Thursday, July 30, 2009

Not always a good thing

לבי חלל בקרבי

I'm back!

And better than ever.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Like it is

I am a crew member of that ship of fools, the sneering liberal elite, a cheerleader of the chattering classes, a loathsome Labour luvvie, a champagne socialist a – goddammit – a celebrity, a twittering celebrity dripping with the sickening syrup of popular culture, political correctness and nauseating kneejerk liberalism that is the leading symptom if not the primary cause of our national decay. It is as if all nature conspired to make a living suppurating mass, a walking purulent bolus compounded of all the poison and pus that oozes and weeps from the sores of today’s Britain and gave it legs, life and a name.

-Stephen Fry

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dear TRS: Happy?

That's right folks, it's time for another exciting edition of Dear TRS, the quiz show you get to play along with too! Enjoy.
Dear TRS: Why have you become all holy lately?



Dear Karl,

Censorship is an interesting phenomenon. Some people are censored by the government, others by their own conscience, others by their own lack of restraint. The punishment for trying to avoid censorship varies as well. In some places the attitude is one of benevolent allowance-try us as much as you want, ain't nothing getting through... but ten points for trying! In other places they not only control what you say but punish you for trying to say it. In those places it's, "What? You dare trifle with me? Guards, go break his legs!" Neither of these approaches really accomplishes what it is that the censor is trying to effect-his job is not simply to remove objectionable material, but rather to remove the conditions that allow for the material to ever get to him in the first place. All right, if the censor is just looking for entertainment then he can have plenty of that with the status quo, but then he's not really the ideal censor. No, what you're really looking for is a guy who can convince the producer of the objectionable material that what he's doing is wrong. Not illegal, but wrong. And yeah, I know it's asking a lot of a pencil pusher sitting in some anonymous government highrise somewhere in the middle of the bible belt to radically affect some radical hippy cross-dressing dudes wearing floral print dresses and floppy straw hats with little pins that say "Free Tibet!" on 'em to make much of a difference, but trust me, it is possible. How do they do it, this select band of censors with soul, this prized group of bowdlerizers with the breath of divine life flowing through their parched bones (for how can a person whose whole being is dedicated to the muzzling of their fellows have anything but the driest of Ezekiel valley special?), these suppressionists with a sense of mission, a belief in the ultimate goal that has eluded so many?

The answer is very simple. Guilt.
Dear TRS: Why do they use phones to call in guys from the bullpen? Wouldn't texting be much easier?



Dear Snert,

Even better, they could tweet it! Just imagine, the manager tweets, "@Orlando Mercado Joe Mauer just walked, we need @Darren Oliver in here pronto!" And the tweet back? "@Mike Scioscia the fireman cometh!"
Dear TRS: Is there any specific reason why the Twins had to blow the game tonight?


Joe and Jason

Dear Joe and Jason,

Well, you two certainly did everything that could be expected of you. It's been a tough road trip, eh?
Dear TRS: Why the heck does Iran have twelve vice presidents?


Karl (again)

Dear Karl,

The president must have a lot of vices.
Dear TRS: Since when did it become socially acceptable to roll hoops?


Mackenzi Van Engelenhoven

Dear Mackenzi Van Engelenhoven, let me first tell you that I really appreciate your question. No, really, I do.
Dear TRS:

I'm very insulted if my name doesn't appear at least twice in every publication in America,


Barack H. Obama
Dear Mr. Obama, happy?
And that folks is the end of the line. Did you enjoy playing the quiz show you get to play along with too?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

That wiped bit has got to go

Once again we've come to a crossroads we have. Which path to take? Good question. Religion beckons, undoubtedly spurred on by the increasing numbers of people indulging in this dangerous opiate of the masses. On the other hand you have the renunciation of all forms of organized worship, which merely results in depression and processed foods. "Oh," you say, "processed foods? Surely you jest! With the abandonment of the religion of our fathers comes ample opportunity to partake of the potpourri that is the kosherless restaurant!" Well, sorry to break it to you buster, but there ain't no highway back to Krenitz, and there's no cash inside that rhyme either. Seriously, what's the fun of frieing out if you're as poor as a Vermont jackal? And don't tell me it's not all about taavos. If it wasn't all about taavos then there wouldn't be petting zoos or grass gardens or such excitements on Saturday nights. Come to think of it, there wouldn't be poetry slams floppy hats with flowers on 'em either. I guess then that it's all for the best.

Meanwhile, in other news, I've been kicking around ideas for a brand new cult/investment opportunity. Who will be the next Bernie Madoff? After all, records were made to be broken, and the only thing Americans love more than making money is making more money. Which is right where Mr. Madoff comes in. You make money, he takes it in, cuddles a bit with it, and BOOM! there he is, in the slammer, and your precious change is down the drain like a bottle of Diet Coke. No brain enhancing here either, it's the real deal for anyone planning on starving the rest of their life.

What I mean to say is that there's really no reason to do anything immoral or illegal or not cricket; all you have to do is convince people to give you their money or something similar. As far as I can tell this is the principle that hedge-funds have built themselves around. No mistakes here, this is the real deal, and anyone with half a brain and twice the wallet would be strongly encouraged to invest now, because these attractive rates aren't going to last long. Oh no, they won't be, not with the way this economy is shaping up, and with the next installment of this that is or was or will be or possibly hasn't not been in a sort of thingamabob (as distinguished from a thingamajiggie by the length of its nose [duh {who didn't know that?}!]) because that's just the way it is.

You got that? Even if you didn't it's okay, because I also didn't. Which is exactly why a prospectus like the one presented here will make it past the SEC people. They've gotten really scared of things they don't understand lately (like the economy), so it's a good idea to give impenetrable ideas a wide berth, and possibly even cross the street when you get to them. But here it's all cut and pasted and suchlike, so there's no worries, those financial regulators don't have a chance. Crazy thing, that, but it might just work. Just make sure to follow through in California-that way, even if you're arrested, they'll probably let you go once the next recession starts, which is gonna be any day now.

And now we've come to the end of the line. I hope all you "I want original material and I'll keep on writing comments until I get it" people are happy with the fruits of your labor. Sure, I had some great shlichus shtories and whatknacks to keep you entertained, but I followed by audience's desires, and here we ended up. Ha!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Locally Lawrence

So I could either write some brilliant new genius shtuff and get not so much sleep, or else I could clue you in to some fascinating shtuff that went down a little while ago in Kansas and Missouri. I mean seriously folks, in the grand scheme of things, whether the world is 5769 years old or 13 billion years old, two years is the merest blink of the proverbial eye. So here's an account of a little local bikur bayis, followed by a journey to the darkest depths known to humanity. Yup.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My friend Sruli Clapman and I just got back from a house call in Leawood, Kansas. There's a very nice elderly couple living there, and we were coming to check their Mezuzos. First, of course, we exchanged histories. He was born to Jewish parents in Salt Lake City, Utah, but had no Jewish contact until he met his current wife, in Omaha. She's involved with the Chabad here in Kansas City, and had asked for us to come. The first Mezuzah-case that we looked at had no scroll. The second had a piece of paper in it. The third had a piece of parchment, but it was obviously not Kosher. So we put up five Mezuzos, which is really tremendous. Might be a little expensive in the short run, but they protect you and all you own, for eternity, or your next scheduled oil tuneup, whichever comes first.

Following the Mezuzos, we asked the man of the house if he would like to put on Tefillin. He hemmed and hawed a bit, but his wife soon put a stop to that. 45 seconds later he had phylacteries on his head. The first time too. Amazing, isn't it, that a Jewish man can go 85+ years without checking his Jewish blood pressure! And then it was time to go, but not before cooing over their great-grandson, who is quite cute, I must say.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A couple of nights back we went to Lawrence to learn some Torah with the locals. Lawrence is the home of Kansas University, and I learned Kuntres Inyana Shel Toras HaChassidus with a student. We'll call him Charles. Sorry about the plug there, it was just one of those things that had to be done. Essentially, this work explains why Chassidus is so important. After all, we have the Torah, the Mishna, the Talmud, the Kabbala, the Medrash, the Codifiers, and the great Halachic authorities. Who needs Chassidus? I won't spoil the surprise, so go pick up a copy and find out.

Officially we sell books on Merkos Shlichus. OK, not only officially, but something tells me that a little more emphasis was put on it forty years ago than today. Just a hunch. Anyway, I'm just doing my part.

After the learning was done we settled down to a Farbrengen with Rabbis Wineberg and Teichtel. It's great to be able to sit with guys who really don't have too much contact with the rest of the Lubavitch world, and who look for inspiration from Yeshiva guys like me. Me! Sure, I'm great and all, but I don't really see myself as too inspirational. (If anyone disagrees they can post a comment). See, guys in Yeshiva look up to the Shluchim, and rightly so. These people are on the front line of the battle for Jewish survival, and they're doing an incredible job! Meanwhile the Shluchim (some of them anyway) are pining for their days in Yeshiva, where a guy can be surrounded by people like himself all day and just learn and pray and all those things to his heart's content.

Sorry this is so needlessly soppy.

Anyway, we all enjoyed the Farbrengen (and the excellent pickles) and then we headed back to KC for the night. Morning. Whatever.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chossanim versus drivers

Today I started Chosson classes. Exciting, eh? Anyway, it got me thinking about the last time I paid a lot of money for a small amount of classes-driver's ed. And wouldn't you know it, but they're not quite the same! Here's a few examples...

In chosson class you don't spend a third of the time watching Monty Python skits.

There are no seventeen year old girls wearing nothing in chosson class.

In drivers ed the instructor doesn't have a massive beard.

There's no learner's permit to get after taking chosson classes.

In drivers ed, the diagrams are there to tell you what to do.

In chosson classes, there are no videos.

No one leaves drivers ed thinking, "OMG, this is nuts!"

No one leaves chosson classes thinking, "Just a couple of hours of practice and I'll be good to go."

During the breaks in drivers ed people discuss what they just learned.

In drivers ed they also talk about you, the driver.

No one leaves driver's ed thinking, "Way too much detail there thank you very much."
Have some of your own? Post 'em in the comments!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Where have you gone?

Tonight I ran into a bochur that I've known since I was a kid. He was putting on tefillin a few minutes before shekiah in a basement shul somewhere in Crown Heights. Instead of a har and jacket, he was wearing the most ridiculously low shorts I have ever seen-another inch and they would have been too-small pants. He also had a grey t-shirt on (no tzitzis), and lacked the large beard which used to accompany his face. The last I saw of him he'd been a relatively normal bochur. What happened?

I suppose there's lots of blame to spread around when a bochur leaves the path of his comrades. His mother for pushing him too hard, convinced her son was a genius and constantly trying to get him into the higher class, the better yeshiva? Or how about his friends, more interested in guitar than gemara, preferring Coltrane to Chassidus and F sharp to Farbrengens. Or maybe it's the fault of his teachers, who took him in expecting a genius and, discovering a very normal boy, never recovered from the shock and treated him as such?

Some would argue that in fact nothing terrible, nor even abnormal, happened here. Kid grows up, realizes it's easier to live life if you don't have to serve the G-d of the ancient hebrews, and there you have it-kid fries out. Pleasant thought, eh? So maybe it's the kid's fault. I don't know. I'm no expert on the matter in general, certainly not in this particular case. But you should know that it bothered me.

Oh, of course, it was a beautiful thing. Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev would be proud. But does that mean we have to be proud? After all, what Reb Levi saw when he beheld those Jews smoking on shabbos was not what the rest of the people saw. Do the rest of the people have an obligation to sacrifice their and their children's religious affiliation because an ex-Lubavitcher has decided to park himself in Crown Heights? Or do we always have to strive to look for the good and positive?

I don't know.

Boy Lala!

Today I started learning about Chanuka. You ask why? That's a perfectly legitimate question. After all, the holiday doesn't begin for many moons. But you know what? My favorite Maamarim are those on Chanuka, because they deal with essential issues of Judaism. You're right, all Maamarim deal with essential issues of Judaism. So what's your point?

So today's Maamar, V'al Hanisim 1969, deals with the essential conflict between the Assyrian-Greek hordes and the tiny band of brothers who we know today as the Maccabees. Back then they knew 'em as the Hammers. Sort of like a basketball team, just without a very deep bench. (Was that analogy forced? You betcha). So what was the fight about? G-d, of course. The Assyrian-Greek hordes (from now on known as, well, whatever I call them) didn't particularly like G-d very much. They didn't mind if you kept the Torah; that's a beautiful thing. Even the Mitzvos which man can't understand they were fine with, because after all, intellect is infinite (or so they thought), so there must be a reason somewhere. But to follow the Torah because G-d said to? Heresy! And then they went around killing Jews. How typical, eh? If every anti-semite went around slaughtering Jews, where would we be?

As usual, I could go much deeper into this topic, but then your eyes would glaze over your brain would go to sleep, and I'd be stuck preaching to myself. So instead I'll just repeat that forever I am yours. Or something very much like that.

Meanwhile, in other news, now that you've obviously read this whole post, you should know that of course it's ancient (though edited), and that there's a new HH up. Enjoy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

There's no countenancing

A poem. By me. For you. Yup:

There's no money after twelve

and there's no countenancing things either

like why is it that after you become engaged

you're suddenly the expert on relationships



all that jazz?

and another thing

why is it

that no one appreciates the good oldies

though they say they do

and they'd rather read

the new and ugly?

because really

there's much better shtuff out there

but no

they want new



even though

as I say

they say

they'd rather stick with the classics

but it's not true

who knows?

beats me claude

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Say it ain't so!

Everyone knows that it's a big merit to marry the daughter of a talmid chacham. After all, what's the first question out of your lips when the shadchan comes a'calling about this great girl from a fine family? You don't ask if she's highly attractive, if her parents invested their life savings with Warren Buffett in 1964, or if her brothers were MVPs of their basketball teams at Camp Haka in 1994. No my friends, you ask if her father is a genuine, A-OK, 100 percent American certified Talmid Chacham. Oh yeah.

Well folks, sorry to burst your bubble, but you were born about five hundred years too late. Why? Because there are no talmidei chachamim nowadays.

For example, a Jew is not allowed to go to sleep on a boat that's tied to the bank of a river on shabbos if he knows that a non-Jew will come along and row, row, row that boat gently down the stream and over to the other bank. Why not? Because he knows the non-Jew is gonna come and move that momma-who is he fooling?

On the other hand, a talmid chacham is allowed to sleep there, or to say he's going to sleep there, even though he knows full well that when he "wakes up" he's going to find himself on a new side of town. Why? Go look it up (מסכת שבת קלט עמוד ב). However, nowadays this isn't permitted, because there ain't no talmidei chachamim who can pull stunts like this.

So now you're gonna say, "Hey boy, wait a minute there, there's only no talmidei chachamim who can pull a stunt like that-but just regular old plain talmidei chachamim with eligible daughters? There's plenty of those! (c.f. New Jersey, Lakewood)" Well sorry to rock your boat wiseguy, but you're wrong.

In the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch (סימן שיד, הלכה כ) it says that a talmid chacham is allowed to plug a hole in a barrel with a piece of food and say that he's doing it to protect the food, when in reality he's doing it to protect whatever's inside the barrel. Even if this talmid chacham doesn't use the legal fiction it's not really so bad, because covering the barrel for the purposes of covering a barrel is only forbidden by the rabbis (under the prohibition of fixing a vessel). Besides, this guy's a talmid chacham, he wouldn't do something like this without employing a legal fiction anyway.

However, it is forbidden for an עם הארץ to do this, because we don't trust him to employ a legal fiction when he's doing it. Basically, the guy has no clue what he's doing, and the chances of him saying the right things to the right people at the right time are practically nil.

There are some (the Rambam among them) who permit even an עם הארץ to do this trick, and we rely on these words for a talmid chacham, even though for everything else there aren't any talmidei chachamim left.

What does this mean? That's right folks, ain't no stopping us now! I mean, it means that for all practical purposes (besides for closing holes in barrels with chicken bones) there are no talmidei chachamim left. Yup, next time some poor Bobover chosson comes up to you in 770 begging for money for his chasuna, claiming that his father is a big talmid chacham and has seventeen kids besides, tell him he's a liar!

Then give him five bucks, because that's the nice thing to do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Some important questions

What is it to die?

What is it to be Italian?

Do they have decent pizza in the next world?

Do they have decent pizza in Italy?

Can Jews get sausage on their pizza in the next world?

Can Jews get sausage on their pizza in Italy?

Do the Jewish pizza parlors in the mountains in the next world close early on Saturday nights?

Do the Jewish pizza parlors in the mountains in Italy close early on Saturday nights?

Does death hurt?

Does being Italian hurt?

Are there angels and demons in the next world?

Are there angels and demons in Italy?

Do the angels and demons ride Vespas in the next world?

Do the angels and demons ride Vespas in Italy?

Do the angels and demons eat pizza on their Vespas in the next world?

Do the angels and demons eat pizza on their Vespas in Italy?

Does pizza taste better when it's eaten while riding on a Vespa in the next world?

Does pizza taste better when it's eaten while riding on a Vespa in Italy?

Do you get more pizza if you rant well in the next world?

Do you get more pizza if you rant well in Italy?

Do the angels and demons in the next world look kindly upon those who rant in order to increase their pizza?

Do the angels and demons in Italy look kindly upon those who rant in order to increase their pizza?

Do the mafia coordinate with the angels and demons in the next world?

Do the mafia coordinate with the angels and demons in Italy?

Does Silvio Berlusconi have a place in the next world?

Does Silvio Berlusconi have a place in Italy?

Is Garibaldi beloved in the next world?

Is Garibaldi beloved in Italy?

Does Garibaldi enjoy eating pizza on a Vespa while ranting after death?

Does Garibaldi enjoy eating pizza on a Vespa while ranting in Italy?

Does the moon hit your eye like a big pizza pie in the next world?

Does the moon hit your eye like a big pizza pie in Italy?

Is the next world at all comparable to Italy?

Is Italy at all comparable to the next world?

(and so on and so forth)


Here's something I wrote thirty three hundred (3300 for all the snivelling idiots out there) years ago. Please don't enjoy reading it, because I didn't particularly enjoy writing it. Why not? Because it's nonsense, absolutely ridiculous bloody nonsense. Almost as bad as Ricky Ponting was last week for the Brits.

You know what the problem with youth today is? The same problem that has plagued youth since the beginning of all time, that's what. The problem with youth is that they don't appreciate the self-sacrifice and manipulation their elders went through back in the day. All these youths care about is their beer gardens and poetry readers-do they appreciate the finer things in life, like hard work, self-sacrifice, and manipulation? I didn't think so. They'd rather sit back lazily and criticize then actually do anything productive, like get lives.

And you know, I'm talking about intelligent youth here. The idiots among us are on a far worse level. Not only do they not understand what it means to suffer for the future, but they don't even understand what "No" means. For some reason they refuse to exercise the vestigial organs that lie in between their ears, and instead proceed incautiously through life, showing as much caution for the insipid realities as they do for passing trucks, which is to say, none. And to top it all off, they don't even know the color of car they're driving. Talk about hair-brained.

And how about those crazy young people who go on diets and drink beer and eat organic chips. Is that normal? Like what exactly is the point? Is there one? I mean, if you want to be healthy, why eat organic chips? And if you're drinking beer, why do you have any illusions about your future physical well-being? Of course things are going to be fine! Like, what's the question?

And are people from Tel Aviv really incapable of rational thought? Why are they of the opinion that they know everything there is to know? These people are so intellectually dishonest that they honestly believe in a god who is dumber than them? What's the point of such a god? Does he make them strawberry smoothies in the morning or large bowls of Trader Joes corn soup (with pepper) at night?

Or perhaps he's just some sort of jealous old testament god with flaring nostrils and a gate like War Admiral. Point is (and this is getting back to those young dieters) it really bothers me when I'm coerced and manipulated into doing things I really don't want to do, like defend the Catholic church against angry mobs of abused choir boys. Is it my place to defend that institution? And why don't they pay me? Or at the very least name a cathedral after me or something. Idiots. All of them.

And please, don't even get me started about those do-nothing good-doer type people who refuse to recognize that sometimes the kindest thing you can do is to bomb the heck out of them three or four times and then shoot poison gas pamphlets all over the remainder. That would get them to pay attention.
Meanwhile, in other news, thirty three hundred years ago, good things were happening. And what ruined them? I'll tell you what ruined them. The future. That's right. The stinking future.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

S. Joseph+Manhattan=Fun Galore!

They say that if you empty your mind of all extraneous thoughts and allow your conscious to just drift with the tides, then good things will happen. Well, let me tell you friends, it's not true. I've been trying it out these last few days, and the only thing which occurs when you empty of your mind of all thought is that your mind becomes empty of thought. Generally it's tough to achieve this for any length of time, but I seem to have mastered the technique, because right now I can be sitting reading a book which is actually quite good (even if the editing stinks) and yet my mind isn't in it. Same thing, l'havdil, by Rambam-it's all very interesting (the laws of repentance) and very topical, but is my mind in it? Not really. It's like I've gone onto a higher plane of existence or something. Maybe if I stopped smoking this shtuff or practicing this shtuff... (I joke).

Anyway, two years ago, things were a lot different. I was in Kansas (and Missouri), and for some reason I was writing two posts a day. Silly me. Anyway, here's the first from Friday, July 13, 2007, written at 2:18 AM (see, even then I was certifiably insane!), originally entitled "Finishing up".

I think I'll finish with S. Joe, shall we, before moving on to Manhattan. Let's see, where was I...

Ah yes, City Hall. Magnificent building, made even more magnificent by the, well, magnificent air conditioning. Do I get a prize for using the word "magnificent" three times, in a relatively intelligent manner, in one sentence? I did mention it was hot, right? Anyway, no new info from the secretary, and so we drove off to the Pony Express Museum. None of the horses had any Jewish affiliation.

There was a store that we meant to visit, but by the time we arrived it had already closed. Oh, well. But right next to that was a beautiful park that we drove and walked around, finding many beautiful vistas but unfortunately no Jews. Then we had a brilliant idea. Where do people hang out? Baseball games. So we tried to find the baseball game. Forty minutes later we ended up at the town library, so we walked in.

Gold. Both librarians were very talkative, which is perfect, because so am I. Turns out there are no decent jobs in S. Joe, but there is plenty of meth. Sounds like a good place for a nice Jewish boy, huh? We did look in the White pages though, and finally found him. The one we'd been waiting for. The whole reason we'd come into northern Missouri. A JC Penney's.

Just kidding. We found a Jew. He didn't really want to meet with us. And so of course he didn't. We don't force people to do anything. It's counterproductive.

And besides for a quick stop at the local mall, punctuated by some more talkative but unfortunately non-Jewish people, that was basically it. A success? There's a famous story that two students went a'roaming and came home depressed, having accomplished nothing. And that Shabbos, the Rebbe said that no, they had accomplished. An old woman had seen two young men walking around, with beards, hats, and jackets, and decided to light Shabbos candles. Point is, you never know what you've done. And as I said, we certainly did our fair share of walking around in beards, hats, and jackets. So please do your part and light those Shabbos candles. ;)

Next Time: The Little Apple-Big results
And now for number two, originally entitled, "Little Fruit", and published just eleven hours and 16 minutes later. I must have been crazy. Here goes:

Why do I have a great desire to begin every sentence with the word "so"? Is there something wrong with me? Should I take English comp. 101? Does anyone really care? Would you like it if I started writing about Manhattan and stopped gibbering?

They say that you can turn on cruise control, fall asleep, wake up, have lunch, turn the steering wheel, and be all good while driving on the I-70. Point is, it's a straight road. Not too much to look at either. Since it's the three weeks we can't listen to music, so instead I popped in a CD of a Farbrengen with Rabbi Gordon. Which Rabbi Gordon? I have no idea. Not that's it's too important anyway.

Here comes the inspirational part:

Rabbi Gordon said that some people ask, "Why go out and help Jews? Live in your own world, keep your kids religious, and let everyone else do their own thing." The answer is best explained through a parable. Life is a big sea. And when people come down into this world, they're dropped into that sea. Some people happen to fall onto boats. Some people are immediately swallowed up by the dark, frigid, shark-infested, non-chlorinated, probably salty waters. The guys on the boat get to suntan. And some people even fall off the boat. Now what's the law if you see someone foundering in the depths? You must go save them! There's no Well- I-have-a-schedule-plus-my-wife-will kill-me-if-I'm-late-what's-in-it-for-me type of talk. You go and rescue the drowning person. And if the cry of "Man Overboard!" is heard? Everything stops! The man (or woman, or child, or whatever) immediately becomes the focus of attention. You must save them!

The analogy is clear. Some lucky people are born into observant homes, where Torah is learned and Mitzvos are kept. And some people are born into the opposite. And they're drowning. And it's our responsibility to save them. And if someone leaves their religious lifestyle? A man is overboard? How much greater is our responsibility?

Inspiring, huh? I certainly thought so. And guess what? There's more! Joy!

Well, next time anyway. I have to go now.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

As in, "New Beginnings"

I was reading the Merkos Shlichus blog tonight, and I really missed it. I mean, missed being on Merkos Shlichus. Sure, it's not all it's cracked up to be (trust me), but at the same time it is amazing. So anyway, I thought I'd do a couple things. One is to divide this big post into a bunch of little ones (pity I never managed to save the comments), and the other is to reprint over here some of the fascinating tales that I recorded so many moons ago. Oh, and one more thing. It appears that I once made someone, and I quote, "ridiculously excited". Go check it out. So, without further ado, I present to you, my faithful readers (all two of you), The Inviolable Redundant Tautology!

Post #1: Getting Started... (Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

Wow! I'm finally on Merkos Shlichus, Roving Rabbis, whatever you want to call it. Point is, I'm here doing the Rebbe's work. Sure, the Talmud says that "G-d has many messengers" meaning that we're all sent out by G-d to improve this world, but this is something different. This is direct, official, no holds-barred action, bringing Jews closer to their Father in heaven, and bringing me closer to tuna and Matza. (There's very little Kosher food here, and tuna and matza are extremely transportable.) OK, things aren't that bad, thank heaven for Walmart and 7-11, which, by the way, is having free slurpies today. So, we're saving money for the cause, huh?

Post #2: Moving Right Along (Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

I'm actually doing something quite unique among roving rabbi types. For the first several weeks my partner, Shua Popper, and I are teaching people in a Chabad House and also going out in the (semi) wild west to look for people. Later we'll rove exclusively, but for now it's both. And you know what? They're both quite challenging.

For example, the first city we visited was S. Joseph, Missouri. It was a hot day. For some reason we couldn't find any contacts that the previous groups had made, so we were basically on our own. We were walking by the police station when we suddenly heard banging. Of course we looked up, and there was a guy waving at us. "Hey," we thought, "this is pretty easy! These guys are begging us to come!"

So we walked in, and the kind receptionist said, "People banging and waving? Oh, those must be the prisoners." And no, we weren't allowed to go and see if any were Jewish. The lady did give us the names and addresses of the two local synagogues, so we resolved to check out the situation. On our way back to the car I noticed the county office, so we went in. The commissioner was also very nice, and he was even friends with a (minister? priest? reverend?) "clergyman of another faith" who sits with the rabbi of one of the local synagogues on an interfaith board, and so we got a phone number. No one picked up the phones, or was by the synagogues, which was too bad.

Next Time: City Hall, Antiques, Baseball, and the local library

Post #3: Onward and Upward (Thursday, July 12, 2007)

Hey, just a quick shout out: we're, with G-d's help, going to Manhattan today. No, not the big city, the place in Kansas. Don't worry, I'll finish off with S. Joe. OK, got to run, there are Jews waiting to be found...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How to appreciate the 17th of Tammuz

I was thinking this morning (shocking, ain't it?) about 17 Tammuz's of yore. Everyone knows what happened in the Middle East, right?

1. Moses broke the tablets at Mount Sinai — in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.

2. The daily offerings in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusalem, after the Kohanim could no longer obtain animals.

3.Jerusalem's walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

4. Prior to the Great Revolt, the Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll - setting a precedent for the horrifying burning of Jewish books throughout the centuries.

5. An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple - a brazen act of blasphemy and desecration.

That was all, by the way, courtesy of Why was I reduced to using the competition? Because doesn't appear to know that some of these events happened, which is really quite embarrassing.

So anyway, as I was saying, I recalled going to a ball game eight years ago on the 17th of Tammuz with Levi Feller and Ira Tick. You want to know how good my memory for useless information is? Everything I'm about to write comes from my head, not the internet. Here goes:

The Minnesota Twins took on the Cincinnati Reds in a Sunday day game, I believe it was the rubber game of the three day series. Brad Radke pitched for the Twins, and ended up throwing a 3-hit complete game, retiring the final 22 batters he faced. The only run he gave up was a Ken Griffey Jr. home run. The Twins, meanwhile, scored seven runs in the first four innings, spurred on by Matt Lawton's big day. I remember being surprised that the attendance was less than 30,000, even though it looked like the good 'ol Metrodome was pretty full.

All right, how about for the truth? My memory was pretty good, but not infallible. Jason Larue hit that homerun, not Ken Griffey Jr. (who was hitless), and the Twins scored the last of their runs in the sixth. On the plus side, Matt Lawton did have a huge day, going 4 for 5 with a homerun. I had not recalled that Torii Hunter and AJ Pierzynski also had huge days, with three hits and two RBIs a piece. And my memory of the attendance? That at least was spot on- 28,507 souls saw that game.

And that, my friends, is the way it is.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tachanun III: What to do

As promised, here's part two (or is it part three?) about Tachanun, that most glorious of Jewish penitential prayers. As always, remember to consult your local orthodox ehrlicher rav before doing anything based on anything written by anyone anywhere.

שלחן ערוך הרב סימן קלא, דיני נפילת אפים

Halacha 5: The custom is not to say tachanun in the house of a chosson (groom), on the day he enters the chuppah (gets married), since it's a yom tov for him. Tachanun is also not said in shul on the day of a bris mila, since the Jews accepted the commandment of bris mila with joy. We also do not say tachanun when a chosson is present in shul, and also not in the house of a mourner, since the seven days of mourning are compared to the seven days of rejoicing with regards to forbidden activities, as the verse states (Amos 8, 10), "And I will turn over their rejoicing to mourning," and all this also applies by the extra penitential prayers said on Monday and Thursday.

Even after one leaves the house of a chosson or mourner and comes to his own house tachanun need not be said, since he's right now holding immediately after Shemone Esrei (evidently he left the house right after the repetition of the amidah), and since he skipped tachanun in its proper place (immediately following Shemone Esrei) he has skipped it entirely (i.e. once a person doesn't say tachanun, he doesn't have to go back and say it once the condition preventing him from sayng tachanun departs), and this is also the law for the extra penitential prayers said on Mondays and Thursdays, which are, according to the custom in our country (Lithuania) every single day, said before nefilas apayim, even though they are obligated to be said, as explained in Siman 134 (unlike nefilas apayim, which is a custom, as explained in the previous post on tachanun).

Nevertheless, since the obligation is only by custom, and nowadays we don't say them in the time of their being obligated (every single day), when they are said immediately following the amidah before nefilas apayim, therefore once they are prevented from being said (as explained above) they need not be made up later in the day.

On Rosh Chodesh, where the custom is not to say hallel in the house of a mourner, every person should say hallel by himself when he comes to his house, since hallel is a mivtza the entire day, and its not mandatory to say it immediately following the amidah, as we see that sometimes it's obligatory to say it before the amidah (Siman 122), and it need not be said immediately following the amidah since its time is the whole day, even for a single person davening on Rosh Chodesh. The only reason we say it immediately following the amidah under normal circumstances is because of the general rule of "The diligent perform mitzvos at the first available opportunity." Another reason is that hallel is not comparable to the extra penitential prayers said on Mondays and Thursdays, since once those prayer's obligation is nullified (because the person was in the house of a mourner, and a mourner need not say them because he's considered to be in a festival [with regards to forbidden activities]). Hallel is different, however, because the reason it's not said is because of the mourning present in the house, and we don't want to say (Psalms 116, 17), "The dead do not praise you, Hashem," and it would appear as if we're making fun of the dead. Therefore it's necessary to leave the house and recite hallel, just as we find by someone who is making a journey and comes upon graves, that immediately after he finishes the amidah he must distance himself and recite the hallel, so that it doesn't appear that he's making fun of the dead.

When does this apply? By the hallel of Rosh Chodesh, which is only obligated by custom. The only time we say hallel in a mourner's house is on Chanuka, which is an obligation from the Rabbis, and a mourner is also obligated to say it. The custom is, however, that a mourner within thirty days, or if his parents passed away then within twelve months, doesn't act as chazzan for hallel because the congregation is then happy like on Shabbos and the festivals.

Halacha 6: We don't say tachanun on the day of a bris mila when davening in the shul where the bris mila will take place, but in another shul (in town) we do say it. In the winter, when circumcisions take place in the home, the custom is not to say tachanun in the shul where the person making the bris is davening. All this is talking about shacharis, before the bris happens, but by mincha, even if the baby is present, we say tachanun.

On the other hand, tachanun is not said when praying by a chosson the whole day, or if one comes to daven in a shul on the day when the chosson goes under the chuppah (to get married). There are places where the custom is for grooms to not attend shul on the day (or a couple days before) they get married so that the congregation is not prevented from saying tachanun. If the chosson does go to shul then tachanun is said, except on the day of the wedding.

There are those who have the custom to not say tachanun the whole seven days when the chosson is in shul, because all seven days are for him like a festival. On the eighth day tachanun is also not said by shacharis because the chuppah happened close to the evening, and seven full days are not completed until the evening of the eighth day.

There are places which have the custom to also not say tachanun by mincha when davening with the circumscised baby. However, in the shul we do say tachanun, even though the person who made the bris is present. On shabbos we say Tzidkascha Tzedek even if the seudas mitzva is only made that night.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Dear The future,

What is going on? How are you faring? Are things particularly better now then they were then if things then were any better now than they have been? You know what I mean? I thought you did. We (whoever we is/were/have been) for some reason have this perverse relationship with The Future. On the one hand, we do all this shtuff to The Future, and assume it'll fix whatever our mistakes are. On the other hand, we don't do all this shtuff because we scared of damaging its fragile psyche. Which is totally not fair. The present doesn't even have a psyche. It just has a couple of pounds of dried peas. Which doesn't even make sense. Which is exactly what makes it the present.

So, The Future, what else is going on? Have you gotten over the hangover we gave you a few days ago? I mean, not all of us have a virtually infinite amount of time to do things like that. Most of us get maybe an hour. But you have all day. Or even more. Crazy.

Moving right along, The Future, how's the music? Is it still terrible? Was it still better forty years ago? And are the kids still blasting it, destroying their ears and providing plastic surgeons with finely accrued earning potential? Did that even make sense? Did it have to? What does make sense about the future? It's just this big amorphous blob thing where everyone rides around on light rail transport and there's no more mosquitoes. Because the mosquitoes are all dead. You know why? Because the future is all about typing. And it's very difficult to type when you're scratching. Much easier to just kill all the PETA people. I mean the mosquitoes.

And maybe the fruitcakes will be gone? That would be nice. I can't stand people who take themselves seriously and leave ridiculous comments at four AM to prove it. It's like, either go to sleep or go some brain cells or visit Chabad of Champs Elysées. They can help you there. Because you need it. And the French, surprising as it may seem, can help you. Will they still be around in The Future? I would sure hope so. Because if there's anything we all need, it's frog legs. Yum.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How 'bout them tangerines?

I had this really great idea for a post tonight, but I realized that I wouldn't be able to do it tonight anyway, but still, it would be a really cool post. Basically, I thought to have a hyperlink to every single article I read in the last 24 hours, with a little blurb about them and shtuff. Then you people would really get to know me (attending a wedding for six hours doesn't count, sorry). The problem is that I only came up with this absolutely radical idea several hours into the afternoon, and seeing as I wasn't willing to postpone tonight's post until several hours into tomorrow's afternoon I knew it just wouldn't work at the current time. So instead I thought I'd treat y'all to a real doozer-a genuinely inspiring old post! Woohoo! So here it is then, a few paragraphs oozing with ancient goodness, originally published on October 8, 2007 as Jewish Environmentalism, but just as relevant now as it was all those years ago.

In yesterday's portion of Chumash, Rashi comments that the first floor of Noah's Ark was reserved for Zevel, garbage. This got me thinking. The first floor is the biggest floor. Where was the food stored? With the animals? Unlikely. With the people? Must be. But why do you need the whole bottom for garbage? Why not just throw it off the ship? What are we, a bunch of enviro nutcases? Besides, it would all get washed away anyway. Heck, it was organic material! Besides, what happened to it all exactly after the flood?

A local Friedman suggested that they couldn't throw anything off the boat, even if they had wanted to. Makes sense. Could be great for a "green" campaign about how we can't throw garbage off earth, our own personal ark.

What is this, have I become Al Gore or something? I'll never live this down at the Junior Republican's League.

In other news, Israel wants to give back Jerusalem. Idiots. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Chukas-Balak in Crown Heights

Shmais would tell you that shabbos this week in CH was pretty normal.

On Friday night there were at least 6 Sholom Zochors k"ah.

Mendy Herz Davened Shachris @ the Umud downstairs. There were 3 Chasanim. Tully Silberberg spoke before Mussaf. Chezky Herz Davened Mussaf @ the Umud.

In the Rebbe's room, Levi Yitzchok Abramowitz Davened Shachris the Umud. There were 2 Chasanim. Sholom Mendel Kluwgant Davened Mussaf @ the Umud.

The regular Kiddushim including those for 12 Tammuz and the Chasanim were held both upstairs & downstairs in 770 and went on all afternoon long.

Downstairs in 770 before the end of Shabbos, R' Nachman Schapiro Chazzered a Maamer.

Would that be all there was? Of course not.

It happens, you know, that sometimes strange things occur. For example, today in 770 (that bastion of messianic excellence), there was no candy thrown at the grooms getting their call-ups to the kiddush. Aliyah. Wedding. Whatever. In other words, the poor kids who weekly crowd the bima and get screamed at by Zalman Lipskier were left bereft of their traditional Shabbos lunch. Sad, no?

Meanwhile, in other news, I davened in the new minyan (Beis Shmuel Daled?) in the back of 770 this week. It was quite cute to see how all the people who originally founded the minyan now stand on the side and talk while the minyan itself is made up of bums like me who missed the main minyan in the front. Of course, when it comes time for the kiddush these founders take their rightful place at the front of the que.

Later today I came to 770 for afternoon prayers and some 2 reading/1 aramaic. As Maariv started I noticed the quite disturbing phenomenon of a mincha minyan in the process of beginning. Far be it from me to criticize anyone's religious devotional shtuff, but I thought this was taking things a little far. I would understand if this were the winter, and maariv was starting at 5:30. But we're in summer now (though you'd never know it from all the rain), and maariv was beginning at 9:20. Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. At least the moon made an appearance for Kiddush Levana.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

We is never alone!

I know I promised to continue writing about Tachanun, but it's the 12 of Tammuz today, and I thought it'd be inappropriate to write about it (and I nixed OC 312 for obvious reasons). Instead I have tremendous news to announce: the wedding is on the the 25th of Elul, the birthday of the world! That's right folks, pencil it in, it's gonna be a wild ride. In Milwaukee. Listen, I know, it's going to be tough trying to avoid driving to Chicago for the pizza or the ballgame, but I'm sure you'll manage.

Listen, I understand if you can't make it to the wedding. So how about popping into 770 for the aufruf on Shabbos Selichos? Can you say "12 hour party?" Yup. Good times.

Oh, and one more thing. Want to see what TRS+le7 are stocking their future home with? Well now you can! (I know you're excited).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tachanun II: Knowledge is Power

Astute readers will surely recall my writing regarding tachanun. I decided to take a peak at the relevant halachos again, and I'm happy to present, for your edification, the laws of Tachanun II: Knowledge is Power.

שלחן ערוך הרב סימן קלא, דיני נפילת אפים

Halacha 1: After the Chazzan finishes the repetition of the amidah the congregation falls on their faces and requests mercy (ומתחננים), every place according to its custom. The whole concept of tachanun is only a minhag that Israel had the custom of doing from the earliest days, and nevertheless it's not an obligation, it's a matter of choice (רשות). Therefore all it's halachos are dependent on minhag, as will be explained.

Tachanun must be said immediately following tefilah (shemone esrei), and if a person pauses and does other things after tefilah (before tachanun) then his tachanun is not accepted as much. Therefore a person should not talk between shemone esrei and tachanun (even though according to Halacha there's no prohibition here, since tachanun is רשות). We are only worried here about doing entirely different things, but a little speech is allowed. Anyone who doesn't pause to deal with extraneous matters at all can go to another place and fall there on his face.

The main falling upon the face (נפילת אפים) that was done from the earliest days is to fall upon one's face on the ground, even without placing there his hands and feet (including sitting on the ground and falling on his face). It isn't fitting for an important person to behave like this when he's in front of (davening with) the congregation if the congregation doesn't do it also (i.e. don't try to be too frum) unless he is so confident in his deeds and knows with certainty that he will be answered like Yehoshua Bin Nun, as it says (about him), "Raise yourself up, why do you fall on your face?" (meaning that he was answered immediately by Hashem). This is because if he isn't answered immediately then the congregation will wonder about him, saying that he isn't ready or fit to be answered.

Similarly the rabbis decreed that every person is forbidden to prostrate himself on a stone floor, even if he doesn't spread out his hands and feet, because we are worried that he will completely prostate himself there, which would be a violation of the Torah (and for which he is whipped), as the verse says, "And you shall not emplace a flooring of stone upon which to prostrate oneself," as this is only permitted in the Beis Hamikdash.

Falling on the ground is forbidden, but placing your face on your side is permitted, even for an important person in front of the congregation, and even on a stone floor, without putting the hands and feet down, as was explained. In these days, when we don't actually fall upon our faces but rather put our heads down and cover our faces, none of this is applicable.

Therefore it's permitted to say tachanun even while standing, but according to Kabbalah a person should say it while sitting. If it's impossible to say it sitting while within the three steps that were taken following the shemone esrei then a person should wait the amount of time necessary to walk four amos and then return to his place and say tachanun there while sittting.

Our custom is to cover our faces with a garment, and it's not enough to merely cover with the arm upon which we fall, since the arm and the face our part of one body, and it's not possible for something to cover itself, as was explained in hilchos krias shema and shemone esrei.

The custom in many places is to lean on the left side because when a person davens the Shechinah is on his right side, as the verse states, "Hashem is your protective Shade at your right hand," and as was explained in the laws of shemone esrei. When a person rests on his left side then he is facing the right (the Shechinah), as opposed to if he leaned on the right side, in which case his back would be facing the shechinah, which would be improper, because it's not fitting for a servant to turn his back to his master.

There are those who say that it's proper to lean on the right side, because when you lean on the right side the Shechinah is opposite you, and then he will have in mind, "His left hand is under my head, and his right arm embraces me."

In these lands we have the custom to lean on our right arms by shacharis because of the honor due to the tefillin which are on the left arm. By mincha (and so too by shacharis when tefillin aren't worn on the left arm) he should lean on his left arm. The chazzan, who is standing on the right side of the ark, should tilt his his head a little even when he falls on his right side (and this is also the din of those who sit next to the menorah before the ark who lean on their faces facing east like the chazzan).

According to Kabbalah the psalm אליך ה׳ נפשי אשא (Psalms 25) should be said. One who says this and his heart is far (i.e. he is not on the level) will cause himself to die before his time. Therefore in this country we have the custom to say רחום וחנון כו׳ ה׳ אל באפיך כו׳.

(In the Siddur the Alter Rebbe says to say both.)

Halacha 2: After a person does נפילת אפים he should lift up his head and ask for mercy a bit, while sitting in his place, every place according to their custom. The basic custom is to say ואנחנו לא נדע מה נעשה וכו׳ since we davened on everything that a person is able to daven, whether sitting, standing, or leaning. This is what Moshe Rabbeinu A"H did, as the verse says, "And I sat on the mountain," and, "Then I threw myself down before Hashem." After this, since we no longer have the strength to daven in any other way, we say, "And we do not know what to do etc," and afterwords we say half-Kaddish, Ashrei, and Lamnatzeiach.

Halacha 3: There are those who have the custom to only do נפילת אפים in the presence of a Sefer Torah, and a source for this can be found in the war of Ai (Joshua 7, 6) as it says, "And [Joshua] fell on his face to the ground before the ark of Hashem." In a place where there is no Sefer Torah the custom is to say tachanun without covering the face.

The custom is to do נפילת אפים in the courtyard of a shul when the courtyard is open to the shul itself (and people daven there when the shul is open) as is done in the shul itsef. However, when part of the shul is closed off from the part that contains the Sefer Torah then the custom is not do to נפילת אפים.

The women's shul is considered to be separate in this matter from the shul with a Sefer Torah inside, and if it's not open the custom is to do נפילת אפים. However, the courtyard outside the shul has the law of a courtyard inside a shul-if it's open, you do, if it's not open, you don't.

Even one Jew davening on his own, if he davens at the same time as the congregation davening in the shul, is able to say tachanun while doing נפילת אפים. This is because he is considered to be standing with them, and even an iron curtain can not separate between the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven when there are ten Jews present, as explained in the laws of the morning blessings.

Halacha 4: There is no נפילת אפים at night, because of the known reason (to those who know), and therefore if someone postponed davening mincha until the night he shouldn't do נפילת אפים. Therefore one should skip אבינו מלכנו in order todo נפילת אפים in the day; nevertheless, one should only do this when it's certainly night, but not if it's שקיעה. The custom is to do נפילת אפים on the night of selichos since it's close to the day anyway (the chabad custom is not to do this). There are those who have the custom to lengthen selichos until it's definitely daytime, and then they do נפילת אפים.

Part 2 somewhen...