Friday, May 30, 2008

Peretz Ben D'mah

There's a custom among many bloggers to put lists of links on their sites on Fridays. Since Minhag Hainternet Lav Torah Hee, I'll be doing a little bit of this today.
Today is the 36th anniversary of the Lod Airport Massacre. Until last night, I had never even heard of this massacre of 26 innocent people in Israel. Here's the link for more info. In other news, this week we read the portion of Bamidbar, and bless the month of Sivan. This is the only week we say the Av Harachamim prayer on Shabbos Mevarchim, and it's because these guys killed lots and lots of Jews, as detailed here. The Lubavitcher Rebbe put a positive spin on our recital of Av Harachamim. The Rebbe also called for this Shabbos to be filled with Jewish unity, and, once again, the details are here.

In other news, I forgot to add one little thing to yesterday's post. The Gemara says that horse urine is Kosher. Fascinating, no? Donkey urine is not Kosher, because it's murky. Since we don't rule on laws from the Gemara, I do have to put in the little disclaimer that the Shulchan Oruch rules that urine from non-Kosher beasts is not permitted. Oh well.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

More Milk!

Yesterday I came across an interesting thing in the Sefer Taamei Minhagim Umkorei Hadinim by Rabbi Moshe Sperling. He brings down the Rokeach who states that the consumption of dairy products was, until the giving of the Torah, forbidden, and so when the the Torah was given the Jews celebrated by eating cheesecake.
Why was dairy forbidden in the first place? Because it's Aiver Min Hachai, i.e. a limb from a living animal. I thought, "Hey, that's a really cool answer!" and determined to track down the source, which turned out to be the Gemara in Bechoros, which thanks to Artscroll I didn't have to break my head over. A lot of what I'm going to write now is based on their translation and commentary; as far as I can recall there's no Issur involved, but if there is....
The Gemara on 6B (2, for those keeping score with their Artscrolls) states that we would have thought that a person can use milk from a non-Kosher animal, because we're allowed to use milk from a Kosher animal. The Gemara brings two reasons for this: The first is that milk is made from blood, which is normally prohibited. When Hashem permitted blood, we would think that he permitted milk (transformed blood) from all creatures. Therefore the Torah has to specfically lay down the law. There is a problem with this answer according to one opinion (look it up), so the Gemara brings the additional rationale that since Hashem permitted us to use a "limb" (milk) from a living Kosher animal, we would think he permitted us to use a "limb" (milk) from any living animal. This is why the Torah has to specify that dairy from a non-Kosher source is prohibited.
Milk being a "limb" is pretty hard to understand, because it seems to be a separate entity; therefore many Acharonim say that the Gemara holds there should be a problem with dairy because it's from an animal that hasn't been shechted properly.
I don't understand why this would answer the question. According to the simple way of learning the Gemara, the problem is that the milk is a "limb", and eating dairy from a live animal would seem to be forbidden. According to the way the Acharonim explain it, the problem is that you're eating something which wasn't shechted properly. It's a problem to eat something which wasn't shechted properly because it's (the milk) considered to be...what? If shechting solves the problem, why is this called Aiver Min Hachai by the Gemara? It's entirely a problem of schechita. The Gemara seems to be saying that the reason we're allowed to eat dairy is because the prohibition of Aiver Min Hachai was relaxed by Hashem in the case of Kosher milk.
The Gemara implies that before Matan Torah dairy from a dead animal was permitted. According to the Acharonim, would that mean that before Matan Torah only dairy from a properly shechted animal was permitted? In general, are non-Jews nowadays allowed to have milk? It would seem that they can only have milk from a dead animal; after all, we got the Torah which allows to have dairy from a live cow, but non-Jews didn't get the Torah. According to the Acharonim, this wouldn't seem to be a problem, because non-Jews are only commanded to not eat a limb from a living animal; they have nothing to do with shechita.
Before the giving of the Torah, what was the issue according to the Acharonim? They say that the issue is shechita. Before Matan Torah, no one kept shechita anyway, because there were no Jews to shecht. In general, with regards to meat, I assume that they ate meat that post-Matan Torah is not permitted. So before Matan Torah, the Acharonim would allow a non-Jew to have dairy from any dead animal, while a Jew could only have from a Kosher animal (remember, they kept all the laws of the Torah before Matan Torah). After Matan Torah, without the Torah's special dispensation, a Jew is only allowed dairy from a properly slaughtered animal. A non-Jew can have dairy from any dead animal, since they don't have a problem with eating non-properly slaughtered animals. With the Torah's dispensation, a Jew can have dairy from a live Kosher animal, though it has not been shechted. I don't understand how allowing dairy from an animal which has not been properly slaughtered is the same as allowing dairy from a living animal. It seems that the Acharonim are merely allowing us to have dairy from a properly shechted animal.
The simple explanation of the Gemara makes a lot more sense (in my humble [and probably deficient] opinion. Before Matan Torah, all milk from dead animals was permitted; after the giving of the Torah, milk from a live Kosher animal was permitted.
Non-Jews still seem to have a problem, because the Torah did not permit them to have milk from a live animal, whether Kosher or non-Kosher, but this is not my problem.

Anyway, the Gemara asks a simple question: How do we know that the Torah allowed us to have milk from a Kosher animal? It brings several proofs, quickly knocks them away, and ends with three Pesukim from which to learn the dispensation. The first is in 1 Samuel, 17:18, where David was given cheese from his father Yishai for his brothers on the battlefield. This verse only seems to prove that dairy is permitted, but it's not Hashem coming down with fire and brimstone and saying, "Thou mayest eateth the milk of thine beasts!" The next Passuk is from Shemos 3:17, "A land flowing with milk and honey." Would Hashem praise the land with forbidden items? This verse seems to be more in the vein of a command, but it's still not the same. The third Passuk is from Isiah 55:1, where he tells people to go buy and eat milk, implying that it's fine.

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed this little explanation. I hate tooting my own horn (right!), but I had some nice comments on VIN that you should check out. I'm the commenter named "TRS". And that, as we say, is a wrap. Oh, before you finish folding that wrap (turkey, pastrami, pickle, lettuce, corn chips), the poll should say "Penne a la Vodka", not the other way 'round. Only Lubavitchers would have a alcochol with a little bit of noodles, and of course this blog is meant for everybody.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Strands of Frand

Yesterday morning I heard a CD from Rabbi Yissochor Frand that really struck a chord with me. He wanted to illustrate the difference between Chessed (kindness) and Ahavas Chessed (love of kindness). I'll embellish what he said a little to give 'em flavor, but this is basically how he told them.
There's a guy who loves in Boro Park, where Meshulachim (charity collectors) go around to houses every Sunday for money. The protagonist of our story is a good Jew, and he gives checks to all who come a'knocking. At noon he goes off to Sprinkles (best ice cream in NY) to get some ice cream, then heads to Flatbush to get some pizza at Pizza Time (best pizza in NY). He realizes after eating the pizza that he really should have had desert second, so he heads back to Sprinkles, though this time he gets soft-serve. Once he's done there it's homeward bound, and as he's pulling up his block he notices a Meshulach just leaving his front door. As he parks his car, our hero thinks, "Wow, this is great, I just missed that one."
Rabbi Frand says that this kind of behavior is Chessed, but it's not Ahavas Chessed. If he really loved doing Chessed then he would have made sure to give that guy a check, or at the very least felt bad.
Ahavas Chessed, Rabbi Frand says, is best illustrated by the following story: A guy once came to Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Pam Z"L (1913-2001), Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn, New York. The guy had some great idea for a Torah-based venture, but like all great plans, he needed capital. He came to Rabbi Pam and laid out his idea, asking at the end for Rabbi Pam to enlist his former Talmidim to help. Rabbi Pam said that he would love to help, but he had just asked his Talmidim for a worthy cause, and he didn't think he could go back again. After all, there's only so many times you can dip into the well. The man left, and ten minutes later one of Rabbi Pam's students came into the office. He found his teacher looking at index cards. upon which were written the names of former Talmidim, and shedding bitter tears. He inquired as to the cause of these tears. Rabbi Pam told him what had happened, and said, "I'm looking through these cards, and realizing that my students truly can't give, and I'm crying." Rabbi Frand says that this is the epitome of Ahavas Chessed, the love of kindness.
I heard this story while with a certain nameless Rabbi, and later with Rabbi Mordechai Friedman, Dean of YHSTC, and they both thought these illustrations to be ridiculous. What is Chessed? Chessed is kindness, action. Ahava, love, is a feeling. The best scenario is when a person has love which leads him to action. In the middle is pure action, without love. And Ahava without action is worthless. In fact, the love itself is suspect, because it leads to nothing. Looking at the two stories, we can see that our charitable, ice cream loving, pizza eating, soft-serve slurping, happy not to give out more money protagonist is in fact a pretty good guy. Chassidus constantly stresses that "Hamaaseh hu haikar", action is the main thing, even when unaccompanied by feeling. This is especialy true with Tzedaka, where the goal is for the receiver to get what he needs, regardless of the feelings of the giver. The second story doesn't exactly fit this bill. Rabbi Pam had no Chessed, no action, just Ahava. The question could be asked by less respectful people, "Who was this Ahava for? For the organization that would not be helped, for the Talmidim, or for Rabbi Pam himself?"
The entire point of Shavuos is encapsulated in these two stories. Before the giving of the Torah, our forefathers and four mothers kept the entire Torah, and they did it a lot better than we or anyone of our ilk can ever hope to do. But... they didn't change the world. After the giving of the Torah, we can change the world. We can make it a better place. Giving Tzedaka without feeling, even grudgingly, is giving Tzedaka. Feeling bad about not being able to give Tzedaka is beautiful, but it accomplishes nothing. See this post for a cute story on the subject.
By the way, I'm not trying to say anything negative about Rabbi Pam here. After all, he was a known friend and supporter of Lubavitch. What I'm trying to say is that A. Rabbi Frand really messed up big time here, and B. Action is what counts. Oh yes, and C. Without Chassidus, life is a bog; with it, life is firm ground, enabling you to plant your ladder and reach for the heavens.

Amongst majestic mountains

One of the great things about being a Shliach, as opposed to being a regular Bochur, is that I have the ability to follow my whims to a certain extent. For example, I decided this morning that I had to find the ultimate Maamar which deals with the concept of "The heavens did not come down to the earth and the earth did not rise up unto the heavens." Why did I decide on this topic specifically, as opposed to all the other Shavuos topics out there? I'm not quite sure. I remember learning a bunch of Maamarim on this subject when I was in YOEC a couple years ago, and I figured I'd have no problem coming up with a good one. Boy, was I wrong. After extensive research into the subject, I've only found one Maamar which really deals with this. Admittedly, my search has focused on the Rebbe's and the Friedriker Rebbe's Sefarim, but still.... It's been particularly frustrating, because whenever it's brought down in the footnotes it mentions the same couple places and then says "V'chulo", "etc." It's mentioned all over the place, but usually only briefly. Still, I'm convinced that A. A little more searching will bring up what I'm looking for, and B. My faithful readers will have lots of good suggestions. And don't think I didn't check the index at the back of Melukat, or look up every referenced Maamar from the Rebbe and Friedriker Rebbe.

Anyway, I'm sure you're wondering what the Maamarim talk about. G-d came down on a little mountain and revealed himself, with visible thunder, audible lightning, and plenty of fire and smoke. No, this wasn't an acid trip, it was the greatest thing that ever happened. So what did G-d say when he revealed himself? Don't murder. Don't commit adultery. Respect your mother and father. Don't steal other people's people, or their shtuff. Don't be envious of other people's cows, donkeys, or even Cadillacs.
Incredible, no? Well, no. G-d used this most awesome occasion to run through some basic laws? We don't need G-d for this. Anyone with half a brain could figure this shtuff out. In addition, what was the whole point of the giving of the Torah? The holy books state that Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah, even the rabbinic enactments. He probably didn't even eat gebrockts! Why did G-d have to give the Torah?

In general, the Mitzvos are divided into three categories: Mishpatim, Eduth, and Chukim, which means understandable laws, testimonys, and non-understandable law. Naturally, people enjoy doing things they understand, while they don't enjoy doing things which they don't understand. Therefore, some people think that a person should keep the Chukim with the same fervor as they keep the Mishpatim. The Friedriker Rebbe says that this is incorrect; a person should strive to fulfill the Mishpatim with the same Kabbalos Ol, acceptance of the yoke of heaven, as they keep the Chukim.
Therefore, we need to have G-d commanding the Mishpatim. Who were the perpetrators of the Holocaust? One of the most intelligent, cultured, and refined people. They were among the first in the world to have laws prohibiting animal abuse. And yet they murdered a heck of a lot of people. Why? Because their laws were based on human intellect. They believed in "Thou shalt not murder", but they also believed that they were not murdering.

These two answers are nice, but they only answer one part of the question, "Why did G-d need to issue these obvious commands"? We're still left wondering what the whole production was for. Couldn't G-d have just called the Jews into a conference room, made a nice Powerpoint presentation, and left it at that?

Back in the day, there was a rule: "The heavens can't come down to the earth, and the earth can't go up to the heavens." Before the giving of the Torah, nothing spiritual could become physical, and nothing physical could become spiritual. Our forefathers kept the whole Torah, but it was an entirely spiritual service. Yaakov did the Mitzva of Tefillin with wooden sticks, but the sticks didn't become holy in the process. The Mitzvos that were done before the giving of the Torah are called "Fragrances", because they smelled really nice, but there was nothing tangible.

After the giving of the Torah, when the heavens came down and the earth went up, things were very different. When we do the Mitzva of Tefillin, the actual cow hide becomes holy. Are Mitzvos are called "Fragrant Oil", because they smell nice and they're tangible.

This is why G-d made a whole big thing to give the Torah; it takes a lot to bring heaven down to earth, and even more importantly, to raise earth up to heaven. And why was it necessary? Because the whole purpose of creation is to make a dwelling place for Hashem down here, to make the physical spiritual, to unify the two with the coming of Moshiach, may that be right now.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I knew you could do it

Today is Memorial Day, a day when Americans of all stripes, colors, and shades of pink take a little time to recognize the men and women who have given their lives to ensure that we remain the greatest country in the world. Did they give their lives to ensure that we remain the greatest country in the world? I don't know what their motivation was. They were probably like the rest of us, just trying to stay alive. And they they died. What were they fighting for? Their parents, siblings, wives, husbands, dogs, cats, maybe even their country. I don't know. Anyway, I do say, "Thank you", because without these brave guys and gals I highly doubt I'd have the freedom to sit here and question their motives.
Speaking of Memorial Day, I'd just like to respond to the pro-Rubashkin hamburger comment from Nemo. Yes, they can save lives, but as I have often experienced, they can be quite dangerous. Lesson? They should only be eaten in the direst of circumstances. Aaron's ground beef can be, and is often, made into quite delicious burgers, but that's another issue altogether.

Many moons ago I used to dabble in poetry. One particular piece of verse I recall dealt with cows. Today I feel like returning to this once-favored joy, and so I'll write some here for you to peruse and (probably) criticize.

The Moon's bright verve
brought effervescent by the cooling town
is struck low with a calming wave
with a large blast at the bound

Yeah, that was a pretty pathetic effort, huh? How about this?

No more the dumb
Far gone the the lost
the cracker's eaten
the voice's cost

Oh man, this is getting kind of pathetic. We'll try one more...

And thus the end
the crying last
these poems have been depressing
and rather pointless

The good news is that it's looking like I'll be going on Merkos Shlichus again this year. Will I be getting a blog on Roving Rabbis? Only time will tell. But if not, don't worry, they don't call me TRS for nothing.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Priests that aren't, sins, and meat

Today is the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Kagan, father in law of our retiring leader, who Farbrenged in honor of the occasion last night. It wasn't one of those Farbrengens that are transferable to the written word, which is probably a good thing. One thing he did say was that Rabbi Kagan went into Yechidus to the Rebbe back in the day, and said that he had a problem, "I feel that I'm a great guy." The Rebbe replied, "Start doing things to justify that feeling." Soon after the Rabbi Kagan started his thought for the week, which eventually became a bunch of books. Point is, if you accomplish lots of shtuff, then it doesn't matter if you have the wrong motives.
Moving right along, want to clear up some loose ends from the whole Tachanun thingie we had going. It's a clear Halacha in the Alter Rebbe that you have to cover your face while doing Nefilas Apayim, and since your arm can't do this, you need a sleeve or something. Why can't your arm do this? Because something can't cover itself, i.e. your body can't cover itself. Using Tefillin for this purpose is, as I pointed out, unnecessary, as the Alter Rebbe anyway mandates the use of a jacket during prayers.
Additionally, I just want to say once and for all that it's a clear Din in Shulchan Oruch that you should try your hardest to sit down during Nefilas Apayim, and anyone who doesn't is simply being a very bad boy. Really, is it that difficult to sit down? This is an issue that constantly vexes me.
And last but not least, how about Rubashkin? I just saw an editorial somewhere that said something along the lines of, "If Rubashkin has all these ethical problems, how do we know that they don't have Kashrus problems?" My opinion is that A. they have Kashrus problems, B. who cares? and C. why are their other problems ethical in nature? Why do I think they have Kashrus problems? Because everyone says they do, and where there's smoke there's bound to be fire. If anyone cared, which they don't, they would do something about these problems, but as I say, no one does anything, so obviously they don't care. KAJ taking their certification away doesn't count as doing something, because I highly doubt Rubashkin lost any business due to it. Most Lubavitchers think that Shor Habor is a farce, and I for one don't believe any differently. Is Aarons any better? Probably not. But as I said, who cares? Weissmandel can burn for my eating Treif, if in fact I'm doing so.
And ethics? Why is hiring illegal workers, who are the only ones who'll do what you want for the price you want, unethical? My ethics are Torah and capitalism, and neither of those says we should discriminate against Mexicans who weren't fortunate enough to be born north of the border. Torah does say that you should treat your workers well, and Rubashkin by and large does that. Do you know why these illegals come here to work in the first place? Believe you me, it's not for the weather. They come here because they get a lot more money here. And that's a good thing. What's not a good thing is when do-gooders try to impose their stupidity on the rest of us.
And now feel free to disagree with everything I've just written. Go ahead, it's your prerogative.

Stop the Press!

There is a full post coming, oh faithful readers. Your patience is appreciated.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sins of our sons

The title of this post really doesn't have too much to do with what I'm planning on writing about today, but A. I really liked it, and B. You never know, inspiration may strike. Anyway, today I'm going to point out some interesting things about Tachanun, the penitential prayers said on many days of the year.
The main part of Tachanun which is talked about in Shulchan Oruch is Nefilas Apayim, which is the resting on the arm thing. This is only done when there is an ark and a Torah scroll in the room, according to the Ramah, but the Taz states that the ark is really not necessary. I assume that this means that if there's only an ark and no Torah then you don't rest on your arm, but I'm not sure if this is the case. In general, when you don't do Nefilas Apayim, you just say Tachanun sitting down. It's funny, because the early codifiers stress that it's very important to say it sitting down, especially according to the Kabbalah, but later commentators say that it's not such a big deal, though obviously it's preferable. The Be'ar Haitav says that if a person has a Torah in his home, then he also does Nefilas Apayim, and even if he has Seforim in his house then he does it. The Alter Rebbe doesn't bring this Halacha down in his Shulchan Oruch, which would seem to imply that he doesn't hold of it. Back in the day, no one had Sefarim in their houses, but whether that means anything I don't know. Maybe they had more respect for books. Again though, I don't know.
Another interesting Halacha is that if the congregation is saying Tachanun then a person at home can do Nefilas Apayim, as he's considered to be among the congregants, because even an iron curtain can't separate a Jew and his Father in Heaven. As our fearless leader pointed out, this reason doesn't seem to have any connection with the Halacha; after all, why does the fact that there's no wall separating Jews from their G-d mean that a guy who's separated from his fellow Jews is allowed to participate with them in their falling?
One more thing about Tachanun: I seem to recall learning that one doesn't do Nefilas Apayim when the Torah is out of the ark, but I have yet to see this in print. If anyone knows, please comment.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The light brigade

Yesterday I helped our fearless leader with some shtuff around the house, and while I was there I quoted two of the more famous poems to have graced our little world, "Casey at the bat" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade". These two poems really describe how I sometimes feel about Yeshiva. Sometimes Casey strikes out, we mess up, and there's no joy in Mudville. And like Casey, we should have known it was coming. As the holy words say, "Chacham Einav B'Rosho", a wise man sees the future. Casey went down swinging because he figured he could wait for his pitch, but the fact is that you've got to take every opportunity given and not wait until the perfect time comes, because perfection ain't coming anytime soon.
At other times, I feel that six hundred horsemen are riding into the valley of death, and up above are Russian cannons just itching to take a shot at the Englishman. And what about those brave Britishers? "Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do and die". Obviously the commanders knew what they were doing, or at the very least thought they knew what they were doing, but the feeling is still there that the time of horses has passed, and a couple of HUMVEEs would do a better job. Obviously I'm not advocating revolt against the leadership, or even suggesting that they're inept. All I'm saying is that everyone should take a deep breath, count to seventeen, and then think long and hard about sending the troops into battle. If they then decide to send out the suicide mission? At least we'll have the assurance that our deaths are not in vain.
Moving right along, I think I'll take a stab at the latest news coming from the Zionist Entity. Olmert wants to give back Golan, though he won't give back the envelopes of cash. Funny world, isn't it? In general, when it comes to Israeli issues, I tend to space out, because, like the Rebbe quoted many times, "Hashem's eyes are on the land from the beginning of the year until the end of the year." Not that we don't have a responsibility to try and save the land, but, especially from America, we really don't have the ability to do anything besides hope and pray. And you know what? As long as the Golan is still Israeli for the summer, I'll be okay. It would be nice if we had a little war and a bunch of Arab-types went to heaven, but I've learned my lesson by now, which is that G-d rarely does what we wish when we wish it.
Selfish? Yes. So I take it back. Hopefully Olmert will repent completely, the Messiah will come, and a bunch of Arab-types will go to heaven. Does that work for everybody now?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Deathless Prose your time has come!

He slowly raised his hand in class, awaiting the memories he was sure would soon flood his conscious like a vast wave of manatees after a particularly bad day in the battle for control of Florida's pristine waters. The memories concerned the last time he raised his hand in class, which was in 1922, thirteen years before his death and 86 years before his resurrection as !The Masked Moron!. The memories didn't disappoint, and soon life-like images of Warren Gamaliel Harding came like little bats escaping the belfry of their paltry and slightly pathetic insect-obsessed lives. !The Masked Moron! finished raising his hand, and the teacher called on him, the first time such an event had occurred since the beginning of WWI. "Oh Joy" cried the !The Masked Moron!, "I have been called upon by the teacher of 2008!" The teacher, exasperating slowly like a pressure cooker just a few moments after being plugged into a not-functioning-but-possibly-good-enough-to-do-the-job-at-hand electrical outlet, asked !The Masked Moron! if he had anything remotely intelligent to say. !The Masked Moron! rotated in his seat, and slowly turned his beady eyes on the Innocent Maiden sitting next to him. "Get your beady, filthy, and masked eyes off of me!" she screamed, "you are a lecherous old fool and only deserving of complete censure by any normal estimation!" !The Masked Moron! cried out, in a voice that sounded as if it had last cried out in 1922, which in fact it had, "How dare you speak that way to !The Masked Moron!! No woman can speak that way and live!" The teacher, who had by now boiled over and was straining the metaphorical noodles, said, "That's no way to talk to a recently-resurrected man, Miss Innocent Maiden! Apologize now." The Innocent Maiden was by this time slobbering like a dog with rabies on a hot summer's day, and therefore quite incapable of saying anything, much less apologizing to the !The Masked Moron!. The teacher said, "Well, if that's the way things are going to be, you'll have to sit in the corner with a dunce cap on your Innocent Maiden head". The Innocent Maiden bounded off to the corner in a single leap, barking all the way exactly like a pedigreed Alsatian doesn't. The Innocent Maiden picked up the dunce cap and began to chew it, saliva spewing everywhere, while her lawyer phoned the ACLU and threatened a lawsuit over use of the dunce cap in post-post-slightly later-modern-America 2008.
!The Masked Moron! was then asked by the teacher, who was metaphorically pouring Heinz tomato sauce over the now-cooling noodles, "Do you have anything further to say?" !The Masked Moron!, as it happened, had nothing further to say, so he cracked open a freezing-cold Coors Light and immediately retched. He reached for a cup of water, and his thirst was quenched by the cool, light, delicious flavor of arsenic mixed with quinine, dissolved in vinegar, petrified by a stare from a great big hippopotamus, and finally eaten and expelled by a smaller-than-average aardvark who glorified in the name of Sid. The drink was tasty, and !The Masked Moron! had several more. The teacher was not at all inclined to allow this behavior to continue, and she began to scream. The sound joined melodiously with the continued barking of the Innocent Maiden, crescendoing upward with a joy normally associated with the end of war or at least milkshakes for everyone, even the dog.
!The Masked Moron!, having finished his beverage of choice, was now disinclined to remain in the classroom, and he left the room, with the memory of his being called on forever etched in his brain, supplanting the memories of Warren Gamaliel Harding which were anyway quite musty.
The first person !The Masked Moron! encountered on his way down the hallway was the school librarian, who asked him why he hadn't returned his library books for nearly a century. The !The Masked Moron! didn't even deign to smile, as this was one of the oldest librarian jokes out there, and he wasn't interested in sullying his reputation by smiling at such an old chestnut. The librarian was offended, and promised to "set the old man straight" and perpetrate similar acts of violence against !The Masked Moron!'s person. !The Masked Moron! was not impressed, and decided to take the librarian on a ride she wouldn't forget, flinging her onto his back and then jumping off the school's roof. It was only a two-story drop, but they were both so surprised to see a cow munching chicken on the baseball field adjacent to the football field with its newly-painted yellow goalposts and aging but still relatively sprightly scoreboard that they both had conniptions and died, !The Masked Moron! for the second time, the librarian for the first, mercifully ending a story that should never have been started but at least fulfilling the self-imposed and quite ridiculous obligation to post every day.
The End.

Stranger and stranger

Today I decided to try writing some deathless prose. When this thought first came up I figured I'd start this post off with, "Today I decided to try my hand at deathless prose", but it just didn't make sense to me. Perhaps I haven't read enough literature lately. Anyway, just so you should know, the deathless prose is coming. Have patience. Don't write a bunch of obnoxious comments asking where the deathless prose is or impinging on my ancestry. If you're really interested, I come from a distinguished line of Litvish Rabbonim on one side, the other side is Kohanim, and the third half comes from a little-known line of Apple Computers that flourished in the late seventeenth century under the leadership of the Grand Vizier of Cupertino.
As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted by myself, check back later for thrilling action in the next installment of, "The Adventures of TRS and his merry band of commenters."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pesach Sheni thoughts

Today is Pesach Sheni, which according to Reb Yehuda HaNassi is a separate holiday and according to others is merely a substitution for the first Pesach. Either way, there's two major Farbrenging themes on this day: "Lamah Nigarah", why should we be left out, and "Nita Ken Farfallen", it's never too late. Lamah Nigarah is the cry certain Jews made when they found out that they couldn't bring the Pesach offering due to their impure status. They went to Moshe, and he fixed things up with G-d, and Boom! A new holiday was born. Nita Ken Farfalen is what the Friedriker Rebbe says in today's Hayom Yom.
Our retiring Leader told me that when he was in Yeshiva in LA the Rosh Farbreneged Lamah Nigarah, while I remember him focusing on Nita Ken Farfallen. Why the change? Perhaps it was the generation. Back in the day, and this is before I was born, all you had to do was jump on the bandwagon. The Rebbe was Farbrenging nearly every week, and Lubavitch was supercharged. If someone was left out, all they had to do was complain a bit and someone was there to pick them up and throw them into the thick of things. The Rosh would probably hit me if he knew I was writing about him like he was holy, but he'd also love it. Anyway, what about this generation? We're fallen already. So Pesach Sheni comes around and says, no worries, it's never too late, you can still correct your mistakes. Point is, there's hope, you've just got to grab on. Lamah Nigarah is Issarusa Dl'satah, while Nita Ken Farfallen is Issarusa Dl'eila.

Now you're asking, "TRS, should there not be more genius forthcoming from your brilliant hands? After all, you promised us 'more', where is it?" The answer, my dear feathered friends, is that when I write it's usually with a great burst of creativity. Whenever I'm not able to finish whatever was on my mind, which often happens, I have to postpone posting, and by the time I can start writing again the creative urge has passed, leaving me just an empty shell waiting for new inspiration. So yeah, that's why there isn't any more about Pesach Sheni. Sorry.

Oh fine, one more thing. Bigots of all kinds will not be tolerated on this or any other TRS blog unless they're funny, and make the humor accessible for all mankind, even the slimy creatures who only came out of the primordial ooze within the last fifty years.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Where Achdus fears to tread...

Crown Heights is a really cool place. For starters, it's where the Rebbe's at. Though we might disagree on what exactly that statement means, I think we all feel it, whether it's the Rebbe's room, the upstairs Zal, or downstairs 770. Crown Heights is great because it's packed with Lubavitchers, and it looks really nice in the spring. Basically, Crown Heights has a lot of selling points, even if I can't think of any right now. I'm sure that I'll get several other reasons in the comments, so just check there.
Crown Heights also has a major problem. The local non-Caucasian population is not the problem, just like Charles Hynes and the police are not the problem. Crown Height's major issue is the Jews who inhabit it. Yes, those Jews have many problems, but it's all due to a single issue. That issue is, you guessed it, the lack of unity! Yay! The great thing about this problem is that everyone knows what it is, and everyone knows how to solve it. The problem with this problem is that everyones' solutions are different. Why is that? It's because everyones' solution is, "Do as I say". Now when there's a leader in the community, that's fine, but CH has no leader. At least, there's no leader who's accepted by Crown Heighters. I originally wrote that there is no leader, but I realized that such is a statement is not strictly true. The Rebbe is the leader, but as I already wrote, nobody listens to him.
This brings to mind the famous story which I believe I've already written up, but it certainly deserves another go. Basically, the Rebbe declared by a Farbrengen that he's not going to that year's Lag B'Omer parade because two of the Chassidim are fighting. The Rebbe continued on to say that the two Chassidim are listening to the Sicha, and they're both planning on going over to the other one after it's over and saying, "See, it's all your fault." The Rebbe said, "Don't do that! You're both at fault!" And guess what? When the Sicha was over they still did it.
I was thinking that everyone who's interested in fighting should move to North Dakota and just fight there; that way they could have a lot of fun without causing anyone any harm. Sure, they'd get into trouble, but remember, it's North Dakota, how much harm can they do already?
I don't understand all the politics in Crown Heights, and frankly, I don't particularly care. I enjoy fighting as much as the next guy, actually, I probably enjoy it more, but sometimes...As President George W. Bush said over last week about terrorist-types, "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along." See, Lubavitchers, despite what certain "Gedolim" might believe, are Jewish, and therefore we're a bunch of stiff-necked people. This anatomical feature of ours has many advantages, but at the same time it has many disadvantages. For example, we're incapable of admitting that we're wrong, and even worse, of admitting that the other guy is right. Yes, they're not quite the same thing. Even when we do admit that we're wrong we still think that the other guy is wrong too.
The solution? I'm partial to the North Dakota idea, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen anytime soon. Any other suggestions?

By the way, I tried as hard as I could to not be a pretentious snotface while I was writing this. Sure, it was hard, and I probably failed, but at least I pretended to try, and that's what really counts, right?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Birds of a feather

Our gallant leader, fresh off conquering the summit of indifference posed by his charges, Farbrenged last night about a variety of topics. One of them was Shiluach Haken, the biblical command to send a mother bird away from her nest. This Mitzva is a big Segulah, a gigantic merit, for having kids and meriting long life, which would seem to be mutually exclusive, but there you go. The Zohar says that when this Mitzva is performed, and the mother is sent away from her chicks, she goes up to heaven and starts crying to G-d that her children have been taken from her. The entire heavenly court comes to her aid, and they begin to plead to G-d, asking why this terrible thing had to happen. G-d responds, "This mother's children were taken from her ten minutes ago, and all the celestial beings have come to protest. My children were taken from me 2000 years ago, and no one says a thing." The Zohar continues on to say that the Mitzva is most effective on Shabbos and Yom Tov, when you can't do it anyway, so what that's about I'm not quite sure.
Moving right along, I am quite happy to see that Jesse Ventura is considering a run a senate. He's a really entertaining guy, and I'd certainly prefer him to the alternative, Al Franken, a snotty little liberal if there ever was one. As for the Presidential race? I recently read both of Barack Obama's books, and I quite enjoyed them. Then I found out that he's cosponsoring a bill to make the US join a bunch of foreign treaties, and I decided that once a liberal, always a liberal, and my vote he isn't getting. John Mccain is little better. Hilary would be a lot of fun, but unfortunately it doesn't look like she'll be in the Oval Office anytime soon.
See, back in the day, I was really into politics. I lived and died with the 2000 election, and when Bush won I was ecstatic. I was a student in Torah Academy, in S. Louis Park, at the time, and Mrs. Norris was an avowed Democrat, so it was really great when Al Gore lost. Since then though, I've lost faith in the system, and now look to it merely for entertainment purposes. Of course I'll always support the GOP and fight the Democrats, but that's merely an old habit. At this point, I don't think any one person, or even any one party, is capable of either fixing or messing up this country. The verse states that, "The heart of King's is in Hashem's hands", so I try not to let these things worry me.
And that, folks, is all the words I got.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A banner day!

This morning I decided to arrange Tikkunei Leil Shavuos for the Bachurim of YSHTC. The following is the banner I made...

Have you sinned recently?
Do you need a Tikkun?

So let's say you're walking down the street, minding your own business, and suddenly you come upon a scion of the Abuchatzeira family who's offering amulets for the low, low price of 400 dollars. Do you open your wallet, or do you tell him that YHSTC, otherwise known as MyYeshiva (Yeshiva done right), is offering you a Tikkun for even cheaper, at just twelve dollars? Huh? What you gonna do, buddy?

Or how about you just listened to the Satanic elements that routinely inhabit buildings like this one and perverted yourself by eating some pork or something? Are you afraid of the wrath of the jealous G-d who will come and strike you down with lightning, used Yugos, and various other punishments too horrific to write explicitly? Will you be calling up that scion of the Abuchatzeira family and begging for his help, and probably paying well over a thousand dollars, or will you rest assured, knowing that YHSTC, otherwise known as MyYeshiva (Yeshiva done right), has got your back covered?

Two more questions, my fine feathered friends: What's gonna be when Pentecost rolls around? And why exactly do you need a Tikkun? To answer the second question first, which will help answer the first question second, let's turn to Rabbi Schneur Zalmen of Liadi, first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch and all-round good guy. Many years ago he wrote a big book, called "Shulchan Oruch HaRav", and it has some pretty wacky shtuff inside. He mentions in Siman 494, Halacha 3, that we (the Jews) have the custom of staying up all night long and learning Torah. The Lubavitcher custom, as well as the custom of the Vilna Gaon, is to read the Tikkun Leil Shavuos on this night. It affects repentance, and it's much cheaper than a Sephardic amulet.

So what are you waiting for? Contact HaShliach [Censored] today (!) to order your copy of the Tikkun Leil Shavuos, and don't be left with nothing to do when the big cheese day rolls around.

The Rules...

You give HaShliach [Censored] twelve (12) dollars, and he orders a Tikkun Leil Hashavuos for you. You don't order, you don't get. Simple. When should you order by? This Sunday afternoon, Erev Pesach Sheni, by 4:30 PM.
Don't come around with excuses after that. You'll just have to suffer the consequences of your own laziness.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The promised cheese

There's a holiday coming up called Pentecost, and it's all about cheese. What kind of cheese? Any kind you like, but it should be in cake form. Why? Because I said so, that's why. To celebrate, I'd like to share a little Shulchan Oruch with you.
First of all, the Beis Yosef only has three Halachos about Shavuos, one of which says that it's forbidden to fast on the day following Shavuos. So basically, there's a grand total of two laws about Shavuos, both of which deal with the Davening and Torah reading for the day. The Alter Rebbe has twenty Halachos in his Shulchan Oruch, and goes into some interesting issues, like the Halacha that says that it's forbidden to sniff things between Baruch Sheomar and the Amidah. Why would this be a problem on Shavuos? Well it turns out that the Shelah says that some people bring fragrant grasses into the Shul on Shavuos. I assume that they do this to wake people up, or perhaps to remind them of what Mount Sinai smelled like before the giving of the Torah. Anyway, as I promised, I'm going to write about cheesy bits now.
The Rema starts off by saying that it's the custom for all Jews to eat milk products on Shavuos because of the two cooked foods we eat on Pesach. Yeah, it's not the world's most illuminating answer, is it? The Magen Avraham explains, as does the Alter Rebbe, that there are many reasons for this, and proceeds to list one. After the Israelites left Egypt they entered a cleaning process that lasted for seven weeks, which is compared to a woman's seven clean days following Niddah, at which point blood turns to milk, which is Din (strict judgement) turning into Rachamim (mercy). If you want more info on this, don't ask me, because I don't know these things yet. Point is, I wanted to write a nice long post about cheese and Shavuos, and I failed miserably. Sure, I could search google for some shtuff, but you could do that too. I wanted something new, exciting, and possibly very controversial. And what did I get? A man who was looking a lot like me, that's all.

Well, as the old saying goes, when life gives you lemonade, make sorbet with them. Actually, I'm really not a big fan of lemon sorbet-I much prefer coconut or raspberry. So how shall I rise triumphant, stand strong against the tide of human affairs, hold forth through the threats that are currently engulfing whatever it is we hold sacred? Simple. I'll go learn some more.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Vessels of conversation

After concluding prayers at the YHSTC Minyan this morning an interesting discussion began to brew. I was still in the middle of my personal devotions, so I missed the the beginning, but I'm happy (I won't vouch for anyone else) to report that I nevertheless contributed a new understanding to the issue under consideration. I will now try to recreate the conversation for your edification.

RMF: Who was learning in the Beis Medrash that Yehuda set up for the children of Israel before they were enslaved in Egypt?
TRS: The Levites. Instead of helping their brethren who were slaving away, they stayed inside and learned Torah, much like the Chareidim of today who refuse to serve in the army or get normal jobs.
RM: What were they learning? The Torah had yet to be given.
TRS: Sefer Yetzirah, written by Adam, the first man.
RM: Really? The whole day?
TRS: What else did they have to learn? And anyway, what's wrong with learning it the whole day? It's a big book.
RM: I've tried learning the Sefer Yetzirah, and believe you me, if you learn it for more than an hour, you go crazy.
TRS: Exactly. And now we understand why the Egyptians put the Jews to work. They weren't trying to enslave them, they were just trying to help all these insane people do something productive. The same thing is done in our times too: in prisons, homes for the blind, and I'm sure in mental asylums also. The Jews were just ungrateful.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am forced to say that in truth I assume that the Jews just learned the Torah. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could keep the Mitzvos without having been at Mount Sinai (unless there was some really weird time warp shtuff going on there), then why couldn't they learn Torah all day also? Sure, they probably learned Sefer Yetzirah also sometimes, but that was just for fun.

A bit later another question was asked, and I had to give the standard answer, since I couldn't think of a funny one. Why did the Jews have to eat milk after the giving of the Torah? Why couldn't they Shecht some cows and beef out? The answer is that their keilim, their vessels, were not Kosher. Why not? Because they had been used for non-Kosher meat. Why was the meat not-Kosher? Because the people who slaughtered it weren't Jewish. Why were they not Jewish? Because the Torah had not been given. Put it this way: If you went back in time to visit Moses before the giving of the Torah, you wouldn't eat in his house.

I now have a question for all of you, my faithful readers. The Rebbe asks the following question in a Sicha: Why does the Siman in Shulchan Oruch dealing with the laws of Shavuos not have its own heading? Why does it come under the laws of Pesach? The Alter Rebbe even finishes off his treatment of these laws by proclaiming, "This concludes the laws of Pesach". As far as I recall, the Rebbe begins by saying that we can't answer that the reason is because there are very few laws, because other subjects with an equally small number of laws do get their own section. The real answer is that Pesach and Shavuos are intrinsically connected. How? That's what I don't recall. My real problem is that I can't remember where the Sicha is, and I'd surely appreciate if anyone has any information that can lead to its arrest.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rabbi Horowitz hear my voice!

At what age do people first realize that they can be wrong? A baby knows that he's always right. If he's hungry, or tired, or hot, or bothered, then that's the way it is. A child always thinks he's right. Not necessarily in the information he has, but in the way he feels and thinks. As he matures this certainty stays with him. At some point people realize that their opinions may be wrong; not because of misinformation or because someone else is to blame, but simply because they are wrong. The question is, do people really acknowledge that they are wrong, or do they simply accept other peoples' opinions? Meaning, are they simply overpowered, or do they actually change? Do people become whiteboards, ready to reflect whatever is written, or do they internalize the message they broadcast? At the end of the day, do people become better?
These are all questions that have been asked a million times, and have been answered a thousand times. I just thought that I'd give my stab at them, and see if anything particularly interesting came out. Maybe I'll just take a stab at Rabbi Yakov Horowitz's challenge, "What is the greatest threat to Judaism today?" Yeah, that sounds like it has potential.
Boy, there are so many problems that I don't know what to pick. How about several? One problem is that people don't know their history. They think that "back in the day" people didn't have problems. This is nonsense. As King Solomon says, "There is nothing new under the sun." There has never been a time in Jewish history, at least not since the days of Solomon himself, that the Jews weren't facing destruction, whether of the physical or spiritual variety. I hear, and more and more I see, that "our children" are abandoning the values we hold dear. Is this a problem? Certainly. Should we work as hard as we possibly can, and at least half an hour longer than that, to try and solve this problem? Of course. At the same time though, we have to realize that we aren't living in a vacuum. Our parents had the same struggle, and so did their parents too. Maybe that struggle was physical, but it was the same trouble. And for those who would prefer that physical struggle, well, they obviously don't know what's good for them.
It's funny, because there are a couple of things that science and Torah have agreed to agree on. One of them is that the universe has a beginning, and that time is not infinite. Another is that the sole purpose of life is the propagation of the species. Science is much more clear about this, but anyone who bothers to think for a second will surely realize that this is what the Torah says as well. The first Mitzva is to have kids. According to some opinions in Halacha (I don't recall the source, you'll have to trust me on this one), a person only fulfills this requirement if they have grandchildren. The point? That propagation is the most important thing. The Torah does not say that the Mitzvah is to have Frum children, or smart children, or obedient children; the Torah wants us merely to have the children.
Obviously, we have a responsibility to these children of ours. We must teach and guide them, but ultimately they are responsible for their own actions. So our are children the most important problem facing Judaism today? Yes, but they are also the most important solution facing Judaism today. Without them we are nothing.
This ties into a question that I've been asking myself as of late: What is the most important thing to me, to have all my children or all my grandchildren be Frum. It's not an easy question, and obviously I hope that all of my descendants follow in the paths of their fathers, but I think that the question is ultimately a moot one. My job is to have the kids and try to teach them; the rest is up to G-d.

Shocking new revelations at 8:00 PM

All righty folks, Nemo has commented, and I have to admit that he's right and I'm wrong. No, really, procreation is not the be-all and end-all of our lives. G-d wants us to do certain things, but only with certain conditions. He put us in this world to have Jewish children with Jewish spouses, following the Jewish code of law, and nothing less will do.

Variety is the spice of life

Our retiring (not the golden handshake variety) leader Farbrenged tonight. He said that 10:00 PM through 10:00 AM is the time for your G-dly soul to rule, while the other 12 hours are the province of the animal soul. This coincides with his semi-recent decision to start taking life seriously, which is quite scary for the rest of us, since he's not even 40 years old. If he's taking life seriously now, who knows what's in store for the rest of us? His new theory about the time thing is that the most important parts of the day happen at night and in the morning. Before we lay us down to sleep we say the Krias Shema, which together with a Cheshbon Hanefesh, an accounting of the day, forms the backbone of our sacred religion, even if few people realize it. Next of course we commit the actual laying down to asleep, followed soon after by waking up, Modeh Ani, the ritual washing of the hands, the ritual laving of the body in the ritualarium, the study of Chassidus together with your drink of choice (tea, coffee, Coca-Cola, Diet Sunkist, etc.) and your mezonos of choice (or even chips and salsa). Next up is charity and then it's time for prayer. The first Chassidim of many years back took an hour to prepare for the 18 prayer benediction, an hour actually saying it, and an hour after to calm down. So that was nine hours total, per day, every day. It's enough if you can drag it out until 10:00, at which point you're free to eat breakfast and get on with your day, remembering of course that the hallmark of an effective prayer is its effect on the next 12 hours.

Sounds okay? The Rabbi will be gratified to hear that. In the middle of the Farbrengen he remarked that my problem was that I viewed life as one big joke. "In reality", he did say, "it's two big jokes." This statement got me thinking. Do I really not take life seriously enough? Sure, I enjoy a good joke as much as the next joy, and I'll try and run away from problems instead of dealing with 'em, but does that really imply that my life is missing the gravity it so obviously deserves? Speaking of gravity, I'm sure everyone will be happy to hear that, after extensive consultation with the Almighty Editor, I've resolved to not write the Next Great American Novel. I have the whole thing worked out in my head, but it would be way too much of a pain to actually write the whole thing down. Perhaps when I'm a little older and a little wiser I'll be able to.

In other news, I'm really tired, and quite annoyed. See, I'm writing this in Windows WordPad while I'm waiting for the internet to begin working. I've been waiting for over an hour. It claims to be updating the hardware or something. My question is, why do I have to suffer? I feel like Job or Charlie Brown; "Man is born to suffer as the sparks fly upwards." I wouldn't mind if the the little window thingie that showed progress actually showed progress, but it doesn't! It's been stuck on one bar the entire time. If I was paying for the product I'd probably call up and complain, but I'm not, so that option flies right out the window.

Incredible. I do a little praying, floss and brush my teeth, and viola! We have internet! A modern day miracle! If I wasn't Jewish already I could probably found a major new world-religion based on this. Oh well, I'll just go to bed, which isn't too bad an alternative to religion-founding when you think about it.

Holy smokes. I was planning on just posting on going to sleep, but something happened today that was too amazing to not write about. On May 11th, 2003, Mother's Day, the Minnesota Twins played the Boston Red Sox at the Metrodome on Sunday Night Baseball. On May 11th, 2008, Mother's Day, the Minnesota Twins played the Boston Red Sox at the Metrodome on Sunday Night Baseball. In 2003, the Twins lead big, but their bullpen was shaky and their closer gave up 2 runs in the ninth before pulling out the save for the 9-8 win. In 2008 the Twins lead big, but their pitching was shaky and their closer gave up 2 runs in the ninth before pulling out the save for the 9-8 win. How do I know so much about the first game? Well, I was there with Rabbi Mottel Friedman, as were several Shluchim from the Lubavitch Yeshiva of Minnesota-Wexler Learning Institute, though they didn't know at the time that we were there. How do I know so much about the second game? Well, after noting the first several incredible coincidences (coincidence? I think not!) I made sure to check on the last, which was even more amazing than all the first ones put together. I'm not making this up either, you can check here for the 2003 game and here for the 2008 version. What the lesson in Avodas Hashem is exactly I'm not sure, but I can tell you that this sure is pretty wacky.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Fraughts of the evening

Last night I decided to write The Great American Novel. One of the problems with this plan is that half the book will be explaining Jewish concepts and words. The other problem is that I have a hard time fleshing out ideas. To come up with something brilliant is easy, making it work is the hard part.
Obviously, the book will be half memoir, half novel, and a quarter over-written. The critics will love it, because it'll be ethnic, soul searching, and my first book. The second will of course be widely panned, discovered seven years later, and made into a badly-directed film starring people in the twilight of their immature careers. I'll become a literary critic, living on the fringes of high society, producing books which are decidedly not The Next Great American Novel but are good enough to put bread on my grand-children's table.
Sound like a plan? Anyone know any literary agents who can get me a nice advance? Tremendous.

Moving right along, I learned a Maamar (Emor 1984) this morning that brought back memories of the Rosh's speeches. After Pesach, Shabbbos afternoons are long, and the Rosh gives a Pirkos Shiur diatribe. His favorite topic is Elazar Ben Dodarya, but I won't quite get into that now. The basic point though is Teshuva, that elusive not exactly repentance/kind-of return type thing that Jews like to talk about so much, possibly because we're all so bad at it.
In Pirkei Avos this week we learn that Reb Yehuda Hanassi, compiler (and possibly writer [depending on who you ask]) of the Mishna. He says, "Which is the right path for man to choose? Whichever is for himself and for mankind." This saying seems to imply that while this path is good, there are others which are equally valid. And in fact that's the case. There are two paths for a Jew, that of the Tzaddik and that of the Baal-Teshuva. Hashem wants us all to be Tzaddikim, perfectly righteous people without a sin to blemish the pure white linen that is our souls. Unfortunately, people seem to enjoy spilling all sorts of shtuff on that pure white linen, which makes it very dirty and not so white anymore linen. The answer at that point? Bleach. And because heavenly bleach is of a slightly higher quality than that enjoyed by temporal types, the pure white linen that makes its way out of the laundering process is even whiter and more pure than it originally was. So when a person sins, he is in fact doing a good thing.
At this point I expect that everyone reading this will be doing one of two things. They will either be commenting or sinning furiously. I'd therefore like to add a small caveat to my previous statements. The only people who are entitled to view sinning as a good thing are those who have no connection to it, meaning that the temporal types I earlier referenced are out of the equation. Basically, the only being who's entitled to view your sins as merits is G-d. Sorry.
When a human being sins, he's not doing it to become closer to G-d. He's doing it to satisfy the animal lusts which course through his veins and look suspiciously like cholesterol. So when that heavenly bleach is applied, it's going to hurt. This is not a punishment though, it's a cleansing process. And when the person cries bitter tears for the separation between himself and his G-d, he is also cleansed.
As Reb Yehuda Hanassi says though, there is a much easier path. Just do good, avoid wrong, and everyone will be happy.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Responses, Shach, and Sefiras Haomer

Before we get to this soppy material shtuff that I've planned for you (that's right, this is not Montessori here [look it up yee of little knowledge]) I'd like to apologize to Rabbi Belsky for not giving him an honorific. I may not agree with everything he says, but A. He's older and smarter than me, and B. If as a Lubavitcher my Europass Smicha entitles me to be called Rabbi, then...(Yup, these ellipses sure are convenient when you can't think of a good way to end a thought [and these parentheses can sure get annoying, eh?]) So as I was saying, a minimum of Kovod is expected, and will hopefully be tendered in future posts. Truth is (as truth does), why should I differentiate here between the guy who taught Torah in Bnei Brak and this one who teaches Torah in Brooklyn? Why, in Lubavitch, do we not like E. Man Schach? Because he gave such pain to the Rebbe. When a guy curses out my Rebbe now, shouldn't I have an equal dislike for him? And if you're gonna say that the guy officially like my Rebbe, but curses out his Chassidim? Well hey, the Rebbe cared diddly-squat about his own Kavod. The Kavod of his father-in-law, the Friedriker Rebbe? Yes. The Kavod of Lubavitch, which also means the Rebbe and Chassidim of Lubavitch? Yes. In fact it's a moot point, because after 10 Shevat the Rebbe ceased being an individual and the Chassidim ceased being, well, whatever they were before 10 Shevat (whatever that was [am I on slippery ground here?]). Point is, and this was brought out in the Sefarim trial, and repeated by every 25 Cheshvan, 2 Kislev, and 5 Teves Farbrengen ever since, that a Rebbe and his Chassidim are bound closer than pretty much anything in the known universe. So when you curse out Chassidim, you curse out their Rebbe as well. In all fairness, I am aware of Shach's Tehillim for the Rebbe after 27 Adar. Was that his redemption? Who knows. Has Rabbi Belsky done as much, whichever fashion it would take? I don't think so. In conclusion, I'll call him Rabbi Belsky, because it's the right thing to do, but I'll continue to think of him the same way I think of Shach.
It's funny, because a Lubavitcher would take that to mean that I can't stand Rabbi Belsky, while a Snag (if they took it out of context) would think it high praise indeed. Just an observation.
Anyway, back to our originally scheduled programming. I feel like I should make this into it's own post. As a Chassid though, with my moach constantly shaliting my lev, I'll ignore that feeling. The idea has been expressed before, but this is certainly the first time I've ever heard it expressed in this way.
While I was learning Shulchan Oruch today with fellow Shliach Yoni Chanowitz I came across a passage in the Alter Rebbe's Orach Chayim, Siman 489, Halacha 3. It says that we can't begin to count the Sefirah because the verse says that they (the days) should be complete, and I quote in transliterated Hebrew, "V'ain atah motza temimus elah keshemaschil lispor b'erev", that you don't find completion except when the counting is begun at night, meaning that the count must begin the night following the Omer offering, and all counting follows the first, which means that all the counting we do for the next 48 days also takes place at night.
The word "temimus" struck me, and an idea began to formulate in mine little mind. At first I dismissed my thoughts as needlessly snaggy, because who else but they make their own little pshetlach? I then realized that these thoughts were anti-semitic and committed to writing them down, right here, right now (that was, of course, six hours ago. But I digress).
The verse I quoted can also be translated as, "A Tamim is not found unless he begins to count at night." One of the lessons of Sefiras Haomer is that our days must be counted, every moment accounted for. If a person has no seder, no order in their life, then they can't hope to succeed. This is especially true for a Yeshiva Bochur, and even more so for a Bochur in Tomchei Tmimim, the Yeshiva of Lubavitch. A person can't think to become a Tamim without first accepting upon themselves the yoke of responsibility, of proper-time management. And the Shulchan Oruch says here that a Tamim only begins to count at night, that the time for this preparation begins at night. A Tamim can't stay up partying until four in the morning expecting to be fine the next morning. He can't go to sleep thinking improper things and expect to wake up pure, ready for the holiness his day will demand of him. He can't go to sleep watching inappropriate movies, or reading inappropriate books, and expect to "have a head" for the morning's work. In short, a Tamim must begin to count his days at night.

Nice, no? Whenever I write those two words together I feel so Jewish (stam). But seriously folks, I think it's a nice lesson, and might one day make a nice Farbrengen too. Who knows, I might even take my own advice (smiley-face icon[doesn't work well in parentheses])!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Today was Beis Iyar, the birthday of the Rebbe Maharash. The one story I had in my head the whole day isn't even about him, but as I write, it was in my head the whole day, so you'll just have to deal with it. Oh yes, and as always, excuse me if I mess the story's details up a little.
And now, without further ado...

Bochurim, as I've mentioned in the past, go on Tahalucha. Back in the day when Lubavitch and Satmar were still trying to kill each other the Bochurim would try out Williamsurg, get kicked out faster than a speeding greyhound chasing after a rhinoceros (a rare sight indeed, but one well worth seeing), and go home and tell stories. Well one year a couple of Bochurim went to a Satmar shteeble somewhere in Willy and they were (gasp!) let in to speak. The Rav, who was Satmar himself, was approached afterwards by a fellow Chassid who threatened to turn him in to grand Rabbi himself, Reb Yoel Teitelbaum. His offense? Allowing Lubavitcher's to speak in his Shul. The Rav responded.
It was the middle of World War Two, and I was running from the German advance into Russia. I eventually came to Odessa. It was very dangerous for me to be there, as I had no papers. If the authorities caught me I would be shot as a spy without hope of reprieve. I managed to survive for several months, but then the dreaded day arrived, and I was arrested and brought up to trial immediately. The military judge asked me my name, and thought for a moment. I had little hope, because I knew that the penalty for a judge who didn't rule "correctly" was death, and so even if he had compassion for a poor bochur, would he risk his own life to save another? The judge asked me to tell my story, which I did, explaining that I was a refugee who would never even dream of spying on the Soviets. Again the judge pondered, and then he announced that I was free to go! I was shocked, understandably, and didn't even move until I saw the judge motioning with his finger for me to come up to the bench. I did so, and the judge told me to meet him in his apartment at 8:00 that night. I did so, and the judge told me that he had a story...
I (the judge) was the son of a Lubavitcher Chassid. When I was a young boy my father took me to the Rebbe in Lubavitch to get a Brocha. The Rebbe told me, "When you grow up, you're going to be a judge for the army. If a bochur ever comes before you, and he says that he's innocent of spying, then let him free, no matter what the cost to you." My father, realizing that the Rebbe was saying that his son would frie out, began to beg the Rebbe for a Brocha that I should be a Chassid. The Rebbe responded by repeating his instructions and making sure that I understood them.
Years went by, and I forgot the Rebbe's words. I grew up, left the religion of my fathers', joined the army, and eventually became a judge. Until today I had not remembered the words of the Rebbe, but then you appeared before me. I knew then that this was what the Rebbe was talking about so many years ago. I decided that I had to free you, no matter what it might cost me.
(The Rav in Willy continued) I don't know what happened to that judge. What I do know is that, after many miracles, I made it safely to America. Now tell me, if the Lubavitcher Rebbe had the Mesiras Nefesh to put his Chassid's Judaism, not to mention his life, on the line, in order to save me, then I shouldn't his allow his Chassidim to speak in my Shul?

Nice story, no? In other news, a big thanks, once again (do I use this phrase too much? Is it a symptom of repetition?), to Chaim Rubin for the link on his excellent (really, truly) blog. Scroll down a little for the part about me.
And that, my friends, is what they, in the business, call a wrap. Personally I prefer bread, but that's besides the point. Oh, did I miss the point totally with that whole wrap thing? You mean it's not talking about food? Heavens to Betsy!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Into the fray

Did you think that The Real Shliach would remain silent for very long? Yes my friends, the time has now come to jump into the fray created by Belsky and dealt with by many, including Shmais, Chaim Rubin, and Hershel Tzig. Am I a little late? Sure, but that's okay, right? Before I even get into the "Lubavitch" part, how about this beautiful quote from Belsky, "Should we denigrate them because they insist on wearing a knitted Yarmulke?" He's referring to Modern Orthodox types, as personified by the Bochurim of Merkaz Harav.
You ready for a rant? Perfect.
What in the world is he talking about? Denigrating someone for wearing a piece of clothing that he doesn't approve of? I understand that he's against looking down on them for this, but the very fact that he has to say it shows that he thinks it inappropriate to wear a knit Kippah. Where does he have the Chutzpah to presume that his style of Yarmulkeh is any better than anyone else's? Does it say anywhere that a black velvet Yarmulkeh should be worn? Does it say anywhere in the Torah that a Yarmulkeh in general should be born? Of course not. Many Frum Sephardim don't even normally wear one. Belsky's problem is that he thinks that his way is the only way, and everyone else is only fit to burn in hell.
In another part of the article come Belsky's famous words against Lubavitch. I'm not going to answer his accusations, because it's been done already. What I am going to say is that I'm not offended when people curse out Chabad. People have been doing it ever since Chabad was founded; it's like anti-semitism, it's just one of those things that you have to deal with. To get mad it about though? Does that accomplish anything? Of course not.
The only thing gets me angry is that Belsky, and the rest of the Rabbis interviewed here, are so full of themselves. Am I full of myself? Sure, but I'm not the leader of a major community. My opinion doesn't count, whereas these Rabbis' certainly does. Did the Rebbe ever denigrate anyone for being different? Not as far as I know. In fact, the Rebbe encouraged people to keep their traditions and their unique ways of life.
I've always felt good knowing that I wasn't Chareidi, that I didn't have to look down on other Jews because I felt better than them.

Was all the above not so well thought out? Sorry. These things happen.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dandelions in Halacha

Yesterday morning I saw something that I had not seen for many moons. Unfortunately I didn't remember to write about it yesterday, so I guess today will have to suffice. What is it that I beheld? Dandelions. Gloriously yellow little weeds. Oh, the joy! No, really, I like them. No one gets angry when their little kid brings in a handful of dandelions. If they're presented with a handful of, let's say for argument's sake, Holland tulips, the reaction won't be so pleasant. Dandelions are free, and they're so cheery. In the summer when they die, they're not so pretty, but neither are the dog days for that matter.
Today is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, in honor of which I'll write a random Halacha of Rosh Chodesh, which can be found in Orach Chaim 419. For example, did you know that it is a Mitzvah to have extra food on Rosh Chodesh? And according to the Rif and the Rosh if Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbos then you should have extra food on Sunday in honor of Rosh Chodesh, because if you have it on Shabbos then everyone will think it's for Shabbos and they won't know it's meant to honor Rosh Chodesh. The Bach rules, however, that you should have the extra food on the day of Rosh Chodesh itself, even if it is Shabbos. The Magen Avraham says that we should make a compromise and extend the Seudah Shlishis, the third meal, past the ending of Shabbos, so that we can Bentch with Yaaleh V'yavo after Rosh Chodesh is (technically) over. By doing this we show that we're marking Rosh Chodesh specially. We also say Rtzei in this situation. According to the Shalah this Halacha only applies on Shabbos; if Rosh Chodesh falls out on a weekday and one extends their last meal into the next day then no mention of Rosh Chodesh is made in Bentching. The reason for this is that on Shabbos we have a Mitzvah to extend the holy day while on Rosh Chodesh there is no such obligation. The same would be true if the final day of Chanuka is on Shabbos, and he extends his meal, then (according to the Magen Avraham) he only says Rtzei and not Al Hanisim because the extension of Shabbos is obligatory while that of Chanuka is merely permissible. He would also hold that if Rosh Chodesh falls out on Motzei Shabbos, and the third meal is extended, then Yaaleh V'yavo, and not Rtzei, is said, because in truth the day is now Rosh Chodesh and not Shabbos.
According to the Beis Yosef (I think) we say that if Rosh Chodesh is on a Friday and a person extends his meal through the beginning of Shabbos we nevertheless say Yaaleh V'yavo and not Rtzei, even though it is Shabbos now, because we go after when the meal started. According to this, when Rosh Chodesh falls out on Motzei Shabbos and the meal is extended, we say Rtzei and not Yaaleh V'yavo, because the meal started on Shabbos. Tosafos says that if bread was eaten on Shabbos itself then both days must be mentioned, and the same would go for Bentching on Motzei Shabbos where bread was eaten after Shabbos was officially over. The Maharil says that if a person Davened Maariv on Motzei Shabbos then Rtzei is not said, because the guy Bentching would be in a bind-he ended Shabbos, but now he wants to start it up again!?
Therefore, says the Magen Avraham, if a person eats bread after Shabbos is officially over then he should only say Yaaleh V'yavo and not Rtzei. If he didn't eat bread after though, then he does say Rtzei and not Yaaleh V'yavo. According to the Maharam, if a person accepted Shabbos (by Davening) on Friday afternoon, while it's still day, he would only say Rtzei and not Yaaleh V'yavo, and so too on Motzei Shabbos. However, if he didn't Daven, even if the congregation did pray, he does mention Rosh Chodesh (on Friday night).
The Alter Rebbe writes that a person should therefore not extend their third Shabbos meal into Rosh Chodesh, because he is then faced with an impossible situation-either it's Shabbos, or Rosh Chodesh, but by definition it can't be both! Nevertheless, he says that if a person did this then he should Bentch with both Rtzei and Yaaleh V'yavo.
The Magen Avraham finishes off by quoting the Tur who says that all a person's food is decided on Rosh Hashanah, except what students bring to their schools on Rosh Chodesh. The Beis Yosef (again, I think it's him) that this means what the teacher is paid to teach his charges, while the Bach explains that the custom was for students to bring their teachers extra food on Rosh Chodesh, and this custom should not be abolished.

So, did you like that? I skipped a little in the middle, but I don't think it really changes anything I said above.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Today I remembered a beautiful story that I heard from Rabbi Mendy Schapiro a few years back. Unfortunately I don't recall all the names in the story, but I'm sure you'll get over it.
Once a Rebbe visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his office in 770. While they were talking the Rebbe (the Chabad one) said something along the lines of, "Do you know how great the Mesiras Nefesh of my Chassidim in the USSR is? Here's a story to demonstrate...
A Chassid recently wrote me (The Rebbe) a letter that he works as a night watchman for a factory. Unfortunately the job requires that he work on Shabbos, and he's very worried that the wine he uses on Shabbos for Kiddush is Yayin Nesech. (If you don't understand the issue here, then you should check out the following link. Satisfied? You're right, it's not a very helpful article. Basically, if wine which isn't cooked [Mevushal] is touched by a Jew who violates the laws of Shabbos, then it becomes not-Kosher. This Chassid, who didn't have access to Mevushal wine, would invalidate his own Kiddush by making Kiddush) Isn't it amazing that a Chassid has a chance to communicate to his Rebbe and this is what he's worried about?"
The other Rebbe said, and as always, I paraphrase, "That's beautiful. What did you tell him?" The (Lubavitcher) Rebbe answered, "Don't worry about it, it's not important." The (other) Rebbe said, "What did you tell him?" The Lubavitcher (Rebbe) answered again, "Don't worry about it, it's not important."

Nice story, no? It gets better. Many years later the Chassid who had written said that he was soon transferred from his job as a watchman to a different one that didn't require him to work on Shabbos. The Rebbe's answer, "Don't worry, it's not important" was revealed to actually be the answer, not just an excuse to the other Rebbe.
This story is meaningful to me because of its answer. "Don't worry" is not only a rallying cry for hippies, it's a valid lifestyle. Obviously this doesn't mean that you shouldn't live life, and try as hard as you can; rather it means that a person shouldn't worry about things which they have no control over. Even if they do have power over circumstances, if those circumstances haven't arisen, don't worry about them. Live in the present, not the future. As the famous saying goes, "Don't burn your bridges until you come to them."

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday Afternoon

As you can see from the blog title, it's a Friday afternoon. I'm sitting now in the office of the Shluchim of the Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities, contemplating the mysteries of life.
What do the mysteries of life have to do with this week's Parsha? A lot, actually. See, this week is Parshas Kedoshim, wherein G-d tells the Jewish nation to be holy. What kind of holy? The kind of holy that tells you not to indulge in worldly pleasures. What kind of worldly pleasures are we talking about here? For example, some people like eating steak. Other people like reading websites that bash Chabad. To these people I say, "Look in this week's Torah portion! Absorb its light! Feel the Love!" Once these people have stopped running I stop chasing.
That puts me in mind of a desire that I've always had. I always wanted to be a black preacher. Not an African-American preacher, because I already am African-American. No, I've always wanted to stand in front of a crowd of four thousand and scream, "Praise the L-rd! Hallelujah!" They'd all respond with their own "Hallelujah!" and everyone would be all fired up. I can see it now.
Unfortunately, as you've probably guessed by now there isn't much calling for a black Christian preacher in Chabad, so my dream will never be fulfilled.
Speaking of dreams, tomorrow is the 17 anniversary of the Rebbe's telling us that we are responsible for bringing the Messiah. The other Chabad websites have written enough about this, and I'm sure everyone feels really stupid for wanting steak instead of eternal salvation. I know I certainly do. So what to do? Try. Or die trying. Or something like that.
Oh, the thought occurred to me a little while ago that some people might feel the need to fulfill the command of "Kedoshim Tehiyu" by not reading this blog anymore. I'd just like to say committing a rash act like act would not only be counter-productive but would be bad for my ratings. The Torah does not want people to do things which would hurt other people. So I want everyone to take the money they just got from the Feds and spend it on things which will make other people happy. Like me for instance.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The anger burns within

It was nice to see that yesterday's post got a varied response, and tonight I'm not being facetious. LDT gave us some existential angst, while "anon" revealed some great antagonism to the whole religion thing. Do I agree with his assertions? Perhaps.
Who are the clergy exactly who are telling us to suffer? As far as I know, the Rebbe never advocated it. Hiskafia maybe, but that's a different ballgame. Besides, nowadays Hiskafia is taking care of yourself, i.e. three meals a day, exercising thrice a week, and getting your daily dose of TRS. But suffering? Like having to listen to Al Franken talk for more than twenty minutes? No religion would ever mandate that. At least not any religion that I would care to belong to.
The basic question is, how should a person live their lives? With a fatalistic notion that no matter what they do it's predestined to fail, or thinking sunny, happy, ecologically friendly thoughts? And is happiness necessarily part of the equation?

Enough about humanity. As I may or may not have mentioned earlier, life is continuing apace, which means that it's time for a resuming of Yeshiva life, and more excitingly, for a great big thunderstorm that is currently rocking Cottage Grove like nobody's business. Our Fearless and Faithful Leader was blamed for a couple of pretty funny yet very sick jokes, and of course I'll be happy to share 'em with you. Here goes:
It's the first day of school, and the teacher asks the kid in the first row what her name is. The kid answers that her name is "Butterfly". The teacher asks what kind of name is that? The kid answers that right after they were born a butterfly landed on her forehead, so her parents named her after it. The teacher remarks in turn, and moves along to the next kid. He says that his name is "Canary." The teacher, obviously not a quick learner, asks what kind of name is that for a human being? The kid answers that a canary landed on his head and began to sing beautifully as he was being born, so his parents named him after it. The next kid's turn comes, and he says slowly, "Ma nime is Piano."

The next joke is just as sick. Don't worry. A brother and sister run down X-Mas morning to see their gifts under the tree. The girl exclaims, "Ha, I got 100 presents and you only got 2!" The boy retorts, "Ha, you've got leukemia!"

I told you that was a sick joke. Anyway, Our Fearless and Faithful Leader didn't actually say those. But someone did.

Thoughts on Shtuff

I was really glad to see the response to yesterday's blog post. Yes, I'm being sarcastic. No, there's nothing you can do about it. Due to the overwhelming chorus of cheers I heard about the post, I'll be making solar energy a corner-stone of my energy platform for years to come. Yes, once again, I'm being sarcastic.

In other news, today's Hayom Yom was a classic one indeed.

The individual's Avoda must be commensurate with his character and innate qualities. There may be one who can drill pearls or polish gems but works at baking bread (the analogy in the realm of Avoda may be easily understood). Though baking bread is a most necessary craft and occupation, this person is considered to have committed a "sin."

So what exactly does this mean? That's a good question. How does a person know what they're capable of? And what if they are indeed capable of something, but they hate doing it? The answer to the first question is, presumably, "Try as hard as you can, and wherever you reach, that's your potential." My question is, how do you know which direction to take in the first place? Supposing you should be a lawyer, but instead become a your life a wasted one? And in Avoda, how do you know what to pursue? Everything? But then there's a strong possibility that you'll get nothing. And as for the second question, is there an answer? "Deal with it" isn't a very nice response, and, "You were created to suffer" also doesn't have a nice sound. What do you tell the guy (or gal)?
Any answers anybody?