Friday, June 20, 2008

Short and sweet

I'm going to Israel this coming Sunday for a week and a bit on Birthright. I know you're all extremely excited. What this means, of course, is that I probably won't be able to blog for a week and a bit. I'm sure you'll survive the separation though. And of course, there are always the archives for your reading pleasure.

In other news, I just got the new Lipa CD. Yes, I paid for it. Impressed, aren't you? I've only listened to it once, and so far I like it. Like most CD's, it's going to take a few dozen listens 'till I fall in love with it. In the past, I've pronounced my dislike for a CD after just a few listens, and then I feel like an idiot later, which of course isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Last night the Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities had a banquet to celebrate the end of Yeshiva. When I say "celebrate", of course, it has different meanings for different people. Some of the Bochurim are undoubtedly quite happy that it's all over, while others are probably quite sad. As for me? I remember doing the postmortem this summer after finishing up Merkos Shlichus in Kansas and Missouri; I felt that I had accomplished a lot, but that there was a lot more that I could have done. Nine or ten months later, I feel pretty much the same. Thank G-d I accomplished a lot but there's still that nagging feeling inside that I could have done so much more. Oh well, that's life.
In other news, Rabbi Yosef Eizicovics Farbrenged beautifully last night. He said a lot of shtuff, most of which applied to the Bochurim here; of course, there was also lots of other goodies, which I'll be happy to share here now: And here we go...

There was once a Jewish community in Russia which received funding for various activities, including a school, hospital, orphanage, poor house, softball league, and various other functions. The government notified them that there would be an inspection, to see that the money was going to a good cause, and the community was worried. They were mostly Misnagdim, and therefore mostly normal. Unfortunately, there was also a small number of Chassidim among them, who acted in ways that were slightly out of the norm: they walked around ignoring everything and everybody, thinking Chassidus; they Farbenged 'till the wee hours of the morning; they spontaneously danced in the streets; in general, they weren't the very best ambassadors for a nice snaggy community. The inspection was drawing nearer, and the community council couldn't decide what to do. Two days before the government was delegation was to arrive, one of the town's men hit on a brilliant plan.
The great day arrived, and all the Chassidim of the town were crammed into a Shul, lured by the promise of a massive Farbrengen, at the community council's expense, and warned not to leave until the next morning. The government delegation toured the town's Jewish institutions, and turned to go. They were on the way to the train station when one of them noticed a large building that had yet to be inspected. He mentioned this to the other members of the delegation, and they all went over to investigate. The city council, which was accompanying them, tried to persuade them not to go, but it was to no avail, and the Shul was entered.
The scene that greeted their eyes was, to put it exaggeratedly, incredible. There was a massive Farbrengen going on: Chassidim were dancing on tables with bottles in their hands, doing somersaults and other stunt-like activitys; others were still Davening Shacharis, and they paced around with deep concentration; still others were singing to themselves, looking for all the world like shepherds in the Urals. The community council didn't know what to say. When everyone on the tour was outside again the head of the government delegation asked the community leader a question, "Why didn't you show us this before?" The leader started to explain, "Well, you see, we, um...". "It's quite impressive," said the government head, "you Jews are truly brilliant. In all the Russian towns and villages, all the crazies wander around and bother everyone. This is the first time I've ever seen them all gathered together, in one place, where they won't bother anyone. This is truly incredible!"

The lesson? Craziness is no problem when everyone is together. Trite, but true.

Once there was a (rich) guy who was brought closer to Judaism through two Jews, a Shliach in beautiful New Jersey, and a Rabbi Kaminetzky, or maybe that's Kamenetzky. Regardless, as you may or may not have noticed, one was a Lubavitcher and the other a Misnaged. The guy had a baby boy, and called in the Shliach to find out the different honors that are part of a Bris. The Shliach explained everything, and said that in Lubavitch, the biggest honor is reading the Rebbe's letter.
At the Bris the father announced, "With the reading of the Rebbe's letter, Rabbi XXX, Shliach of XXX; and with the holding of the baby during the reading of the Rebbe's letter, Rabbi Kaminetzky." The Shliach stood up to read, and Rabbi Kaminetzky stood up to go. He simply refused to hold the baby while the Rebbe's letter was being read, and was prepared to embarrass himself, the father, and everyone attending because of it. He was ready to lose a rich supporter.
After the Bris was over the father said to the Shliach, "I always knew that there was some friction between Lubavitch and Misnagdim, but I never saw it until now."

And what can we, us fine-feathered fiends, learn from this story? A lot of things: A. There are haters in this world, B. There are people who don't like the Lubavitcher Rebbe very much. As Rabbi Yos says, with regard to the Rebbe, you're either with him or against him, there ain't no middle road.

Yoni Chanowitz, fellow Shliach here at MyYeshiva told over a story about the Rebbe Rashab. After the Rebbe had finished saying a Maamar a guy came over and said, "Devarim Hayotzim Min Halev Nichnasim El Halev (words which come into the heart go into the heart), and I didn't feel the Maamar you just said at all. Hhmm?" The Rebbe Rashab gave him a piercing glance, and said, "Don't blame me if you don't have a heart."


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


This past Shabbos there was a discussion about Rebbe stories. One person said, "What's the point? They're all the same! Someone in trouble, asks for Bracha from Rebbe, they're saved. What's the point?" This person was answered by our retiring and humble leader, "The point is exactly that. There are a million stories, and a significant number of them are true, that heave the Rebbe miraculously helping someone. Forget the specifics of the stories; the Rebbe effected some incredible miracles."
I was thinking about this, and last night, while listening to Dovid Gabay sing on Hasc 20 remembered a story on this very subject. I heard this particular tale from Shmuley Weinberg of Kansas City, Kansas, who heard it from Dovid Gabay's father about a year and a half ago when he (Shmuley) was stranded in some New York town on the way to the Rebbe's Ohel. Here's the story, without my trademark "enhancement", because many of the principles are still alive and probably wouldn't appreciate my making fun of them.
Many moons ago, circa 1993, Dovid's grandfather, who from now on will be referred to as "GrandGabay", got some sort of stomach illness. The doctors told his family in Israel that the only way to save GrandGabay's life was to remove most of his stomach. Dovid Gabay's family, in New York, didn't know if this was a good course to follow, and they somehow arranged to have the Rebbe be asked by one of his secretaries. The Rebbe was at that time only communicating with hand signals, or maybe with his head (I'm not sure), and the Rebbe three times motioned that the doctors shouldn't perform the operation.
The Gabays of New York relayed this message to the Gabays of Israel, but they weren't interested in listening. They told the NY branch that, "Everyone knows that the Rebbe had a stroke; everyone knows that he can't speak. Who says that he knows what's going on? Much better to listen to doctors." The Israelis wouldn't be swayed, and GrandGabay underwent the operation.
About ten years later, GrandGabay got sick again, and the doctors told the family that there was nothing they could do, "If ten years ago his stomach hadn't been hacked into, a totally unnecessary operation, then we could save him now, but..."

The lesson of the story? Do as you're told, and then we can have stories with happy endings.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kiddie continues

Kiddie worked very hard, washing dishes with an abandon reminiscent of Dunkirk. He saw great vats of chicken fat being rolled into the back of the restaurant and then deposited in a vault beneath the kitchen. He never actually got paid, because he was working off his bill, but after three and a half years he was done. The manager, who had proved to be a compassionate and caring individual, threw Kiddie into the street with nothing but the clothes on his back and some foie gras that he had managed to secret away. Though it looked like his goose was cooked, he had only one thought on his mind: to be the richest man on Diamond Island. Three minutes later a bank truck came rolling by, and Kiddie, ever the astute observer, noticed some chicken fat spilling out the back. He ran over, scooped it up, and decided to follow bank trucks around until he could think of something better to do. After a month or so he had collected enough chicken fat to open up his own account at the bank. They took his deposit, and asked him if he'd like a ARM? "Sure!" said Kiddie, and he was presented with a brand new mortgage, to love and treasure, as if it was his very own. Kiddie figured that the best way to increase his capital was to get into the real-estate business, but he also knew that he couldn't afford this yet. Instead he went onto the street and asked people if they needed a loan. One man said yes, and Kiddie gave him all the chicken fat he had gotten from the bank, with the provision that the shtuff be returned within thirty days. If not, the man would be subject to usurious interest rates unheard of since the middle aged Jews brought down the innocent Christian Kings. Kiddie resented this anti-semitic analogy, as he was by nature a fair and balanced young man, and he was quick to make the point that in fact the Jews were the innocent ones, and anyway, his loan wasn't too usurious.
Through much trial and error Kiddie slowly learned how to cheat, rob, and thieve, until every person of Diamond Island knew his as the meanest, toughest, and richest man to ever live. His chicken fat filled vast warehouses, and the manager at the restaurant now always saved the best foie gras for his frequent visits. The waiter was, unfortunately, quite dead, but that's just the way shtuff happens, eh?
After Kiddie was on top of the Forbes "Chicken 500" list for the seventh year in a row, he decided that it was now time to go home. He was ready to make his village wealthier than it had ever dreamed of becoming. He loaded all his chicken fat onto great ships, and ensconced in a private cabin decked out with the latest electronics, and a beautiful blue trim with red accents, he set sail. The village, forewarned of the great man's arrival, hurried to the port to greet him. They peered into the mist, and saw the great ships of the sea begin to emerge. At first they thought the stench was coming from the rotting yet still flying (who knew?) seagulls which were circling the dock, but then they realized that in fact it was emanating from the fleet itself.
The wiser among them proclaimed that whatever material it was that was doing the stinking must be the padding and protection for the diamonds that were obviously encased within, and the more gullible of the crowd believed them.
Kiddie's ships pulled in, and he jumped off the deck and tried to hug his aged mother and just-barely alive father. They jumped away as the horrible stink that enveloped him began to cloud around them. The seagulls squawked away, and Kiddie said, "Hey folks, long time no see! What's the issue?" The village elders asked in one voice, "What's that horrible smell?" Kiddie, looked confused, and then excitedly said, "Oh, that? That's all my money!" The elders said, "Money? It stinks!" Kiddie said, "It's just regular chicken fat, you know, I don't go in for the fancy stuff with the preservatives; it's a waste of money." "Chicken fat?!" "Chicken fat." "Chicken fat!?" "Chicken fat." "AAAAHHHH!!! The diamonds! Where are the diamonds?!"
In a perfect story, all the inhabitants of the village would now fall dead, and Kiddie, realizing his bone-headed stupidity, would die as well, with the sailors going back to Diamond Island and having the party of the century. But it's not a perfect story, and no one died. Yet.
Kiddie, who at least did realize his stupidity, put his hands in his pocket and took out a few diamonds, the only ones he had collected over the many years of his absence. The first thought that crossed his mind was, "Yuck! I've been wearing the same pants for many years of my absence? That's absolutely disgusting!" The villagers didn't seem to mind though, and they took Kiddie home, invested the diamonds in some good Cleveland real-estate (as if), and everyone lived happily ever after. Until they died. The end.

The Dubno Maggid explained that this story is really a Mashal for the soul's descent into the world. It's coming for diamonds, Mitzvos, but it gets confused, and collects material shtuff instead. Rabbi Schapiro Farbrenged, many years ago, that this is a big mistake. People think that the diamonds down here are worthless, and their value is only realized upstairs in the great big ballroom in the sky. But the truth is that Mitzvos are just as valuable down here as they are up there; you just have to use your brain a little. Kiddie may have been cunning, but he wasn't the smartest french fry in the Happy Meal.
You know, I enjoyed writing the Mashal a lot more than the Nimshal. I wonder why?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kiddie's fats

I was perusing my old journals from my studenting (did I just make up a word there? You betcha!) days in YOEC, and came across an interesting twist on one of the Dubno Maggid's famous parables, courtesy of Rabbi Mendel Schapiro. I'll write the whole parable, because A. it'll take up space, and B. I think I can make it pretty funny.

So there was a Kiddie who lived with his family in some really poor and miserable snothole somewhere in the depths of Siberia, or maybe somewhere else that was equally depressing, like Cleveland. His family, like the rest of the community, didn't even have blankets to keep their little toesie-wosies warm in the winter. Things got so bad that they all decided to band together and send the little Kiddie to the famed "Diamond Island", where the streets are paved with cheese-sorry, I mean diamonds. Yes folks, this little Kiddie was in for the journey of a lifetime. The goal, of course, was for Kiddie to get a whole bunch of diamonds and bring them back to the village, so that nobody's feet would ever go cold again, among other benefits of being fabulously wealthy and just a bit decadent. As no one had any money, the Kiddie was told that he would have to walk. This wouldn't be too much of a problem, as he had two feet, and Kiddie started to travel. Four months later he reached the port, and five months later, after a long and grueling, not to mention tedious and slightly serendipitous, journey, Kiddie reached the world renowned Diamond Island. Like all the other passengers on the boat, he ran off the quay and jumped onto the beach, gathering into his arms precious diamonds, all of them natural, and began to stuff them into his trousers. His pants obviously didn't hold too many diamonds, and Kiddie wandered off into the town to find some food, for by now he was quite hungry. He wandered down the streets until he chanced upon a grand restaurant, which promised to feed him more foie gras than he had ever possibly dreamed of. Coming from Ohio, or was that Siberia, he has never even seen a goose, so the possibility of eating its liver didn't really excite him. The mention of gourmet hamburgers did excite his palate, so he cleansed his mind and walked into the restaurant, ordering the best burger that money could buy. The cook put some foie gras on top of the burger, beneath the lettuce but above the onion, and Kiddie enjoyed the meal tremendously. After it was all over, and he had drunk his last after-dinner drink, he snapped his fingers and the waiter came over. The waiter moved to put the bill, which was several volumes long, on the table, but Kiddie stopped him, putting a small but exquisite diamond on the table with an airy air, and saying, quite grandly (as befitted the establishment), and of course with a snobby and nasally English accent, "I believe that should take care of it. Keep the change, and keep up the good work, my good man." The waiter put the bill on the table. Kiddie produced another diamond, this one enormous and not very exquisite at all, and handed it to the waiter. The waiter said, in the acidic tone that only people who have lived for many years in Oslo can attain, "I'm sorry, I don't believe you quite understand the method of payment in these parts." "What!" cried Kiddie, swooning in his chair and simultaneously knocking a plate of foie gras to the ground, "What could possibly be the issue!?" The waiter signaled to the manager, who approached with the oily friendliness normally associated with old men in Italy, and told him that there was a slight problem. The manager sized up the difficulty instantly, and slowly a smile began to replace the smile that was already pasted on his face, which resulted in some momentary facial confusion before all the muscles sorted themselves out and everything returned to normal. "What do we have here, eh?" asked the manager, pretending that he didn't know what was going on. Kiddie took the initiative, and said, "Your waiter doesn't seem to be inclined to accept my form of payment." The manager said, "Interesting, interesting. I think that in this particular case, young man, the customer is not right. If you'll deign to read the fine print on the menu, you may notice that we don't in fact accept stones as payment for our goods." Kiddie quickly read the bottom of the menu, and discovered that the manager was correct in his assessment of the situation. "How can I settle my debt in an honorable manner?" he inquired, mystified, bewildered, and aghast, "what do you have against precious stones? Lev Leviev would kill to get hold of these things!" The manager began to explain, "I can tell that you are an astute student of economics. There's something called supply and demand. Essentially, the more there is, the less its worth. In your miserable mid-America state, there aren't many diamonds, and therefore diamonds are worth much money. Here on Diamond Island, diamonds are a dime-a-dozen. In fact, diamonds are virtually worthless. So you see, I don;t think we'll be able to accept this payment." Kiddie asked, "And what do you view as valuable?" The manager replied, "Chicken fat."
Kiddie began to laugh. The manager joined in for a few seconds, and then, gasping for air, said, "Hilarious, isn't it!" A thin sneer then practically leaped across his face, and he said, "But that's just the way it is. Pay up or die." The waiter began to squeeze Kiddie's throat, and Kiddie made some quite realistic gurgling sounds which are unfortunately not reproducible here. As the last few ounces of life were leaving Kiddie's body the manager said, "There is one option, however." Kiddie gurgled a question, and the manager continued, "You could work as a dishwasher for-" and he checked the bill, "just around three and a half years." Kiddie, now released by the waiter, said, "I'll do it."
To be continued...

Effulgences of all shapes and sizes

I saw a nice bit of a Sicha yesterday, Shabbos afternoon, about the 14th Mishnah in the first chapter of Pirkei Avos, "If I am not for myself, who is for me; when I am for myself, what am I; and if not now, when?" One of the Rebbe's explanations of this is that it refers to education. If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I don't teach, who will? And if my students can't give over what I've taught them, what have I taught? And if my students aren't taught now, when will it happen?

Rabbi Oster, Hanhala member in YOEC and all-round good guy, related by a Farbrengen a couple years back that a Chassid once came to the Tzemach Tzedek and complained that he was having a hard time keeping the Mitzvos. "Why?" the Tzemach Tzedek asked. "Because I don't believe in Hashem", replied the Chassid. "And why don't you believe in Hashem?" questioned the Tzemach Tzedek. "Because I've never seen him." The Tzemach Tzedek said, "Tell me, do you keep the Czar's laws?" "Yes", replied the Chassid. "Why, have you ever seen him?" asked the Tzemach Tzedek. The Chassid replied, "No, but my brother has." The Tzemach Tzedek said, "Even though you've never seen Hashem, I have, so go do what you have to do."

Moving right along; there's a rule in Judaism that a person shouldn't go to sleep with a question on his mind, because he could wake up a heretic. So too, an author shouldn't end off a chapter in a book with a question, because usually people stop reading when they complete a chapter, and by the time they start again they might have abandoned all the laws of Moses and his Torah. The Alter Rebbe in today's Tanya finished a chapter with a question; why does the world exist if Hashem is everywhere; shouldn't it be nullified like the rays of the son in the sun? How could the Alter Rebbe end off with a question?
The answer is that the rule of not ending with a question is directed to Sifrei Chakira, books which attempt to prove Hashem's existence. They often begin by asking a bunch of questions, and then answering them. These questions, if not answered properly, could easily cause a person to apostatize. The Alter Rebe is asking a different type of question. He asks, "How does the world exist?" As Chassidim explain, it's really not a problem to go around for a day wondering how, and if, we really do exist.
One more issue with today's Tanya. All right, it's not really an issue with Tanya itself, just the translation. On page 855 of Lessons in Tanya it translates the word "Ziv" as "effulgence". Does anyone know what "effulgence" means? I didn't until I looked it up on the always handy, which, if you can believe it, was once the subject of a Rabbi Zeilengold speech. Point is, could not the translator have found a more widely used word? I merely ask.

This reminds me of a famous story that the Rosh told over on Zos Chanuka three or four years ago. There was once a Bochur who really wanted to join the Haskala movement, but he couldn't convince himself that traditional Judaism was wrong. The local Maskil recruiters told him to drink the waters left over from his Negel Vasser, and then he would realize the fallacy of Judaism. He did so, and voila! He became an Apikores!
Obviously, he ignored the fact that drinking impure water did terrible things to his intellect. Anyway, the Rosh said that nowadays this wouldn't happen, because we're not holy enough. Nevertheless, you should still make sure to empty your Negel Vasser as soon as you're able in the morning. He said that he had never seen this in any Sefer, and it was an old wives' tale, but nevertheless, a Jewish old wife knows a lot, and if she tells you to do something, then you should do it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Last of the vim and vigor

Here are the last of the four stories from Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm. And once again, enjoy.

The Rebbe's seventieth birthday in 1972 was the most hyped up to that time. Everyone was there for the Farbrengen, and when the Rebbe walked in pandemonium broke loose; everyone trying to catch a glimpse of the Rebbe. One Bochur was also pushing and shoving, and eventually he pushed down on someone's shoulders in order to get a better view. He looked down at the person whose shoulders he was on, and realized that they belonged to the Rebbe. He fled 770 to his bedroom in Yeshiva and refused to come out, because he was so embarrassed, mortified, and various other forms of self-loathing. It got to the point that the administration of the Yeshiva wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking what they should do about this Bochur, because he was refusing to come out of his room or even to eat. The Rebbe responded, "I appreciate the Hergesh", or roughly translated, "I appreciate what he's going through."

Josh Gordon, head Shliach of the Valley (in California) once decided to build a new building. There was only one impediment. He had no money. Not only did he have no money for the building, he had no money to plan to get money for a building. He decided to approach the local Federation and ask them for 100,000 dollars to help plan the general campaign. He went with Rabbi Einbinder, second in command, to ask the rich people at the annual board meeting of the Federation to help. Rabbi Einbinder did all the talking, and then the two Rabbis went out of the room while the rich people conferred. A few minutes later they were called back in, and the leader stood up and said, "Rabbi Gordon, we're not sure if your proposal is a joke, or if you meant it seriously. You want us to give you money to help you find money to build a multi-million dollar building? Do you have any expectation of receiving any funds? I'm sorry, but we can't help you."
Rabbi Gordon, who up to this point had yet to say anything, got up and said, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but I'm a Shliach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and I have a personal promise from him that this building is going to be built. It's going to look very embarrassing for the Federation if Chabad builds a massive building and you guys didn't help at all."
They gave the money. The building went up. Everyone was happy.
Incidentally, Josh Farbrenged a little while back in Colorado for the Shluchim who live there. He talked about Shlichus, and how some people think that it gets easier as you get older. He said that in fact it gets harder. People think that eventually they won't be in debt. Never happened. People think that eventually their message will be received more easily. Never happened. It takes work, lots of it. And you know what Rabbi Gordon said? It's worth every second.

This next, and last, story I don't remember so well, but the point remains.
Abba Refson, Rabbi at the Ohel, tells of the guy who pulled up in a limo, went straight into the Rebbe's Ohel, and started to pray or something like that. Abba Refson asked him what was up. He answered with the following story: I came from Russia to America in the sixties, and I thought I was coming to the golden land. Well, it turned out that it wasn't quite so stolen, and I spent many months just barely staying financially afloat. I began to get depressed, and I didn't know what to do. A friend suggested that I visit a Rabbi in Crown Heights who always had time for Russian Jews. I went to visit, and I was ushered right in. The Rabbi sat down with me, and we talked for a long time about my financial problems. I left his office feeling much better, with a plan for the future. Later I found out that he was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I never saw him again, but whenever I felt down I pictured him in my mind and remembered that there was someone who cared about me.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More stories of vim and vigor

Here are some more stories from the Shavuos Farbrengen of Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm. Most of them are written in a shorter manner than I would normally encourage for consumption. Anyway, enjoy.

When Yisroel's brother was a Shliach in the Yeshiva in New Haven he Farbrenged with the Bochurim about viewing the Rebbe as their father, and telling him their problems. One of the Bochurim had many spiritual problems, and he was persuaded by the Shliach to write a letter to the Rebbe detailing them. This was in the days when people were lucky to get a "yes" or "no" to their letters, so the Shliach cautioned the Bochur not to write too much. The Bochur wrote a nine page letter. The Shliach was inspired, but managed to convince his young charge to shorten the letter; after all, the Rebbe was extremely busy, and it really wasn't fair to him to receive such a big letter. The Bochur managed to shorten it down to seven pages, and he couldn't cut any more out. The Shliach mailed it off, and told him not to expect anything to big in response. He was picking up the mail a couple weeks later, and he was shocked to see a letter from the Rebbe, addressed to this Bochur. And the letter was a whole page, dealing at length with the Bochur's problems.
Sometimes...Just lay it out there.

In a slightly different story, Rabbi Wilhelm told of his uncle, who was a bit of a bum. Bochurim used to go into the Rebbe to yechidus once a year, for their birthday. This Bochur wrote to the Rebbe that he was a bum, and basically said, "Sorry, that's just the way I am." The entire upstairs 770 heard the Rebbe screaming at him for being a bum during his birthday yechidus.
Sometimes...Don't be an idiot.

There was a Chassid by the name of Deitsch who came out of Russia and settles in Crown Heights. He got cancer, but since he didn't want to make the Rebbe worried about him he stopped coming to Farbrengens. Eventually things got really bad, and he realized that he had to ask the Rebbe for a Brocha. He managed to finagle a quick Yechidus, but it was on condition that it was only to ask for a Brocha. The Rebbe's door wasn't even closed, which is how this story is known. The Chassid came in, but he was so petrified that all he managed to say was, "I ask the Rebbe for a Brocha that the Rebbe should be healthy." The Rebbe responded, "When I hear good things from you, then I'll be healthy."

Rabbi Wilhelm related a story about himself; he got a phone call from a student at the university who had just found out that he was Jewish. He was dating a Muslim, and his mother told him, "How can you date her?" He replied, "Who cares?" She said, "Well, I never wanted to tell you this, but we're Jewish." The student looked up things, and found out that his mother's mother's mother was in fact Jewish, and therefore, even though his mother, and her mother before her, had intermarried, he was Halachicly Jewish. The student came by, and started to learn about Judaism. He lapped it up, but was bothered by one thing: What is with this whole Jewish soul thing? How is it that he, someone who didn't even know he was Jewish, was a Jew, while someone could keep all the laws of the Torah and still be considered a gentile? It just didn't make sense to him. Eventually he drifted away from the Chabad House because of this. A couple of months ago Rabbi Wilhelm invited this student to join some other students on Birthright. The student agreed; after all, who wouldn't take a free trip to Israel? About a week after they got back Rabbi Wilhelm received a phone call. The student told him, "You're 100 percent right about this whole Jewish soul business. You know how I know? When I was by the Western Wall I felt spirituality for the first time in my life. When I got home I told my mother that I wanted to keep Kosher, at least a little, so would she please keep meat and milk separate? My mother told me that she always kept milk and meat separate, because that's what her mother did and her mother before her. She wasn't sure why, she just did it. Rabbi, my mother has a Jewish soul, and so do I."

There was a young guy in Crown Heights who was a bit of a bum. Nevertheless, he was still a Chassid, and he and his wife wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking if they should buy a house on Crown Street or on Montgomery. The Rebbe wrote back three words, "Lamah Lo Shlichus?", "Why not Shlichus?" As this guy will tell you himself, he barely reads Hebrew, and no one thought he would be A Shliach. And now? He's a Shliach.

For many years the Rebbe spoke about Mi HaYehudi, "Who is a Jew" in Israel. It's said that his beard only turned white because of the pain the whole issue caused him. And yet the Rebbe once said to someone in Yechidus, "One Bochur in Lubavitch matters more to me than the the whole Mi HaYehudi."

Rabbi Meir Lau, former chief Rabbi of Israel, once came to visit the Rebbe, who asked him to tell a story of Israel. Rabbi Lau obliged: "Right after the Yom Kippur started I was approached by a man and woman who wanted to get married before he was sent off to fight. I hastily got together a Minyan, and made the wedding in a bomb shelter. As I was finishing a woman approached me and asked for a Brocha. She had lost her whole family in the Holocaust, her husband had died in the Six Day War, and now she wanted a blessing that her two sons, who were going off to fight, should return safely." When Rabbi Lau finished telling the story he saw that the Rebbe was crying.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Pentecost Review

I know that everyone's been waiting with bated breath to find out how my Shavuos was. What? They're not waiting with with bated breath? Horrors! Oh well, I won't let a bunch of lackadaisical types ruin my triumphant return to the blogosphere.
On Sunday, I did a lot of things, none of which included taking a nap, which was the big sin last year. Sure, this time around I didn't have to wait for two hours in the Moshiach barbershop to get my hair cut, but that was replaced with some slaving away on a roof cleaning the gutters. This year, B"H, the trees have blessed us with a bountiful amount of seeds and other shtuff, which means that instead of having to clean the gutters at six month intervals, I had to do it just two months after the last time. Point is, I didn't manage a nap, which didn't bode well for my plans for world domination--oh, wait, I mean staying up all night.
So there I was, sitting calmly and collectedly, just starting Shemos in the Tikkun, when the first Bochur arrived, "My father said he was going to send me a Tikkun, but it never came. Do you have an extra one?", "I have a Tikkun in Crown Heights, of course I wasn't going to pay for another one, do you have any extra?", "I have fifteen in my house, my father was supposed to bring one when he visited, do you have any extra?", "I asked you to order one a couple of days ago, where is it?", "I forgot to order, any extra?". You get what I'm saying? Anyway, I had to tell all of these fine people that not only did I not have any extra but that it was their own fault. They lived.
When I was just finishing the Chumash the drinks began to appear. One of the things that happen when you don't have much money is that you have to skimp on essentials. I refer, of course, to Coca-Cola on Shavuos night. There are few things that are better in life than a cup of cool and refreshing classic Coke. Imagine my shock and awe when instead of that most delicious elixir of life we instead got 3 liter bottles of Supervalu artificially-flavored garbage. All right, so it kept me awake, but I'm not sure if that's because of the caffeine or because of the horrid taste. Anyway, with the help of some pretzels, I managed to finish the Tikkun this year, much to the joy of everyone involved in the operation.

In other news, the Bochurim of YHSTC heard a bunch of cool stories from Yisroel Wilhelm, brother by law of our retiring leader and Shliach of the Rebbe at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Here's the ones I can remember:

A non-Lubavitch Bochur was looking around for a group to belong to, and he came upon Lubavitch. He did his research, arranged a Yechidus with the Rebbe, and put together seventeen questions that he had on Chabad Chassidus. He knew that most people only got a minute or two for their private audiences, but he figured that his seventeen questions would merit a long and involved discussion. The appointed night arrived, and he came in. When he first saw the Rebbe he immediately regretted his ideas, because he realized that he was standing in front of a person who was a little bigger than all the previous Rebbe's he had visited. The Rebbe took about 10 seconds to scan the letter with the seventeen questions, and in that time managed to look at the Bochur three of four times. He then said, "The first sixteen questions are answered in Kuntres U'Maayan, which can be purchased from the Kehos Bookstore for 45 cents." While the Rebbe was saying this, he pointed in the direction of the store. The seventeenth question was regarding the famous statement of Moshiach to the Baal Shem Tov. When the Baal Shem Tov ascended to Moshiach's digs up in heaven he asked him, "When are you coming?" Moshiach answered, "When your wellsprings spread forth, and when everyone is able to unify divine names like you". The Bochur wanted to know why the Rebbe only focused on the first part, but not the second? The Rebbe answered (I've forgotten the first part of the answer, but it's not really so important), "Look outside. Do you see a world existing? It says that if there are no holy Tzaddikim constantly unifying divine names, then the world will cease to exist. As you can see, the world exists. We have to take care of the first part of Moshiach's instructions, and the rest will be taken care of."

The Baal Shem Tov always taught that a lesson can be learned from everything one sees, and even more so, that the only reason a person sees something is to learn a lesson from it. Reb Mendel Futerfas took this to heart, and he learned a very important lesson from the following story: Reb Mendel spent a lot of time in Soviet work camps, and he noticed that the prisoners were obsessive poker players. Card playing was against the rules, and every so often the guards would come in and do a search of the rooms where the prisoners played. Reb Mendel saw that the prisoners would be playing one second, and then when the door opened the cards would disappear, as if by magic. They guards knew that poker was being played, but they never managed to find any incriminating evidence. After a couple of weeks Reb Mendel grew quite curious; he too couldn't figure out where the cards were going. Eventually one of his fellow prisoners took pity on him, and explained, "Among the prisoners here are certain individuals who are excellent pick-pockets, which is why they ended up here. When the guards come they stash the cards in their back pockets, and later take them out when he leaves. The guards never suspect that the cards are in their own pockets!"
Reb Mendel explained the lesson in our service of Hashem: Whenever we have problems we tend to blame everyone else. We search around for a scapegoat, and are convinced that the problem is to be found outside ourselves. The truth is though, if we only looked at ourselves, we would discover that we are the problem!

There was once a Shliach who got into some trouble with the IRS. Basically, he was money laundering. Another Shliach ran away to Israel, but this Shliach was indicted and was being brought to trial. He wrote to the Rebbe, but received no answer. He called. No answer. He begged, borrowed, and stole, but nothing. Things were getting desperate. The Shliach knew that another Shliach, Rabbi Moshe Herson, would write a report of his activities to the Rebbe every Friday afternoon, and he was always answered. So the Shliach called up Rabbi Herson, and he asked him for his help. Rabbi Herson agreed, as long as the Shliach would tell the Rebbe the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Shliach, having no choice, agreed, and Rabbi Herson sent in the letter that Friday afternoon. Just a couple hours later, on Friday afternoon (!), the Shliach received a message from the Rebbe that he would have the full backing of Merkos in the case.
The lesson? Tell the Rebbe the truth. He knows who his Chassidim are, he knows who he made his Shluchim, there's no need to beat around the bush. Just tell it like it is.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Fiery Mountains

Tonight is Shavuos, anniversary of the giving of the Torah. It's been a long time. 3320 years. That's a lot of time. Yet we're still supposed to hear the words being spoken today. Just imagine, you're an average guy standing in front of a mountain, and suddenly you're not standing in front of that mountain anymore. That mountain is standing on top of you. Sounds crazy, eh? Soon you start seeing thunder, and before you can even say "Kevin" the sound of lightning begins to reverberate in your ears. I remember learning a Maamar, or maybe it was a Sicha, that dealt with the philosophical implications of audible lightning and visual thunder, but I really don't remember what it said. Suffice it to say that the people were trembling in their robes, or whatever it is they wore back then. The question is, which did they experience first? We see lightning before we hear thunder, because light travels faster than sound. Did they hear the lightning after they saw the thunder, or maybe it was the opposite way 'round? This is the type of question which will keep me up tonight. I hope. Last year I was saying the Tikkun in 770, but fell asleep, so I walked home and after reading four or five more pages fell asleep again. This year of course I'm in a position of responsibility and authority, so I daren't doze off for even a moment, lest my ego come crashing to the floor in a fiery embrace with itself.
Anyway, you've got all these pyrotechnics and shtuff going on, and then G-d gives the Torah to the Israelites, and then they're walking around with a couple of crowns on their heads eating cheesecake. Sounds pretty good to me. Where they got the graham cracker for the base I don't know. In fact, where did they get strawberries for the top from? These are more of the types of questions which keep people like me awake at night. No snotty comments about people like me, ok? Good.
So as I was saying, there's a whole host of questions that can be asked on Shavuos, known as Pentecost by all our Pope friends. Oh right, I forgot, I'm not allowed to write about them anymore.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Just before the battle, mother...

One of the greatest joys known to man is sitting late up into the night reading articles on Wikipedia, that great fount of knowledge and editable pages. Last night I spent, let's see, about four hours reading up on Vice-Presidents and Popes. They're really fascinating topics. The Popes especially are interesting, because each one gets to make up a whole new way of doing things when they're elected. It's a pity that they've gotten rid of most of the ceremonial shtuff. If I wanted to be austere and boring, I could just be a Protestant. The whole fun of being a Catholic is that you get to dress up in all sorts of cool costumes and have red hats hang over your coffin. The fisherman ring is also pretty snazzy. Maybe us Jews should get rings with circumcision type things going on. All right, that would be pretty weird, disgusting, and possibly illegal, though I notice that none of these three things have stopped too many people in the past. Perhaps a tie-in with the recent Kosher giraffe announcement is in order? Maybe every Rabbi should be presented with a ceremonial golden giraffe slaughtering device, inlaid with expensive rubies, diamonds, sapphires, and those cool-looking devices from Apple computer. Though this would preclude them being used on Shabbos, I think that this downside is well worth the potential upside. Unscrupulous people would no longer contemplate selling their Smicha certificates for obscene amounts of money; with the new personalized giraffe slaughtering devices indicative of Rabbinical achievement, if not scholarship, the age of phantom Rabbis would soon come to an end. Obviously, the better the Smicha, the better the slaughterer. People who get a Europass would only get iPod Shuffles, while LA graduates would receive iPod Nanos and Morristown Bochurim would get top of the line 3G iPhones. Just imagine yourself walking down Eastern Parkway with a large gold knife, headphones plugged into the top slot, listening to all your favorite Lipa Schmeltzer tunes. If you happen to be of black persuasion, we could even arrange for speakers to be included, for a slight extra fee of course. And if any Shmira or Shomrim people tried to wrest the device from your hands, why, it is a knife after all! One mighty swing and the scooter-riders will never bother you again! Oh, the joy!
Of course, I understand that the price of Smicha programs will need to rise a little to pay for the increased costs associated with my proposed idea. Maybe the Bochurim should start running car washes every weekend, to fundraise, instead of gallivanting off to Crown Heights, which is only a worthwhile endeavor in the spring when the trees conceal all the trash bags on the street and make it look nice.
Perhaps we should consider birds of a different feather flocking together? What do I mean by this? Have you ever noticed that when two Bochurim of different persuasion get on a plane together, they have no idea where the other is studying? If you're Lubavitch, it's either 770, or maybe Morristown. Snags are limited to the Mir and Lakewood. I think that now is the time for change. We should make a limited-edition of trading cards that feature the Yeshiva systems of four different groups with the King going to to the leader of that particular sect. I'm thinking that this should be customizable, but the basic set would feature Lubavitch, Chassidish Yeshivas, Snag-America, and Snag-Israel. The jokers could be the Hebrew Theological Seminary in Cincinnati and that liberal Chovevei Torah school in New York. Now when Bochurim are caught playing poker they can reasonably claim to be leaning the names and locations of other Yeshivas. A perfect Ahavas Yisrael project! Besides, the politics engendered would soon become legendary. Who should be King for Snag-Israelis, Lakewood East or Mir Yerushalayim? Would Ger or Bobov be on top of the Chassidishers? And of course with Lubavitch, who's the queen, Ohelei Torah or Lubavitch Yeshiva? Let the playing begin!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Teenage Polygamy and Jews: Why Bar Mitzvahs are so boring in the 21st Century

Well folks, it's that time of the week again, when I can't think of anything too interesting to write and instead I present to you Random Halachos! Woohoo! Once again these will be mainly coming from Sefer Taamei Minhagim which is not only a seriously cool book but is also sitting on my lap, ready to serve all the loyal TRS readers once again.
Have you ever wondered why there wasn't any punctuation or vowels in the Torah? The answer is that Judaism demands that all boys seeking to become men must go through a horrific ordeal, and the best way to accomplish this is with forcing them to read an ancient text without any vowels or punctuation. Back in the day, the law was that a boy had to slaughter thirteen cows in a single hour, but about 1000 years ago, PETA's predecessor, LUETP (Liars for the UnEthical Treatment of People) came on the scene and demanded that this ritual be stopped. They claimed that it was A. Not very nice, and B. No one was giving them any steak. The Rabbis, for the first and only time, capitulated to the group, and decided to come up with an appropriate substitute. Rabbeinu Gershom, leader of the Jews at that time, at first wanted to mandate polygamy, figuring that anyone who could deal with two wives could certainly deal with all other demands placed on Jewish men. A trial run of one hundred (Couples? Triples?) "Marital Units" worked well for about six weeks, but then everyone started reading everyone else's mail and the boys in the trial decided to divorce all the wives and start over from scratch. Unfortunately for the males, the females weren't too happy with these arrangements, and all 300 people eventually converted to Catholicism. In order to make sure that these things never happened again, Rabbeinu Gershom forbade A. Polygamy, B. Reading someone else's mail, C. Divorcing a women without consent, and D. He changed the rules relating to apostates.
After this experiment went wrong the Rabbis figured that they might as well go back to the old way of doing things. LUETP again jumped in, and declared that they wouldn't stand for a renewal of the age old laws, seeing as they still weren't getting any steak, and anyway, how much talent did it take to slaughter thirteen cows in one hour? The Rabbis next came up with the idea that every boy should be given a little dog to love and protect, but LUETP was still not happy. After all, how many steaks can you get off a little dog?
At this point the Rabbis were getting desperate, and one of them came up with a truly inspired plan. He theorized that since the whole problem was a bunch of environmental crackheads with brains the size of bread and butter pickles, they should just switch the Jewish standard to dill, or even sour, and then everything would be all right. This was done, and for a while everything was truly all right, the boys slaughtering their cows and the LUETP trying emergency pickle-alteration surgery without success.
All was well for several years, and then, once again, disaster struck. The LUETP, having finally given up on becoming sour pickle-brain sized, began to inform on the Jews to the government. The government collected evidence for nearly two years, and then struck, catching over a thousand boys performing the ancient ceremony at a mass Bar-Mitzvah celebration in Paris. The event had been organized for survivors of the deadly Prussia mushroom affair, which had spread disease and sickness throughout Germany with its vast clouds of mushrooms choking the very life of Berliners and Frankfurters in all corners of the land.
After the government arrested the many participants they tried to, in a cruel twist of fate, feed the boys hamburgers and jelly doughnuts, but the boys preferred death to such inhuman treatment and were therefore shipped off to Manchester, England.
The government raid, carried out by the DRY ICE (Dogged and Ragged Yentas In Elegant [they were French, and didn't know how acronyms work] Clothes) netted well over 13,000 cows, but they were all useless for steak-eating purposes; no one, to this day, knows why.
The Rabbis were once again thrown upon their own resources to come up with an idea. The dead cows had been returned to the community which had paid for them, and the Rabbis figured that they might as well use the hides for something useful. They wrote the Torah on them, and started to teach all the boys who were left. None of these boys knew how to read, and the Rabbis finally made the decision that the new regime was going to include mandatory Torah-reading/torture as part of its Bar Mitzvah preparation schedule. Some complained that this was too easy, and so thank you letter writing was also legislated, though this custom has been to disappear among the more conservative Jews.

Good answer, no? The real answer, of course, is that the Torah has no signs of any kind in order to allow multiple interpretation. If the words had vowels, then there could only be one meaning, but this way, everyone gets to make up their own shtuff. Well, kind of. Anyway, I like my answer better.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Here are those pictures I promised a bit earlier. For more, and some videos, check out TC's site. He took the photos, so he's entitled to some credit, right?

Here's the Karkafta...

Group Tefillin...I'm wearing his baseball cap while he wears my Yarmulkeh (If that explains anything)


Part of the Line...

Barack Obama moments before I didn't shake his hand...

While we were in line I figured we should have a group photo, hence:

A random reporter from Fox who we met (and TC harassed)...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Yes, tonight I went to the Obama speech in downtown S. Paul. It was pretty wild. We parked at 6:55, and encountered a line that was, oh, ten blocks from the Xcel Energy Center. We tried to find the end of the line, which took us another six blocks. Another four blocks formed after us. It was incredible. Literally tens of thousands of people all waiting in line. (Quick note: I just read these lines on MPR's website "You're noting the diversity of the crowd, right? As it wound down Cedar, there were Somali women on cellphones walking with men in yarmulkes." That was us! The only Frum Jews in a crowd of 40,000! Anyway, back to the story). We took a bunch of pictures, which will be going up tomorrow, and generally had a really great time in our two hours of standing on line. It was pretty funny, because all the people there were of course huge Obama supporters, and then there was us, four schmendricks who wouldn't vote for a Democrat for anything less than thirty-thousand in cash. Not that we broadcast our political views of course. After winding our way to, oh, five blocks from the arena, the cops came and told us that there was no more room. Officially Barack was only going to speak at 9:30, and like I told several people, now that he had said that his name was kind of Jewish it meant that he was on Jewish time and he'd speak at 11:00, earliest. It was only 9:10, so instead of giving up right then and there, like most people did, we ran the five blocks to the entrance, and encountered another line which was slowly snaking in. We hopped in, and it was there that the whole point of the evening was manifest. I somehow got into a conversation with a teenage kid, and asked him if he was Jewish. Of course he was. I happened to have my Tefillin with me, and asked if he'd like to put them on? Of course he did. So we made a Bar Mitzvah, right there in front of the Xcel Energy Center, with a large crowd looking on, and it was really wild. As I wrote, there'll be pictures up tomorrow. Who would've thought I'd get a Karkafta in the middle of a Barack Obama rally?
Anyway, we heard Barack begin to speak just as we made it past the Secret Service (they took away my laser pointer :(, but don't worry, I'll get over it) and up the escalator to the nosebleeds. At first we found seating in the stairs of the aisle, but then we were told to move for safety reasons and spent the rest of the speech standing, trying to see.
The man is a great speaker, but you already knew that. As pointed out in some article I read earlier this week, he has an incredible talent for cursing out McCain like there's no tomorrow and then accusing McCain of cursing him out, and this all being very unfair or something. And the crowd loved it. I couldn't hear several lines in the speech because the cheering was so loud. I myself didn't even clap my hands once, because why would I want to do that?
After it was all over we ran downstairs, and I came this ( - ) close to shaking his hand. Dang. Michelle came over, but I quickly withdrew my hand, because after all, though they may be pathetically low, I do have standards. We finally left at 10:30, after waiting for twenty minutes outside the X for him to come out.

So why did I go? It was really cool, a chance to see the next President, and oh yeah, that Karkafta. My first one too.

Devarim Shonim

Happy Yom Kippur Katan everybody! Today I had three or four half-baked ideas about what I wanted to blog about, and then I came up with this great idea; blog about Yom Kippur Katan. I did a quick search of the internet, and lo and behold, there's already a ton of sites that'll tell you all you want to know about it. So maybe I should just blog about various random-style tidbits?
A. For example, why is it that after you finish doing laundry there's always one sock that is still wet? It doesn't make any sense! Everything else is already beginning to burn, but this one sock has to decide to remain damp. And it's not like you can just put it back in the dryer, because who turns on a dryer for just one sock?
B. Why do we fast on the day before Yom Kippur? Because the moon is small. What does this mean? There's a story that in the beginning, the sun and the moon both shone, but the moon complained that two kings can't share one crown, so Hashem told the moon to go and lose its light. Asks the sefer "Chiddushei Shnei Hameoros", what does it mean that the moon should "go"? And how does the moon make itself smaller? He explains that in the beginning, the moon really didn't have any light of its own; rather, the moon shared a window (whatever that means) with the sun, which shone for both of them and made the moon think that it was shining. The moon complained, so Hashem told it to get out and find its own window, and automatically the moon became smaller.
C. Erev Rosh Chodesh is known as "Yom Kippur Katan" because it atoned for all a person's sins of the past month. Artscroll thinks you should all be fasting. Merely out of a deep sense of loathing for everything they stand for, I'd advise you to eat several slices of pizza today. Yes, I use four five Artscroll publications every day, but does that mean I shouldn't spit in the well which quenched my thirst? I think not.
D. Barack Obama is giving a major speech tonight in S. Paul's Xcel Energy Center. I'm trying to find a way to go. Why would I want to go? Mivtzoyim of course! But seriously folks, I think it would be cool to go hear the future President of America.
E. Is it really possible to always divide humanity into two parts? No matter which criterion is used, is it always haves and have-nots, hungry and satiated, exhumed and still-buried, hunter and hunted, bored and not yet bored, etc. ad infinitum? You get what I'm saying? That I have nothing more to write? Yeah, I figured.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Some nice stories

This morning on the way to Mikveh I was listening to a tape from an old class of Rabbi Sholom Ber Gordon, grandfather of both of our leaders here at YHSTC. He told a couple of stories which I'll try to reproduce here for your reading pleasure. The first concerns the oldest son of the Tzemach Tzedek, Rav Baruch Shalom, who along with Reb Yaakov did not become Rebbeim, unlike the other five sons. Anyway, the Tzemach Tzedek told Rav Baruch Shalom, or maybe it's a letter, I wasn't paying attention too closely, that since he was the Bechor, the oldest son, he was entitled to a double portion of his father's inheritance. What was this double portion that he got? He didn't have to become a Rebbe. His great-great-grandson was the Rebbe, but whether that has any connection to the story I don't know.
The second story concerns the Baal Shem Tov. One of his students would stay up all night reciting Mishnayos in the his room while he slept, or something like that. The Maggid of Meziritich wrote of his night to Reb Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, author of the Toldos Yaakov Yosef. While he was saying Mishnayos the Baal Shem Tov woke up and told him to go to his closet, take out a staff, and hand it to the guy in the room. The Maggid took out the staff, and looked around to see who was coming to get it. There was no one there, and the Maggid told this to the Baal Shem Tov. "No worries," (I paraphrase) the Baal Shem Tov said, "just hand it out." The Maggid handed the stick into the thin air, and it disappeared. The Maggid writes that his feet were shaking, and he was quite perturbed by the whole situation. The Baal Shem Tov noticed this, and told the Maggid the whole story. Basically, there was a Ben Bayis, a guy who hangs out and helps around the house, by Reb Yaakov Yosef. This guy once gave the Baal Shem Tov a staff. He was also a big sinner, and did all sorts of bad shtuff. He died, but his soul found no peace, and he came to the Baal Shem Tov, begging the great man to release him from his misery. The Baal Shem Tov tried, to no avail. Nevertheless, the soul continued to bother the Baal Shem Tov, mentioning the gift of the stick. So the Baal Shem Tov gave back the stick.
Rabbi Sholom Ber Gordon says in the tape that when his father, Reb Yochanan Gordon, told this story he mentioned three lessons that can be learned from it, but he (Rabbi Sholom Ber) only remembered two of them. The first is that just because someone's a Ben Bayis by Reb Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, it doesn't mean that they're all holy, and secondly, that if the sinner had given a month's living to the Baal Shem Tov, which the Baal Shem Tov couldn't give back, then he would have tried a little harder to rescue his soul.

After writing these stories I remembered a couple of others. I thought I had already transcribed them on this humble little blog, but a quick search didn't turn anything up, so I guess I'll just write 'em now. I heard them last year from Rabbi Wilshanski in Morristown at a Melave Malka. Here goes:

The Maggid of Meziritch was the youngest of the students of the Baal Shem Tov, and it came as a surprise to the rest of the students when he was chosen to be the next leader of the burgeoning Chassidic movement. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, one of the oldest of the students, and the first to publish the Baal Shem Tov's teachings, came to visit the Maggid for Shabbos a few years after the latter's ascension to leadership. After Shabbos the two holy men went into the Maggid's room, locked the door, and commenced to talk. One of the more enterprising of the Maggid's students somehow managed to listen in to the conversation.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef asked the Maggid, "Tell me, what special merit did you have that you became the leader?" The Maggid replied that as far as he knew there was nothing he had that no one else did. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef insisted, "You must have at least seen or heard something that none of the others heard; can you remember what that was?" The Maggid thought for a few moments and then said, "Do you know the story of the towels?" Rabbi Yaakov Yosef said that he had no idea what the Maggid was talking about. "Well that explains it," said the Maggid, and he proceeded to explain.
I noticed that the Baal Shem Tov had two towels hanging in his room. I wondered what these were for, and kept an eye on them. I noticed that the Baal Shem Tov never used them, and my curiosity grew. I determined to find out what these towels were for, and began to keep to a careful tab on the Baal Shem Tov's movements. I realized that the only time the Baal Shem Tov was alone was on Friday afternoon, after mikve, when he would lock himself in his room for a couple of hours. I figured that this must be the time he used the towels, because they were never otherwise touched. That Friday afternoon I hid under the Baal Shem Tov's desk and waited for him to come in. A few minutes later he did, and, locking the door behind himself, he walked over to the two towels and started to wipe his hands in them. He stopped, looked around, and then started again. He stopped again, looked around, and I realized that he knew there was someone in the room. I crawled out from under the desk, and started to apologize profusely for coming in. I said that I'd leave immediately, and began to step towards the door when the Baal Shem Tov told me that once someone was in the room there was no leaving. He then asked if I had been to the Mikveh, and when I replied in the affirmative he told me to come over, handed me one of the towels, and...I can't tell you what happened after that.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef was satisfied with this answer, but he wanted to know one more thing, "I noticed during this afternoon's Shalosh Seudos that an old man walked in, but no one noticed. A young man in the front stood up, and gave the old man his chair. Who were these two guys?" The Maggid answered, "Did you ever see the old man before?" Rabbi Yaakov Yosef said that he had not. The Maggid continued, "The old man used to come whenever the Baal Shem Tov when tell Torah. He is the Arizal. The only person in the crowd who saw him today, who gave up his seat for him, is Rabbi Schneur Zalmen, the Litvak (the Alter Rebbe)."

Nice stories, no? As I've mentioned before, when it rains, it pours, and today is no exception. Should I have saved these latter two for tomorrow? Possibly. But hey, maybe I'll have a lot to say tomorrow too!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Chitas Saga

Teachers work very hard. Included amongst all their other drudgeries are substitute lesson plans for when the teacher is sick or at a wedding or something like that. Teachers generally like to make these lesson plans self-contained, so that their replacement has no trouble and the teacher doesn't have too much of a headache when they come back and find out that the substitute told all their students that black is white, the sky is orange, and their regular teacher has horns on the back of their legs. But I digress. My aim in this whole introduction was merely to explain my decision to write today's post today. My brain has decided to take a bit of a vacation, and it's being replaced by the backup, which is slightly more brilliant but also slightly more unbalanced. So here goes...

G-d is a really great, um, well, G-d. I was considering saying that he was a guy, but that would be A. Inaccurate, and B. Disrespectful, not to mention C. Foolhardy, and D. Possibly humorous. (See, I told you this alternative personality was kind of strange). Way back when, in the beginning of time, G-d created the world. Yeah! He wrote about it in the book of Genesis, available for the last several thousand years from your local scribe. G-d later sent Jacob and his children down to Egypt-land, and even later then that he told Moses to tell Pharaoh, "Let my people go." The Israelites got out of dodge, and went into the desert to get the Torah. While they were there they also got a whole ton of laws relating to sanctuaries and sacrifices, and later fought some battles, had some rebellions, and generally did things any nascent people do when they're wandering around a wilderness for forty years and don't have even one stick of deodorant among them. Later they got some more laws, a recap of the whole adventure, and were poised to go into the land when BOOM! Moses died and that was that. The bible ends. Everyone goes to sleep, and later the Jews go in to the land, go out of the land, go back in, go back out, go back in, get rockets rained down on 'em from snot-faced little brats in Gaza, and generally have a great time being killed by people who don't like long noses. All that shtuff isn't included in the Torah; I just put it in to get you caught up on the history of the world.
It's Rosh Hashanah, and all are a'feared; Yom Kippur they're hungry, and Sukkos they're imbibing. This a pretty good month for Jews; everything's idyllic, and everyone expects to be joyful for the rest of eternity. And then the unthinkable happens. Cheshvan hits, the most boring month ever conceived by divine intelligence. Fortunately, every day is (mildly) exciting, because we're in the middle of Genesis, renowned for it's stories, wit, wisdom, and pretty wild passages in the Meam Loaz.
Chanuka is the final hurrah for Kislev, a month that rivals for Tishrei for joy and other fun shtuff. Next up is Teves, a month which by itself is not too exciting, but is redeemed by A. Preparations for 10 Shevat, and B. The beginnings of the enslavement in Egypt. Yes, being enslaved isn't much fun, even with the free fish, but learning about it is pretty cool. Continuing along in this chain of musical months, we hit Shevat, which of course has several days of importance, including the Rebbe's ascension to the throne, my birthday, the new year for elks, elms, and other varieties of tree-like vegetative manner, and of course the Rebbitzen's Yahrtzeit, which always feels like a bit of a letdown when commemorated outside of Detroit. Chumash in these days begins to become, dare I say, a bit tedious, with all this talk of the Mishkan and its assorted implements. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in the human breast, for up we come to Adar, with all its attendant happiness and cleaning for Pesach. Who has time to think about the sacrifices of Leviticus, with its dearth of stories and overload of priestly function. But as I say, there's no worries, because everyone is busy purging their homes of Coke, rum, and other leavened entities. After Pesach comes the hard times, with no music and quite boring Chumash. Yes, I'll probably be stoned for writing that, but, in my humble opinion, it's true. At least we have cheesecake to look forward to, and Numbers. Yes, the book of Numbers, renowned for it's interesting and enlightening episodes, known throughout the known world as being a much more entertaining yarn than the one presented in the previous book of the Jewish Bible. And it's at this point where we stand now, ready to eat all those cheese crepes and discover again the joys of spies, Korach, wells, and the occasional law or two. I was really looking forward to Numbers, and when I found not an exciting tale in all of the first Parsha I comforted myself that in Nasso we would have our fun. But it is not to be, and this whole week I lie desolate, abandoned by the books which once strove to light the way. Um, that was a bit melodramatic. Sorry. Truth is, I can deal with the pain, especially with the promise of a new Lipa Schmeltzer CD in a week or two.
The rest of the year also has some cool stuff going on; Deuteronomy isn't the most vibrant of books, but there's always the three weeks and Elul, month of repentance, to make up for any shortcomings. And after Elul comes Tishrei, the whole cycle starting anew with much singing and gnashing of teeth. If you want to read about it, then just scroll up! Oh, the joy!