Sunday, August 31, 2008

The modern Joshua, specially formulated for complainers of all stripes

Some people have suggested that they're bored of Joshua. Others are clamoring for more? What should I do? Perhaps I should write about current events in Joshua's inimitable style. That would surely be fun for all. It's a little shorter than what you're used to, but I'm sure you'll get over it. Here goes:

"Hey Joshua, how goes the battle?"
"Well, it's pretty tough down here in New Orleans. We're about to get washed away, and people can say is 'Poor GOP.' Can't a city get any sympathy?"
"Well, perhaps if they had a better sense of timing, none of this would be necessary."
"How are we supposed to regulate the big guy up in the sky?"
"Maybe if you stopped some of those hedonist practices you have."
"You mean Mardi Gras?"
"But we enjoy those so much!"
"All sin is enjoyable."
"You mean the great blue dodger up in the stratosphere wants us to be serious and depressed all the time?"
"But of course."
"That's ridiculous."
"Hey, don't shoot the messenger."
"If the messenger perverts the message beyond all intelligible meaning, then I think it's perfectly acceptable to pervert the messenger too."
"Those are rather shocking words."
"No more shocking than someone claiming that their grandson is actually their son."
"English you may have, but are the facts on your side?"
"Certainly. Her word to me is like gold on a popsicle stick."
"First of all, she's yet to respond to these allegations, and second of all, where does one get gold on a popsicle stick? I'm fascinated!"
"I believe they're available for a small fee in the misused-analogy section of the incomprehensible-statement tent at the Minnesota State Fair."
"I would love to get one, but as you know, I'm stuck here in New Orleans trying to figure out how many HDTV's I can loot before the cops come."
"Joshua, I'm shocked! I thought you had morals!"
"I used to, but when I read that a woman would lie to protect her family I figured that I'd exchange mine for a nice new TV. It's a good exchange, no?"
"Just because you can doesn't mean that you should. I mean, if everyone did that, where would be then?"
"Where are we then?"
"You know, you just reused an old Peanuts joke. Can't you come up with something original once in a while?"
"Why should I bother? All the world's great literature is spread before me-should I fail to capitalize and make it my own?"
"It doesn't become yours just because you take it. That would be like saying that a TV becomes yours just because you take it."
"Of course it's mine. Property is theft, therefore theft is property, therefore it's mine."
"You just stole another line!"
"And what are you going to do about it? Complain like you people did about Barack Obama's historic popularity?"
"Historic popularity? The man's just a one-trick pony in the biggest freak show the world has ever seen-the Democratic party!"
"There you go again, insulting people who have the ability to change the space-time continuum, not to mention the paradigm, and all you can do is come up with admittedly good but nevertheless quite evil lines."
"What do you think the political arena is all about? If you're not prepared to fight like a devil, why are you entering the gladiators pit?"
"Yes, you're prepared to attack, but whenever we try and attack you back, you say that it's not fair."
"When did we do that?"
"Look, we attack Mccain, and you say he's a sacred POW, so we can't touch him. We attack Palin, and oh, she's a mother of a DS child, she's protected. Then we call you on the biggest lie in Alaska politics, at least since Ted Steven's last press conference, and you say that our attacks are disgusting. When you do it to us of course, then it's all right. You want to have it all your way. Well, let me tell you something, this Joshua isn't going to take that kind of abuse sitting down. Onward Episcopalian soldiers!"
"Joshua, when did you become such a big liberal? You used to be a solid conservative."
"Who said I'm a big liberal? I just don't like it when New Orleans is being abused by shrubs and their ilk, so I got into a bit of an ornery mood."
"So you really like the Grand Old Party?"
"Depends on how good the party is. After all, I am in New Orleans, and if the party is good, then it's all good."
"Maybe if New Orleans wasn't being such a pain than we could have a good party!"
"Oh, don't get me started one that again..."

Sevens are very special indeed

“Good morning Joshua.”
“How are you Mizz Gomez?”
“I’m doing just frabjously, Joshua.”
“Good, good.”
“I was just wondering, when does that order for the English poetry books come in?”
“Um, I really don’t know Mizz Gomez. I have one of the poems here though, if you’d like me to read it to you.”
“I would love that Joshua, you read poetry so beautifully.”
“Aw shucks Mizz Gomez, that is just too kind of you. Anyway, here goes. giggles

The mission to Mars came to an end,
The astronauts finally came around the bend,
As Earth, their sire came into sight,
They, the astronauts, ceased to fight,
All bickering, all pretenses fell away,
As they beheld their home bay,"

“Well, I think there might be a problem with this poetry.”
“You don’t like it Mizz Gomez?”
“You see Joshua, I don’t think that it’s very English.”
“The English are snobs.”
“While that may be true Joshua, we don’t want to say it out loud. Besides, it has nothing to do with the fact that this poetry, while very moving, has nothing to do with London.”
“Of course not, Mizz Gomez, England isn’t all London. There’s also, um; you know, I failed geography. But England is a big country, I’m sure that there are lots of places in it. You’re like New Yorkers who think that they are the United States, and if you press them might acknowledge that Los Angeles is a small town in the suburbs.”
“I’m sure that I agree with you Joshua, but the fact remains that this poetry sounds like some sort of sixties NASA propaganda.”
“And who do you think wrote sixties NASA propaganda designed to make President Johnson think that it was a good idea to keep up funding for itself?”
“Well you obviously want to tell me, don’t you Joshua.” sneers
“Of course I do. The only people who could possibly write such pretentious twaddle are the English!
“Beautiful inflection there Joshua, but I’m not buying it. That kind of stuff is obviously Swiss.”
“Huh? Why Swiss? All they’ve ever accomplished is to make watches and chocolate. No that there’s anything wrong with watches and chocolate, but still, it’s only watches and chocolate.”
“Do you enjoy saying ‘watches and chocolate’ Joshua?”
“Well Mizz Gomez, as it happens I do. And don’t you be so evil about it.”
“You know Joshua, when my widowed sister introduced me to you she said that you were a mild-mannered youth who was a few French fries short of a Happy Meal.”
“They don’t make those anymore, Mizz Gomez.”
“Make what?”
“Oh, they do, but now the big thing is healthy food.”
“What are you talking about Joshua?”
“Happy Meals.”
“Who mentioned Happy Meals?”
“You did.”
“I did?”
“You know, when I mention you to my younger brother, I’ll make sure that he knows that you’re a mild mannered lady whose village is missing their idiot.”
“What’s with the insults from 1999, Joshua?”
“Well, you started it.”
“No, you did.”
“Oh yeah? Read the transcript.”
“This hasn’t been recorded, Joshua.”
“Oh yes? So what is is that the readers are currently perusing?”
“It’s merely a figment of their own imagination.”
“You’re telling me that they dreamed up this whole thing? How likely is that?”

Editor’s Note: At this juncture Mizz Gomez’s Pastor pulls up in his pink 1955 Cadillac and asks to speak privately to Joshua. What follows is an accurate rendition of their conversation:

“Joshua, I’m sorry to have to call you away here, but I just thought you might like to know that I absolutely disapprove of this conversation you’re currently subjecting Mizz Gomez too. As you know, she’s quite ill, and this kind of heartless banter is taking its toll on her nervous system.”
“So what exactly do you want me to do?”
“I want you to apologize right now, and promise to never do it again.”

Joshua walks back to Mizz Gomez, and watched by the Pastor, he says what he must.

“I’m sorry for insulting you, Mizz Gomez.”
“There’s nothing you can do about it now, Joshua”
“But we are taught that hope springs eternal for all mankind! How can you say that I’m forever lost?”
“Such is life, though mine is surely nearing its end. You have fatally wounded me! The end is nigh!”

Minor note here, readers. The following is taking place at Mizz Gomez’s funeral. Well, I had to end it somewhere, and this seemed as good a place as any to do it. After all, there is nothing more final then death, now is there? Well, except being transferred by your company to Manchester, but we won’t go there.

“Why not father?”
“Well, that’s just the way your religion works, my son.”
“Can I convert to another?”
“You think I’ll allow you to? Are you crazy? Obviously the death has affected you greatly. Here, have a little Scotch. That’ll warm you up. I know how cold it gets in the Sahara forest.”
“Thanks for the drink, Padre. I assume that you had some before the funeral today.”
“Of course.”
“I can tell.”
“Well, the fact that you’re spouting nonsense is a pretty good indication.”
“Thanks Joshua, I really appreciate your kind words.”
“Padre, mind if I read a poem here? I wrote it specially for Mizz Gomez.”
“Sure Joshua, but if you don’t mind I’ll have a little more of the drink that refreshes. It’s good with the drink that quenches your thirst.”
“Here goes:

Here lies a woman
Not a great wonder
A charm
No alarm
The Zs of her name
Encompassed so much
I feel great sadness
No more life
What have I done
I feel all
What shall I do
I know not
The rhythmic patterns
Her footstep
Mizz Gomez
I have killed you

“Uh, great poem Joshua. Great symbolism and all that. The metaphysical imagery was really particularly effective. The rhythmic devices were really tremendous too. And the counterpoint of the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the humanity of the poets soul which contrived through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other, and one is left with the profound insight of Mizz Gomez’s life. Really just top-stuff that. I absolutely loved it.”
“Padre, you can get put into prison for that kind of thing you know.”
“Well, for one thing, its plagiarism. For another, it’s absolutely true. The current administration doesn’t like it when people speak the truth.”

Guess what folks? Another editors note! At many times in the narrative of the knave Joshua’s life I have felt annoyed with him, but this really is just too much. I can’t believe he would say something like that. It’s just too monstrous. I’ll keep him alive though; after all, he’s going to sell himself with talk like that, won’t he?

“You shouldn’t insult the current administration, Joshua.”
“Why not Padre?”
“Well, for one thing, it’s not a very nice thing to do.”
“All right father, I’ll listen to you. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed the poetry.”
“Who knows Joshua, perhaps there will be a miracle and Mizz Gomez will be resurrected!”
“I thought your sect didn’t believe in that, Padre?”
“Who knows what I believe? All that counts is that it could happen.”

Last one, I promise. On Mizz Gomez’s resurrection: It isn’t bloody likely. Especially not under my watch. After all, it’s now of Swiss provenance.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Joshua's Dozen

“Hi Joshua.”
“I have a question.”
“How come it seems like most of my conversations start off with ‘Hi Joshua.’ It’s so boring.”
“How else should a conversation start off?”
“Well, perhaps we could begin with a loud and boisterous rendition of ‘Howdy!’ That would work.”
“When was the last time anyone started off a conversation like that?”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”
“But you are right, it does seem like you’re in a bit of a rut.”
“How do you propose I should deal with this?”
“Eat some chicken?”
“That’s a terrible idea.”
“Well, you asked for it.”
“Just for that, I’m going home.”

Joshua goes home.

“Hello Chandler.”
“Hello sir.”
“What’s for breakfast Chandler?”
“Chicken, sir.”
“Chicken? That’s a terrible breakfast.”
“You inquired as to the menu, sir, and I answered your query.”
“Don’t get fresh with me, Chandler.”
“No, sir.”
“Just for that I think I’ll find a convenient restaurant to eat my breakfast in.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Good bye, sir.”

Joshua goes to a restaurant.

“What’s today’s breakfast special?”
“There is no breakfast special.”
“But it’s advertised on the window.”
“So you know what it is.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Prove it.”
“How can I prove I don’t know something?”
“Didn’t you have this conversation once before?”
“You’re right, I do seem to be in a bit of a rut.”
“So what do you want for breakfast?”
“What is available?”
“Chicken served hot, chicken served cold, chicken served in the pot,”
“Nine days old.”
“Seven what?”
“The chicken’s been in a pot for seven days?”
“That’s discusting.”
“It’s no more discusting than chicken being in the pot for nine days.”
“Good point there.”
“But you were willing to eat the nine day old chicken.”
“Says who?”
“Says me.”
“You know what? I’ve had enough chicken for one day.”
“You have?”
“Well, not actually.”
“What’s that supposed to mean.”
“I mean its been offered to me in one way or another three times today.”
“And it isn’t even four AM!”
“Will you marry me?”
“Okay then, bye.”
“Au Revoir.”

Joshua walks back to his house.

“Yes, sir?”
“Who named you that?”
“My mother, sir.”
“And why did your mother name you that?”
“Probably because she wanted to.”
“Haven’t I warned you about not getting fresh?”
“Yes, sir.”
“In fact, if I recall correctly, that was a major reason for my engaging you, Chandler.”
“Come again, sir?”
“Well, the advertisement I put in Butler’s Monthly
specifically requested a ‘Jeeves-like’ butler.”
“Every advertisement put in Butler’s Monthly
specifically requests a ‘Jeeves-like’ butler.”
“And therefore?”
“And therefore, sir, not all aspects of Jeeves’ character are necessarily replicated in all butlers.”
“I see.”
“In fact, sir, if I may be so bold, I would venture to say that Butler’s Monthly
would better serve its audience if it was called Jeeves’ Monthly.

“So what you’re saying is that I’ve been gyped.”
“Precisely, sir. However, I don’t know if I’d use that term if I was you.”
“And why not?”
“Well, sir, it isn’t exactly PC.”
“Politically Correct, sir.”
“So how about ripped off.”
“Much better, sir.”
“Regardless of the term used, Chandler, the fact remains that I’ve been swindled.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Is Butler’s Monthly useful to butlers?”
“Only as a sort of classified, sir.”
“But I see you get it every month.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Are you not happy with your present engagement?”
“Yes, sir, I am very happy.”
“Good. Fix me some victuals.”
“Very good, sir; what will you have?”
“Nothing to do with chicken.”
“How about some bacon and eggs?”
“That’s rather fattening, Chandler.”
“Not if you’re on a low-carbohydrate diet, sir.”
“Does it look like I need to go on a low-carbohydrate diet, Chandler?”
“No, sir.”
“Well then, fix me up some bacon and eggs.”
“Very good, sir.”
“You said that already.”
“Well, sir, all butlers are programmed with four or five phrases that are constantly used by those of us in this position.”
“Was that supposed to be funny, Chandler?”
“I believe the correct term is caustic, sir.”
“Well, Chandler, not only was it not funny, but I think that if you don’t go and make that bacon and eggs right now I will have to throw all caution to the winds and be a little caustic with you myself!”

The bacon and eggs are made. Joshua eats them.

“I’d like a dozen bagels, Chandler.”
“Why, sir?”
“Ours not to reason why, ours just to do and die.”
“That’s very profound, sir.”
“Thanks. So where’s the bagels?”
“What bagels?”
“What bagels!? The bagels I just asked for!”
“It isn’t necessary to scream, sir.”
“You’re fired.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Oh, one more thing before you go, Chandler.”
“Yes, sir?”
“Oh, I’ve forgotten already. No, I haven’t. Please bring me your latest Butler’s Monthly.”
“Very good, sir.”

Joshua 15-Is It More?

“What is evil, Joshua?”
“Well, that depends. What is good?”
“I asked the question first, so I get an answer first.”
“All right. Evil is the absence of good.”
“And good is the absence of evil.”
“That leaves a gray zone, doesn’t it?”
“Sure does. What do you think that zone is?”
“Wow, that’s deep.”
“You know, I’m trying to be profound here, why do you have to ruin it?”
“Because I’m a cynical jerk.”
“Truer words have never been spoken.”
“You know Joshua, I think you were right.”
“About what?”
“About that whole humanity thing, you know, being a mixture of good and evil.”
“What’s your opinion?”
“Well, the way I’m seeing it, everything balances out; there are good people and there are bad people, and if you put everyone together, they’re really just purely gray.”
“That’s very nice.”
“On which side of the scale do you think you are?”
“Oh, I’m on the bad side.”
“You said it yourself. I’m a cynical jerk.”
“My uncle once told me something very interesting. He said that the most cynical people were also the most gullible.”
“Father’s or mother’s side?”
“So how exactly was he your uncle?”
“He wasn’t, we just called him that.”
“Does he actually exist?”
“Well now all that remains of him is some ashes.”
‘Oh, I’m sorry, when did he die?”
“Who said he died?”
“Um, well you did just say that all that was left of him was ashes.”
“So how exactly is he not dead?”
“Who says he ever lived?”
“That’s very deep, but it really doesn’t explain much.”
“Neither do you.”
‘You know what? I’m going to punch you unless you start making sense.”
“You know that you used the word ‘you’ three times in that sentence?”
Pow. Later...
“Wow! What was that?”
“It was the sound of a skull cracking, sir.”
“Chandler! You’re back!”
“Yes, sir.”
“I thought I fired you?”
“You did, sir.”
“So what are you doing here?”
“I got a job as a nurse.”
“Ah. So I’m in hospital.”
“Brilliant deduction, Einstein.”
“Actually, I believe that was an induction.”
“How should you know? You just got slammed.”
“True. True.”
“Of course it’s true, would a butler ever tell an untruth?”
“No comment.”
“A very wise policy, if I might add.”
“What’s got into you lately?”
“Well sir, I figured that if you were going to fire me then I should respond in a suitable manner.”
“Is being rude a suitable manner?”
“Of course, sir.”
“I’ll get back to you on that. Meanwhile, please get my lawyer.”
“Yes, sir.”
Slightly later...
“Ahh, Joshua, my favorite friend, my best buddy, my crackingly cricked up companion, my absolutely top-hole client, who do you want me to sue for you today?”
“The man who did this to me.”
“Pardon? The man who made your bed?”
“Exactly. He’s a dangerous fiend and should be sent down to Fishkill immediately.”
“Isn’t that a womens’ facility?”
“No reason he shouldn’t enjoy himself as much as possible while he’s incarcerated.”
“Well, there is a slight problem, you see, I think that it might be hard to persuade the State Attorney to press charges against a man who was merely doing his job.”
“Exactly! Himmler was also just doing his job!”
“Good point Joshua. Should I also press criminal charges against the dude who busted your chops?”
“Uh, eh?”
“Oh, I mean the guy who slammed your skull.”
“If it’ll make you happy.”
“Oh, don’t worry, it’ll definitely make me happy.”
“Well, I’m glad to provide some happiness in someone’s life. Mine is sadly lacking in that department now.”
“You’re content, though.”
“If you put it like that, yes.”
“See, I knew we could come to an impasse.”
“So let’s just review my instructions, shall we?”
“Does it look like I have any more appointments?”
“Right. So we’re suing the maid for making your bed, the dude for cracking your skull, and the butler for being a jerk.”
“Why the butler?”
“Well, three is my lucky number.”
“Okay then, go right ahead.”
“See you later.”
“Hey, Joshua, I’ve got the results right here!”
“What are they lawyer?”
“The maid was let off because he was just doing his job;”
“I’ll appeal!”
“We lost that one too.”
“Dang. Well, go on.
“You’re assaulter got off.”
“Well, it appears that you were having a theological discussion, and US law is very particular on that one.”
“Well, it appears that when a person enters into a theological discussion they cede all of their rights.”
“That’s a terrible law.”
“Which is why I appealed it.”
“And what did the appeals court say?”
“They laughed so hard their dentures fell into their water glasses.”
“I thought that you’re supposed to have respect in the courtroom.”
“Well, they had justice done to them, as the water was poisoned.”
“So they died?”
“No, but the defendant in the case asked for a cup of water and he died.”
“So all’s well that ends well?”
“No, you’re being charged with manslaughter.”
“Me? Why? I’ve been in this hospital room for six weeks.”
“Exactly. They figured that anyone who could afford to stay in a hospital for six weeks could afford an expensive defense attorney who could get them off.”
“Well they’re right there.”
“And moving onto the final case, I’m sorry to say that you lost.”
“Strike three, huh?”
“Yes. Well, I’ll be going now, call if anything happens.”
“I’ll do.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

British Invasion

This one was originally entitled "Moi?" Please, enjoy.

“I hate pretentiousness, Joshua.”
“So does everyone and their grandmother.”
“No, actually my grandmother enjoys it.”
“I was generalizing.”
“That is itself pretentious.”
“So, in order to answer a pompous ass one has to assume its characteristics.”
“That was a very neat phrase.”
“You’re welcome.”
“Getting back to your original comment though, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.”
“That’s encouraging.”
“Every writer, no matter how down to earth, is pretentious. Heck, Monty Python was pretentious.”
“No, not Monty Python!”
“What, you married to them or something?”
“You don’t have to be sarcastic as well.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
“So what do you mean when you say that Cleese and company are pretentious? I mean they exemplify anti-establishment.”
“No, they are the establishment. Perhaps when they first started they thumbed their collective noses at the corporation, but look who was paying them.”
“That’s just the nature of the beast. You have to work from inside to bring it down.”
“Yes. But when you do that it falls down on top of you. Not so much a Trojan Horse as a Samson.”
“That’s all very nice metaphysically, but the fact is that Monty was the counterculture.”
“Just because people are fighting something doesn’t mean that they’re not conforming to another.”
“You know, people have been having this conversation since the dawn of civilization.”
“Which means that this conversation is just as pretentious as a newly-minted OBE.”
“So then let’s stop having it.”
“That’s one option. Another is to acknowledge the essential pretensions of life and deal with them.”
“Who wants to deal?”
“A dealer.”
“Oh, don’t be cute.”
“You know what you are? A modern-day J.D. Salinger.”
“Is that meant to be a compliment or what?”
“Sure. All I’m saying is that you both question life in incredibly annoying ways.”
“Like how?”
“You ever read ‘Franny and Zooey’ or ‘Catcher in the Rye’?”
“Both of them are about this whole rebellion against conformity, which is in itself a rebellion against pretentiousness.”
“So you’re saying that it’s impossible to not conform in some way.”
“Exactly. Even unique people aren’t unique.”
“How so?”
“Well, they are merely marching to a different drum beat. But it’s still some society’s drum beat, even if it’s not the one all around them are used to.”
“Can you stop talking in cliches?”
“I can try. Life is just so much easier when you can speak in the same way that everyone else has.”
“You know, I think that you’re being a cultural snob, dropping Python and Salinger.”
“The difference between me and you is that I have no pretensions to non-snobbery and no desire to effect originality.”
“So you’re just a well-adjusted middle-class American with two point four children?”
“In fact, I have no children, but otherwise, yes.”
“And you’re satisfied?”
“Yes, I am actually.”
“I suddenly have this massive urge to shoot you.”
“Oh, that’s perfectly natural. I’m being a smug cad, and you, as the disaffected young radical, have the desire to do something to rectify the situation.”
“Come again?”
“You speak in cliches too.”
“Just pointing it out. There’s nothing like man’s essential hypocrisy.”
“I thought we were discussing my urge to kill you?”
“It’s all one and the same. You want to kill me because I have what you don’t.”
“That’s a terrible reason to want to kill someone!”
“Tell that Cain.”
“Well, he succeeded, didn’t he?”
“If you consider being cursed and then being killed by your great-great-great-grandon success then yes, he was definitely one of the few people in this world to ever have the satisfaction of a life well lived.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Then what is it?”
“He acted on his instincts, got what he needed, and then suffered the consequences.”
“And that’s a good thing?”
“It’s better then not suffering the consequences of your actions.”
“Rubbish! Who wants to suffer?”
“No one, obviously, but suffering is an experience that we can learn from.”
“So you’re saying that an eighty-year old should suffer for their actions.”
“Of course.”
“They have to learn that every deed has its reward.”
“Aren’t they a little old for that?”
“Nonsense. I’ve taught myself new tricks.”
“But your hardly a representative of the Geritol generation.”
“So? The point is the same.”
“How about an eight-month old person?”
“What about them?”
“Should they suffer the consequences for their actions?”
“Why not? It’ll be a learning experience.”
“You’ll end up traumatizing them.”
“Isn’t that the point? To traumatize the criminal so that they don’t commit their crimes again?”
“I prefer to use the word teach.”
“The concepts the same though.”
“You have a point there.”
“Furthermore, you are saying that babies, the most impressionable of creatures, should not be punished, while the elderly, who are set in their ways, should be.”
“All right, punish the kids.”
“That’s what the British did for a thousand years. And all they got for their efforts were Kingsley Amis, Monty Python, and the Spice Girls.”
“All valuable contributions to humanity.”
“That’s a point that could be easily debated, but I hope that my point is clear.”
“What exactly is that point?”
“That punishment does not work.”
“That sounds very seventyish.”
“Does that tell you anything?”
“You’re a hippy?”
“Guess again.”
“Um, not punishing also doesn’t work?”
“That’s very true too. The fact is, no one has any idea what in the world is happening.”
“So how did we get to this point? I mean, look at the world around you; so full of good and kindness and Coca-Cola.”
“The very symbol of goodness I assume.”
“What I’m trying to say here is that this world is more messed up than it has a right to be.”
“My teacher always told me that I have no rights, only privileges.”
“Who was that, your biology professor?”
“No, actually is what the man who taught me constitutional law.”
“Did you miss the second part of the course?”
“No, why?”
“Well both of you seem to have forgotten that one inalienable part of the constitution.”
“And what’s that?”
“The bill of rights.”
“Oh, yeah, those. Actually, I think my professor was talking about the university and how most of the kids thought they had a right to a degree.”
“If you pay thirty-thousand dollars for four years with the intention of getting a piece of paper shouldn’t you get it?”
“You can have as much paper as you want, just not with the word diploma on it.”
“So let’s say you don’t get a diploma, is that just a waste of money?”
“No, you learned a valuable life-lesson.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it. All it’s going to teach you is to not spend your money.”
“Which is a valuable life-lesson.”
“That’s true.”
“So wrapping up everything that we’ve said, it’s impossible to not be pretentious, impossible to discipline, but possible to teach about money.”
“Very well said. However, I hate when people sum up stories like this.”
“Like what?”
“Well, I hate when stories are moralistic.”
“So you’re saying that you hate when stories are pretentious about the lessons they pretend to teach.”
“Even though we just said that it’s impossible to not be pretentious about something like that, or for that matter anything.”
“Got me there.”
“So how do you say we should end this story?”
“Let’s give the reader something to think about.”
“Like what, Joshua?”
“Maybe we should let them meditate on the ineffable mystery of the word of the great being named Bob?”
“They can do that, sure.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

More lad

Warning: I haven't seen the following story since I wrote it five years ago, and I can't be bothered to read it now either. Still, it should be quite the adventure.

“Good morning Joshua.”
“Hi Mrs. Thench.”
“Are you doing anything constructive today Joshua?”
“Oh, definitely no, Mrs. Thench.”
“Please, call me Tulip.”
“Whatever floats your boat, Tulip.”
“So anyway Joshua, why are you wasting your day?”
“Who says I’m wasting my day?”
“Well, if you’re not doing anything constructive it means that you’re wasting your day, doesn’t it Joshua?”
“Not necessarily Tulip.”
“Under what extenuating circumstances could you claim exemption from wastefulness?”
“Well, I am practicing my conversational skills, aren’t I?”
“Good point, Joshua. In that case though, why did you say that you weren’t doing anything constructive ?”
“Oh, just so that I could keep up the conversation.”
“Very noble of you, Joshua.”
“Oh, of course, Tulip. By the way, how’s Mr. Thench?”
“Oh, Rhododendron? He’s doing just peachily. Or floweringly might be more apt.” The silly woman giggles
“Well, ain’t that just too nice Tulip. Glad to hear your relationship is still so rosy. Encountered any thorns lately, though?”
“Well, now that you mention it, Joshua, we did have a slight problem a short while ago. Though I don’t know if I should mention it. Rhododendron probably wouldn’t like it.”
“Who cares about Rhododendron!”
“Well! I certainly do.”
“Well, I certainly don’t. The man is a stuck up prig. Plus, he likes chopped liver.”
“What’s wrong with chopped liver, or, for that matter, stuck up prigs?”
“They’re bad for the digestion.”
“Who, the liver, or the prigs?”
“That’s a nice thing to say about someone’s husband.”
“Glad you enjoyed it.”
“But really, what do you mean by talking in this most revolting manner?”
“Why? You don’t like it? Too bad.”
“No, it is definitely not too bad. I think I shall write to your most excellent mother. With her censure you should be slightly more normal.”
“That’s not bloody likely.”
“And that, Joshua, is exactly what I feared.”
The next day...
“Good morning sunshine, oh my sunshine, you make me haaappppyyyy, when the skies are gray, you always think that, you are so superior, so you always eat a, blue jay.”
“Beautiful sir, just a true work of brilliant genius. High art is what I call it. The unconscience desire to break these shackled bonds that hold you to the earth and you rise higher and higher to the great challenge awaiting all in the sky.”
“What rubbish you speak, Chandler.”
“Very good, sir.”
Note here folks, Chandler is Joshua’s butler. He sometimes gets carried away though.
“So Chandler, what’s for brekkie?”
“Brekkie sir?”
“Oh, don’t be a fool, Chandler. You know, breakfast: bacon, eggs, pancakes, cherry blintzes, waffles, butter on toast, plenty of hot and strong coffee, perhaps a cup of tea, a glass of milk, a muffin for afters.”
“Sounds rather unhealthy, sir.”
“No one asked you if it was meant to be healthy, Chandler, I just asked you to make it.”
“With what?”
“I don’t know, Chandler, you’re the cook around here.”
“Very good, sir, but there’s no food.”
“So go and buy some. Meanwhile, I await your return with an ever increasing appetite. If you’re not careful, Chandler, I shall starve.”
“That would be most unfortunate, sir. Unfortunately, there is no money to satiate your rather large appetite.”
“Less of the commentary, Chandler, and more of the food. Where exactly did all my money go?”
“You’ve squandered it, sir.”
“What are you talking about, Chandler?”
“Well, you can’t expect to lose all your fortune at the racing track and no feel any effects, sir.”
“I didn’t lose all my money at the track, Chandler. I didn’t even go there!”
“Too bad, sir, you might have enjoyed it.”
“So then what are you talking about? Who lost all their money on the horses?”
“Greyhounds, sir.”
“Well then, greyhounds? Who lost all their money on greyhounds?”
“Me, sir.”
“Sorry sir, that was just the bell ringing there. I’ll just answer it.”
A few seconds later... Well, actually, more then just a few. Several, perhaps.
“Sir, your mother, the noted moralitician.”
“The noted what, Chandler?”
“Moralitician, sir. Person who deals with morality.”
“Sounds suspiciously like a mortician, Chandler.”
“Exactly, sir. They have much the same function.”
“Very good, Chandler. You may go now. Yes mother, what can I do for you?”
“Well, I’ve come about that letter from Mrs. Tulip Thench. She seemed very shocked at your behavior.”
“Doesn’t bother me.”
“No, it wouldn’t, would it.”
“So getting to the gist of the matter, mother, you wonder what my side of the story is?”
“Well, I’m sure that it’s much the same as she described it to you.”
“So can you explain yourself.”
“Oh, no. Heavens no. What a ghastly thing to think about. Why in the world should I explain myself?”
“Because if you don’t, I’ll be forced to punish you.”
“And how would you do that?”
“I would kill you.”
“Well that’s a nice thing to say to someone’s only son!”
“Actually, I think I would force you to do something even worse.”
“No, are you talking about...”
“No. You wouldn’t punish me like that?’
“O h yeas I would.”
“You’re serious?”
“Wasn’t that supposed to be slightly longer?”
“Well, it was, but I couldn’t keep it up very long.”
“Why not?”
“Well, it didn’t strike me as being the done thing.”
“Makes sense.”
“I believe it definitely does.”
“Anyway, you have thirteen seconds before I punish you.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Well Joshua, I want you to explain yourself.”
“But that’s just as bad as ...”
“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?”
“Besides, if you do that I’ll explain myself anyway?”
Chandler walks into the room.
“Did you call, sir?”
“Yes, thank you for being so prompt. Could you please ask Mrs. Thench to come into the room?”
“Certainly, sir. She will be coming in right now.”
Mr. Tulip Thench walks in several minutes later, announced by Chandler, of course.
“You wanted me, Joshua?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”
“Well then, shoot.”
Quick as a whip, Joshua shoots Mrs. Tulip Thench. She dies. Great mourning. On her coffin they placed some roses. Less poetic that way.
“Well Mr. Rhododendron Thench, I’m very sorry.”
“No, that’s all right Joshua. I was looking for an excuse to marry your mother anyway.”
“Any problem?”
“Well, if you could just wait a second.”
Not so quick this time, Joshua shoots both Mr. Rhododendron Thench and his mother. They both die. It was a comfort, though, that it was in each other’s arms. Mourning wasn’t so great this time. After all, this time Joshua was paying for the funeral. On the two coffins they placed some roses. In fact, it was the same roses that had been placed on Mrs. Tulip Thench’s coffin. The mortician thought it would be romantic. He was wrong, it was more ironic then anything.
“So all in all, Chandler, a pretty good day. Everyone who needed to got canned. By the way, what in the world were you talking about when you said I had lost all my money gambling on greyhounds?”
“Well, sir, I meant that I had wasted all your money gambling on greyhounds.”
“In that case, Chandler, I shall punish you in the worst possible way that I know of.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“You must continue to work for me.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The triumphant return!

There was a little clamoring this afternoon for the Joshua stories, and I thought I'd oblige tonight. One thing I've noticed about these stories-they are intensely weird. Not that weird is a bad thing, of course. The only problem is, I'm just trying to figure out which of the twenty or so stories that I wrote five years ago would translate well into this busy world we live in today. I suppose I'll just choose a random story... Now remember, I wrote this a long time ago. I'm sure there are a thousand holes that can be poked in it. Please, do me a favor, and point out any inconsistencies or stupidities to TRS circa 2004. I'm sure he'll appreciate it.

Joshua XI

Joshua’s Jericho

“Hey, Joe!”
“Yeah? What?”
“What are you doing in that fox hole?”
“Getting shot at.”
“Hey, so am I!”
“Brilliant deduction, Einstein.”
“Mind if I jump in?”
“That’s not very nice.”
“So you’re just going to let me die here?”
“No, you could jump into the hare’s hole next to me.”
“It’s not big enough.”
“So dig an extension.”
“But I’ll need to refinance and get a home loan for that.”
“Oh, really? Well when I refinanced, I got a great rate from Pinkerton Brothers, they were really good. I got a great rate and a $1000 gift card from Houses R Us. I really recommend them.”
“What is this, an infomercial?”
“No, it’s just that I get a referral fee of $100 every time I send them a customer.”
“So you’ll start digging soon?”
“I think so, it does seem to be getting pretty hot out here.”
“What in the world are you talking about? This is worse then Valley Forge!”
“No, I mean the smithy is starting to heat the fire.”
“Well, you know, forge, smithy, fire, uh,”
“Why in the world do you feel compelled to make a complete fool of yourself every time you say something?”
“I blame it on the one above.”
“You’re blaming it on a U-2 pilot?”
“No, I’m blaming it on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
“You’re Catholic?”
“Not exactly, I’m more Unitarian then anything.”
“Listen Joshua, I totally believe you.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yes I do.”
“Prove it.”
“How can I possibly prove that I believe something?”
“Well, it’s your own fault for getting in such a pickle.”
“That’s a lot of help.”
“Well, I sure am glad that I could be of service.”
“How about you prove to me that you’re Unitarian.”
“Wait, I thought you believed me?”
“I do.”
“So why do you want me to prove that I’m a Unitarian?”
“Just for practice.”
“Oh, okay, if it’ll make you happy.”
“Oh yes, it definitely will make me extremely happy. I think I’ll start to bubble soon I’ll be so happy. My mood will be positively frabjous.”
“Well, I am always happy to make someone happy. Gives me such a feeling of a job well done.”
“Well then, start doing it.”
“Here goes: I am a Unitarian because I say I am.”
“What, I think, therefore I am?”
“Theft is property, therefore property is theft, therefore your fox hole is mine!”
Brief scuffle results in Joe being summarily evicted from his fox hole.
“I’ll sue you for this! You’ll pay damages! I’ll have the law on you! I have my rights, you know!”
“Beat it bubs. This fox hole is like, being mine.”
“What an absolutely typical anti-American communist.”
“What, you make the trains run on time?”
“Of course.”
“But you have no trains!”
“Great, just what I need, an existentialist.”
“No, a Unitarian.”
“What, back onto that again?”
“I bet you don’t even know what an existentialist is.”
“And I bet that you don’t even know what a Unitarian is.”
“So we’re all square?”
“No! Of course not.”
“Because you brought up this whole Unitarian thing first. You got to explain yourself.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I have long-term memory loss, so I only remember that you said that I was an existentialist.”
“Is it possible to be both a Unitarian and a existentialist?”
“Well, I seem to be doing a good job of it.”
“According to who?”
“All right, according to whom?”
“What? This is a matter of religion, not poker!”
“Au Contraire, they are the same thing.”
“And next thing I know, you’ll be going Gump on me and saying that religion is like a box of cards, you never know what, is, uh,”
“You never know which one you draw first.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“Regardless of its making sense or not, it sounds good.”
“No it doesn’t! I can not imagine Tom Hanks saying something like that.”
“Jim Carey!”
“No, it was Tom Hanks.”
“Who are we going to ask to find out who’s right?”
“Let’s ask that manipulative movie maven over there.”
The two crawl over to the fox hole of the manipulative movie maven.
“Hey! Who says I’m manipulative?”
“Well, that’s what the flag above your hole says.”
“Actually, it isn’t saying anything.”
“So then what is it doing?”
“That doesn’t sound too good.”
“No, you’re right.”
“Yes Joe?”
“I’ve been thinking.”
“That’s a first.”
“You know, the line that Gump uses in the movie doesn’t make sense. After all, in most boxes of chocolate, there are different designs for the different kinds of chocolate. So you really can tell what you’re going to get.”
“That’s a very good point Joe.”
“Can I get a word in edgewise here people?”
“Sure you can, Manipulative Movie Maven.”
“Take that sign down and cross out the word Manipulative Joshua.”
“And you, Joe, state your case.”
“Sure. Well Movie Maven, Joshua and I were arguing,”
“What Joshua?”
“The Movie Maven just manipulated us!”
“I did not!”
“Yes you did.”
“Joshua, never say something like that again.”
“All right.”
“Thank you.”
“So as I was saying movie Maven, Joshua and I have an argument about who played the title character in Forrest Gump. He says Jim Carey while I hold that it was Tom Hanks.”
“Oh, that’s an easy one, it was Tom Hanks.”
“You sure?”
“Yup. Sorry Joshua, you was wrong.”
“Too bad Joshua, better luck next time.”
The two crawl away from the movie maven to their own fox hole and, in Joe’s case, hare’s hole.
“You know Joshua, I think it’s called a warren.”
“Well, that’s for a rabbit. I think that for a hare it’s all right to live in a hole.”
“Whatever you say.”
“So back to one of our original arguments, as you just proved, a saying doesn’t necessarily need to be true to be used.”
“Obviously. Property is theft is totally not true.”
Mild scuffle results in Joshua moving into hare’s hole.
“I think a good saying would be that religion is like a card game: in both cases, you want the dealer to cheat for you.”
“That’s a good one Joe.”
“Thanks Joshua.”
“Can I have my hole back?”
“Back to an even further argument, or maybe it was more recent, I have no idea.”
“Because you have bad long-term memory.”
“Is it possible to be both a Unitarian and existentialist?”
“You say I am.”
“No, I say that you’re an existentialist; you say that you’re a Unitarian.”
“Do you know what either is?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That’s what I’m asking you.”
“How about we both write definitions on pieces of paper, and whichever one is right gets the fox hole.”
“Why not?”
“Why should I give up my hole if I’m proved to be a fraud?”
“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem, huh?”
“Okay then, do you want to do it?”
“Oh fine.”
Much scribbling.
“Now we need an impartial judge.”
“How about we go to George the Judicious Groundhog for a ruling?”
“That’s a good idea.”
They crawl off in the opposite direction of the Movie Maven.
“Squeak, snort, squeak squeak, sniff, sniffle, snort, squeak!”
Simply because we here at Joshua Enterprises are so inclined, we will provide a translation.
“I refuse to talk to people who first steal my hole and then think that a hare or rabbit could possibly have made such a comfortable place.”
They crawl back to the fox hole and (as now revealed) groundhog den.
“Well, let’s at least exchange papers and see what the other wrote.”
“You wrote, ‘Ethiopia is a country in Africa.’ how could you do something like that?”
“Yeah Joe, you wrote, ‘Ethiopia is a country in Africa.’ too. How could you do something like that?”
“Oh. Yeah. I remember that.”
“Maybe we’re fraternal twins who were separated at birth?”
“Maybe we’re not, Joshua; I’d hate to be related to you.”
“That wasn’t a nice thing to say Joe.”
“So I’ll take it that neither of us knows the first thing about existentialism or Unitarianism?”
“Now onto another topic of debate then.”
“What’s that Joe?”
“That thing about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
“We never debated about that?”
“I was meaning to.”
“Okay, so what’s the debate?”
“Well, whether there is actually any one above?”
“You mean whether there is the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?”
“Well, if you prefer monotheism...”
“Actually, I prefer nothing.”
“You’re an atheist?”
“Then what are you doing in that fox hole?”
“Haven’t we already agreed that most trite sayings aren’t true?”
“That doesn’t mean you have to prove them wrong Joe. Get out of that fox hole!”
Major skirmish results in Joe being expelled to the rodent’s retreat while Joshua regains his residence in the groundgog grotto.
A short while later a passing shell kills Joe. A voice is heard from the heavens:

“I may only be the writer, Joshua, but I do appreciate when you stand up for your beliefs and don’t allow cliches to become obsolescent.”
A short while after that Joe is buried with full military honors under the cross his parents provided. He is still seething.

State Fair Reds

On Friday I went to the Minnesota State Fair, with my trusty Tefillin in one hand and a couple of hamburgers for lunch in the other. We chanced upon the GOP booth, and after getting my Norm Coleman campaign button I began to chat with an elderly volunteer. She told me about he son-in-law who's convinced he's Jewish, and her daughter who's a good Catholic, pushing out babies every couple of years and supporting her family to boot. I asked the volunteer if her son-in-law's mother was Jewish? Turns out that they're good Episcopalians. I told her that she should tell her son-in-law to visit a Rabbi in Tucson, where he lives, and get this whole thing cleared up.
After watching a pig give birth it was time for lunch, and the hamburgers were quite good. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring any mustard, but I survived the experience. I'm sure that you're all quite proud of me.
One of the great things about the State Fair is all the free shtuff you can get. Sure, it's nothing too exciting, but it's always nice to come away with thirty free pencils, fifteen yard sticks, innumerable fans, and a toy football or cup sleeve. One year we even got free t-shirts from the local communist paper! The best place for consistently excellent freebies is the education building, where all the local universities try to get you with various thingies. This year it seemed like everyone at the fair had a purple tote (decent quality too) from St. Thomas University in S. Paul. I assume that these promotions are a bit expensive, but the exposure that is gained is tremendous.
Anyway, this year was a bit shvach, because I spent most of my time with my nieces and very little of it finding shtuff.
While in the education building I came upon the JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) booth while pushing one of my nieces. I assumed that the elderly gentleman who was volunteering there was Jewish, and I went over and asked him if he wanted to put on Tefillin. He said that he didn't, and that he didn't even put them on by his Bar Mitzvah. He seemed to sense that he was being a bit harsh, and realized that he was after all supposed to be representing Jewish Relations. We began to chat, his name is Yaakov, and he told me that the booth is taken over by Christians on Friday afternoons and on Saturdays, which is nice.

Last night I discussed this with some Rabbi-type people at a Shalom Zochor here in beautiful S. Paul. First of all, I must point out, a big Mazel Tov to the Weiss and Knoblauch families, who happen to be related (R. W. and Mrs. K. are brother and sister), which made the double Shalom Zochor so much easier for everyone. My only slight quibble was that it's perhaps a little unfortunate that a town which sees one Shalom Zochor every six months or so, if that, got two in one week. Still, I'm not complaining, and the garbanzo beans made the usual fine finger food.
Getting back to the aborted Tefillin attempt, it seems that my efforts were appreciated, if not applauded. People seem to think that everyone is capable of slapping Tefillin on reluctant arms, and that the recipients of such gestures will think it an endearing and uplifting experience. I'm not denying that some people do this quite well; Rabbi Feller here and Rabbi Samuels in Milwaukee come to mind, but not everyone is cut out for this role. Well, maybe they should be. I don't know.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Assorted rambles

About a week ago I promised the proprietors of a review of their site. For a week I mulled over the possibilities, and have finally come to the conclusion that it is in fact a pretty decent site. Unfortunately, it hasn't really inspired any great prose, at least out of this reviewer, so I suppose you'll just have to check it out yourself.

Meanwhile, in other news, I suppose I had better acquiesce to another fan's request and explain why exactly I don't like Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. In fact, contrary to said fan's opinion, I have nothing against the good Rabbi. Sure, I don't agree with everything he says, but that's perfectly acceptable. So all in all, this paragraph, like the one before it, was a bit of a dud.

Third time's the charm, as the sages would have it, and I suppose I'll tell a little story to round off this singularly uninspiring post:

"Fiction is as fiction does," said Joshua, "but it would be nice to someday actually do something real."
"That's a nice thought," replied his friend, "but I'm afraid you're a fictional character, and fictional characters very rarely do anything real."
Joshua contemplated this for a moment, and then his eyes brightened. "If I can do something, not for real, and convince people that it really happened, will that count as something real?"
His friend responded with a "Hmm", and then said, "Perhaps. It's an interesting idea. What did you have in mind?"
Joshua said, "I was thinking of starting a blog. No one would ever know it was me, and I could become famous!"
"No one would ever no it wasn't you. The real problem is, how are you going to do anything if you can't do anything? You're a fictional character for crying out loud!"
Joshua paused, and said, "I'll get back to you on that one."

Echoing Joshua's words, me too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

20 Av stories

Here are the stories about R' Levik, the Rebbe's father, in honor of his Yahrtzeit, which is tonight and tomorrow.
A Jew once visited R' Levik, the Rebbe's father, in exile, and R' Levik held the Jew for five hours saying Torah.

R' Levik held a Minyan at 7:00 AM on Yom Kippur so that people could Daven and then head off to work.
JJ Hecht told a story on his radio show once. His father, Yehoshua Hecht, was a Chassidic business man, and once he went to a Doctor. After the examination he asked the doctor how much he owed? The good doctor said, "I don't charge Rabbis". The doctor was informed that the honest business man was not, in fact, a Rabbi, even if he did have a beard and long coat. Still, the doctor refused to charge, and after this had gone on a couple times he explained, "You have six sons who are Rabbis. By me you're a Rabbi!"
JJ said, "I didn't know the Rebbe's father, but I know the Rebbe, for me that's enough."
A non-religious Jew once came to R' Levik and said, "I need to bake Matzos today for Pesach." R' Levik answered, "That's nice, but I can't do it today. Tomorrow will work for me though." The Jew said, "No, I have to do it today." Again R' Levik tried to explain that it would have to wait a day. The Jew said, "Then I won't have Matzos to eat this Pesach." R' Levik said, "Nu nu, you won't have Matzos for Pesach." The Jew exploded, "What kind of Rabbi are you? A Jew won't have Matza for Pesach and you don't care? That's sick!" R' Levik later said that this was the happiest he ever felt.
R' Levik was eventually released from exile in Chile, but he was not allowed to go home. Instead he was sent to Alma Ata, which at least had some Jews. The Raskin family was among these Jews, and they used to help R' Levik. R' Levik's final Tisha B'Av happened to fall out on a Sunday, which meant of course that the day before the fast was a Shabbos. R' Mendel Raskin helped out R' Levik on this Shabbos. R' Levik began to say Chassidus in the early afternoon, and continued on for many hours. R' Mendel wanted to go home and eat something, but he felt bad leaving R' Levik while he was still saying Chassidus. Eventually nightfall came, and still the Chassidus continued. Eventually R' Levik ended, at around 11:00 PM. When R' Mendel came home theu told him how lucky he was. This was 1944, and the Russians were in the middle of a fearsome war with the Germans. The authorities had come around that very night with the intention of snatching R' Mendel, who was of military age. They were told that he was not home, and so left, but they soon came back. They turned the house over, convinced that he was hiding, yet they didn't find him. Eventually they gave up, and a little while later R' Mendel walked in the door, unharmed.
Rebbitzen Chana said, on the last 20 Av of her life, "I've seen great men. I saw my husband (R' Levik), my father, and my grandfather, but none could compare to my son (The Rebbe). He combines the greatest brilliance with the greatest Pshitus (simplicity)."
As Rabbi Lew prepared to tell the following story he remarked, "This is the first time I'm telling this story; I don't think it's printed anywhere." I turned to Rabbi Manis Friedman and Rabbi Yosef Eizicovics and said, "Not for long".

R' Levik had a brother who was married to Rebbitzen Chana's sister, meaning that two brothers married two sisters. Near the end of R' Leviks life, a letter came in the mail for him, but he didn't open it. A few months went by, and he passed away. The letter was then opened, and it was discovered that it contained news of R' Levik's brother's passing. It was theorized that the reason R' Levik didn't open the letter was because he knew what it contained inside, with his Ruach HaKodesh, but he didn't want to have to sit Shiva, which he would Halachicly be required to do if he read the letter, because he was too sick.
Rabbi Manis Friedman
There is a famous story of R' Levik; in short, he was appointed by the Soviets to be in charge of the Shmura Matza, and one of the cars carrying the Shmura wheat wasn't covered properly, which lead to its being suspected of not being Kosher for Pesach. R' Levik refused to accept the shipment of wheat, and the Soviets allowed for another train to come instead, which brought Shmura what this time.
The Rebbe used to tell this story with great fervor. Why? Any other Chassid who was in Soviet Russia would have done the same thing as R' Levik. What was so special about his actions?
The difference between R' Levik and all other Chassidim is that the Soviet government capitulated to R' Levik. This means that R' Levik was connected to Malchus, sovereignty, which means that he had a connection to Nesius, leadership. All the Schneersons had this special connection.

19 Av stories

This afternoon I got an email that stated that tonight there would be a Farbrengen at Adath Israel Synagogue with Rabbi Shmuel Lew. I resolved to write as much of it as I could. I'll present about half here tonight, and the rest, which deal with R' Levik, the Rebbe's father, I'll post tomorrow night I"YH. So here goes:

When Rabbi Lew went to England many years ago on Shlichus he didn't know which city he was going to. By the goodbye Farbrengen that was made for him in 770 Rabbi Chadakov said, "This is the true idea of 'Lech Lecha', that a Jew is leaving tomorrow morning on Shlichus and he doesn't know where he's going to." The next morning Rabbi Lew was informed that he was going to be a teacher in a high school. When he began teaching, not only was there not a Minyan, there wasn't even a Mezumen!
Years later they decided to close down the high school, which was half day Jewish/half day secular, and open up a Yeshiva with all day Jewish studies. Rabbi Vogel wrote into the Rebbe, saying that he was happy to close down the high school, as it was costing a lot of money to run. The Rebbe immediately wrote back, insisting that a Lubavitch school with secular studies remain open.

At one point they were concerned about competition from a bunch of new Jewish schools; the Rebbe said, "Don't worry, it's in your merit that all these schools are opening."
A doctor from Miami came to 770 for Tishrei. His wife caught the flu, and couldn't shake it. They went in to Yechidus after the holidays were over, and the Rebbe told the Mrs. to drink some tea with lemon and honey. She said, "But so many of my friends told me to do that, and so far it hasn't worked!" The Rebbe said, "That was before I told you to drink it."

Some people expect big miracles, or miraculous cures. They don't understand that sometimes the most natural things will bring results. R' Levik, the Rebbe's father, wrote many thousands of manuscripts, but the only ones which survive are the few that he managed to write while in exile. These were written with ink made from berries, in the linings of books, but nevertheless they are the sole examples of R' Levik's work. Sometimes the humblest things are what count in the end.
What was the Rebbe's innovation? Before him, the sole goal of the Jewish community was to insulate itself, in the "ghetto of the mind", and try and avoid all worldly influences. The Rebbe was the first to actively assault the outside world, to try and recapture the precious Jewish souls who had earlier been thought to be forever lost.
After the Rebbe met Albert Einstein in Princeton they asked the Rebbe how the visit went? He answered, "I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. In my lifetime I've met six people who are smarter than him." They asked Albert, and he replied, "From him I learned about the unity of G-d."
When Shluchim left for the Yeshiva in Brunoy, in 1962 they didn't know when they would be coming back to America. As far as they knew, they'd never see their homes again. They left in Adar, and when it came time for the twentieth of Av they wanted to make a Farbrengen to mark the auspicious day. The administration took a dim view of their efforts, and they struggled mightily to ensure a Farbrengen. Right after they succeeded in making it they received a letter from the Rebbe which said that they should come home, their Shlichus was complete.
When R' Mendel Futerfas was in jail he realized that another Chassid was in the cell beneath his. He figured out that it was possible to communicate by way of a pipe that ran between the two cells. R' Mendel's first words were, "Moshe-are you happy?" He didn't ask this Chassid, tortured and near death, if he was still alive or how he was doing. The main thing that mattered was if he was happy. If he wasn't, then the Soviets were winning.
When R' Mendel was in a Siberian labor camp he used to Daven at 5:00 AM, because they left to work at 6:00 Am. Once he was discovered by a guard, who asked him what he was doing. R' Mendel replied that he was praying to G-d. The guard said, "Ha! You see that this has accomplished nothing for you." R' Mendel said, "How do you know? We're in the same place, and you're in the same boat as I am. The only difference is, I know why I'm here. You don't." The guard did not take kindly to these words, and wasn't too sweet in their future encounters.
What did R' Mendel learn from the Six Day war in 1967? The Egyptians had state of the art Soviet tanks, but whenever they encountered Israelis they fled. The Israelis climbed up into the abandoned tanks, turned the barrels around, and advanced on the fleeing Egyptians. R' Mendel said, "It's nice to have a brilliant mind, but it's worth nothing until you figure out which way it's pointing."
R' Mendel was a big proponent of Mashke, but he said that when he was in the camps in Siberia he didn't need any, because his whole life there was one big Farbrengen.
They once called R' Mendel into an interrogation, which happened very often, and told him that the game was up, the (previous) Rebbe had passed on. At first R' Mendel thought they were playing around with him, but then he realized that they were telling the truth. For the first time in all his years of questioning his knees buckled and he fell onto a chair. In a moment's time he was up though, realizing that in fact the game was not over, and now was not the time to give up.
Rabbi Manis Friedman once said to Rabbi Yudel Krinsky, "All the years I translated the Rebbe's Sichos on TV, how did the Rebbe know that I was doing a good job? Who reported that I wasn't messing up? When did the Rebbe accept that having a live translation of his Sichos was a good idea?" R' Yudel answered that it wasn't him, and continued, "You don't know? That was the Rebbe's style. He didn't need someone to tell him if something was going well." R' Manis then said, "I know that after the third Farbrengen I translated the Rebbe asked for a tape, and watched a whole Sicha with my translation. If he was worried about quality, why didn't he do this after the first? Why wait until the third?" R' Yudel replied, "He wasn't doing it to see if you did a good job; he was doing it to see how he could make life easier for you."
The next Farbrengen the Rebbe used a lot more English words.
Someone once wrote to the Rebbe and asked him to appoint someone to take the place of the head of an organization who had passed on. The Rebbe responded that it was not his policy to appoint new leaders, but rather to let someone else rise from the ranks and take over. In a similar vein, someone once wrote in and noted that there were two people doing essentially the same thing. He thought that it would be easier for both if the Rebbe would tell them to consult with one another and combine their efforts. The Rebbe responded that it was better that they continue on their own separate ways; when a person works hard on something he feels a connection to it, and this would be lost if the project were combined with another. In fact, more would be accomplished with two projects, even if they were the same, over one.

Only the Rebbe was able to make such a system work. After Gimmel Tammuz people thought that Lubavitch would fail, because they believed that the leadership structure was extremely strong. The truth is, however, that the Rebbe gave people an incredible amount of leeway in the way they could carry out their jobs.
A Frum guy who wasn't Lubavitch once met an Israeli for business, and saw that he had a large picture of the Rebbe in his wallet. The Frum guy asked the Israeli, why do you have that picture? You aren't Lubavitch. The Israeli said, "I keep this picture with me whenever I do business. Here's why:

After serving in an elite unit in the Israeli army I came to the United States, burnt out from the military, and looking for employment. I found a succession of odd jobs, but wanted something that would enable me to use my training and experience from the army. I found none, and eventually had a great idea. I wrote a letter that explained who I was, an Israeli who had served his country, and what I wanted; not money, but rather a chance to find a job which would utilize my unique talents. I had this letter copied, and sent it to 200 Rabbis and community leaders, of all stripes and kinds, in the American Jewish scene. 199 didn't get back to me. Only one did, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He sent me a check for fifty dollars. I didn't know who I should be more angry at, the 199 who didn't even respond, or the one who had, but not in the way I wanted. I put the check in a drawer. Several months later I ran out of money, and realized that I needed the fifty dollars, so I dug it up and went to the bank to cash it. After I finished doing this I saw an old friend of mine from the army. He rushed over to me, and said that I was just the guy he was looking for. Turned out that he had opened up a string of businesses, and needed someone to help run them. He had been thinking that I would be the perfect guy to help him, and here I was...

The moral of the story? Sometimes all you have to do is cash the check. You have everything already, you're just missing the final step. Additionally, you never know where your success is going to come from. Instead of stressing out over this just take a deep breath and watch divine providence work its magic.
Someone asked R' Manis, "Who is the Nasi Hador, the leader of the generation, in our days?" R' Manis answered that it was the Shluchim, because they had taken the responsibility of the world on their shoulders.
Rabbi Kazanofsky came to Bais Chana in the seventies, in the days when hippies were real hippies. One of the girls was very taken with the white-bearded Rabbi, and she asked if she could speak to him privately. He said okay, and they spoke for a couple of hours. This girl was a hippie among hippies, who hadn't combed her hair in years and had belonged to an ashram. She and the Rabbi talked for a couple of hours, and when they were done R' Manis asked her what they had discussed. She replied, "I told him all about my spiritual questing. When I finished he said, 'That's nice, but maybe you'll try a little rouge?"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Does it have to make sense?

I have this irrational thing about posting every day. I'm not quite sure why I do it; it's not like anyone in particular needs me to post, and it's not like I have anything particularly brilliant to write, but I suppose that I must give in to my heart and take up some of your time.
Fortunately, I do have something to write about. Go me.
Several years ago I was in Denver (for reasons that will remain unexplored here), and I happened to be walking on a Shabbos afternoon with a couple of older non-Lubavitchers. This was at a time when Matisyahu was at the height of his powers, and was in fact singing that night at Red Rocks. One of the men started cursing him out, and naturally segued into cursing out Lubavitch in general and the Rebbe in particular. I was (not that I'm not now) a pisher, and said nothing. This went on for a couple minutes, at which point we separated paths. The non-Lubavitcher who remained complimented me on the fact that I didn't say anything, and made the point that with some people there's no use fighting.
Many times over the intervening years I've metaphorically kicked myself in the rear for not responding. Not that I'm a big Matisyahu fan, but the fact that he stood for Chabad at that point meant that I should have said something. Same goes for now with Rubashkin. I don't know whether there's a problem with what they do, and I don't even know if they're Kosher, but by golly I'll defend them against any attacker, merely because they, for better or for worse, represent Lubavitch.
I'm not quite sure what I should have said. The simplest answer would've been, "Shut up." It would probably have been the first time he had heard those words in quite some time, and they would have probably done the trick, if only for a short time. I could have engaged him in a lengthy debate, or possibly just asked him if he'd enjoy me cursing out his Rabbi? Perhaps it was better that I was the one who shut up.

All this reminds me of a story that happened about sixteen years ago. I heard it from Mrs. Chani Wilhelm, wife of the Rosh Yeshiva and daughter of the Rosh, though whether that means it's true or not....
The Australian Chabad community held a Shloshim following Gimmel Tammuz in 1994. That night one of the Lubavitcher women who had attended called up a non-Lubavitch friend to complain that no non-Lubavitchers had come to the event. The friend tried to defend herself, "After all, none of you would come for a Shloshim for the Shach." The Lubavitcher responded, "Aderabe, we'll all be very happy to come to a Shloshim for the Shach. In fact, we eagerly anticipate it!"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Special 300 edition!

In honor of the 300th edition of the TRS blog I thought I'd give y'all a little treat. TRS' list of The Top Ten Things A Shliach Should Not Say.

1. Hi Mrs Frankstein, how are you? What? Your son is planning on marrying a Shiksa? When's the wedding? Do you need a Rabbi to perform the ceremony?

2. Your daughter is marrying someone else's daughter? Mazel Tov!

3. No, I'm sorry, we won't be able to make a Bris if there's been an abortion. We can however make a Kiddush.

4. Your beloved Seymour has just passed on? My condolences. How much did he leave the Chabad House?

5. Shake a woman's hand? Make myself impure and filthy?

6. I make you the guest of honor at our annual dinner and you give us this puny check?

7. They served non-Kosher pickles at the Kiddush while I was away at the convention? That's nothing. You'll never believe what I had in Crown Heights-that's right, pork!

8. We need someone really dumb to volunteer here...Oh, Jim, you want to do it?

9. I'd love to visit your husband in the hospital-when is he expected to be sleeping?

10. You want me to write you a Get? But you've only been married two weeks; wait another couple days until the check for the Chupah I made for you clears.

I expect that everyone will have their own lines. Please share them. Thanks. A million. We couldn't do this without you. No, really, we couldn't.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Roshs all round

Rabbi Chayim Friedman, Rosh Yeshiva of YHSTC, was perusing through Irving Bunim's english translation and commentary of Pirkei Avos. I sat down across from the Rosh Yeshiva, and he said a little thing that he claimed would, if internalized properly, lead to the obsolescence of educational facilities as we know them today.
There was once a guy who came to his Rabbi with a problem. "Rabbi," he said with a frown, "I have a big problem." The Rabbis invited him to elaborate. "Well you see," continued the man,"I captured a Cossack recently, and now he's constantly beating me up!" The Rabbi inquired, "Why don't you just let him go?" The poor man said, "I would love to, but he's in charge now!"
So too a person starts to sin, and it's great. Eventually, the sin takes the person over, and he can't escape. As the Rosh Yeshiva pointed out, if people would only realize this then no one would sin. Of course, Tanya says that if people would only realize that their sinning separates them from G-d, then they wouldn't sin.

On Thursday night Rabbi Manis Friedman answered the people's queries at a Q&A at Beis Chana. One of the participants asked, "Why is it that Jews fight so much? Isn't it terrible?" Rabbi Friedman answered, "Yes, it really is terrible. Infighting is the one thing which is destroying Judaism. There's no reason why everyone can't just all get along. If they all became Lubavitch then there'd be no problem." The whole audience laughed. Rabbi Friedman said, "Actually, even if everyone became Lubavitch, it wouldn't solve anything. In fact, it would probably make things worse."

I discussed the recent cellphone ban by Lubavitch Yeshivos with Rabbi Mottel Friedman, dean of YHSTC, and he clarified a couple of things. First of all, he thought it was only for Mesiftas, not for Zals. Secondly, his Yeshiva will continue to not allow any cellphones, not even so-called Kosher ones. Thirdly, he said that the problem is not one of distraction, but rather of who the Bochurim are talking to. When he told me this I refused to believe it, because in general I trust people to do the right thing, but he said that the major issue here is that Bochurim have girlfriends, and that we're not only talking five or ten percent. If the problem is systemic, then I suppose that the ban is not necessarily a bad thing. As in all issues, though I may not agree before a decision is made, once it is set in stone I hope that it's followed through and strongly enforced. The only thing worse than a rule is a badly-enforced rule.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Absorbers of a different kind

Many many years ago I heard someone make a shocking statement. He said that every single Bochur should have a girlfriend. Unfortunately, before I could start making some phone calls, he explained himself thusly:

Every Bochur needs someone who he can call at 3:00 AM. Every Bochur needs someone who will listen to his problems. Every Bochur needs someone that he feels responsibility for. Every Bochur needs someone who will appreciate him for what he is, in addition to what he can become. Every Bochur needs someone who he can buy a birthday present for, and who can buy him one too. Basically, every Bochur needs a little love.
If parents and teachers were this someone, then no Bochur would need a girlfriend.


In other news, it has come to my attention that Nemo is taking the fight to the streets. At some point an op-ed of his about cellphones in Yeshivas will grace I'm not taking credit for inspiring this or anything, but...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Riled up re: cells

Levi Hodakov over at Shmais has tonight done me a huge favor. He printed an article tonight which declared, "Chabad Yeshivos come together to ban cellphones". The fact that an advertisement for "Kosher cellphones", which claim to be Yeshiva-approved, is front and center on Shmais is of no consequence.

First, a disclaimer: In my three years of Mesifta (Lubavitch Yeshiva of MN-Wexler Learning Institute) I had a cellphone. In two years in LA Zal (YOEC) I had a cellphone. In Shiur Daled in Morristown (Tomchei) I had a cellphone. On Shlichus in the Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities I had a cellphone. Next year learning Smicha in Morristown (IY"H) I plan on having a cellphone. So yeah, I'm biased. Sue me (that would be LdT or Nemo). I never hid my phone, I never lied about it, everyone (from the Rosh Yeshiva down) knew I had one.

First of all, what is the (perceived) problem with a cellphone? The one problem with cellphones are that they are distractions. That's it. Never mind that going to the Mall of America (Mesifta), being right in between Melrose and Simcha Monica (LA), going into Crown Heights every other week (Morristown), or having hockey twice a week (YHSTC) are also distractions. Every Yeshiva I just named will give you a very good reason why their distraction is really no impediment to a Yeshiva education. And that's cool. When someone gives a reason why a cellphone is also not an impediment though, they're immediately termed an enemy of Lubavitch and cast out to the vultures.

The Shmais article states that:

In the event that the Hanhola of a particular yeshiva feels that a specific Bochur needs to have access to a personal cellular phone all yeshivas have collectively decided that the only cellular phone which will be permitted is “THE PURELY VOICE PHONE”’. There will be no exceptions.

So what's wrong with a purely voice phone? First of all, it sounds terrible. Why not just call it a Kosher phone, or something like that. Second of all, the guys who are currently using their cellphones in nefarious manners will continue to do so, regardless of their Yeshiva's policies. The saints will continue to be saintly. The issue is with the eighty percent in the middle. Which side will they choose to fall out upon? The Yeshivas would have you believe that this eighty percent will choose to join their saintly brethren. This is a patent falsehood. Let's say half will. And the other half? They've suddenly become criminals now. I was eating by the Rosh (YOEC) on Shabbos day, and is wife, the inestimable Roshette, asked him why he didn't ban cellphones in his Yeshiva. The Rosh responded, and of course I paraphrase,

"Because it won't do any good. Bochurim have phones. We can't just ignore that fact. Making them illegal will simply mean that more Bochurim are breaking the rules. When a Bochur breaks one rule, and feels that the rule is unfair, then he'll break rules that he wouldn't have broken if the Yeshiva hadn't banned phones in the first place."

The Rosh understood, which is why I was so shocked to see his Yeshiva listed among the fifteen institutions which have banded together to make a war that they can't possibly win. This is not the battle against color shirts of the late nineties. Yeshivas basically won that, because a guy's shirts are pretty recognizable. A cellphone is a little more difficult to detect. The same can be said for cigarettes. Funny thing about smoking. In Yeshivas where it's legal, guys smoke. In Yeshivas where it's illegal, guys smoke. And cellphones probably have more parental backing; I highly doubt that any kid who has an illegal phone in Yeshiva does so without his parents knowledge. Many kids on the other hand do hide their nicotine habit from their parents.

Regardless, I think that making this official policy of Tomchei Tmimim is a bad idea. If Yeshivas knew how to teach then they wouldn't have to ban anything. There are no knasim in college, because students want to be there. Maybe a ban like this is good for high schools, because no fifteen year old wants to be in school, but once you get to Zal, it's ridiculous. We should give kids a reason to want to be in Yeshiva, not punish them for something which even their parents don't want. Bringing up the parents, why were they not consulted about this? Fifteen sets of Hanhala, we're talking maybe one hundred people, decide this. And the thousands of parents?
Banning phones will make five kids give theirs up and turn another thirty into criminals.

As always, my idea was far better than the result. Nu nu.

And how about the Moses of our generation?

Deuteronomy, chapter 5, verse 5: I was standing between Hashem and you at that time, to relate the word of Hashem to you-for you were afraid of the fire, and you did not ascend to the mountain-saying.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Airbuses aren't too comfortable

It's really nice to be home. Coming here, on the other hand, wasn't the greatest experience in the world. Shall I elaborate? Or would you rather a dense discussion on the existence of G-d and the effects of cashews on Islamic militant training centers in Alabama? I thought so. Here goes:

Islamic militant training centers in Alabama are a serious threat to people worldwide, revealed a new study by the Pew-not-so-charitable-and-in-fact-incredibly-stingy-trust-for-the-widow, the orphan, the blind, the overly-hyphenated and ambidextrous, and the itinerant singers of Oregon association for calamine lotion users of America. The study, which was commissioned following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in DC, found that one out of every ten Islamic militants in Alabama plans on blowing themselves up within the next seventy days. The timing is particularly unfortunate for those wishing to attend this year's Superbowl in Tampa, Florida, as they will have been reduced to smithereens and therefore unable to participate. Professor Thomas Van Pelt, who teaches archeology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said that the study was not only shocking and awing but also quite certainly not true. He said, "We've never had any issues with Islamic militants in Alabama. They go about their business quietly, and no one seems to mind the occasional rocket or suicide bomber. Sure, it can be a bit messy at times, but that's what the sanitation department is for, right?" One of the authors of the study, Jennifer Mcdowdly, a field technician for the Alabama state department of health, human, and feline services, told reporters that the Professor couldn't be more wrong. "We interviewed thousands of peanut farmers in the state, and they all said that their biggest fear, after Jimmy Carter, was of militant Islamicists coming into their towns squares and announcing that from now on, all peanuts must ear burkhas and avoid consumption of moonshine. This is a very serious issue, and we're dedicating a large percentage of this year's budget to try and solve the problem." Fourteen Israelis were found working in malls in Montgomery, and they all said that they weren't scared. One of them, Tamir Weisgarten-Ben Galiya, agreed to be interviewed. She said, "We aren't afraid. After spending three years eating food in the army, and seven months eating takeout Chinese in malls, we really could care less if one or two peanuts were denied driver's licenses and had to walk to the Jiffy's manufacturing plant. We have much bigger things to worry about, like the rising cost of dead sea mud and the invasion of invasive mussels in our ponds, lakes, rivers, and bathtubs."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A pathetic response

You have of course read Nemo's excellent press release describing our meeting today. What more can I add? That for fourteen bucks I expect a little more lox and a side of salad? But really, even if Bunch-O-Bagels is overpriced, I don't mind. You see, our meeting was really nice and pretty entertaining. For the record, Nemo had a muffin and two small cups of coffee.

You know what? This may sound sacrilegious, but it's late and I really don't want to deal with any of the dozen or so events/issues which occurred throughout the day. Today has just been strange. In a good way, but strange. I'll try and deal with the oddness tomorrow.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgian lamentations

It was really nice having Eliezer's guest post yesterday for a couple of reasons: first of all, because it was interesting, and second of all, because it meant that I didn't have to post anything myself. Well, the time has now come for me to once again assume the mantle of writership and begin the arduous journey that is the crafting of a vintage TRS. As I was taking the subway today I was contemplating the different types of blogs that I frequent. Some of them are newsy; some are funny; some are serious; and some are just plain weird. I then began to muse about my own humble contribution to the blogosphere, and thought about the different styles of blog in this wonderful little world of ours. After much thought (the distance between Nostrand and Franklin on the 3), I realized that my strongest form of writing is not the emotionally charged, heart-wrenching, and gut tossing shtuff in which many female bloggers seem to excel. No, the path I take is the strong, silent, manly path, reserved for those of us who are too scared to look inside our innermost psyches and see the truth inside. If anyone's keeping score at home, and why should you not, there ain't too much truth in the innermost psyche; indeed there ain't too much of anything. Indeed, as far as I can tell , all you got in there is some basic desire for pizza and the pursuit of happiness.
My point in all this is merely to express that when I experience deep emotion when passing by Atlantic Avenue, or even Dekalb, you shouldn't expect to find any of it showing up here on TRS. By the by, from Utica to Wall Street I had the entire car to myself. Make of that what you will.
Getting back to slightly more solid ground, this would explain why my "End of MS" post was such a bust; telling stories I like, and Halacha too, but when I try to write all soppy my fingers type as if spread with goo. Did I mention that I'm a big fan of obscenely-bad poetry? Now you know.

In other news, Georgia is currently being mauled by the Soviets. Do you know what you can do to help? I don't either. Still, I'm sure they'll be happy to know that I fully support their cause and hope that in good time the commissars will allow everyone to vote for the party in the upcoming elections-remember, if you don't vote, you get shot, so have fun!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Guest post: The Romantic Halacha

Eliezer, alias The Almighty Editor, sent me the following:

Due to my great affinity for sin, I could not find a better way to pass Tisha B'Av than to read a Shu"t Tashbetz, specifically responsum 9 of volume 3. As the Code of Jewish Law cautions, reading the "Torah of the Lord" did in fact "gladden [my] soul" and dislodge some of the mourning for the horrible destruction. So that you can guiltlessly enjoy the same pleasure, I have translated the responsum for your post-fast reading. The translation is as literal as possible. I know this may make it difficult to read, but I could not deprive you of any of the rabbis' eloquence.

There was a story here in Algeria. One bochur from the Isles of Sardinia named Yehuda bar Yitzchak made a shidduch with a maiden from Algeria named Balanka bas R' Yitzchak the Levite his soul is in Eden. The said maiden is under the guardianship of her mother and her mother's husband. After a while, the said maiden refused to marry the said bochur, and she engaged herself to a different bochur whose name is Karshkash Avram (sic.) who lives today in said Algeria. A month after the said Karshkash got engaged, the said Karshkash wanted to betroth the said Balanka. And when the said Yehuda heard that the intention of the said maiden Balanka is to become betrothed and married to the said bochur Karshkash, Yehuda called most of the members of our community, may their Rock guard them and bless them, to the synagogue and there he publicly publicized that the said maiden Balanka ought to guard herself not to accept betrothal [money] from the said bochur Karshkash, for she is already betrothed to the said Yehuda. Our opinion, and the opinion of most of our community is the said Yehuda did this out of his great wrath toward the said maiden for her refusal to marry him, for he distanced his witnesses, the witnesses of the betrothal, and said that in front of two German (Ashkenazi) guests that passed by here two years before this dispute did he betroth her. And one who wishes to lie will distance his witnesses. What did the said Karshkash do? He went to one house of this city where the said maiden Balanka and her mother were, and there he betrothed her in front of two kosher witnesses. After all these things, there was a quarrel between the two said bochurim over the said maiden and they went before the royal courts and each brought his case before the said courts. And then the courts ordered the trustees of our community, may their Rock guard them, that they should choose wise and discerning men from among those that find themselves in our community and they shall have the authority to judge this dispute according to laws of Israel. And they chose three judges1 for this, and they accepted the claims of each of the above mentioned [bochurim] and the claims of said Balanka, who said that she never accepted betrothal [money] from the said Yehuda, only from the hand of the said bochur Karshkash; and they accepted the testimony of the witnesses who testified that the said Karshkash betrothed the said maiden Balanka in front of her mother and in accordance with her will as was written at length in the court records that were made by the president of the court1. And after the court heard the claims of the above-mentioned, and they wanted to remove fights, disputes, and quarrels from among the above-mentioned, they established their legal ruling: the said Balanka is to be divorced from both young men2 and she shall remain free of either of them and she shall go and marry whomever she pleases. According to what is heard among the members of our community, may their Rock guard them and bless them, from the mouths of the women, that the intention of the said maiden and the intention of her mother was that in a few days the said maiden Balanka would go and marry the said bochur Karshkash. What did the said Yehuda do with some of his cohorts3? They surrounded with the royal courts that Yehuda and the said Karshkash shall accept upon themselves with a severe oath with the power of a ban that neither of them will be able to betroth and marry the said maiden all their days forever4. And the said Yehuda, as he knew that the said maiden Balanka did not want him at all, said that he will swear that he will not marry her all his days forever--but with this [stipulation]: that the bochur Karshkash should swear like him. Then the said Karshkash said that he will not swear under any circumstances5. According to our understanding, for this reason did the said Karshkash refuse to swear: for he loved the said maiden Balanka very much and she also loves him. After this, one individual went to [the said Karshkash's father] Nevdam Karshkash and to his son, the said Karshkash, that at least the said Karshkash should accept upon himself the said oath. For if the said Karshkash does not want [to swear], the intention of the master the parnes6 is to put Karshkash in jail and to torture him with iron chains and to punish him monetarily. And due to their great fear of these things, as [people] forced to save their money, the said Nevdam agreed to coerce his said son to accept upon himself the oath with the power of a ban that he will not marry all his days forever the said maiden. And so did the said bochur do, as one forced to fulfill the will of his father: the said Karshkash swore the said oath. According to what he says now, he did not swear with complete will. But at the time of the swearing, he admitted in front of witnesses at the said oath[-swearing ceremony] that he swears with a full heart and with a desiring soul. And the said bochur Yehuda also swore this oath and he accepted upon himself with the power of a ban that he would not marry all his days forever the said maiden. And eight days after the said Yehuda accepted upon himself the said oath, he married a woman, from the members of our community, may their Rock guard them and bless them. And after this a rumor went out among the members of our community that the said Karshkash says that the oath and the ban that he had accepted upon himself not to marry the said maiden Balanka, (he says that the oath and the ban which he swore7) was under duress and that there is no place for such an oath. And these words reached the master the parnes. When the master the parnes heard that love of the said bochur Karshkash for the maiden Balanka is great, and that Balanka too is very desirous to marry the said bochur Karshkash, the master the parnes ordered us ח"מ8 to annul this oath for the said bochur Karshkash, so that the said Karshkash can betroth and marry the said maiden Balanka. And we, the ח"מ, when we saw that the dispute has proliferated among the members of our community concerning this over the past year, we accepted upon ourselves not to permit and not to forbid; and we told the master the parnes that this matter requires wise men greater than we. And then the master the parnes commanded us ח"מ, in the authority of our master the king Dargon, long may he reign with a fine of 100 flowers of Dargon to testify the rule which arises from the said matters with our signatures9 and it shall be placed before those who instruct instructions in Israel. And they have with great kindness written their opinions with their honorable signatures clearly explained concerning the said oath9. And we, the undersigned, as ordered by the master the parnes to testify the principle of the matter, have truthfully written the story as it occurred. With trustworthy testimony we have signed our names here seventeen days in the month of Kislev the year five thousand one hundred eighty six to the creation of the world [1426 CE].

[Signed,] Ishtaruk Baruch the Levite; Samuel bar Raphael

The recipient of the above letter, without any flowery salutations, writes that Karshkash's oath is not binding, but if Karshkash is an NRF suffering from OCD, he can have the oath annulled by three laymen, and marry Balanka with a clear conscience. The rabbi then concludes as follows (bear in mind that in Hebrew the following paragraph has a rhythm which got lost in translation):

For the sake of [preserving] the ways of peace, and to banish wars and calling out "it is partiality!"10 between a man and his brother and between his litigant who binds words upon him1

And to carry out the words of the askers, their oil is pure olive oil on the head of the proclamation1

And at the top of the olive tree everyone crushes1 &9

I have gone out from the position of humility to speak in the place of the great ones and to boast as one who opens a war belt while still girding11

For all help in the heavenly work of bringing a bride to the house of her husband and to take her out of captivity

And one who says, "Why do I need this bother? Peace to you, O my soul. For he locks his house with a lock and a bar.

"And how shall I go out to fight quickly? It is better that I should make myself cripple and lame

"And to be honored and sit in [my] house, for it is honorable for a man to sit in a home and to pass the brook, and let the good tidings die." 1

[To such a person, I say:] Also this has God not chosen, and the permission is given at every time to speak like a horse, a crane, 1 twittering and bound 9

Also an elderly1 also one old, also a bochur also a virgin, and every wise-hearted12 woman, also young boys and young girls, lads and lasses, mature males and mature females

Perhaps the lord will be gracious to them, and our words will go out in an auspicious time to couple the nice couple and they shall proliferate like fish13 with blessed fruits of the womb, fruitful and multiplying, and hatching1

And they shall be blessed with assets near the city far from the eye, flocks and cattle firstlings and offspring.

And God who has caused them to journey, manly journeys1

Shall gather in those whom he has pushed away, to the chosen house, both the native born and the sojourner

And if anger returns to us and the remains of the anger will be bound1

And those who desire our evil and those who pursue us as a running eagle, He Who calls in the mountains, their seat to the earth He shall crush

He shall destroy them; He shall obliterate them; He shall subdue them; and as one shakes a sifter shall He shake them

And their sword shall enter their heart—the great deathly destruction!1

And the kings and the ministers who rule over us and have mercy on us, their enemies into their hands shall be locked

So speak, as one sitting on the birthing stool, valiant ones he shall strengthen9

Like sending presents and gifts of peace

To the holy congregation, its elders, and its judges, and its police their world and old age9 they have established their residence in Isradaniah in the city of Algeria.

[Signed,] The man that he and his father, their taste has lasted and their scent has not changed

And they have been emptied from vessel to vessel: from Prubintza to Morocco and from Morocco to Algeria.

Who signs in the month of Adar II the year of 14ח"י ח"י הו"א יודו"ך (life, life, he shall acknowledge you)

To hear of your peace he will rejoice and be happy,

Shimon the son of1 Tzemach, זלה"ה

Well there you have it folks. How often does one come across a halachic responsum concerning a romantic saga full of intrigues and which ends off with a call for young and old to join forces to rescue a damsel in distress, a colorful prayer for the redemption, and a brief history of the letter-writer's family?

1 I'm not sure I translated this correctly.

2 Literally "should go out from this one and from this one"

3 Literally "individuals from our community, may their Rock bless them, who support his hand"

4 I don't know what it means "to surround the court." Apparently Yehuda pulled strings with the non-Jewish authorities to make it appear as if the authorities were forcing both of them to swear.

5 Literally "from any side"

6 Presumably, "the master the parnes" was some authority who was in Yehuda's back pocket.

7 Parenthesis in the original text (Didn't that sound Lessons-in-Tanyaesque?)

8 I have no idea what this stands for.

9 I have no idea what this means.

10 In Hebrew, קריאת תגר

11 See I Kings 20:11

12 See the Parshas Vayakhel and Pekudei (I can't be bothered to look up the exact verse).

13 See Jacob's blessing to Ephriam and Mansassah (again, I can't deal with exact verse now).

14 The Gematria of the Hebrew phrase is 94. I do not know how that stands for a year. Presumably this letter was sent in 1427, as the question was sent in 1426.