a nice guy [and only slightly full of myself]) and they'd leave, but instead we have to chat. Truth is, I know that I should be kind and generous, but these people are twenty or thirty years older than me, and they need my money. I guess I feel really embarrassed for them, and that translates into me feeling bad for myself. Plus, it kind of scares me. Will I be a success? And does everybody have to say, "Oh, you're 21? You should get married!"
Enough soul-searching nonsense for tonight. Tomorrow of course you'll get full coverage of tomorrow, and possibly a sneak preview of the next day as well.

Bill Clinton-Bubba, the first Hubba

You like the title, huh? I think it's pretty good. Unfortunately, I can't take credit for it. That goes to my close friend, Ira, who'll feature more prominently a little later on. In other news...
Take to the streets. Fine, don't take to the streets. Keep to your homes, where it's safest. All those who want a little excitement, danger, and possibly doughnuts should, however, leave their safe abodes and join the revolution. I am referring, of course, to the Barack Obama movement which is sweeping through our youths' brains and turning them all into mush. This movement, along with Lake Michigan and hybrid vehicles, is one of the greatest advances of the 21st century. An Obama presidency would be pretty boring to tell you the truth, or at least selective parts of it. The second anyone made fun of the guy, they'd be called a racist. Now if Hillary wins, Bill will be first lady, and that would be great. Just imagine the possibilities.
Why the sudden sarcasm you ask? Well, it's 5:00, I'm a bit tired, and life is moving in a stranger manner than my taste generally accounts for. See, I spent Shabbos in S. Paul, only the third time I've done so since, oh, Noach. It was nice, because there were a bunch of people here. It was like a Shabbos over the holidays, except that there was neither Matza nor Sukkah, so it wasn't too hard on anyone.
Many years ago, and I'm talking (ok, writing) really a long time ago, I had a very good friend. Tonight I just had a four hour IM conversation with him. Did we accomplish anything? I'd like to think so. Otherwise I'll be sleeping tomorrow for no good reason. That's all I'm really trying to accomplish here, you know, to help people a little.
And that's the last of it. Oh, and about Yossi Green's "The 8th Note". At first I couldn't stand it, but now I love the MBD song "Anovim Anovim", the Shloime Gertner number "Beshivtocha", Avraham Fried's "Hesech Hadaas", IM Helfgot's "Kanei", and Ohad's "Hatav Hashmini". Oh, and how could I forget Chaim Israel's Ve'oz Yihyu"? The others are slowly growing on me, especially "Layehudim" and "Yossel". It's funny, because whenever I curse a CD I end up loving it and looking like a moron. But that's not so terrible, right? My apologies especially to Chaim Rubin (living his life) for doubting his judgment. Please don't shoot.
The same thing happened with Shloime Gertner's CD "Nissim", both of Ohad's CD's, and Lipa's Likro Et Hahallel and L'ilu Ulilu. Man, I just butchered that. Sorry. Point is, it's better to have good music and look dumb than to have bad music and look smart, right?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wrapping up

Here's the last third of the Maamar. It's gets a bit, um, xenophobic at the end. Don't let that worry you. And don't convince yourself that it only means idolaters, and not non-Jews in general. If you want, you can take comfort in the fact that most Jews, even the most religious, come under heavy criticism in this Maamar. Why that would make someone feel better I'm not sure, but hey, whatever floats your boat, right? I hope you like it. Oh, and tomorrow we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming (whatever that is).

These two explanations of "I choose the King", that a person doesn't want even the highest spiritual emanations, but only G-d himself, and the simple meaning, that a person only serves Hashem and not idols, have a connection. The Garden of Eden is great, because it's an incredible spiritual experience, basking in the rays of divine glory. When Hashem himself is chosen though, it leads to complete nullification. If a person makes a mistake and chooses to bask, choosing pleasure in front of truth, then it can lead to a person choosing to worship false gods. He might even come to that these false gods have free choice. Idol worshipers thought that there was something to be gained from serving the sun and stars; choosing anything but Hashem, even his greatest spiritual worlds, is the same thing.
Even is someone wants the Garden of Eden specifically because it's Hashem's there is a problem, because he can come to think that Hashem gave it, or anything in the world, power to choose who to help, as was explained above. A Jew has to know that everything in the world comes only from Hashem.

The main mistake people make in serving idols is that they confuse something which is only a tool for the master. The sun and moon provide benefit for the world, but they have no choice in the matter. The benefit gotten is also mistaken. The physical world is not an ends, but rather only a means with which to serve Hashem. That's why some people choose to worship false gods, because they think that physicality is primary, and therefore they spend their lives trying to accumulate as much of it as possible. The same thing is worth the highest spiritual worlds; they too are only a means to an end, and choosing them is the first step on a slippery path to idol worship.
The source of gentiles is in the "outer will"; they only exist for another reason. They don't realize this, and think that they are the reason for existence, and from this comes the thought that whatever brings the most physical benefit also has the free choice to dispense that benefit. Jews, on the other hand, are the primary purpose of creation, and they therefore recognize that they should serve the primary, Hashem.

The Jewish people serve Hashem because of their souls and because of their intellect. The soul sees that it's source is in the inner will, that it is the purpose for which the world was created, and that affects the brain, that it too should be able to understand. From the intellect the choice in Hashem will permeate every thought, word, and action, causing a Jew to truly be a G-dly person.

King David asks Hashem in Psalm 70 to remember him. This can be explained with a parable. There was once a King who got angry at his flock of sheep (don't ask) and sent them away. At the same time he destroyed their enclosure and fired the shepherd. Later the King was reconciled toward his sheep, and brought them back. He also rebuilt their home. The shepherd wondered what was going on, and asked the King, "Hey, why haven't you rehired me?" So too David asks Hashem, from the end of Psalm 69, "You have remembered Zion and and rebuilt Judah (end of the aforementioned Psalm 69), but I have not been brought back?" Therefore David asks Hashem at the beginning of Psalm 70 to be remembered. The question is, if the King remembered the sheep, why didn't he remember their shepherd? The answer is that a person can have everything but still lack the main thing, which is a revelation of G-d. The purpose of the King is to teach Torah, and since the Torah as we have it now is nothing compared to the Torah of Moshiach, David asks Hashem to let him shepherd the Jews in this infinitely higher way.

Now we can explain the Jew's choice of Hashem and Hashem's choice of the Jews, that Hashem chooses the Jews because they are the purpose of creation, and this leads to the Jews choosing Hashem, because they recognize the truth. A Jew wants Hashem, to the exclusion of all else. Whatever Hashem wants, the Jew also wants. Since the whole purpose of creation is to make a dwelling place down here for Hashem, that is also the Jew's goal. Hashem gives physicality, and the Jew turns it into spirituality, and this will be fulfilled with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days, Amen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Part two of the eleventh

Today is 19 Adar 2, which means it's time for the next few parts of the Maamar B'yom Ashtei Assar 5731. If you want the beginning, read yesterday's post. Oh, and the truth is that even though the Maamar brings up many possibilities, only to shoot them down, they are still true. Perhaps not the ultimate truth, but a step on the way. Whatever. Also, whenever I say "he", I obviously also mean females. Well, probably. [:)] Oh, and another thing. If some of this seems repetitive, and I constantly use certain words, it's because of the structure of the Maamar. Anyway, here goes:

The wise man's reason for choosing the King and not the ministers is because the ministers are only temporary while the King lasts forever. What does this mean? The benefits which accrue to those who align themselves with the forces of darkness, even if these benefits are greater than those available to holiness seekers, are only temporary. After Moshiach comes, and evil ceases to exist, all the G-dly sparks which were contained within that evil will cease to exist. In addition, the benefits for those who choose the side of good will be much greater (after the coming of the Messiah) then ever went to evil-doers in the pre-Messianic age. This is expressed in the Talmudic saying, "If so much goes to those who go against His will, how much more will go to those who follow Him."
This explanation is not sufficient, however, because it implies that the only reason the wise man chooses the King is because he is smart and has figured out that with patience he'll have increased shtuff. This is problematic, because the Medrash implies that the Jewish people choose their King because of their soul, because of the greatness of serving the King, not because of the material benefits associated with that service. Instead, the Jew chooses Hashem because the great physical bounty which goes to the sinner is not given with Hashem's full will, as it were, but rather as a man throws a gift to his enemy behind his back, with disgust. Hashem gives the Jew because he wants to give the Jew, and the Jew takes this, because he wants to receive what Hashem desires to give. The benefits to those who go against His will are not everlasting, and therefore they don't have a true existence even when they are present.
Where does this benefit come from? It's siphoned of from Kedusha, from holiness, and this is the only way it exists. Since that Holiness with them is exiled, as it were, they (the Kelipos) are actually dead. The people who draw from them are also called dead, as it says in Talmud, that wicked men are called dead even while they're alive, because (as it says in Tanya) their life source is death. When a person chooses the King, he chooses life, not death, holiness, not impurity.

This explanation is still not sufficient, because at the end of the day the wise man is still making his choice based on his intellect, and the Medrash seems to be saying that his soul, which is above intellect, is making this choice. In short, the nature of man is to choose whichever path will bring him the most wealth, happiness, peace, or anything and everything good. This nature is what causes the nations of the world to worship their false gods, because they acknowledge only themselves, and therefore choose only that which benefits them. A Jew, on the other hand, because of his divine soul, is able to look beyond himself and choose to worship Hashem, even though he will get (at this point in time) less benefit, because G-dliness is truth, and his soul chooses to align itself with that truth.

What does it mean when we say that those who go against his will get their life force in a "backward" manner? We can understand this with a Mashal, a parable, of a King who makes a great feast for his ministers and honored servants. From the overflow of food from the King's table his lowly servants and maids, and even the dogs, are also able to eat. The King did not make the food for them, but they are able to survive from his bounty. The Nimshal, the analog, is obvious. There are four levels in the mashal, and all of them are meaningful. The lowest, the dog, survives off the bones that are thrown off the table. He doesn't serve the King; rather his whole purpose in life is self-gratification. We can see this from the word for dog in Hebrew, Kalev, a contraction for Kulo Lev, or "All Heart". The human being represented by the dog is fundamentally flawed, because naturally, a person's heart is ruled by their mind. In this person though, not only does the heart rule the mind, but there is no mind. Sure, the dog gets everything it wants, and much more, but it's all left-overs, not given with the King's desire.
The next level of person is the lowly servant or maidservant, who serve the King because of their fear of punishment, not because they want to. Their sole desire in life is to escape work, to be free to waste their time. Because of this, their place is not at the King's table, because they do not wish to be there. The honored servants, on the other hand, serve the King because they understand how great such service is. Sure, they're doing it because they accept the King as their master, but at the same time they understand how great it is to serve such a man. The greatest level is that of the ministers, whose understanding of the King is so great that they manage many of his affairs. They don't serve the King out of fear, but rather out of love. Among them there are obviously many levels, with different responsibilitys assigned to different men.
In the analog, the lowly servants represent the seventy guardian angels of the seventy nations, while the servants and ministers that the King serves at his table are holy angels who do G-d's will, the highest emanations of holiness, who are always with the King.
We can now understand the greatness of the Jewish people. That they don't want to receive anything like dogs or servants is obvious, but their refusal to deal with anyone but the King, in place of his highest and most trust-worthy ministers, is admirable. This is comparable to a person who visits a King, and passes through chamber after chamber, each filled with more treasure than the previous one, until he gets to the last chamber, which is more incredible than anything any man has ever imagined. Many people will stop at this last chamber, because they're filled with awe; only the true smart man will pass by and go to meet the King, because only the true smart man is filled with the desire, not to see the King's wealth, but rather the King himself.

This is what the Alter Rebbe said, "I don't want your Garden of Eden, I don't want your World to Come, I want you alone." The Alter Rebbe certainly knew how great these levels were, and in fact he had a greater knowledge of them than most people. And the highest levels don't hide G-d, rather they transmit his rays. And yet he only wants Hashem. This is why the Alter Rebbe specifically said, "Your Garden of Eden, Your World to Come", because even though they are Hashem's, he still wants only Hashem.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Idol worship for the masses

Due to the vast amount of interest expressed by certain people I am happy to now present a synopsis of the Maamar "B'yom Ashtei Assar 5731". Many ideas contained in the Maamar won't be present here, because 1. I'm lazy, and 2. It would require a lot of work. Are those one and the same? Possibly. Anyway, today I'll give you the first four (of 13) sections, and tomorrow...well, we'll see what tomorrow brings. So here goes.

In the first part of the month of Nissan it has become customary to recite the portions of the Torah which deal with the offerings of the Princes of the Twelve Tribes. The Prince for the 11th day of Nissan, the Rebbe's birthday, was from the tribe of Asher. The Medrash says that each tribe is named with the redemption and praise of Israel in mind. The Prince of Asher, Pagiel Ben Achran, brought his because of the Jew's choice of Hashem to be their L-rd, and Hashem's choice of the Jew's to be his special nation. The immediate question is that it's only possible to make a choice between two things which are either equal or at least comparable. Between Hashem and all other (false) gods, there can be no comparison, and the same goes for the Jew and the non-Jew, the reason for which you should consult Tanya, Chapter 49.

We can understand this by first prefacing with an explanation given by the Medrash of the verse, in Eicha 3,24, "Hashem is my portion' says my soul, 'therefore I have hope in Him". The Medrash says that this is like the parable of a king who comes to a country, surrounded by his many ministers, and the populace of the country come out to greet him. One person there says, "I choose this minister to represent and help me," while another picks one of the satraps. A third man chooses one of the King's secretaries. There was one smart man present who said, "I choose the King, because all the others are temporary, but the King lasts forever." So too the nations of the world serve the sun, moon, stars, or constellations, but the Jewish people only serve Hashem. The question is, what's the genius involved in picking the King? Everyone knows a King is much greater than his employees. And what's the reason the wise man gives, that the King lasts forever? Even if the King is just as temporary as his ministers, he's still greater.

Back in the earliest generations, when man first began to serve false gods, the feeling was that it was necessary. Just like a person thanks and tips a waiter for bringing him food, even though the waiter obviously had no hand in the preparation of the food, one should thank the sun and the moon for giving him sustenance. The people thought that just like the waiter does have some choice whether to present the food or not (and after all, he could have spit in it), the moon and constellations have some say in the amount of G-dly sustenance they pass onto man. The mistake of these people was that they didn't realize that the heavenly bodies are only like an axe in the hand of a woodchopper, a tool made by G-d and directed solely by Him. The early idolaters thought that they could influence the celestial bodies to give them more than they were supposed to get.
From this mistake came an even greater one, the belief that Hashem had left the world in the hands of his creations and therefore they were the be-all and end-all of divine service. They thought that this situation was comparable to a King who appoints a governor to rule over a province, leaving it entirely except in times of great need.
Obviously this isn't true, and Hashem continues to sustain the world in exactly the same manner as when he first created it 5768 years ago. It takes the wisdom of the Jewish people to know this, and therefore they don't serve the false gods, who only appear to run things, but rather worship the one true G-d.

There is only one problem with this explanation. The parable presented by the Medrash features ministers who have free choice, and therefore choosing them does positively impact the benefit they give out. We can therefore understand that service of the King itself, rather than the results it brings, is what the wise man seeks. From this we can understand in real life, that the reason the nations of the world worship the sun and stars is not because of their mistake, but because they would rather have physical benefits than serve G-d. There are two advantages to idol worship over G-d worship. The first is that the benefits provided by the idols is not dependent on self-nullification, and the second is that the benefit itself is greater than that received from choosing to benefit solely from the side of holiness.
In the desert the Israelites complained that they ate for free in Egypt; what they were saying is that their physical sustenance came without any corresponding spiritual struggle. The side of holiness only allows for benefit when the right thing is done, and even then it only gives according to a person's work. Kelipos get their life-force from a source above nature, where there are no barriers, and therefore they can provide virtually unlimited sustenance.
According to this explanation, the greatness of the Jew is that he declines to associate himself with the forces of darkness and instead chooses Hashem, even though this means he must work hard for less.

So that was the first four parts of the Maamar. Don't worry, there's more to come. As it turned out, I'm doing a lot of line-by-line translation, which isn't a bad thing, but also means that it's going a lot slower than I anticipated. Additionally, it might seem to some people that the subject matter doesn't speak to them, after all, who in America today worships the sun or the moon? The truth is that this does apply to us, because we often make the same mistake as our ancestors. We too place our trust in nature, in ourselves, in any power but the true One. For some people, going to university has become a religion, the only path to true wealth being found through the hallowed halls of our educational institutions. For other people, that path is the stock market, the government, or even the family farm. The truth we must recognize however is that all these are merely tools in the hand of a Skilled Craftsman, and it is not they must be worshiped but rather the Power that directs the world through them.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Not worth reading (no, really)

I've often been told that if I have nothing to write then I shouldn't write it. As you've probably guessed, I haven't really followed this particular piece of advice too much over the past six months. So if I told you that the Maamar "B'yom Ashtei Assar 5731" completely and utterly rocks the house, would you believe me? Of course you would. You believe everything I write with implicit faith, right?
The reason it's such a great Maamar is because it demonstrates conclusively that Lubavitch is the most incredible thing that's happened to the Milky Way since the big bang. In fact, since we now know the big bang never happened, it turns out that Lubavitch is merely the greatest thing known to humanity.
If I haven't lost at least six readers with the previous paragraph then something is wrong. I mean, the chauvinism exuded was so palpably vomit-worthy that it's a wonder that no one is swimming in their own filth. Not that I have anything against people who support one or the other, but it sometimes bothers me when the world is painted in black and white. Is there no room for the green that will save our planet, the pink that will depopulate the world within three generations, the red menace posed by Hugo Chavez and his friends among the elders of Zion, or the expanses of Antarctic wasteland, redeemed only by the promise of untold oil wealth beneath it's vast snowy tundras?
These are the questions that keep me awake at night.
If anything I've written keeps you awake at night, then I'm really sorry, and I apologize in advance. Sometimes though, it's necessary to lie awake pondering the mysteries of the deep, the celestial secrets, the heavenly vistas of opportunity beckoning to us, calling for hope, for love, for something or other. Or of course you could lose sleeping wondering what I was on. At least it would be useful info.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Truth over consequences (the enigmatic returns)

A couple weeks ago the request went out from Levi Hodakov over at "Send me your hungry, your tired, your bored, waiting to read something funny for this year's Purim edition." Menachem Krinsky, and you should google him, suggested that he'd make a picture of a Rudy Guiliani statue at the WTC site, and I should write the copy. I did. He did. Unfortunately, has the sense of humor of a dead tortoise, so my shtuff wasn't printed. But you can enjoy it here, free of charge. Nice of me, eh?

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation announced today that a giant statue of former New York Mayor Rudolf Guiliani would be placed at the site of the former World Trade Center, which was destroyed on 9/11. Many have welcomed the news, including Osama Bin Laden, considered by many to be the architect of the attack. "This will be a wonderful addition to the site, and will give us an additional target for 9/11 Part 2: The Taliban Strikes Back," said Bin Laden as he received dialysis from one of his 26 wives in a cave somewhere in Afganistan. President George W. Bush echoed the sentiments, adding that he hoped he would soon get a statue at Yankee Stadium of him saving the country by throwing out the first pitch of a World Series game in 2001 . Some opposition to the planned monument has come from Guiliani's second wife, who said that, "New Yorkers the world over deserve to have a statue that isn't bald and unfaithful." The plan is for the statue to be placed on the exact spot where the Mayor single-handedly saved 39 children, directed firefighters into the building, and posed for a picture with a voter from Florida.
The move to put up the statue came after plans to replace the Statue of Liberty with a similar monument to Guiliani were curtailed following suggestions that the hot air filling the statue would cause it to explode within five months. Though the Freedom Tower, the building designed to replace the Twin Towers, will not be complete before 2037 at the earliest, the statue, and an accompanying visitor center describing the Mayor's genius, vision, and expertise, will be completed as soon as possible, due to the great importance attached to it by the public. When notified of the decision by the Corporation, the Mayor said that he "Would be very proud indeed to represent New York to the world with this statue, which will symbolize that as Mayor of 9/11 I fought to keep Democracy alive in the world and am responsible for anything good which has happened to the world since 2001." Guiliani made his remarks at a press conference where he also announced that he would keep campaigning despite John Mccain's already tying up the nomination. The Mayor's spokesman said that no further comment would be forthcoming, though he did promise that the Mayor would be happy to have statues of him placed in other cities, in order that he should be an inspiration to "People of all ages who should know that ordering 5000 body bags is all it takes to achieve greatness."

Purim is Purim, not Easter

You know why I can't stand Christians? No one closes their optical stores on Yom Kippur or Tu B'Shvat, but on Easter? So some crucified guy gets resurrected; does that mean I have to suffer?
Anyway, it was really nice to hear from some of my loyal readers over Purim about what they like and dislike about the blog. For example, some people don't like the fact that I'm not married. Those people are fortunately in a minority. Those of us who were in YOEC for Purim 5765 know what the title of today's entry is all about. All others can justifiably complain that I am often remiss in explaining what exactly is going through my mind. In answer to your question, I'd just like to preface that sometimes it's impossible to fully describe a scene. Just imagine, an entire Yeshiva crowded into a relatively small apartment, listening to the Rosh and one of his Shluchim going head to head about the meaning of Purim. Shmuelie Gourarie said that, "Purim isn't Megillah, or Mishloach Manos, or Yom Kippur, or anything else: Purim is Purim!" Once you've heard Shmuelie say this four or five hundred times a person begins to feel that 1. he's probably right, and 2. would he please shut up now, I have a headache.
And as for Purim in YHSTC? It was fun. We danced, sang, drank, cried, did some stupid things (like break TRS's glasses), and in many other respects treated the day as it is supposed to be treated. Incredibly enough, and here the story gets really strange, life continued on the same as before! Hardly believable? Yes. The truth? Possibly. Perhaps a little later, when I can actually see, I'll have more for you.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Unclean mouth (literally) Edition

Sometimes I wake up and think, "my, it'll be good to brush my teeth, eh?" Yes, I really think like that. Of course, today is one of those days, when teeth cleaning is prohibited by the law, and I'm truly suffering. Since I am having irreparable damage done to me at this time, I think it would be only proper to get all snarky on everyone.
For example: There's a new "Purim Video" that's been put out by Michoel Pruzansky, which features one of the slimiest and snaggiest performances that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. I'm not going to harp on this aspect of the video, because even I must admit that it was well done. No, my real problem is the words, "Im Ani Oseh Mitzva Ani Koneh Olam Habah", "If I do a Mitzva then I acquire the world to come."
One caveat before I savage this-Some genius will probably email me its source in the holy scriptures, or its liturgical roots. So, I'm sorry. This reminds me of when Avraham Fried's CD Chazak came out, and a friend of mine told me that his Rosh Yeshiva (yup, you guessed it, a snag [Skokie, to be precise]) had said that it was ridiculous, as the title song's words, which I won't be writing out thank you very much, were calls to idolatry. How could a Jew make a song like that? The obvious answer was that Duh! it's in Tanach! How could G-d write those words? Besides, it's a nice song.
Oh, right, back to Michoel's music. How terribly snaggy is this attitude that one does Mitzvos in order to gain paradise or something? Such a Christian or Muslim concept. Heck, Pirkei Avos says, "Don't be like a servant who serves his master for reward." Obviously reward and punishment are very important things. Extremely important things. But...In the house that I'm currently calling my abode there is a small child undergoing potty training. Every time she does it right, or maybe it's one a day, or whatever, she gets a lollipop. This works. But if you go to a ten year old and tell them, "Oh, I am so proud of you! You got it all on the toilet!" They would look at you as if you had gone mad. Reward has its place, but to base one's entire performance of G-d's commandments on it?
Why, in general, does G-d want us to keep his Mitzvos? The very simple reason is that... he wants it! Simple, no? We don't know why G-d wants us to keep Kosher, not wear wool and linen together, or even get stoned on Purim; but that's the point. He wants it. And when G-d wants something, you do it, not because of the harp he'll give you when you get to heaven.
Why should you listen to G-d? Because he created you. How do I know he created you? Rabbi Manis Friedman, who recently became the founder of the Yeshiva, came and gave a pep talk to us a couple days ago. After I asked him about Judaism's concept of "original sin" he began to discuss why we were right and the big bang never happened. Oh, and the "original sin" thing? It seems that we're born with the capacity to do evil. That's all. Anyway, what's the problem with the big bang? The problem is first of all not, "Oh, the world is so perfect. Only divine intelligence could make blood, or eyes, or fishies, or whatever." That is a moronic statement, and any scientist who tries to prove G-d's existence by it only proves his own idiocy. Invoking G-d just because you can't fathom something only proves that you can't fathom something; it does not prove the existence of G-d. In twenty years, they'll figure out how these things developed, and then you'll look really stupid.
No, the real proof that there is a G-d comes from the fact that the big bang requires two things to interact. What came before those two things. One thing. Or nothing. Same problem. One thing or nothing don't interact. They don't change. They don't create big bangs. The real question is not how the universe was created, but rather why the universe was created. There must be a desire on the part of one thing, or nothing, to change. Call that desire what you want-I'll call it G-d.
There's a story in one of the holy texts where a Rabbi paints a beautiful picture and then tells the non-believer that a pot of ink fell over and made this wonderful illustration. "Obviously that's not possible!" proclaims the non-believer, and then realizes that the world is a greater canvas than any picture. This story has been misinterpreted, because theoretically, after a certain amount of ink spills, you will get a beautiful picture. The point of the story is that someone has to want to spill that ink.
So once we know that G-d created the world, we ask why. That's the true science, to figure out why this world was created. And the answer? To make a dwelling place for him down here. And how is this accomplished? How do we do what G-d wants? Through our Torah and Mitzvos.
Happy fasting.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Purim's children

Following some recent criticism of certain people, I decided to strike back with the following story, as I heard it from the Rosh (of YOEC). Once he (the Rosh [of YOEC]) went to visit Rabbi Soloveichik in Israel, in the afternoon (don't ask me for more details) and his wife wouldn't let the Rosh into the apartment. The Rosh got in somehow and found the Rabbi sitting behind a curtain with Tallis and Tefillin Davening. The Rosh was shocked! After all, for a Chassid to Daven in the afternoon is no big deal, but a Misnaged? Rabbi Soloveichik explained: The Rambam says that a person is not allowed to Daven when they can't think about Davening, whether it's because they have to go to the bathroom, are hungry, or simply not able to focus. Since the Soloveichiks are known to follow the Rambam, he couldn't Daven until he was ready.
The reason I'm telling this story is because this morning I was quite perturbed by "e" stating categorically that Esther was not in fact Mordechai's niece. I looked it up in many places and it turns out that in fact I was wrong, and Esther was actually his first cousin. The only problem was that I also ended up Davening at 10:00, though of course I answered all the traditional congregational responses. I also discovered that the name "Avichayil" is a guy's name. What kind of parent would name their son Avichayil? Who knows, maybe it was quite a popular boy's name back in the day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Purim and Education

Yeah, hi, sorry I missed yesterday, but I had an appointment with some Irish people. In case you're wondering, nothing too interesting happened on the plane. At least I got to sleep for most of the trip.
I just had a conversation with a loyal reader who mentioned that the Ramah says, in his commentary to the Shulchan Oruch, that one can take a nap on Purim to fulfill the Mitzva of "Ad D'lo Yadah." He also said that the Rabbi he had heard this from was a big fan of this. I responded that the Rebbe had some strong things to say about people who think they can nap on Purim instead of getting unsteady, but I couldn't quite recall the Rebbe's words. Well, I found them, in the Shushan Purim Farbrengen of 1954 (Toras Menachem Vol 11, page 145), and here's the basic gist. Oh, and anytime it says anything controversial, it's not me, it's the Rebbe. Look it up.

The Jewish people's saving by Queen Esther was with Mesiras Nefesh, self-sacrifice. When Esther heard that there was a decree against the Jewish people, she immediately prepared to fight it, even though she was not in any danger herself. Her going to the King to plead for her people was an act that was fraught with danger, and according to Jewish law she was in fact prohibited from risking her life, since the Halacha says that a person must put their own life first.
If Esther had asked a "Misnagdishe Rav" if she was allowed to approach Achashverosh, he (the Rav) would certainly have said that it was forbidden, since a person is not allowed to put their own life in danger to help another. The special Mazel was that Esther did not in fact go and ask a Rabbi, and she didn't ponder whether her actions were allowable according to the law. Once she heard that the Jewish people were threatened she acted in a manner of self-sacrifice.
Where did Esther learn act in this manner? From her (uncle/stepfather/husband/spiritual mentor [look it up, it's in the Gemara]) Mordechai, a Jew who epitomized Mesiras Nefesh. Mordechai was a Chassid, which can be seen from the fact that it was he who decreed that every Jew must drink on Purim until he doesn't know [the difference between good is Mordechai and bad is Haman].
Who else but a Chassid would make such a decree for the ages, that a person has to drink "until he doesn't know?"
In order that Misnagdim should be able to fulfill this Halacha an "out" is given in Shulchan Oruch, that a nap is sufficient. But the truth is that one is supposed to leave their limitations...
Before this law, there was no place in Shulchan Oruch for Ad D'lo Yadah. After all, even by Yom Tov, where Simcha (joy) is mandated, there are guards set up to make sure that nothing gets out of hand. By a Chassid, who is able to break all his personal boundaries, this is not an issue, and therefore Mordechai, who was a Chassid, was able to make this law.
In a Chassidishe household, no one gets excited or scared by the Avodah (lit. the service) of saying L'Chaim on a regular weekday, or by Melavah Malka, and how much more so on Purim.

In the city that my father (Reb Levi Yitzchak Schneerson) was the Rov (Yekatrinoslav, Ukraine), he had many opponents, since he was accustomed to say Chassidus, and he had Chassidishe stringencies in a city of many types of Jews.
Once one of the opponents appeared before the Governor, and complained, that the Jews of the city had picked as Rabbi a man who got drunk and pulled clothes off of people!
The Governor was quite perturbed that such a man had been chosen by the people to be their Rabbi, and he sent an agent to go to Reb Levik's house to find out what exactly was happening there. When the man arrived he found the Rabbi sitting and learning Torah, without a bottle of alcohol on the table, everything in order. The agent wanted to explore the matter further, so he told Reb Levik what had been reported to the Governor, and Reb Levik responded that he had no idea what they were talking about.
At the end of the day, they found out that indeed the report had a basis. On the 19th of Kislev the Chabad Chassidim of the city made a Farbrengen, which went very well. Reb Levik said over much Chassidus, everyone was on a spiritual high, and it went until the wee hours of the morning. It used to be the order among Chassidim, that when they Farbrenged until the wee hours of the morning they would throw off their coats and dance, which is exactly what they did at this Farbrengen too. When the Chassidim saw that one of their number wasn't interested in divesting himself of his upper garment-and this was in the days when Reb Levik had recently returned from Lubavitch, and he wasn't bothered by money worries, and he was spiritually uplifted-he "helped" the Chassid take off his coat, which resulted in the sleeves remaining with Reb Levik and the rest of the coat among all the others present...

To return to our original point: Mordechai taught Esther that when the safety of the Jewish people is at stake one doesn't think about one's own safety but instead acts with self-sacrifice. During the decree Mordechai told Esther that the Jews would fast on Pesach, because when the Jews are in danger one doesn't think of Pesach.
In addition to sacrificing themselves, Mordechai and Esther gathered together 22,000 Jewish children, and caused them to learn Torah with Mesiras Nefesh. Through this self-sacrifice of children, the entire Jewish nation was awakened to also have Mesiras Nefesh, even those who had bowed to Nebuchadnetzer's statue, and benefited from Achashverosh's feast. Not a single Jew even considered leaving his nation, though doing so would have saved him, and through this Mesiras Nefesh over an entire year the decree was nullified.

What's the lesson for us? Some people educate their children to become lawyers, or doctors, or even shoe-shiners. In America there is a phrase, that even a shoe-shiner is something, as even Rockefeller started off as a shoe-shiner and eventually became a rich guy. And if a mother was to send her child to Yeshiva? He would be a Batlan, a waste of time! He wouldn't even be able to polish shoes, since he wouldn't even know how to hold a brush! A mother is scared to send her kid to Yeshiva, because where will his livelihood come from?
The answer? Don't think like this. A person should know that Hashem is the one who gives sustenance to all, and it's not necessary to "help" Him do this. The main thing is to raise your kids in the way of Torah, and through he'll be wealthy, both spiritually and physically. A person shouldn't worry that their neighbor's son has a nicer house, a nice car, that they had another "year in the black".
Rather a mother should send her child to a Melamed, a teacher who doesn't know the country's language, who doesn't even know the name of the current President (for the record, Dwight D. Eisenhower), and who was President before him (Harry S Truman); this Melamed should have a full beard, and he'll be able to bring up the children in Torah and Mitzvos.
This is also applicable to the "Askanim", the community activists, who should use all their strength and power to make sure that every child should have a proper education. Even if this none of this applies to the Askanim themselves, they must learn from Esther, who went with with self-sacrifice despite not being personally threated by Haman's decree. Once she heard that the Jews were in trouble, she made it her trouble also.
So too in our situation; we see that the future of the Jewish people is in doubt, and every person must make it his business to ensure that every child receives a Kosher education. This means that a person must use all his strength, his money, his body, and his soul, in order to help every Jewish child.
Some people make Cheshbonos, they rationalize, thinking that they're too important to involve themselves with education; they think that they should involve themselves with greater things. After all, even a simple person can teach a kid the Alpeh Beis, and the one to collect money for a Cheder or Yeshiva is a Meshulach, a fund-raiser, not important people like them. This is all true, but only in normal times. Now however, when a "fire" is raging, may Hashem protect us, there is no place for "conventions" to decide who's responsibility it is to put out the fire. Every single person is obligated to do everything in their power to put it out.
Some people think that they've done enough, and now it's someone else's responsibility. The answer to this is that a person was born to work, as it says in Job, meaning that there is no rest in this world. In order to help the soul, which is in constant suffering due to its placement in the body, a person needs to work all the time. When a person is working, then the soul's suffering is justified; if a person is not doing anything, then the soul is suffering needlessly! Not only must a person himself work, but he has to make his friend work too, specifically in the field of education.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More on Monday

That's pretty explanatory, right? My only question is, what's worse? To pick up the phone and tell people that you're sorry, you can't do 'em a favor, or to just ignore their phone calls? I feel guilty doing both. That must explain why I've felt guilty the past couple days. For various unexplained reasons, I'm not able to help several people, and I feel kind of bad about it. The good news is that I spent a lot of other people's money on stuff for them, so I don't feel too bad. Hey, at least I'm a Beinoni of BMG, right?
The other good news is that tonight I got takeout from a Persian restaurant, Kolbeh, and after waiting for ten minutes the manager person poured all of us waiting customers some wine to keep us happy. I thought that was pretty classy. Plus they give gigantic portions. I'm being serious here-one meal there could feed thirty French cooks for a week. The food isn't incredibly innovative, but it's good and solid, which is always nice.
Oh well, you've wasted another perfectly good two minutes reading my tired rambling, and I'd just like to say, once and for all, that I am not getting engaged anytime soon. Zalmen Friedman claims I'll do it in the middle of next year, and I'm not saying it won't happen, but for now? Unless something really strange happens on the plane tomorrow morning, I should be safe. Of course, the last guy who said that was married in six weeks. Ahh, sleep-induced stupidity, it's almost as good as some of the liberal shtuff my relative's say when they're feeling particularly anti-Bush.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Quacks of Long Island

As you will know from my previous post, I'm currently enjoying the many delights of New York. Not that a crane falling down and killing four people is in any way delightful, but it does provide a modicum of interesting table-talk when you get bored of politics.
In other news, and sadly enough there really isn't any, everyone I met in 770 on Shabbos is convinced I'm getting engaged. First of all, I'm not. Sorry. Second of all, Yossi Kagan, a former Shliach and current friend of mine, made a good point. Back in the day, no one ever wondered why a Bochur was in Crown Heights for the weekend. It was obvious; he had come to see the Rebbe. And now? Because of our many sins, the situation is reversed, and I'm suddenly a suspicious character. Truth is, I probably didn't help too much by responding to everyone's query's as to the purpose of my visit with a, "I'm not quite sure." While this was certainly an entertaining answer it also left open the possibility that I was in the big apple for ulterior motives. This is certainly not the case. I am as clean as a whistle. Please, you must believe me. No one else will.
I also just finished a speed read of Naomi Ragen's (relatively) new book, "The Saturday Wife." I wouldn't recommend it for anyone with simple faith and a clean mind, but it is extremely funny. It's also extremely anti-something, but I'm not actually sure what that something is. Male dominated Judaism? Yeah. G-d? Possibly. Over-consumption? Capitalism? The world in general?
Perhaps it's simply the hypocrisy that is part of all our lives. No person that I know of has not made compromises in their lifestyle. How else would one manage to live? Some of these compromises are undoubtedly bad ones, but that doesn't mean that the people who make them are necessarily bad. Just normal.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shylock of New York

As everyone knows, I'm a big fan of telling the whole truth. So, in the interests of truth, I'll now lay bare my soul. Sounds exciting, eh? I am currently in NY, why I'm not quite sure, but it's not too bad. This morning on the flight my row was full until the woman in the aisle moved one row back. The guy in the middle (I of course sat by the window) didn't move over! It was pretty strange. Not that I mind or anything, of course, though it did make Davening a little more difficult than it could have been. Overall though I managed to serve my creator with love and fear, so everything turned out all right in that department.
The first time I Davened on a plane was when I flew from Minnesota to Seattle, by way of Salt Lake City, a few weeks after 9/11. The couple ahead of me said that they were very happy that there was someone praying throughout the flight.
The next time I Davened, though this time it was in the airport, was in Atlanta, Georgia on a stopover from Fort Lauderdale to MSP. While I was in the middle of Davening a couple of Airtran gate attendants came over and asked me to stop, because it was scaring some people, and perhaps I could go to the chapel, which was about nine billion gates away. I said I'd sit down and try not to make a ruckus, and they left me alone after that. Later on I wished I had given them a speech about Leo Frank, my ancestors dying in the Holocaust, and antisemitism in general, but of course that was only later.
In general, I prefer not Davening on planes, simply because it's a pain. Today, however, I was a man, and I'm sure that you're all very proud. Thanks. no, really, I appreciate it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Truth in advertising

Now is the time for all good men to stand up and be counted. In connection with this important dictum, I recently had a lengthy phone call with a close friend of mine. It segued nicely between topics, and the one which dominated most of our talking was the subject of happiness. We came to the conclusion that all is void, and decided to end it all in a spectacular fireworks display later this month in Cancun. Only thing is, we don't have the money, so it might have to be scaled down.
Actually, of course I'm kidding. What's life if you can't joke around a bit or something? The point of mankind in general, and the Jewish nation in particular, is to make a dwelling place for G-d down here. This is truly the only justification for anyone's continued existence on this green earth of ours. Otherwise, what is the point exactly? Pleasure it surely ain't. Though most of us spend our lives pursuing pleasure, it's pretty fleeting anyway. Dennis Prager would have it that goodness is what we should all be seeking, but even this is, well, possibly true in some way or other. What's the point of life? To be remembered in the future? The easiest way of doing that is to found a major world religion, commit a truly horrific crime (possibly the same thing), or become monarch of a major world power. Truth is that there is no guarantee of immortalization. So the point of living isn't remembrance in the future. And pleasure now? Vapid. Heck, serving G-d because you want eternal paradise is also meaningless. Is that all you are, a bundle of cells that demand bliss at every moment? Wake up and smell the coffee buddy, you're here because. In what manner that "because" manifests itself is between you and your pet cat.
In other news, I'm happy to report that last night while I was walking home from Yeshiva it smelled like spring. It's such a difficult sensation to pin down, because I'm not exactly sure what the symptoms are. Be that as it may, spring has decidedly sprung and now we can all rejoice in the May flowers. Oh, it's only March? More snow is expected? Bah, humbug!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Today is the day

Today is the fifth Yahrtzeit of Eli Dorfman Z"L. I just felt you should know.
In other news, VIN, along with virtually every other news source, has come out strongly against Governor Spitzer of New York for his indiscretions. The Governor himself offered no excuses for his behavior. Is there only one side to this story? I guess that sometimes, you just make a mistake, even a very big one, and that's that.
Can we learn a lesson in Avodas Hashem from this sordid tale? I'd like to add, so that I don't seem so self-righteous, that I was once going to a hockey game (Rangers 3 Wild 2 F/OT) with Levi Feller, and his father Rabbi Moshe Feller, head of Upper Midwest Merkos, was giving us a ride to Xcel Energy Center. He (the Rabbi) asked us, "What lesson can be learned out from the game of hockey?" As I recall, our answer was rather generic and therefore pitiful, and I really can't think of a good one now either. Perhaps if anyone has any suggestions?
Anyway, as I was saying, what can the Spitzer case teach us? Pride cometh before the fall? Obviously. Don't do stupid things? How about, "How about don't do anything which you wouldn't want your children to find out about?" That sounds pretty good. Mr. Spitzer violated all three of these principles, and probably many more too. Of course, him main sin was getting caught. One can only imagine the glee on the Feds' faces when they realized who had walked into their wiretap.
And the poor guy is only 48. He could live for another 40 years with the knowledge that he messed up royally. Yes, always weigh your actions against their potential consequences, and if preaching is necessary, then at least make a self-deprecating joke when it's all over so that everyone will know that the pretension they've just read is only a superficial facade covering up a truly kind, caring, and slightly intelligent inner character.

Monday, March 10, 2008


As you well know, I try and learn about upcoming holidays. Usually I start sixty days in advance, because of the rule of "Shloshim Yom Kodim Lifnei Hachag", which means that thirty days before thirty days before the festival you should take things to extremes and immerse yourself in G-d. Or something like that. Anyway, the Almighty Editor asked a question on Purim. What exactly was the great Mesiras Nefesh of the Jewish people that saved them from the decree of the wicked Haman? According to the books, the reason the Jews were not exterminated was because of their great faith, that not a single one even thought about converting during the entire year leading up to Purim, despite their knowledge of the upcoming massacre that was planned. The Almighty Editor asks though, what's the big deal? Haman was dead and buried for most of the year anyway!
The thought occurred to me that we might be able to compare this to the situation the United States found itself in following President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination in 1963, or his brother Robert's in 1968. Imagine if Barack Hussein Obama was to be assassinated? You'd have the Rodney King riots times ten within twenty minutes. The country would go crazy. The anger of the proletariat would sweep through the states, killing the bourgeois within minutes.
Now let's go back to the streets of Shushan so many years ago. Haman is killed, and his loyal followers are angry. No, that's an understatement. They seethed with the burning rage of a thousand suns, compelled to exact vengeance on their mortal enemies, wiping out the Jews like vermin at a pest-control convention. So yeah, the Jews had reason to be afraid. Sure, everyone knew that the King's wife was a Jewess herself, but that would only inflame the populace. That the Jews kept their faith was extraordinary.
Does this answer the question? Possibly. Or possibly not.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Amalek and Mivtzoyim

This week is Shabbos Parshas Zechor, commemorating the vicious attack on the Jewish people by the hordes of Amalekites. This reminds me of an interesting conversation that I had with a couple of guys on Mivtzoyim once. It started out all nice and shtuff, but it soon turned into an argument over the validity of our holy Torah itself. They started talking about the various theories regarding authorship of the bible, and I told them that it was all the word of G-d. They said, "How could you say that? Don't you know that the Torah has some terrible stuff in it, like the commandment to wipe out all of Amalek? Obviously that doesn't come from a kind and merciful G-d. It must be that the Torah has multiple authors." I responded that this was of course ludicrous. They said, "What do you mean? The portion commanding Jews to exterminate Amalek is in Deutronomy! Everyone knows that Deutronomy is bogus." It's a good thing I learned my Bar-Mitzvah Parsha, because I was able to tell them that virtually the same command is found in Exodus. They didn't believe me, but I showed it to them. Then they asked, "Oh, so would you really kill all the Amalekites?" I said that of course I would, after all G-d commanded me too. They started to curse me out for being so evil, so I said, quite calmly, "Wait, who's screaming right now? It's not me." That shut them up, and thery called a taxi and fled.
Cute story, eh?
The point is that we have an obligation to wipe out our enemies. It's a pity the Israeli government is made up of a bunch of pansies and Chareidim, because any normal country would have wiped out its enemies a long time ago, instead of allowing them to randomly kill their citizens. The really sick thing is that some of the Chareidim are saying that Merkaz Harav deserved to have eight of its students die, because they're Zionist. Isn't that sickening? What do you do with people like that? Even if you don't agree with someone's politics, is that reason to hate? Just because I don't happen to like what my next-door neighbor's politics doesn't mean that I don't like him personally; how much more so when we're talking about our fellow Jews, people who died for the sanctification of G-d's name? I just don't get it.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Rabbi Nachman Wilhelm told us, the Shluchim at YHSTC, a nice story. So here goes. As everyone knows, the eating of the egg and onion dish on Shabbos is extremely important. The Divrei Chaim of Sanz had an odd custom. When it came time for this special part of the meal, eggs and onions would be brought out, and the Rebbe himself would prepare the dish; cracking, peeling, and mashing the eggs, and peeling, cutting, and dicing the onions, doing all that was necessary to make eggs and onions (I'm not sure what his recipe was exactly, but I assume that he was classy and didn't use mayo).
Once a Misnaged came for Shabbos, and observing this strange performance asked, "Why are you doing this yourself? Aren't you aware that the laws of preparing food on Shabbos are extremely complex? Wouldn't it be better for the kitchen staff to do this?" The Divrei Chaim responded, "That's exactly why I do it myself, to make sure that the preparations are done correctly."
The next week, a Chassidishe guy came to visit, and he too was perplexed by the behavior of the Rebbe. He asked, "Why do you bother yourself to prepare the eggs and onions? Wouldn't it be easier to just have the people in the kitchen do it for you?"
The Rebbe answered, "Do you know of the incredible things that go on in heaven when the eggs and onions are made? I want to do this myself, because it's so great."
The next week a simple Jew came to to town, and he also wondered. Again the Rebbe was asked why he bothered, and this time, he answered, "You know, there's only one way to really make a good egg and onion dish, and I want to make sure that it comes out right, so I do it myself."

What's the point? The Rebbe got the same question three times, and he answered it in three different ways. When a Rebbe does something, and he says a reason, that's not necessarily the only reason. In fact, there are probably many reasons for his behavior. Just because you don't know them, or he didn't tell you, doesn't mean they don't exist. And if you're dumb enough to go against the Rebbe, then you better be prepared to suffer the consequences. (OK, so Rabbi Wilhelm didn't exactly say that last bit, but it was implied).

In response to what happened yesterday in Jerusalem, what can I say? Yeah, it's terrible. Yeah, the Israeli government will do nothing about it. What else is there to say?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

J. Immanuel...Education (Warning, pretension ahead)

Last night J. Immanuel Shochet, brother of everyone's favorite Rosh Yeshiva, the Rosh, at the Semple Mansion, a truly beautiful old house in Minneapolis. The event was put on by Chabad of Minneapolis, which is probably pretty fitting. I'm not going to give you a full rundown of the speech, because A. it would take too much time, and B. just learn Tanya, and a couple other Sefarim. The genius of a great speaker is that they are able to take the esoteric wisdom and distill it into something that someone with no knowledge can not only appreciate but find practical. There was nothing the Rabbi said last night that I didn't know; what he has that I don't (besides age, a lot of knowledge, and a white beard)is the ability to teach.
Anyway, this segues nicely into a topic that inflamed me last night (actually, early this morning) and I wrote three pages of loose leaf so that I shouldn't forget it until today.

What is the most important thing in education? A child's attitude. This is self-evident, because if a kid wants to learn they'll learn everywhere, and if they don't want to learn, then they won't learn anywhere. Since I'm a Shliach in Yeshiva, this post will refer to a Bochur's situation, but I think that my point applies to any situation (man, this is sounding pompous). What is just as important as a bochur's attitude? His parent's attitude. When a parent brings his kid to a Lubavitvh Yeshiva, what does the parent want the kid to accomplish there? For what reason are they paying the Yeshiva to shape their son? I believe that if a parent enrolls their son in a Chabad institution, and their intent is not for the son to become a Shliach, then they've done a grave disservice to not only their kid but the school in general.
Is it possible for every single Bochur to one day become a Shliach? No. Should every Bochur want to become a Shliach? Yes. There's a dictum in the Talmud, that one thousand (1000) students come in, and one (1) leaves a scholar. Did the other nine hundred and ninety nine (999) waste their time? Of course not. Because in order to have that one Torah genius come out, you need to have the full one thousand go in. More importantly, all one thousand should come in with the desire to be that one Torah genius, even if realistically they know that only one of their number will exit a scholar.
There's a famous story of a Lubavitcher Chassid on a train in Stalinist Russia who saw a KGB man eying him, and then getting up to have a "conversation" with him. The Chassid wasn't too interested in having a "conversation" with the agent, so he got up and left the car. The KGB man followed. The Chassid quickened his pace, and so did the KGB man. Soon they were both running, the Chassid staying just a few feet ahead. Eventually they came to the end of the car, and the Chassid, having no choice, jumped out of the speeding train. Unfortunately (for him), the KGB man jumped off too. The Chassid realized that the game was up, but he wanted to know one thing. "Why this great urge to get me? Why did you put your life on the line in order to speak to me?" The KGB man answered, "I was once a Lubavitcher like you. I too once studied in Tomchei Tmimim. Ever since then I've hated all Chassidim, because of the tremendous guilt that the Yeshiva instilled in me."
The moral of the story? A Lubavitch Yeshiva needs to inspire guilt in their students. What should the guilt be? That there is only one way to live life, to be a Shliach of the Rebbe.
My complaint here is not against the Bochurim; it's against their parents who don't want this life for their children. If a Bochur comes into Yeshiva not wanting to be A Shliach when he grows older, then I can deal. But if he's supported in this by his parents? What hope does the Yeshiva have?
Take me for example. I came into Mesifta, to high school, with the assumption that in three or four years I would go to college. By the time I was finished Mesifta I had decided to go to Zal for a year, and then go to college. By the time I was finished that first year of Zal I had decided to go on Shlichus. That first year in Zal was obviously extremely formative, but just as obviously it was based on the education I had received the previous three years in Mesifta. At this point, I've gotten over (some) of my youthful idealism, and I realize that going on Shlichus may not be the right thing for me. But I still definitely want to do it. I will still feel guilty if I don't do it.
The point is, what do you do with a kid when his own parents don't support this ideal? I'm the exception, not the rule when it comes to this. On the one side I was pushed to go to university, but on the other side I was encouraged to stay in Yeshiva for as long as possible and eventually go and do the Rebbe's work. Even with that one side pushing me to opt for college, I always knew that I'd be supported with whatever decision I chose. But again, my situation is unique, and I've seen way too many kids never want Shlichus and consequently never do amount to anything in Yeshiva.
The big question becomes, what do you tell these parents? "Sorry, this Yeshiva isn't right for your son" works for some schools, but what about a school for "at-risk" kids? Where else can a kid go? And even if this school exists, where the goal is not to mold young men into fighters in the Rebbe's army, can this school truly call itself "Lubavitch"? I understand a school where this is only official policy, but to have a school which doesn't even aspire to this ideal?
Will every kid become a Shliach? No. Should every kid become a Shliach? No. Can every kid become a Shliach? No. Should every kid aspire to become a Shliach? Yes. I'm not asking for every kid to come into Yeshiva wanting to be a Shliach; it's the job of the Yeshiva to inculcate this feeling in him. If the parent is spending $15,000 for the Yeshiva to effect this change, then great. But if a father drops his kid off at school wanting that kid to become a lawyer or doctor, then what exactly is the point?
Should the answer to these parents be, "Put your son in a Litvish or Modern-Orthodox school"? Is that the only option? Obviously, we don't want this Bochur to poison all the other Bochurim. And I know that there are exceptions. Heck, I'm one of them. And of course, every situation is special. Every Bochur is special. And that's why we need the parents to be on the Yeshiva's side, and the Yeshiva to be on the Rebbe's side. I know that the Rebbe supported trade schools, but these are not meant to replace Mesiftas, or even Zals. All I'm asking is that every Bochur be given the chance, and I guarantee that you'll be happily surprised with the results.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bigger and better things

I just heard a nice vort from everyone's favorite dean, Rabbi Mordechai Friedman, about Jewish music versus non-Jewish music. Benny Friedman recently sang at a concert in California, and his brother Eli, Shliach in Calabasas and producer of the concert, got a letter from a congregant, which went something like this:

Dear Rabbi, thanks so much for inviting me to the concert, it was really great, Benny sounded even better than he did last time I heard him. Incidentally, I really feel that my love for Hashem has increased [due to the concert].

The point? Benny did not sing about love of Hashem, and yet his concert had the power to cause a person to come closer to their father in heaven. Listening to goyishe music does not necessarily cause a person to frie out, but it can certainly have that affect. And no one would say that attending a Jewish concert would cause someone to frie out, while no one would say that attending a goyishe concert would increase a person's frumkeit. Will these things definitely occur? Of course not. But can they help? Certainly.
And what about frum people singing not-Jewish music? Don't ask me.

In other news, Rabbi Nachman Wilhelm told me yesterday that I was a pea-brained Lubavitcher. In my defense, the offense I was accused of wasn't actually perpetrated by me. Not that I'm not a pea-brained Lubavitcher of course, but at least this time I'm not guilty. Rabbi Wilhelm's point was that if there's anything a person would be ashamed to do in front of a misnaged, then he shouldn't do it ever. In fact, if a person bashes misnagdim it's because they have low self-esteem as Lubavitchers, and the only way they can put themselves up is by putting others down. Fine, so it's pretty basic shtuff, but still important to hear every once in a while. Of course, if a person is bashing them just for fun, then it's probably OK. (Right).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Today is Chuf Zayin Adar, the 27th of Adar, the day when the Rebbe had two strokes, the first in 1992, the second in 1994. It's funny, or sad, depending on how you look at it, but neither the modern rendition of Hayom Yom, nor the book "Days in Chabad" mention it. Why is it okay to make a big deal of Gimmel (3) Tammuz, the day of the Rebbe's passing, but not today? Who knows. The point is, today is an auspicious day.
I remember when it happened originally. I was playing at the Litvin's house, which was across the street from my own, in Mequon, Wisconsin. Jay Litvin Z'L (is that really snaggy?), my friends' father, received a phone call, and suddenly announced that he was going to Lubavitch House in Milwaukee (actually, I think it's in Bayside, but no matter) to say Tehillim for the Rebbe. I remember going home soon after, not really understanding what was going on. Two and a bit years later was Gimmel Tammuz, and I recall playing in the sunroom on a Sunday morning, and my mother coming to the door, looking very sad, and telling me that the Rebbe had passed away. I felt sad, momentarily, and then thought, "Um, okay, that's terrible, but what does it have to do with me?"
It's not like I'm one of these kids who never saw the Rebbe. Though I don't remember it, I have several dollars that I received from the Rebbe. But I really don't have any memories of the Rebbe himself. What'll be in five years, when most Bochurim will have been born after Gimmel Tammuz? I don't know. Of course, Moshiach will come, so I won't have to know.
You know, it really seems like a copout to say something like that. And in truth, it is wrong. The Friedriker Rebbe would tell people to build Shuls, schools, and various other communal edifices. One puzzled Chassid once asked, "What's the point? After all, Moshiach is going to come soon, and all my hard work will be for naught." The Rebbe answered, and of course I paraphrase, that firstly, hard work never goes for naught. Secondly, everything we build now will come to Israel when Moshiach comes. And thirdly, and most importantly (I think), a person can't abdicate responsibility. You have to work, build, pray, learn, accomplish, everything that is within your capability, and also shtuff which is beyond you, because that's your mission.
Obviously, at the end of the day, times are hard. There is no one voice of Judaism anymore. While all this may be true, it's also wasteful. Feeling that "woe is me" and therefore removing ones self from the task at hand is the work design of the devil himself.

All right, enough preaching for today. The question I raised at the beginning still remains. Why exactly is 27 Adar not written up in the official histories of Chabad? Is it because the people writing the history did a miserable job? I'm just throwing the possibility out there.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Moral Equivalency

Last night I was reading a book by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky and it reminded me of something that I heard from Rabbi Manis Friedman a couple of weeks ago.
He (R. M. Friedman) was once teaching at Bais Chana and one of the girls, who was a J for J, was arguing with him for hours. Eventually, he disproved everything that she said, and was waiting for her to give in. She didn't. He asked why. (She said he said, right?). She responded that she was afraid, because the people told her that if a Christian-type person ever left the faith then they would burn forever in the fiery pits of hell, or something like that. R. M. Friedman asked her, "Have you ever seen the curses in the Torah?" She hadn't, so he showed them to her. She was shocked. What kind of loving G-d was this? Rabbi Friedman explained, first quoting the the famous story of the Mitteler Rebbe's fainting when he heard the curses read on Shabbos, and later explaining that when his father read the Torah, he didn't hear curses.
What's the reason for this? When a son hears his father speaking negatively, even cursing, he knows that it's really all love. That's why Jews hear all the curses in the Torah, and instead of getting all scared they go and eat by the Kiddush. Why? Because they know that it's their father cursing.
The girl became Frum.
In response to yesterday's response to the shtuff I wrote, I'd like to say that if anyone was hurt then I'm sincerely sorry. All I was trying to say was that the only reason the Israelis have any right to go into Gaza or the West Bank and ethnically cleanse is because G-d gave them that right. Obviously a Muslim or Christian can say the same thing as their excuse for wiping out people. Heck, the Nazis said the same thing. And look, everyone hates them. Is this justified? Probably. But just because we've taken the moral high ground doesn't mean that we are in actuality any more moral than anyone else. We believe we are. But that's only our opinion.
That's all I was trying to say.

Wouldn't it be fun if someone graduate student at Harvard, Yale, Touro, or any other local community college chanced upon this blog and used it as proof that religious Jews are having second thoughts about being racist thugs? Would that not be the height of hilarity? So, in response to this potential (and imagined) charge, I'd just like to say that I fully support the destruction of the Palestinian people. Man, that sounds so evil. Nu Nu.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Gaza, the right of return, and Noam Chomsky (Keywords rock, huh?)

So everyone hates Israel now. What's new? The people who have been persecuted for thousands of years are now being persecuting others. How horrific. Almost makes you want to join the Neturei Karta or something, huh? What's my justification for continuing to support the Zionist entity?
I don't really know if I have one. I don't really know if I need one. The Rebbe often said that it would be better for everyone, Jew and Arab alike, if Israel would just set its borders, stick to 'em, and make sure that everyone knew that its official policy would now be a no-nonsense one. Will this ever happen? I'm not going to say it's impossible, chiefly because my voice-recognition software isn't functioning too well today, but it sure ain't happening anytime soon.
And as Jews in America, what do we do? Is it really justified force when the IDF kills 70 natives just because one Israeli died? Is it more morally reprehensible to murder a father of four than a mother of two? Is not all human life sacred?
The answer, of course, is that not only is my blood redder than yours, but that saying, or even thinking something like that makes you sound like a Nazi. And what was wrong with the Nazis anyway? All right, so they killed six million Jews, and a whole heck of a lot of other people. And they're all burning eternally in the fiery pits of the damned regions that were previously inhabited by Cossacks, Benedictine Monks, and wine reviewers? Did they even have wine reviewers back in the day? Probably. Point is, as someone who's been reading Noam Chomsky's formative anti-semitic writing lately, the question certainly poses itself.
If we do accept the basic premise that we're a bunch of heartless genocidalists, and that we've finally found something good to write about, what will we do about it? Will we live with this hypocrisy, and urinate on those who fought to end all wars, or should we do something about it? When the Jews failed miserably to wipe out the seven Caananite tribes, were there any bleeding heart liberals who were happy? Are (by now presumably dead) blood-less liberals ever happy? Fine, so even I know that dead men rarely interrupt their turning over in their graves to smile, but how about their still living, if fading fast, compatriots? Have you ever seen Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama smile? Have you ever seen them tell the truth?
The same questions could of course be asked of John Mccain and Mike Huckabee, not to mention any and every single person on G-d's green earth, but right now I'm trying to avoid existentialism and focus instead on the here and now, not the then and there. Is paradise achievable? Will our children grow up in a world with only the most basic rudiments of common sense and ozone?
As the great Ira Heller would say, "We are all Ohel's children." We all have responsibility. Where exactly that extends is anyone's guess.
How many cliches would it take to resurrect a badly-written article? What we really need is someone to stand up and say, "It's my fault." The last guy who did that crucified. Oh, sorry, I'm confusing the guy whose followers claim resurrection for the other guy, the one who never existed but still wrote some pretty smart things, quite unlike those that I'm exposing you too.
At the end of the day...G-d did say to wipe out the Amalekites. So let's get cracking. (Skulls I mean). Sound like fun?