Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sun dreams

A friend of mine recently told me that I should blog about solar energy, because the Rebbe was very for it. I told him that I really didn't know anything about solar energy, and anyway, there's so much the Rebbe wanted us to work on, why spend time on this one issue? He responded that ignorance is no excuse, and my second reason was little better, so I decided to ponder the subject and let the spirits guide my fingers.
There's this big ball up in the sky that has some massive fusion going on. It's called "The Sun". According to the Rambam, it, along with everything else in the universe, circles planet Earth. How to explain this to your average non-fundamentalist? The first option is Einstein's special theory of relativity, which says that when two things are flying around each other it's impossible to ever know which one is going around. So according to dear old (currently dead) Albert, the sun could very well be flying merrily around the earth. The models to make all the other planets happy, not to mention gravity, are a bit sketchy, but still possible.
Taking this theory further would be the notion that everything is the way science currently envisions it, but that a look on the outside would confirm that indeed earth was the center, pegged, as it were, in the middle of a vast box (or ball, if you're so inclined), so that while the earth would appear to be traveling around the sun in actuality the opposite would be occurring. Since neither of these positions are, by definition, provable, they are also not unprovable, and therefore you may as well believe in them as in any other crackpot ideas.
Moving onto how the sun can help us. As I've blogged about several times before, I'm a huge fan of the sun and the light it provides billions of humans, almost every day, free of charge. One of the problems is harnessing that light to work for you and me. Since I know close to nothing about this particular horse race, I won't offer any particular solutions, but I will say (write) that I'm all for anything that breaks our dependency on foreign oil (President George W. Bush paid me to say {write} that).
Truth is, I'm a big believer in A. Laissez Faire economics, and B. Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence. the first resulted in the Great Depression, while the second resulted in basically everything else. Yeah, let the market decide, and if it can't make up its mind then why should I get involved?
For our last little ramble about the sun (that was a rather pedestrian double entendre), I'd like to point out that nuclear energy, however it's pronounced, is also quite fun. Same goes for disturbing moose habitat in ANWR and building lots of dirty coal power plants in developing nations like Biafra, Rhodesia, and the Republic of Texas.
And that friends, is all the news that isn't (much like Biafra).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Horns of the Altar

As you are probably well aware, the reason I haven't posted anything in the last few days is because it was Pesach. And yeah, it was pretty good. On Friday night I managed to stay up until 5:15, which was good enough to fulfill Hayom Yom's request. In previous years I never made it past two or three, but thank G-d I was dumb enough this time around to make it happen. The seventh of Pesach is one of three nights when we skip the sleep, but it's pretty inferior to the other two. Actually, depending on how you look at it, it's superior. On the night of Shavous we stay up and read the Tikkun, which usually takes three or four hours. Once you've finished that it's off to the Mikve, with a quick taste of cheesecake if you're lucky. Or, if you're in Yeshiva in LA and your friend has keys to the kitchen, it's more like a whole meal at 4:00 AM, not that I have any idea what that means (wink wink). On Hoshana Raba we also stay up, this time reading Devarim before midnight and the book of Tehillim afterwards. No cheesecake on this night, but at least you get apples and honey (is this a purely Minnesota custom? I have absolutely no idea). Pesach, on the other body appendage, has no set learning schedule. Sure, you're supposed to learn, but seriously folks, does anyone actually think people are gonna learn? Now watch me get a bunch of self-righteous comments from people who claim to have spent their time wisely. As I wrote earlier, this lawlessness does have its advantages. No one need feel guilty for not completing a quota, and one is free to participate in a highly intellectual discussion, or just to crack nuts. Oh yeah, that was another problem this year. Since it was Shabbos, and nutcrackers are forbidden, we had no pecans, almonds, Brazil nuts, or any other types of nuts. Tragic when you think about it. Nevertheless, I made it, and I'm sure you're all very proud.
Moving right along to Sunday, I'm happy to report that I fulfilled R' Dovid Raskin's instructions to a "T" and did Tahalucha in rain, snow, and hail. For those of you who don't know what Tahalucha is, let me explain. Basically, the Rebbe encouraged his Chassidim (mainly Bochurim) to walk (on Yom Tov) and spread both the light of Chassidus and Chassidic joy to Shuls both near and far. As it happens, there's only one destination for us Chassidim ( mainly Bochurim {that could be a rock group [on second thought, most short phrases could, and probably have been, names of rock groups]}) (nice, I scored a trifecta), and that is Beis Yisroel in S. Louis Park. It's nearly ten miles away, and as I mentioned, we had some foul weather to contend with. Nevertheless, we persevered, and got to spend the Moshiach Seudah with our Lithuanian friends, which is always fun. Why you ask? Well, for starters, we get buzzed on Rashi wine, and Matza's last heroic gasp is always a moving experience. Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff, a future Gadol Hador (I'm not joking), was as always quite welcoming.
So you're wondering why I'm not roasting these Snags on a pomegranate branch over an open pit deep in the heart of Texas? First of all, I'm not deep in the heart of anything, least of all Texas. Second of all (what's with the "of all"?), I don't have it in my heart to curse out people I know personally.
And I have it in my heart to curse out people I don't know personally? Of course. Anyway, as I've explained before, I'm not cursing out people, their personalitys, or their actions, just their excesses. I'd do the same for Chabad, but we have none.
Once again, I'm only kidding. Like Hershel Tzig before me though, I find so much Chabad-bashing in the world, and even in (especially in?) Chabad itself, that my voice added to the fray would be of little use to anyone. There are problems, sure, but why harp on them?
Continuing yesterday's biography, last night was clean up. It's one of the few times on Pesach that I wish we went to a hotel. But as I say, it's only a few times, and anyways, it's all over now, so let's get on with this real-life thing. Yeah!
(Nothing like melodrama to end a night off, right?)

Friday, April 25, 2008


Not that I enjoy tooting my own horn or anything, but I would like to point out that I got a 7.2 rating on Blogged.com. It's not Chaim Rubin's 8.1, but I'll take it. Perhaps he edits his posts. I almost never do, which is something y'all may have noticed. Why not? I'm too lazy. Anyway, I get sick of reading my stuff. Perhaps if I wrote better the first time? Interesting (the faithful ellipsis)... Of course, it's nice to reach 200 posts, but it's unfortunate that I really don't have too much to write on this momentous occasion.

Onto bigger and better things. Actually, they're rather trivial and petty things, but if you write it they will read it, so why not? I've been thinking about updating my user-profile again. All right, this subject goes beyond the trivial and moves over into the "who cares?" part. But still, it's important. Amazing. I just wrote that it's inane and then immediately followed by saying that it's important. What's up with that?
Oh yeah, the user-profile. Who do I put in the "Favorite Music" category? Sure, I just updated it, but there's at least another four or five guys on the edge. MBD, Ohad, Shloime Gertner, Dudu Fisher, 8th Day, and even Yossi Green all have music that I like a lot. But does that mean that they should merit to go on my coveted list? How about Benny Friedman?
Oh, the joy of realizing that what I put up on here makes not the slightest bit of difference to anyone. One of the benefits of putting up names is that it links you to all other bloggers with those names. As is to be expected, most of the Avraham Fried fans are in Brooklyn, while Yosef Karduner seems to have a more eclectic crowd of aging Breslovers. Does the word "aging" not sound very nice? Well, it's true for all of us (I assume), and anyway, it was the only quality I could extrapolate from the group. Some of the people are pretty weird. But then again, everyone looks weird when viewed through the blogger prism. We all have embarrassing secrets that have shaped who we are, and yet are too private to reveal. It's like reading the last chapter of a book first, knowing what happened but not knowing how it all ended up like that. Other people reveal way too much about themselves. Sometimes it's interesting, but usually it's extraneous.
OK, I'll add all those guys to my list of favorite musicians. It can't hurt, right? Besides, for some reason, it makes a blog look more interesting when it has plenty of things on the user-page.
Speaking of music, don't think for a second that I'm not bummed about this whole Sefirah thing. Sure, it happens every year, but it's painful to think that for a month I won't be able to listen to music. I'm not even so sure about the benefits of Lag Baomer, because it's just a teaser. Would it be better to not have any hiatus in six weeks? Possibly. Of course I'm not complaining about the religion or anything. Heaven Forfend. It just seems a little rough, that's all. As for Sefirah music...Don't even get me started. In one of the few good jokes Mendy Pellin made in the last year, he said that they're torturing terrorists in Guantanamo Bay with Sefirah Music. Of course, it's not true, because the US Constitution doesn't allow us to punish people in cruel and unusual ways.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

OK Sentiments

Continuing the traditional Chol Hamoed family outing extravaganza, today we went to the Science Museum of Minnesota. Unfortunately, we only had about an hour and a half, but that was the amount of time it took to cover the one exhibit we had come to see anyway, so that was all right. The exhibit was "Deadly Medicine", and it deals with the the Nazi involvement with eugenics. Basically, they needed excuses to kill Jews, seeing as the religion they didn't believe obviously wouldn't work, so they got science to take over. 11 million people later...
The Rebbe always stressed that culture, art, science, the refinement in general of mankind, was no defense against the basest of human urges.
There were a lot of high-school students, mainly Asian and Somalian kids, at the exhibit. Some of them slowly went through it, piece by piece, taking care to read every placard and watch every video, while others went through it quickly, not bothering to pay too much attention. As one of the only obvious Jews present I felt a curious responsibility to see the whole thing. I also felt that it was important for all these students, many of whom have no European connection, to see someone who is somehow connected.
Seeing as it's really late, and I'm once again really tired, and I really don't have too much else to write, well, I guess that'll be all for now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Here's you go

In the most recent issue of the Nshei Chabad Newsletter there is an interesting editorial from Rishe Deitsch. By the way, the newsletter is the best English-language Lubavitch publication out there, with Beis Moshiach in second. You're right, there aren't too many English-language Lubavitch publication out there anyway, but you get the point. Mrs. Deitsch wrote about the evils of verbosity, and brought many examples to back herself up. While I fully support her crusade to rid the world of wordy essays and garrulous articles, it does seem, at least to me, to be a strange forum for this crusade. What exactly does good writing have to do with the women of Chabad? Additionally, while I do agree with her point, she does neglect to mention that on occasion writers have verbal diarrhea on purpose. Perhaps they enjoy it, or maybe they're mocking another. Hey, I do it all the time. Is it partially because I'm not the greatest writer in the world? Yeah, probably. But at the same time, sometimes (OK, too many times) I do write too much, for the simple joy of the turn of English.

Pesach was really nice. I saw a short exchange in "Hamelech Bemsibo" between the Rebbe and his brother-in-law, the Rashag. The Rashag wanted to know why the students of the five sages had to come and tell them that it was time for the morning Shema. This question has been asked a billion times, and there's probably two billion answers, but this Pesach was the first time I'd seen this one, and you're reading anyway (presumably), so bear with me. The Rebbe answered that when the Avoda, the work, of the students is over, then the Avoda of their teachers' is over as well.
Is this not a powerful lesson? It's funny, because that's all there is to the exchange. What's really needed is a great Mashpia to Farbreng about this for, oh, seventeen hours or so.
I, as you may or may not have noticed, am not that great Mashpia, so you'll have to work out the ramifications on your own.

In other thoughts, I was contemplating my Mivtzoyim (community (i.e. Persian and Israeli] outreach) route in Los Angeles. If you can believe it, and I see no reason why you you shouldn't, I (and my Chavrusa Dov Ber Berkowitz [did I spell that last name right?]) got 30 Tefillin every week, not to mention a similar number of distributed Lchaims and an average of 120 dollars for Tzedaka. When we'd come into Yeshiva, proud of our exploits, people would say, "What are you so excited about? You think you did anything? It's all the Rebbe! And anyway, Mivtzoyim isn't about numbers, it's about effort." Yeah, they were probably just sore, but they did have a valid point.
Today I was thinking about this and it struck me that at the end of the day, it's probably no bad thing to be proud of Mivtzoyim exploits. At least you're proud of doing the right thing.

And last but not least, I'm happy to report that Baruch Hashem I fulfilled the time-honored tradition of going to a zoo on Chol Hamoed. For the first time that I can remember, the lion was not only awake but quite vocal too, which scared my niece to no end. Don't worry, she got over it. It was nice to see many other Orthodox-type Jews also continuing this fine practice, including the Morah D'asra of Beis Yisroel in Minneapolis and a future Gadol Hador, if I may say so myself. Well, it's 1:00 now, my self-imposed deadline, so "so long everybody".

P.S. Some people correctly pointed out that the final paragraph seems to say that I, TRS, am a future Gadol Hador. I'd like to correct that misconception and state that while I have many Taivos (passionate desires), being a Gadol Hador is not one of them.
The sentence above was supposed to make clear that the Morah D'asra of Beis Yisroel is a future Gadol Hador.
I'm glad we cleared that one up.


I could do the artistic and dumb thing and write a long post now, or I could be smart and go to sleep. I think I'll go to sleep. Don't worry though, tomorrow you'll have more then you ever dreamed of! Or something like that.

Friday, April 18, 2008

We're coming closer...

Tonight is the night before the night before Pesach, and therefore I'll just give you all some of my thoughts on Pesach, and what it means to me. I'm giving myself a deadline of 1:00 AM to finish, so if it's too short or something, well, that's my fault.
Anyway, Pesach is all about getting rid of Chametz, both in a physical and a spiritual sense. This particular topic has been harped on so often that I really have nothing too brilliant to add. All I'd say is that if people spent just 10% of the time they devote to their physical cleaning on spiritual cleaning, the world would be a much better place. It seems to me, and I know that I'm going against everything that I wrote/butchered last night, that people are trained to avoid introspection. Sure, some people do it all the time, but that's just because they're masochists. No one really wants to evaluate themselves. They're too scared of what they'll come up with. Why are we less afraid of our physical possessions? Probably because, at the end, they really don't matter. There's mice in the house (Not that there is)? So, who's fault is that? It's nature, or nurture, or your kids, or husband, or whatever, but certainly not yours. Point is, there's someone to blame.
With soul-baring however, there just (as the Marcus Brothers would have it) ain't nobody to blame. So we try and avoid it. Pesach teaches us-hold on there one minute buster. Why does every holiday have to teach us? Why do we always have to learn a lesson from every single thing in the whole universe? Can't we all just live and let live?
Anyway, as I was saying, Pesach teaches us that though cleaning properly is a major pain, it's 1. necessary, and 2. possible. Is spiritual cleaning that much harder? In some respects, it's probably easier. No one else has to know it's going on, and there's no annoying family that moves in once your done (just kidding). Besides, introspection is such a nice word, and it will look good on any resume. Or for that matter, on any gravestone.
OK then folks, I've run over my self-imposed time limit here by six minutes, and I'm also rather tired, as usual, so bye.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Coherent ramblings

Tonight I once again had the privilege of attending a Farbrengen with Rabbi Manis Friedman, this time in his house, in honor of the 11th of Nissan, birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and certain devoted readers of this humble blog. Unfortunately for Rabbi Mordechai Friedman, and all of you, the Farbrengen was one of those that are very hard to write down afterwards, because their flow is so nebulous and their structure to free forming. Plus, it's two in the morning, I'm tired like nobody's (yes, not even yours) business, and, um, well, I'll try, but no promises. Oh, and yes, if any of the following sounds elitist, then so be it. I'm not Barack Obama, and you're not a group of San Fransisco donors, so no worries. Not that I won't take your money from you, no worries in that corner.

The wise son in the Haggada asks, "What are the Edus (Testimonies), Chukim (Decrees), and Mishpatim (Laws) that Hashem our G-d has commanded you?" What's his problem? He doesn't understand what exactly Hashem wants from him. Does he want him to understand, which is what the Mishpatim are all about, or does he want him to serve on blind faith, the Chukim. And what are these Edus things anyway? We normally explain them as being laws which we would not have come up with on our own, but once Hashem has commanded them we understand why. Another explanation is that Edus are laws which testify about something which we otherwise would not know about. If we know something, then obviously there's no need for testimony. (I don't remember where this one came in, but trust me, it all made sense at the time.)
So what is so great about the wise son? What makes him wise? It's very simple. He doesn't have an opinion. People make a big mistake. They think that they have to have an opinion on every topic. The truth is the opposite. People should not have an opinion on any topic. The less intelligent the person, the more strident they are in their opinions. For some reason, taxi drivers have very strong opinions. For some reason they remain taxi drivers. People call in to radio talk shows to express their opinions. Guess what? Nobody cares what you think! People have an opinion because they are full of themselves. Real smart people don't have opinions. If they know something they'll offer it, but they don't comment on what they don't know. Children, on the other hand, have very strong opinions. Why? Because they're immature. Their ego feels that it should have an opinion.
Hashem tells us what to do. We don't get to have an opinion. Whatever he says goes. Bittul, self-nullification, means that you don't have an opinion. Ego is the opposite. When a person refuses to put of Tefillin because he doesn't believe in G-d, what is he really showing? That he's not intelligent. This doesn't mean that he doesn't know a lot; just because you know a bunch of facts doesn't mean you are intelligent. People with strong opinions never innovate, because they never think outside the box. Einstein's particular genius lay in the fact that he was able to come up with many new ideas. Why was he able to do this? Because he never paid attention to himself. When he did voice an opinion, objecting to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, it was disastrous. Later he would call it, "The greatest mistake of my life." Why was he able to make this mistake? Because he developed an opinion. When a person, even the smartest one, develops an opinion, he effectively tells the world that he is qualified to form an opinion on any given subject, and moreover is confident that any position he has taken is the correct one.
Lubavitch sends out thousands of Shluchim, and each one is different. These Shluchim were endowed with a very unique quality: They have to be totally nullified, only doing what the Rebbe wants, and yet at the same time they have to understand what the right course of action is. The Rebbe would ask Shluchim why they hadn't consulted him before doing some project, yet at the same time ask Shluchim why they needed to ask. The point? A Shliach has to use his brains to figure out what to do, and many times that means asking the Rebbe what course of action should be undertaken. When a Shliach puts his own spin on the Rebbe's work, life will be much harder than necessary. Any person, when forming opinions, prevents himself from doing what he has to do.
(For those keeping score at home, Rabbi Friedman managed to convey his point in a much nicer fashion than I've been able to.)

Next up, again segued in somehow, was how to deal with life. If a person has an opinion, they they hold themselves to be important. They believe that they have answered the question, whichever question that might be. They can't deal with life the way they should deal with it.
A Chassid once complained to the Rebbe that he had no children. The Rebbe responded that he too had no children. The Chassid said, "Yes, but you're a Rebbe!" The Rebbe said, "A day does not pass that I don't think about this subject."
Was the Rebbe paralyzed by this problem? Certainly not. Only someone who's intelligent can recognize that there are problems in the world, and we have to work towards ending those problems. Egoists, when faced with a problem, give up. "Life is not fair," they say, "Why do I deserve this?"
What's the answer? I don't know. After the Holocaust there were three Jewish reactions. The first was to completely leave Hashem, because he had (seemingly) left them. The second was to come up with a half-baked excuse, and remain Frum. The third was to say that just like before the war nothing made sense, so too nothing makes sense afterwards. Having a child is a mystery. Losing a child is a mystery. We don't question when good comes our way, which is fine, but then we question when bad is our lot, which is not fine. Why the sudden change in attitude?
A humble person knows that certain questions will never be answered, but that's no excuse not to work. Children are able to survive much more traumatic experiences than adults. This is because they don't know what going on. The less you know, the better your chances for survival. For some Bochurim, Yeshiva is very difficult, because things are not perfectly right. For many people, life is very difficult, because things are not perfectly right. Should the pain bother you? Yes. But to let it interfere with the mission at hand? We don't know Hashem's master plan, and may not even want to know. If we just concentrate on doing the right thing, not forming opinions, then good shtuff will happen.
(Once again, it was much more nicely said by Rabbi Friedman.) I'd like to mention that it is now nearly three, and I hope that you're all grateful.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

106 and counting

Today is the eleventh of Nissan, the 106th birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. If you remember, I translated the Maamar that is most associated with this day, B'yom Ashtei Assar 5731; if you scroll down a bit I've spruced it up a (very little) bit, and put it all into one post, for your reading pleasure. In this post I'll reflect a little on what the eleventh of Nissan means to me, and if I get melodramatic in the process, well, that's just a risk we all have to take.

This morning I helped Rabbi Manis Friedman make a Minyan in his house, and at the end he said some interesting things. I was in the middle of saying Tehillim, and so I missed out on most of what he said, but I did manage to catch one snippet. Someone said the old chestnut that, "You can take the Jew out of exile, but you can't take the exile out of a Jew," to which the Rabbi responded, "The Rebbe can take a Jew out of exile, but only a Jew can take the exile out of himself." This reminded me of something that Rabbi Shmuel Lew said a couple of nights back. The Rebbe once told one of his household aids that he was born on a Friday, and just like everyone always works really hard on a Friday but never manages to get everything done in time, so too he worked really hard at everything but never quite managed to bring them to completion. Rabbi Lew spun this positively, but that's not the point I want to bring out. When the Rebbe said on the 28th of Nissan, 1991, that he had done all he could and now it was up to us, he was being serious.
The Rebbe once said (if I recall correctly) that if there were a Minyan of people who really wanted Moshiach then he would come. What's the problem? We don't want enough? I guess so. It's a bit harsh to say that, but presumably it's the truth, and the truth never minced words.

Anyway, onto the Rebbe's birthday. What does it mean to us? I dislike when people say, "Oh, if there was never a 11 Nissan, there would be no Rebbe Chas Veshalom, where would we be?" Listen folks, there could just as easily have been a 10 or 12 Nissan. Sure, special things happen on special days and all that, but I think that the issue is a much bigger one. What does it mean to us now? There are many big Mashpiim who are doubtless Farbrenging on this very topic as I write, and what little I can add to the mix is of decidedly inferior character, but seeing as I've had this big build-up it would be sick of me not to deliver the goods.
11 Nissan is meaningful to me because it's the birthday of the one person who really cared about this world and the people on it. No other human being has ever exhibited the selflessness of the Rebbe. No, sorry, "selflessness" implies that there is a self, only it's sublimated. With the Rebbe, there was no self. Whatever Hashem wanted, he wanted. Hashem wanted a dwelling place down here? The Rebbe did too. But again, the Rebbe took action. I was just reading Oorah's newest brochure, and it's beautiful to see the amazing work they're doing. Who's responsible for what they're doing? Who's responsible for the full page picture of the kid in the front of the booklet wearing Tefillin? You better bet it's the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Forty years ago, a non-Lubavitch organization promoting Tefillin wearing would have been banned with more virulence than any Shaitel or concert. But now? Not only did Lubavitch pave the way, it provided the intellectual underpinnings for the entire new Judaism. Obviously, there's only one person responsible for what Lubavitch has done, and that's the Rebbe.
This reminds me of a relatively famous, probably apocryphal, story of a Shliach who made a dinner, and at said dinner he was surprised with some sort of honor by his congregants. He made an off the cuff speech, in which he said, "Everything that's been done, it's all the Rebbe's Kochos that have been channeled through me", or something like that. An elderly Chassid, probably a relative, was at the dinner, and he went up to the Shliach and said, "Fool! You're right that everything that's been accomplished is only because of the Rebbe. But if you hadn't 'channeled' anything, and had let the Rebbe do what he wanted, how much more would have been done."
Um, I kind of butchered that one. I just can't remember the exact lines. But no matter, the point is clear: The Rebbe wants what Hashem wants, and if you stop being a pretentious, snotfaced little twerp, then the Rebbe can get the work done. Your contribution, what the Rebbe left for you, is just to follow orders like a soldier.
That's the lesson of 11 Nissan. Have a slice of birthday cake, say a Lchaim, and get to work.

The Complete B'yom Ashtei Assar 5731

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.
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.

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.


Today I think I'll translate a bit of a Sicha from 1952 that you might find interesting. It's based on the Ma Nishtana that we all say on the night of Pesach by the Seder. One of the questions asked is, "Why on all other nights do we sit and lean, but tonight we only lean?" For the answer...

A person has three main body areas; the head, torso, and legs. There are also three (general) types of stances; standing, sitting, and leaning. What does this mean in spiritual terms? Standing represents haughtiness, with the head, the intellect, standing tall. Sitting is humility, with the head lower down, closer to the rest of the body. Nevertheless, the head is still cognizant of its natural superiority, and it is only with leaning that true humility is reached.
The difference between all other nights and the night of Pesach is the spiritual standing of a person in that time. During the year, a person can be full of themselves, but on Pesach, everyone realizes that they are truly nothing before G-d. Only with this attitude can the intent of the world be fulfilled, to make a dwelling place for Hashem down here. On this night all Jews are raised to the highest of spiritual levels, and every single one can accomplish their mission.
The question still remains, however, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Every person knows himself; not only is he not nullified before G-d, a state of leaning, but he is not even sitting, without even the slightest humility. He knows that he can go against Hashem's will, whether in thought, speech, or action. Not only is this with regards to permitted things, but even with forbidden things; and not only does he do these things by mistake, but even on purpose. In fact, he takes the Torah, the crown of Hashem, and because of his self-pride he uses it for his own ends!
Knowing all this, a person can ask, "How am I in a state of, 'Tonight we all lean?' I know my own deficiencies better than anyone else, how can I claim to be at this great level?"
The answer is the one given to the four questions, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem took us out". In Egypt the Jews were on the 49th rung of impurity, as it says, "They served idols there." The Jews were is such a bad position that an angel could not rescue them. The only way for them to leave was to be redeemed by Hashem himself. This revelation of Hashem happens again every year, that no matter how low any Jew may be, how far from Hashem, he can be saved. The day of Pesach is so great that every Jew is at the level of "leaning."
One question remains. I can understand how great Pesach is, but what about all the rest of the year? Does this incredible divine revelation just pick up and leave, without affecting anything? What about the normal efforts people make the rest of the time?
The answer is that normally it really is a good thing to work from the bottom up, to struggle with this world, to first build a foundation before attempting a skyline penthouse. Nevertheless, sometimes the physicality is too strong, the passions too tempting, the fire too bright. At these times it's necessary to have a divine revelation, to break all boundaries, and this is the accomplishment of Pesach. Pesach gives us the strength to tackle the problems of our everyday lives with the knowledge that we are not alone, that Hashem is on our side, helping us to overcome our challenges and succeed in whatever it is we try.

So that's the end. Is it as good as the original? Of course not. My stilted translations are never the hottest things in town, especially when it's nearly two in the morning and I was working hard preparing for Pesach all day. But don't worry, you'll get over it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Tonight Adath Israel Synagogue had a meal in honor of 11 Nissan. Once that was over the night really began with Rabbi Shmuel Lew, Rabbi Manis Friedman, and Rabbi Moshe Feller Farbrenging. It was, as Rabbi Mordechai Friedman would say, awesome. Unfortunately I really don't remember a lot of what was said, but I'll try and write what I do recall. I feel like a moron for writing this, but I'm reminded that the Mitteler Rebbe would say "Sha, Sha" when he was saying Chassidus to calm the torrent of ideas that was coursing through his mind. There are so many stories flying through my head right now, and I'm trying to grab onto all of them. It reminds me of people who go into "money machines", where you can only grab one bill at a time, and they don't know where to start. Anyway, as I said, I'll try...

R' Mendel Futerfas would tell a story of a bunch of Russian troops who were really scared to go into battle, so their commander got them all totally stoned. The result was that they shot all over the place. When the commander was asked to explain his actions, he said, "Listen, so they didn't know what was going on, but at least some of the bullets got to the right place." So too with mashke, everyone drinks a ton, and some of it will go to the right place.

He told another story, that the Germans in 1941 totally overwhelmed a Soviet army, and the Russians who remained retreated to try and regroup. There was only one officer amid the chaos, and he managed to get some order. He had just ordered the men to counter-attack when one of the soldiers piped up and said, "This is all good and fine, but how do we know that you're not a German sending us to our deaths?" The officer replied that this was a good question, and called the soldier up to the front, pulled out a gun, and shot him in the head. All the soldiers understood that he was on their side, and they went to fight the enemy. (Unfortunately I don't recall the moral. R' Mendel Feller was in the middle of telling me that the great genius of R' Mendel Futerfas was not in the fact that he managed to find a moral in his stories, but rather that he managed to make up a story to fit the moral.)

Back in the day Chassanim, after getting engaged, would go to Newark or Montreal until the wedding to learn. Also back in the day, young people wouldn't write into the Rebbe, rather they would tell their Mashpia (spiritual mentor), who would write into the Rebbe and then tell the Rebbe's answer over to them. Rabbi Pinchas Hirschsprung (did I just murder that spelling?) would call a Bochur into his room, put on a gartel (belt), stand up, and relay the Rebbe's message. In the case of these Chassanim, the Rebbe's letter generally said, "I'm happy to hear that you're in Montreal (or Newark), stay there until X." There was once a Bochur, who wasn't considered to be the most Chassidishe guy in the world, who was called in. R' Pinchas began to read the letter, "I'm happy to hear that you're in Montreal, stay there until-" the Bochur interrupted him and said, "Don't tell me now, tell me when my time's up."
The moral of the story? If you start something knowing when it's going to end, then it never really even began. There was a Russian Chassid who came to 770 for Tishrei and was asked, "How long are you staying for?" He responded, "What do you mean? I'm still coming!" Rabbeinu Bachaya says in his commentary to Bereishis, that the moment a child is born he begins to die. By Moshiach it says that it'll be forever. How will we know? Because when something is truly eternal, then it's obvious from the start. Getting back to the story, if a person knows when something ends, then they'll never be able to fully apply themselves to it.

Someone once thought that they angered the Rebbe, and said that they were scared that that perhaps the Rebbe put a Kepeidah on them (a Kepeidah is when a Tzaddik, a righteous and holy person gets angry, and it causes problems for the one who got angry). The Rebbe grew very serious, and said, "From this gate comes only Chessed, kindness."

Once a Chassid was trying out various Rebbeim, and after a few months he realized that the current one just wasn't the right one for him. He came in to the Rebbe, and told him that he was leaving. The Rebbe told him to stay. The Chassid said, "Listen, I'd love to and all, but it's just not going to work out." He turned to go, and as he was walking out the room tripped and broke his leg. He was no dummy, and realized that this was a Kepeidah from the Rebbe. The Chassid twisted around, and said, "With broken bones you won't make Chassidim."
(A side note from a Farbrengen with the aforementioned R' Mordechai Friedman: There's no such thing as a Chassid without a Rebbe. Anything else you hear is a bald-faced lie.)

The Bochurim in Tomchei Tmimim in Lubavitch once broke into the kitchen because they were starving. The Mashpia was outraged, and screamed at them, because he felt that they should have had Hiskafia, they should've held themselves back. The Mashpia went to the Friedriker Rebbe, who at that time was in charge, and expressed his indignation regarding the Bochurim's behavior. The Friedriker Rebbe told him, "There shouldn't be no food and therefore the Bochurim have Hiskafia; rather there should be plenty of food, and then the Bochurim have Hiskafia."
(This puts me in mind of an old tale, that a rich man once came to Tomchei Tmimim and said that he didn't understand what was so great about the Bochurim. He proceeded to lay forth a lavish feast and the Bochurim ate it, together with the rich guy, with gusto. He said, "Ha, I've exposed the humbug!" The Mashpia in Lubavitch told him, "Not so fast, make the same meal for tomorrow night, and we'll see what happens." The rich man did as he was told, and once again the Bochurim found themselves with plenty to eat. Five minutes into the meal, the Mashpia signaled to the waiters, and they removed all the fancy food, and replaced it with the normal fare, and believe you me, it wasn't much. The rich man immediately began to protest, while the Bochurim started to eat without a whimper. The Mashpia turned to the rich man, and said, "You understand the difference between my Bochurim and you?")

I heard a story many moons ago that I really liked. I wrote it in short a few months ago, here's the link, and tonight Rabbi Manis Friedman told a different version. They don't have the same moral, so it's possible that both actually happened, but it's unlikely. Anyway, there was a town which had a large population of Chassidim, I believe Chernobyler, but don't quote me on that one. Whenever the Rebbe came to town the Chassidim would heat up the local Mikve, as per Chassidic custom, and they used a chain gang to do it. Unfortunately, there were also a bunch of Misnagdim in town, and if they knew what was going on they would have made more problems than a bull in a chine shop, or even a badly written idiom, so the Chassidim had to warm the Mikve at night. This resulted in one of the Chassidim getting badly burned by the scalding water. The Rebbe came to town, put his hand on the Chassid's face, and he was cured. A little while later the Alter Rebbe visited, and this Chassid, with a bunch of his friends, was completely taken by him. They decided that they couldn't remain Chassidim of their old Rebbe any longer, and decided to tell him of their switch. They were all really scared to do so, however, so they decided to draw lots. As luck would have it, the healed Chassid got the short straw, and he went in to tell the Rebbe. All the other Chassidim crowded in behind, wanting to find out what the reaction was going to be. The Chassidim also knew that they were in danger of a Kepeidah, but they figured that truth demanded certain things of them, and it was worth the risk. The Rebbe, upon hearing the news, sat deep in thought for a while, and then said, "A fine young man." The Chassidim knew that he approved.

This story put me in mind of another one that happened when the Rebbe Rashab and his son the Friedriker Rebbe were traveling around Europe. They came upon a little Chassidishe shteeble, and saw there very old Chassidim cleaning up as if Pesach was coming. No work was too hard for these men. Surrounding them, watching, was a group of young Chassidim. The Rebbe Rashab asked for an explanation, and was told that the Chassidim's Rebbe was coming, and the older men had the great honor to prepare the Shul for his arrival. The water they were using was coming from across town, because one of the rich Chassidim had bid for the right to have the water from his well be used to clean. The young Chassidim were not helped to help; this privilege was reserved for the old among them. The Rebbe said to his son, later, "Only in Lubavitch do the older Chassidim have the Mesiras Nefesh to allow the younger Chassidim to participate."

Some people could ask me, "It's so late, why don't you write some of this tomorrow. Additionally, you have so much today, and tomorrow you may have nothing. Wouldn't it be better to split it up?" The answer is that when the spirit strikes you, just hold on and hope for the best.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Chiropractors and the Jewish way

I just learned an absolutely incredible Sicha, one of those Sichos that blows your mind and replaces it with something bigger and better. The Sicha is in Hisvaadus 1985, page 2279. Basically, the Jews spent a lot of time in Egypt. A lot of that time they spent slaving away, building big things with stones. Can you imagine? It was like kindergarten for 86 years! No wonder those Egyptians got fed up! How would you like to teach the same class for nearly a century? I didn't think so.
Oh, right, back to the paradigm-changing Sicha. I was taught as a very young child that the Jews worked super-hard building shtuff in Egypt many years ago. I was also taught that the Egyptians had these really big pyramids built many years ago. I naturally put two and two together and figured out that the Jews built the pyramids. Later on my teachers revealed many secrets to me, one of which being the truth behind this whole slaving thing. The Torah says that the Jews built the storage cities of Pithom and Rameses. Hence, no pyramids. I wasn't particularly disappointed, because I really didn't have any particular connection to the whole idea anyway.
Anyway, so this morning I was perusing the afore-mentioned Farbrengen and I came across a Sicha in Parshas Nasso which deals with the inauguration sacrifices of the Princes and the building of the Mishkan. The Rebbe has a basic question. We know that the boards of the Mishkan were too heavy for the Jews to lift up, and therefore they needed Hashem's help to complete the construction of the Mishkan, the tabernacle. At the same time, the Rebbe relates, we know from history that the Jews built the pyramids, which were a lot heavier than the Mishkan. How is it that the Jews managed one but failed at the other? What, as the not so popular phrase goes, gives?
Incidentally, the Rebbe said, (and here I switch to first person to give it the verve which it otherwise lacked) "I remember being in Cheder where the teacher would say, when something was strong, incredible, and grand, that it was like Pithom and Rameses. He said this even though the Gemara learns that Pithom and Rameses, being built in a bog, would sink every night, so that it was never any higher than the previous day. Nevertheless, whenever the teacher wanted to describe something awesome, he called it a Pithom and Rameses.
The point is, the mind boggles when the pyramids are seen. The gigantic stones had to be brought in from other parts of the country, and then assembled, all without the aid of modern machinery.
How was it done? Simple. Many people, and we're talking thousands here folks, worked together. Paintings on the pyramids themselves, bring this point out, with pictures of lots of people working. Again, we have a simple question. One stone of the pyramids weighed a heck of a lot more than one board of the Mishkan (I'd guess that the entire Mishkan weighed the same as a couple of those boulders). At the very least, why couldn't a bunch of wandering Israelites get together and put the Mishkan up? Why was a miracle needed?
The answer is pretty simple. The Jews certainly could have put the boards up by themselves, but only by breaking their backs. How did they construct the Mishkan? With back-breaking labor. When Hashem commanded the Jews to build the Mishkan he said, "And you shall take from every person whose heart wants to give." Hashem didn't force anyone, rather it was dependent on each person to voluntarily give. We know that Hashem prohibits a stolen animal to be sacrificed. How much more so would Hashem not want the Mishkan to come from "stolen" goods.
We learn two things from this: 1. Hashem did not want the Jews to suffer while building the Mishkan, and 2. Hashem wanted the Jews to construct the Mishkan in a natural manner, with normal strength. This is why Hashem had to use a miracle to complete the Mishkan, because it was beyond normal human strength.
The lesson we can learn out from this in our everyday lives is an important one. A Jew's purpose in life, to make a dwelling place for Hashem down here, is not one that requires suffering to accomplish. Sure, sometimes a person needs Mesiras Nefesh, self-sacrifice, but that is not the normal way of life. Hashem wants us to work within nature, and then we will see results that are super-natural. Hashem set the world up with a schedule, six days you shall work, and the seventh you shall rest. By keeping to this, Hashem's schedule, He promises to bless your work, that the reaping should be much greater than the sowing. The Mishkan was not meant to be built with back-breaking labor, and our work should also be without extraordinary effort.
The main thing, the Rebbe says, is that we've already finished our labor down here, and there's no reason for us to remain enslaved in our present exile. Very soon we will merit the complete redemption, with the building of the third Beis Hamikdash, immediately in our days, Amen.

So why did I get so excited about all this? As the Gemara says, "Hashem does not come with excessive demands to his creations." This means that anything that Hashem does demand from us is within our grasp. Are Mitzvos difficult? sometimes. But we only have to expend a normal effort and Hashem will take care of the rest. Obviously, a person can't just lie around all day and make silly on the wall. People need to be productive. At the same time though, there's no need to slave away at things, because that's not what Hashem wants.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Baking up a storm

Today I ran a model Matza bakery for the children of the Lubavitch Early Childhood Center in S. Paul MN. It's a bit of a pretentious name for a preschool, but it works for them, so who am I to say anything? So yeah, it was cute. All the kids were really enthusiastic and made the room pretty messy, which I think is a good sign. The Matza we made was of course not Kosher for Pesach, which my partner, and fellow Shliach of YHSTC, Eli Posner was very happy about, as he got to eat. We even had some excitement, as the smoke alarm went off due to the Matzas burning. Hey, they taste better that way, no?
I would love to say that I vividly remember my own experience baking Matza before Pesach, but unfortunately I really can't claim that. This is probably because I was a young tyke, new to the world and all the experiences contained therein. What I do recall is sitting on the floor in the Rapaport's basement, which doubled as the Shul in Mequon, being entertained by (The future Rabbi) Mottel Friedman, and later receiving my Matza, fresh from the oven, which looked liked a pita.
That's the extent of my memory. Sorry. The good news is that I'm still keeping Pesach after all these years, which would seem to imply that something right was done at some point.
Moving right along, it seems that we're having another winter storm here in the beautiful Midwest. Some people think winter is a bad thing, and that winter storms should be banned altogether due to lack of funding. Others have the position that winter storms are not only a necessary part of life but are in fact the blood that runs through the veins of any true Midwesterner. These latter types also believe that slaughtering deer is an acceptable sport, and that moose heads look great on their bathroom walls, so you don't have to take their opinion too seriously. Of course, people who wish to eliminate winter storms are probably delusional, so you don't really have any clear-cut choice in the matter.
What's the Torah perspective? I'd venture to say that the Torah falls on the side of those who like storms; after all, we pray for rain three times a day, but at the same time there is also room for vacations to Miami or Palm Springs.
As for a quick Pesach Halacha? As far as I can tell, there is no prohibition of eating peaches on Pesach, as long as they've been peeled of course. Grapes are also permitted, but anyone who has the patience to skin a grape should either look for a position in the education or else find something better to do with their time. Peach cobbler and grapeheads are, however, prohibited, due to their ingredients. Now that you know this, the question is, what do you do? And that, my friends, is up to you. After all, Pesach is all about the celebration of freedom, and this precious gift is what was given to all of you. Exercise it, or grow indolent with power. Or something like that. Enough of my rambling, Pesach cleaning is issuing a clarion call, and I for one shan't be slow to heed it. Onward (to the kitchen?) and upward (the ceiling, presumably)!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tremendous Shtuff

I just heard a great story, and though it's well known it's well worth repeating. A Chassid once had occasion to visit a Misnagdic stronghold, and he received a warm welcome. What I meant to write was that he got a lot of heat from his fellow Jews for his personal views. Anyway, once it got time for him to leave his ever-solicitous hosts wanted to know what he thought of their city. How did they compare to the Chassidim he usually associated with? The Chassid answered, "The difference between a Misnaged and a Chassid? Simple! A Misnaged goes around thinking about Hashem all day, while a Chassid thinks about himself." The villagers were delighted, and they gave the Chassid extra Challah and Chrein to take on his long journey. As the Chassid was getting out of dodge, accompanied by the elders of the city, he said, "Oh, and to explain myself a little: A Chassid knows that Hashem exists, but he has his doubts about his own existence, so he goes around all day troubled by the matter. A Misnaged, on the other hand, knows that he exists, but as for Hashem? He wonders about Him all day, trying to figure out if He truly is there." It was lucky that the only people there were old, and the tomatoes they lobbed at him were fairly easy to avoid.
What does this story have to do with Pesach? Lots. No, really. Pesach is all about cleaning out the Chametz within you, escaping your own personal (as opposed to someone else's personal?) Egypt, walking three hours to eat Matza and drink wine with a bunch of people from S. Louis Park. What? You don't do that? Do you even have a Seder? Is there Judaism in your life?
Seriously folks, Pesach is serious business. Once upon a time, back in the day, in the land before time, many years ago, when they weren't so enamored of repeating themselves in order to artificially lengthen their blog posts (not that they had blog posts or anything), Pesach was very different. Cleaning? It's not like anyone had too much Chametz in the first place, so all they had to do was a little of this and a little of that, and presto! Life was good. They did have to Kasher their dishes, but they had a Rav to take care of that. Pesach was mostly about making sure the Matza remained dry and the wine remained wet. Interestingly enough, it was much easier to ensure the latter than the former. Who would've thought?
Nowadays, we've got problems. There's Chametz all over, our cars are filthy, and we can't even afford to go to Florida for the holidays, because the economy is in the trash. Oh right, six of you can afford to go to Florida. Sick. Anyway, as I was saying, cleaning is the biggest thing we do to prepare for Pesach. Our Matza? Most of us just buy it, along with wine, and anything else one might need to celebrate the holiday in style.
Is there a lesson in all of this? Way back when the main thing was keeping away from things: keeping the flour dry, the wine free of alien influence, the Goyim out of their cemeteries and our houses. Today things are different. We're cleaning, shopping, cleaning some more, shopping some more (the President is so proud). Maybe we're just not good enough to stay away from sin and temptation, after all, we're the lowest generation of all time. At the same time though, we can do, accomplish, make things happen. Sure, we're pathetic losers for being alive now, but we also have the unique capability to bring Moshiach. No other generation was given the same tools we were. Is it difficult? Of course. Can we do it? Do we have a choice?

Fine, so I didn't really connect the story and its moral. What you're gonna do, shoot me?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Pesach Menora

For the last week or so I really wanted to learn the Maamar Al Hanisim, 5729, which I blogged about four or five months ago, and today I finally got around to it. It was disappointing. I just didn't get the same high that I got last time. At first I thought that the problem was in me, but then I realized that actually the main issue was that I was learning it by myself. No one else was too interested in being my Chavrusa, study partner, primarily because it's a Chanuka Maamar, but also because I was learning it during Shacharis.
Is it weird to learn about Chanuka right before Pesach? Sure, Chassidus is everlasting, and applicable every day of a person's life, but it's not like I've finished everything on Pesach that I can now switch to Chanuka. On the other hand, as the Gemara says, a person should always study what his heart desires, so at least I was fulfilling that.
As to the Chavrusa thing, it really underscores the story of Reb Yochanan and Reish Lakish. As is related in Bava Metzia 84a, Reish Lakish got angry at Reb Yochanan, Reb Yochanan felt bad about it, Reish Lakish was struck by illness for causing Reb Yochanan pain, his wife (Reb Yochanan's sister) came to her brother pleading for his life, no luck, Reish Lakish died, Reb Yochanan got really depressed, the Rabbis sent R' Elazar Ben Pedas to comfort him, a task which he failed miserably in, and which resulted in Reb Yochanan going around, tearing his clothing and crying out, "Where are you Bar Lakisha! Where are you Bar Lakisha!" Reb Yochanan eventually went crazy, and the Rabbis prayed that he should die. So he did. It was all very sad.
The point is, if you've no one to be with, no friends, then you might as well die, like we find by Choni Hamagel, who slept for seventy years (or something like that) and, realizing that all of his friends were long gone, decided to join them in heaven. Learning also is much easier when there's someone with whom to learn. Obviously, many times there is no fit Chavrusa, and in those cases you're better off learning by yourself, but when there is opportunity, and you can't avail yourself of it...
Enough of Chanuka. As Pesach is rapidly approaching, I think it would be a nice thing to write a Halacha for the masses. The first one that comes to mind is one dealing with the Zeroah, the shankbone which is put on the Seder plate as a remembrance of the Pesach offering. We don't eat this, because we would hate for people to think that we're actually eating a sacrifice. See, eating a sacrifice outside of the Temple is forbidden by the law. We go so far as to use a chicken neck, not a lamb shankbone (thingamajiggie), in order to avoid confusion. Helpful? I sure hope so. OK, so you all probably knew this already. Tomorrow I'll hopefully have some in-depth discussion based on this, but it's dependent on The Almighty Editor getting back to me at some point tomorrow. The world is hanging on your shoulders, oh great grammarian, so answer well.
That, my friends, was a charge for the ages. Almost like the time someone put a Boeing 787 on their American Express.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Rashab, Akiba, and other shtuff

Today is the anniversary of the passing of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rashab. He was an interesting personality, as a quick search on Google will bear out. According to many he was medically depressed, or as the Rebbe put it, “The head grasps what the heart is unable to contain, and the heart cannot tolerate.” He was known to compare himself negatively to his predecessors, and to wonder if he was accomplishing anything.
I think that everyone has these feelings at one time or another. We all feel inadequate, and wonder what the point is. Actually, the Rebbe Rashab never wondered about this, because he knew exactly what the point was: To make a dwelling place for Hashem down here. The only difficulty is in the implementation. A similar query was posed to me by a well-respected person, “How does one do Teshuva?” I responded, “Regret the bad you've done and resolve to do only good in the future.” Again, a simple answer, but ever so difficult to apply practically.
This is something which annoys me to no end; why can't people just do the right thing and stop thinking so much? In the long run they'll be so much happier, so why bother with all the stupidity in the middle? Obviously I'm mainly addressing these comments to myself. We have a heart, and it exhibits strangely powerful tendencies which cause some bad things.
A Bochur here at YHSTC told me on Shabbos that he has a Facebook account. I began to tell him of all the evils to be found on social networking, and he stopped me with, “Oh, I'm careful, no harm harm will come my way.” This argument was so obviously flawed that it took all my analytical powers to comprehend how a boy who I thought was quite intelligent could make such a mistake. What's the problem? We pray every day that Hashem not expose us to temptation. Going on Facebook, and truth be told going online, is exposing oneself to major temptation. Fine, so I'm a hypocrite. Big deal. Everyone at some point in their life has to understand that life is not black and white, and that hypocrisy is a necessary component of survival. Conservative talk show hosts are always going on about the “hypocrisy of the left”; I would venture to say that conservatives are just as hypocritical as their liberal colleagues. All that's needed is to change the word to “compromise” and everyone feels good. Does it accomplish anything? Possibly not. But then when did the pursuit of truth become the standard that all of us lesser mortals were forced to be crucified upon?
Getting back to the temptation, which is something that I'm sure all of us are happy to do, the Talmud also states that one can't trust himself until the day he dies. No man, no matter how holy, is immune. Rabbi Akiba once said that he was too old, and the evil inclination had no power over him. The Satan appeared to the great sage in the visage of an extremely beautiful young maiden, and Rabbi Akiba was so taken by “her” appearance that he began to follow. The Satan started to run, and the Rabbi followed in close pursuit. Eventually “she” ran up a tree, to the end of a branch, and Rabbi Akiba was about to grab “her” when Satan revealed his true colors. Rabbi Akiba learned that no man is safe, not even a person who is renowned as being the savior of the Oral Torah.
In conclusion-wait, that would imply that there was some method to my madness over here. The truth is that I began to write without the vaguest premonition of where it would all end up, but it appears that it all turned out for the best, so that's good.

Nissan's upon us-are you ready?

Today was the first day of Nissan, a day that some people mark by fasting a "Taanis Tzaddikim", a fast of righteous people. I'm not sure if these people fast every Rosh Chodesh, or if it's just Nissan, but either way, it's got to be a bit of a kill-joy for everyone else. Here you are, celebrating the birth of the new moon by having a moon bounce in your backyard for all the neighborhood kids, and some pretentious guy who thinks he's all holy comes around and asks everyone to quiet down, he's having a nap, he has a big headache, after all Bush and Congress made it daylight savings time for this time of the year, which means another hour of fasting, which he is doing right now, thank you very much. What do you do with a guy like that? Tell the kids to go home? That wouldn't be fair. I've heard from at least one person that he was attracted to Lubavitch specifically because they knew not to take themselves too seriously. Anytime someone gets are starts preaching what they claim is the ultimate truth, which is exactly what I do, it's a good thing to also have a healthy perspective. The Talmud provides a pretty good recipe for this, by telling us that fleas are greater than us; after all they took precedence in creation. So whenever people get carried away, they should just know that they're not so special after all.
Of course once you start talking like this people get all depressed, so you have to tell them that they really are very special, and they really do matter, and a whole bunch of similar claptrap, which may be true, but also gets you back into the vicious cycle, so it's dangerous.
Oh, right, back to the first of Nissan. Today is also the first day of the recitation of the "Nassi", a portion in the Torah that deals with the sacrifices of the princes of the tribes of Israel. I haven't yet been able to ascertain why exactly we say this. Where's the source? I asked the Rabbi at "Ask The Rabbi" at chabad.org, and hopefully he'll have some good info. Otherwise what'll I do? Nothing different than I'm doing now. I'm not one of those people who refuse to act if they don't know the purpose of their action. Those type of people end up driving off cliffs because they don't believe the signs telling them that the bridge is out. The rest of us turn off in time and go to a bar to drink a Guinness, only to discover, to our horror, that the price has risen so much that it's no longer economical to buy imports. Not that there are many people like this in America. Your average American would rather have his toe nails pulled out in a strange and vicious fashion by Asians in hoods drinking tea during breaks than give up his G-d given right to buy cheap shtuff from those very same Asians. Not that I have anything against Asians. Heck, some of my best friends are Asians. If you think I'm about to break out into some sort of anti-Asian rant right now, then I'm sorry, but I'll have to disappoint you. Anyone who works hard and keeps the law is welcome in my country. That includes those from south of the border. I realize that many Republicans wouldn't approve of those sentiments, but there you have it. This country was founded on the backs (probably broken) of hard working slave labor, oh sorry, I meant immigrants. As for Spanish becoming the new language of America? People were scared that German would do that, back in the day, but we managed to survive. I have a great deal of confidence in this country. Sure, we're going through a bit of a rough patch right now, and we may just need a Democrat to fix things up again, but all in all we still rock the house.
As Lucy Van Pelt once said, "Be of good cheer." As I recall, Snoopy wasn't too appreciative of her encouragement, but I'm no girl, and you're no dog, so it should all work out satisfactorily.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Medical Ethics

It's 2:45 AM, so I'll make this as snappy as possible. Oh, by the by, it's not Ira's fault this time, it's The Almighty Editor's. Go figure.
Rabbi Chayim Friedman Farbrenged earlier this evening. Shocked by the lack of titles? I told you I was going to make this brief. When a surgeon prepares to do surgery, he (or she, for that matter) prepares himself extensively. He cuts his fingernails, and blunts, them. Then he washed his hands to the elbow, and then puts on latex-free gloves. The janitorial staff, meanwhile, has been working hard to ensure that the operating room is completely sterile, that not a single germ should be left standing. What happens then? The patient is wheeled in, the doctor takes out a knife, and boom! There's blood everywhere. What was the point of all that preparation? Obviously, it was to ensure that there's be no infection, that the patient shouldn't be damaged. Even though it may seem like he's being hurt by the doctor, the whole point is to help, and it would be terrible for anything to go wrong.
So too a person who comes to criticize his friend; he has to make sure that his motives are pure, and that his words are measured. He must keep in mind what he is doing, and what his goals are. The point is not to cut open, though that may have to be done; rather, the point is to heal.
After Rabbi Friedman said this I wandered on over and made the observation that in an emergency, there's no time for the doctor to wash his hands. A paramedic, if necessary, will plunge right in, disregarding the circumstances he finds himself in. Why? Because time is of the essence, and what good will it do the patient if his doctor's hands are pure but he is dead?
So too with education. Sometimes a Mashpia has the advantage of time, the ability to objectively evaluate a situation and ensure a sterile environment for his reprimand. Sometimes though, on the front line, the fire is burning, and someone has to put it out. There's no time for dilly-dallying, no opportunity to calm down. The guy has just got to go in there with guns blazing, and hopefully it'll all turn out all right.

So yeah, short, and not so sweet, but it's not bad for someone whose brain turned off a couple hours ago. (These things happen. Sad, but necessary. Like a cow swimming in the ocean)

Friday, April 4, 2008

The ape's incantations while riding on a motorcycle

Last night Rabbi Chayim Friedman, fearless leader and 15 passenger van driving Principal of the Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities, Farbrenged. I've heard it before, and a quick search on google revealed that in fact it's as old as the monkeys themselves, which, depending on your religious/socio-political views means somewhere between 5768 and 14 billion years. All this means, of course, is that ever since the beginning of time, when cavemen/Adam and Eve wandered the savanna/Garden of Eden people have been Farbrenging about it. In fact, after reading an atheist's view of the whole matter it seemed to me that anything I could possibly write would be inferior, so why bother? So I won't. Check it out though, because it's a really nice piece.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Some angst for supper

Has anyone ever written any humorous, self-deprecating, existential-angst ridden, and preferably intelligent shtuff? Is this asking for too much? Is it even possible to question life, truth, and various other existential hobby horses without being a pretentious snot?
Way back when, in the land before Lipa Schmeltzer infatuation, there was a kid being home-schooled in the ways of hyphenating and high school. His teacher told him to write a short story that took place in a French cafe, and at the same time she would write a story about a Shul. Neither had ever visited the locations their stories were based on, and consequently both got all the details (about those places) wrong. The lesson? Only write what you know.
I can now reveal that the kid in the story is in fact me, while the teacher was Ms. Hollerich (If your reading, Hi!). He (OK, I'll switch to "I", happy?) learned more about writing from her than anyone else, for which he (oh, right, I'm sorry, "I") is (am?) eternally grateful. In case you were wondering, it's not her fault that I use more parentheses than is healthy.
Why the sudden quest for humility? I was reading Chaim Rubin's shtuff on The 8th Note. Again, I would like to state that I'm a big fan of the CD, and all I'm about to write is merely in the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of something to write about. Also, I'm a big fan of Chaim, and admit to checking his website at least a couple of times a day.
Right, so as I was saying, Chaim's writing that the CD's incredible, and anyone who disagrees with him is an uncultured boar who should only listen to Shloime Dachs in the future. All right, so he wasn't that harsh; even a real evil person wouldn't condemn someone to listen exclusively to Dachs for the rest of eternity. Getting back to the point, which is something I seem to do an awful lot (perhaps if I stopped straying, it wouldn't be necessary), I wonder why Chaim thinks he's justified in cursing out (that's a bit harsh, I know, but I couldn't really think of another word for it) those who don't like the album. If there's one thing life has taught me, and believe you me, though it tried to teach I haven't really been paying attention, it's that one man's pile of ancient stones is another's fishing pier.
I appreciate reviews, but should I be made to feel bad for disagreeing? Fine, so I don't have to read the review (the thought just occurred to me; I'm doing the existential thing quite well today. Humor, on the other button, is a different tale), but I enjoy reviews. Many people enjoy reviews. The question is, do us review-loving types want to be insulted, or beaten down as lower-class, uncultured, illiterate, Internet Explorer using, beer and pizza consuming (actually, that sounds pretty good right now), Chevy driving (don't kid yourselves GM), low quality blog reading (no, of course not like this one) people?
Any review is of course (the reviewer's) pure bias, but we've all come to trust other people's opinions. Is a wine good? What do the wine snobs say? If they all say it's terrible, then chances are you won't like it either. Same goes for most products. It's one thing when you're judging something with quantifiable qualities; an iPod has more storage capability than a Samsung, a rhinoceros has more feet than a parakeet. Music though, like wine or quality of cabbage, is based purely on opinion. The job of the reviewer is to tell us what they think, not to defend the product (as Chaim has been doing with The 8th Note) or criticize those who don't agree. Moral equivalence should never affect our consideration of religion or culture, but it's no bad thing when it comes to product evaluations.
Chaim and other defenders of the album will tell you that the real problem lies with the record producers; they've accustomed us to such garbage that when something truly revolutionary (and possibly [in this case certainly] tremendous) comes along, we're incapable of appreciating it. Well honeys, sorry to burst your bubble, but that's what capitalism's all about; selling as little as possible to the customer for as much as you can charge. When an 8th Note comes out, the market decides its worth. Perhaps Chaim is desperate for more high quality Jewish music? It's certainly an admirable desire, but hardly justification for branding those who disagree as cretins and Catholics (it just seemed to fit).
So does everybody now understand my sudden quest for humility? Have I attained it yet? Can I get a definitive ruling on the hyphenation (or not) of the word(s) "self-righteous"? Because if there's anything worse than people who think they're better than anyone else (excluding me, of course [why not?]), I'd like to meet it and administer a swift and possibly illegal kick to various parts of their anatomy (if they're cowering in fear in the corner, or are simply rolled up in any confined space, it'll be relatively easy to hit multiple exposed body parts with a single hit).

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pass on Over

Some days I have lots to write, and some days I don't have much of anything. Today I learned several things, and each of them would have been great to blog about. In the end I'll just write about the last thing I learned, even if I really should have written about it two weeks ago. Truth is, the if the Rebbe could talk about it late, than so can I. For anyone who's interested in following along, it's in Hisvaadus 1984, part 2, page 1289, followed by 1349-1351. One thought: does the average non-Jew know what leaven is? How does it help him when you explain the prohibition of Chametz by saying, "Oh, that's leaven". He nods his head and has additional proof that most Jews are off their rocker. Just a thought.

The Alter Rebbe writes in his Shulchan Oruch, in the beginning of Orach Chaim 429, that thirty days before the festival preachers begin to expound publicly regarding the upcoming holiday. This means that on Purim, the 14th of Adar, we begin to prepare for Pesach, which falls out on the 15th of Nissan. Similarly, we begin to prepare for Shavuos on the 5th of Iyar, with the holiday following thirty days later on the 6th of Sivan, and with Sukkos, with preparation beginning on the 14th of Elul for the holiday on the 15th of Tishrei.
The reason for this time of preparation is that the nation needed to be taught the laws of sacrifices, as every single Jew who lived in the land of Israel was obligated to bring three sacrifices every festival. These sacrifices needed to be free of any blemish or any other disqualifying feature, and the Rabbis wanted the public to be ready, so they instituted this 30 day rule.
The Rebbe asks a simple question. Why didn't the Rabbi's begin this public preparation for Pesach on the 13th; after all, the Pesach offering is offered on the 14th itself (unlike the other three offerings, which were brought up on the festival), and we search for Chametz on the night of the 14th. Shouldn't the preparations for these integral parts of the holiday begin thirty days prior, like those of Shavous and Sukkos?
The answer isn't that the offering was only after noon on the 14th, because there would still be many hours missing from the total of thirty days, and many things could be learned in that time. There's also the matter of the search for Chametz, on the night of the 14th, which is necessary for the sacrifice. This also has many laws, and the 30 day rule should encompass it as well.
(The Rebbe says) Some people answered (in the booklets put out by Oholei Torah and the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey) that Tosafos answers this question in Bechoros by stating that the day of the offering itself is not counted. Also, the Rabbis didn't differentiate between one festival and another, and since we start preparing for Sukkos on the 14th, we do the same for Pesach. In addition, most of the offerings are on the festival itself.
Whoever answered should be blessed, but they're missing the point. First of all, the question is on the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Oruch. He says that this law was not nullified after the destruction of the Temple, even though obviously no sacrifices are being offered outside the sanctuary. The new formulation of the Halacha is, "Every Chacham (wise man) should teach his students the laws of the festival 30 days prior, so that they should be expert in its laws and should know what to do." Meaning, we're not talking about the sacrifices anymore, and instead the question is focused on the search and destruction of the Chametz. So Tosafos' question isn't applicable here, as his answers deal with sacrifices.
In addition, when the Alter Rebbe writes about the "later generations" (post-Temple types) he differentiates between the Shavuos and the other two festivals, when he rules that on the Shabbos before Pesach and Sukkos the local Rav should give a speech dealing with the laws of the upcoming festival, while there is no such law regarding Shavuos. Thus Tosafos' answer, that we don't separate between festivals, isn't followed here.
The point of learning is to know what to do. Most of the laws which a Jew must know for Pesach, and Sukkos, have nothing to do with the sacrifice. The only law a regular Jew must know about the sacrifice is that it has to be free from blemish or other disqualification. Only a Kohen, a priest, needs to know all the other laws, i.e. animal slaughter, the sprinkling of the blood, the incense, etc. Only a superficial knowledge of the laws of blemishes is needed. Rav, an Amora, studied these laws for 18 months with a shepherd. How much longer would it take a regular Jew? There's no way he could finish it in just 30 days. That's why even after these 30 days of preparation a Kohen would still check each animal.
The laws of Chametz, like the laws of the Sukkah and 4 species, must be well known by every Jew. If the laws of sacrifices, which require only a superficial understanding, must be studied for 30 days, how much more so the applicable laws of Chametz!

(The Rebbe ends off) From all the discussion above, we might forget that we're talking about a living, breathing Jew who has to prepare for Pesach, and has to know what exactly to do!

So what's the answer? As far as I can tell, the Rebbe didn't answer it by this Farbrengen, and I'm not sure if it's answered anywhere else. If anyone does know, I'd really appreciate being told. That would be nice. One of the only problems with learning Sichos straight from Hisvaadyus is that the footnotes aren't really too helpful in situations like this one, where the answer could be found in a Sicha that was said four of five years later.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fool's Day, Challah, and Hitchens

What is the Jewish view on April Fool's Day? I guess we don't really do it, seeing as we have Purim for comedic news, even if certain websites have issues with that kind of thing, but I was happy to see that everyone else in the known universe participated with gusto. Hey, even Chaim Rubin had something, though he gave it away by naming himself. It's nice to be able to say almost anything without fear of (too much) reprisal from the censoring types that make up the mainstream Jewish media. I can say anything I want on this blog, but it's rather pointless, as almost no one reads it. Besides, by identifying myself with the Lubavitch movement, I have the moral responsibility to write only things that aren't too damaging to the cause. Isn't it nice to have moral responsibility? It makes me feel really important. Of course every Jew has this responsibility, but (YYXPS's confirmation number for his DHL pickup is 143134 [I just thought you should know that])mine is special, because I claim to represent an influential segment of the community. Do I really speak in their name. Well, obviously I do. Do they feel represented by me? Does the American public feel represented President George W. Bush? Do you have your answer? Is it annoying to read a bunch of questions?

Did you know that if you forget to take Challah from your Challah before Shabbos Hagadol this year, then you have no recourse, and you must give all the Challah from that batch to a local Goy, or if you want you can flush it down the toilet. The reason, as laid out in the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Oruch, is that there's no way follow the normal prescription in such cases, which is to set aside a chunk of the baked Challah on Shabbos and take Challah from it after Shabbos. Since this would involve owning Chametz on Pesach, it doesn't work. Giving that chunk to a Goy also doesn't work, because any gift to him or her must be unconditional, and there's no way of ensuring he won't eat the Challah. Telling him not to eat the Challah would place a condition on the bread, meaning the Goy wouldn't really own it, resulting in the Jew owning the Chametz on Pesach and thereby incurring lots and lots of divine wrath. Even giving it to him with the hope of him saving it would be prohibited, because if he doesn't save it then the Jew would have retroactively eaten Tevel and incurred other types, but still lots and lots, of divine wrath. So as I wrote, the only option is to completely divest ones self of the offending goods.
The above is not an April Fool's Joke. Look it up in the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Oruch if you don't believe me. It's in Siman 444, Halacha 12.

Speaking of divine wrath raining down upon those sinners who don't take a little piece of dough from their bigger chunk of dough before baking and eating it...Christopher Hitchens, as demonstrated in an interview I recently saw with him on the Hannity and Colmes show (ahh, the joys of watching YouTube over someone's shoulder) has no answer to the fundamental question I blogged about a couple weeks ago, of the initial creation of the universe. Not that it's my question by any means. Hitchens' main argument seems to have the problem as Boteach's. Boteach's main argument was that the world is too complicated to have been made by anyone other than G-d. The response to this is that we're simply too stupid to understand. Fine, I agree that the argument is a stupid one. But at the same time, Hitchen's argument is also illogical. He says that religion has been responsible for more death and destruction than anything else in the world, and that reading the Bible or Koran one gets the idea that this G-d guy isn't someone you'd like to have a BBQ with, particularly as more than likely you'd be the one being cooked. The problem with this is that first of all, it's really more against religion than G-d himself. Perhaps we just haven't founded the right religion? Secondly, who says that G-d isn't a vengeful Old Testament-type? Just because he kills a lot of people doesn't mean he doesn't exist. A religious person could have problems with this, because they've been brought up to believe that G-d is really a nice guy, but again, that doesn't prove anything.
This is similar to my previous post about the guys on Mivtzoyim who didn't like the Bible because it said to wipe out the Amalekites. How do I justify this kind of behavior on G-d's part? There's the famous answer of the Rebbe, which I could've sworn I blogged about once before, but I can't find it in the archive, which is minorly annoying, because it means I'll have to write it now (possibly for the second time) for your reading edification.
In short, and I do mean short, this world is a space craft that's flying to some far out place. Like six million light years far out place (in some cases, this could be the bathroom). Obviously the original travelers won't make it there; rather their descendants will have the task of doing whatever it is space craft personnel do. About five hundred years into the mission one of the kids decides that the whole story is a crock of basted salami (in white wine[that sounds pretty nasty now that I think of it] and possibly some ketchup). He tells his parents/superiors that he's not interested anymore, and he's going to do something horrendous, like turn off one of the switches on the central computer. His parents warn him that it'll destroy everything if he does so, but he says, "Says who?" They answer that this the tradition they've heard from their parents. He says, "And who do they know it from? It seems to me that this whole thing we've got going here is one big lie. I'm going to"...too bad the ship blows up. Or something like that. Point is, this little kid ruined the mission, and now no punishment is too great for him.
The Rebbe said that the same thing applies to Torah and Mitzvos. We don't understand what's going on, but we should rest assured that whatever it is it's extremely important. If we do something dumb, of course the Torah punishes us. It's not vengeful, it's justice. In fact, the Rebbe says, 39 lashes is nothing compared to the damage that's been caused. Blaming religion for the bad it's caused is fine.
Is religion a good thing? No. Is Judaism a good thing? For sure. Is Judaism a religion? Obviously not. For more on that, ask your local orthodox Rabbi.