Sunday, June 15, 2008

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 Dictionary.com, 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.

13 comments:

Nemo said...

Effulgence is one of those English words that I learned from Hebrew its parallel Hebrew term.

I heard the story about the water another way: The guy thought he was an Apikores but couldn't even bring himself to imbibe the impure waters and realized that he still believes deep down.

Eliezer said...

SCENE: Friday night, some shtetl, circa 1910.

WIFE (worried): This guest you brought home from the synagogue tonight, he creeps me out. I think he's gonna get up early tomorrow and run off with our silver.

HUSBAND: Don't worry. I took away his negel vasser.

Eliezer said...

I, like Nemo, thought I knew what effulgence was. I was once going to use it in writing and decided to double check what it means. Boy, was I surprised.

If rabbi Wineberg would translate "seder hishtalshelus" as "ecumenical vinculum," the whole Lubavitch would be saying things like, "So, from this was ecumenicized that the bachelor brought his own towel to the ritualarium..."

Nemo said...

Eliezer, not to sound prissy, but this is why I temper my Tanya learning with my semi-real English education.

Nemo said...

"ecumenical vinculum"

A ligament that promotes unity in the worldwide Christian Church by limiting movement in the human body?

What's that got to do with Seder Histalshelus? Good thing

Nemo said...

Good thing Weinberg didn't chose to translate the Tanya in any way that would imply that Hashem's method in creating and maintaining the world and the bodies within it would have the odious effect of unifying the establishment of Osoi HoIsh.

Isaiah 53 already caused enough of a tumult.

cheerio said...

i like nemo's version better...much more positive..

The Real Shliach said...

Incredible, 7 comments before I even take my first stab!

Eliezer said...

"ecumenical" can does not need to have Christian connotations. and "vinculum" can just mean a chain. But I agree that it would be a pretty rotten translation.

Nemo said...

Eliezer- Sorry, I just had to take the most ridiculous definitions of both words and combine it.

Still doesn't seem like a decent translation though. Where'd it come from?

TRS- My neuroticism should not count for the number of comments.

Eliezer said...

It is not a decent translation at all. It came from my own head.

Elisheva said...

Good example of this phenomenon - The Chassidic Heritage series. A friend and I tried learning from one and came to the conclusion that the original is easier to understand...

Elisheva said...

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