Sunday, March 28, 2010

On a dime

On Thursday evening at approximately 10:15 my wife and I got a ride to the Ohel with Yossi Shomer and his family (thanks Yisroel). Once there I did the traditional mikveh dip. While I was getting dressed I told my name to someone and that I was originally from Minnesota. This prompted a slightly older guy standing next to me to say, "Wait, are you originally from Milwaukee?" Turns out he had given a shiur in my house in Mequon twenty or so years ago. Pretty good memory, eh? After finishing up in the ritualarium it was off to the Ohel itself, fortunately relatively empty which allowed for much time spent in the actual Ohel.

Following a rousing discussion of "Should you wear a kapote on 11 Nissan?" we got home at around midnight or so. Proceeding to pack and clean, my wife and I discovered at approximately 2:20 that we were essentially ready to pack out. We figured that waiting until 3:00 as originally planned wasn't strictly necessary, so off we went, carrying a rolling duffel and two carry-ons each. Down the steps at Kingston station and onto a 4, getting off at Bowling Green and walking to South Ferry and onto a 1 train, which took us to Penn Station, we alertly looked at all the other people on the trains and wondered what they were wondering about us. Must have looked strange, I'll tell you that much.

Kudos to MTA for getting us to Penn at 3:35, but unfortunately New Jersey Transit doesn't open their doors until 4:00, so on the floor we waited. At exactly 4:00 I and a vast crowd (if fifty-odd people can be called "vast") sprinted over the yellow caution tape and streamed into the waiting room. I naturally assumed that they were making for the same place I was, namely the ticket vending machines, and I rejoiced in beating them all there. After buying our tickets I went back to help the wife with the luggage and found that in fact my fellow sprinters had not been going for the ticket machines but rather for the benches in the waiting area. Why they would queue for fifteen minutes in order to get a seat is beyond me, but I suppose this is NY...

We boarded the 4:17 to Trenton and three stops later, after several micro-dozes, we got off at the Newark airport station. Onto a waiting airtrain we did not go, because it was out of service, but the next proved more hospitable, and sooner than you could say "drank second mint snapple in twelve hours" we were on our way. Getting out at Terminal C we got into line by the ticket counter, and a short fifteen minutes later had deposited our luggage and were looking for Gate A28. Oh, really, Gate 28 is in terminal A? Makes sense. Back onto the airtrain we went...

After passing through security (wife perfunctorily checked by female TSA person called over especially for the purpose) we got to our gate, eight minutes before boarding. The plane took off on time, at 6:45. Remember, we had left our house at 2:30. The flight itself was uneventful- we came, we saw, we slept. We also squished, because we were flying on an EMR, variously translated as Embraer Regional Jet and Emergency Mobile Room. Be that as it may, it deposited us safely and securely at glorious MSP about half an hour later, and sooner than you could say, "My, what a pleasure it is to be back in the good 'ol Midwest, where people are friendly and don't smell as if they just emigrated from Djibouti" we were waiting for our baggage at baggage claim 12. And waited. And waited. Eventually (in our half-asleep state) we wondered when our luggage would arrive, and I got up to investigate. Taking a turn about the carousel I discovered our two bags, plus three others, waiting there pretty as blackberry pies. Seems like the service was a little too swift, eh?

After a brief restorative Breadsmith and Dunn Brothers run we got back to central headquarters, and the wife took a well deserved nap. After a lengthier-than-necessary pitstop at the local synagogue for morning prayers I did the same.

And that is how the west was won.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

11 Nissan approaches

In what is quickly becoming a yearly tradition here at TRS, I now present to you the complete B'yom Ashtei Assar 5731. It's been edited, and I took out many of the snarky comments, which should make for easier reading. Enjoy.

In the first part of the month of Nissan it has become customary to recite the portions of the Torah which deal with the offerings of the Princes of the Twelve Tribes. The Prince for the 11th day of Nissan, the Rebbe's birthday, was from the tribe of Asher. The Medrash says that each tribe is named with the redemption and praise of Israel in mind. The Prince of Asher, Pagiel Ben Achran, brought his because of the Jew's choice of Hashem to be their L-rd, and Hashem's choice of the Jew's to be his special nation. The immediate question is that it's only possible to make a choice between two things which are either equal or at least comparable. Between Hashem and all other (false) gods, there can be no comparison, and the same goes for the Jew and the non-Jew, the reason for which you should consult Tanya, Chapter 49.

We can understand this by first prefacing with an explanation given by the Medrash of the verse, in Eicha 3,24, "Hashem is my portion' says my soul, 'therefore I have hope in Him". The Medrash says that this is like the parable of a king who comes to a country, surrounded by his many ministers, and the populace of the country come out to greet him. One person there says, "I choose this minister to represent and help me," while another picks one of the satraps to represent him, and a third man chooses one of the King's secretaries. There was one smart man present who said, "I choose the King, because all the others are temporary, but the King lasts forever." So too the nations of the world serve the sun, moon, stars, or constellations, but the Jewish people only serve Hashem. The question is, what's the genius involved in picking the King? Everyone knows a King is much greater than his servants. And what's the reason the wise man gives, that the King lasts forever? Even if the King is just as temporary as his ministers, he's still greater.

Back in the earliest generations people thought that it was necessary to serve false gods. Just like a person thanks and tips a waiter for bringing him food, even though the waiter obviously had no hand in the preparation of the food, one should thank the sun and the moon for giving him sustenance. The people thought that just like the waiter does have some choice whether to present the food or not, the moon and constellations have some say in the amount of G-dly sustenance they pass onto man. The mistake of these people, what they did not realize, was that the heavenly bodies are only like an axe in the hand of a woodchopper, a tool made by G-d and directed solely by Him. The early idolaters thought that they could influence the celestial bodies to give them more than they were supposed to get, like a waiter can be asked for more. An axe, on the other hand, is utterly powerless without a hand to wield it.

From this mistake came an even greater one, the belief that Hashem had left the world in the hands of his creations and therefore they were the be-all and end-all of divine service. People thought that this situation was comparable to a King who appoints a governor to rule over a province, leaving it entirely except in times of great need. So too people believed that Hashem had left the world in the hand of the constellations, intervening only when absolutely necessary.

Obviously this isn't true, and Hashem continues to sustain the world in exactly the same manner as when he first created it 5770 years ago. It takes the wisdom of the Jewish people to know this, and therefore they don't serve the false gods, who only appear to run things, but rather worship the one true G-d, the only being with any true power in the world.

This explanation, while good, is not the correct one. The parable presented by the Medrash features ministers who have free choice, and therefore choosing them does positively impact the benefit they give out. These ministers have the freedom to give those who ally themselves with the ministers more sustenance. We can therefore understand that service of the King itself, rather than the results it brings, is what the wise man seeks. From this we can understand in real life, that the reason the nations of the world worship the sun and stars is not because of their mistake, but because they would rather have physical benefits than serve G-d. Their choice does bring about actual benefit; there is in fact an advantage to worshiping the constellations. In general, there are two advantages to idol worship over G-d worship. The first is that the benefits provided by the idols are not dependent on self-nullification, which is a condition for receiving sustenance from Hashem. The second is that the benefit itself is greater than that received from choosing to benefit solely from the side of holiness.

In the desert the Israelites complained that they ate for free in Egypt; what they were saying is that their physical sustenance came without any corresponding spiritual struggle. The side of holiness only allows for benefit when the right thing is done, and even then it only gives according to a person's work. Kelipos get their life-force from a source above nature, where there are no barriers, and therefore they can provide virtually unlimited sustenance.

According to this explanation, the greatness of the Jew is that he declines to associate himself with the forces of darkness and instead chooses Hashem, even though this means he must work hard for less.

The wise man's reason for choosing the King and not the ministers is because the ministers are only temporary while the King lasts forever. What does this mean? The benefits which accrue to those who align themselves with the forces of darkness, even if these benefits are greater than those available to holiness seekers, are only temporary. After Moshiach comes, and evil ceases to exist, all the G-dly sparks which were contained within that evil will cease to exist. In addition, the benefits for those who choose the side of good will be much greater (after the coming of the Messiah) then ever went to evil-doers in the pre-Messianic age. This is expressed in the Talmudic saying, "If so much goes to those who go against His will, how much more will go to those who follow Him."

This explanation is not sufficient, however, because it implies that the only reason the wise man chooses the King is because he is smart and has figured out that with patience he'll have increased material or spiritual benefit. This is problematic, because the Medrash implies that the Jewish people choose their King because of their soul, because of the greatness of serving the King, not because of the material benefits associated with that service. Indeed, the Jew chooses Hashem because the great physical bounty which goes to the sinner is not given with Hashem's full will, as it were, but rather as a man throws a gift to his enemy behind his back, with disgust. Hashem gives the Jew because he wants to give the Jew, and the Jew takes this, because he wants to receive what Hashem desires to give. Also, the physical sustenance that goes to those who go against His will are not everlasting, and therefore they don't have a true existence even when they are present.

Where does the benefit which comes from the other side actually come from? It's siphoned of from Kedusha, from holiness, and this is the only way it exists. Since that Holiness with them is exiled, as it were, they (the Kelipos) are actually dead. The people who draw from them are also called dead, as it says in Talmud, that wicked men are called dead even while they're alive, because (as it says in Tanya) their life source is death. When a person chooses the King, he chooses life, not death, holiness, not impurity.

This explanation is still not sufficient, because at the end of the day the wise man is still making his choice based on his intellect, and the Medrash seems to be saying that his soul, which is above intellect, is making this choice. In short, the nature of man is to choose whichever path will bring him the most wealth, happiness, peace, or anything and everything good. This nature is what causes the nations of the world to worship their false gods, because they acknowledge only themselves, and therefore choose only that which benefits them. A Jew, on the other hand, because of his divine soul, is able to look beyond himself and choose to worship Hashem, even though he will get (at this point in time) less benefit, because G-dliness is truth, and his soul chooses to align itself with that truth.

What does it mean when we say that those who go against his will get their life force in a "backward" manner? We can understand this with a Mashal, a parable, of a King who makes a great feast for his ministers and honored servants. From the overflow of food from the King's table his lowly servants and maids, and even the dogs, are also able to eat. The King did not make the food for them, but they are able to survive from his bounty.

There are four levels in the mashal, and all of them are meaningful. The lowest, the dog, survives off the bones that are thrown off the table. He doesn't serve the King; rather his whole purpose in life is self-gratification. We can see this from the word for dog in Hebrew, Kalev, a contraction for Kulo Lev, or "All Heart". The human being represented by the dog is fundamentally flawed, because naturally, a person's heart is ruled by their mind. In this person though, not only does the heart rule the mind, but there is no mind. Sure, the dog gets everything it wants, and much more, but it's all left-overs, not given with the King's desire.

The next level of person is the lowly servant or maidservant, who serve the King because of their fear of punishment, not because they want to. Their sole desire in life is to escape work, to be free to waste their time. Because of this, their place is not at the King's table, because they do not wish to be there. The honored servants, on the other hand, serve the King because they understand how great such service is. Sure, they're doing it because they accept the King as their master, but at the same time they understand how great it is to serve such a man. The greatest level is that of the ministers, whose understanding of the King is so great that they manage many of his affairs. They don't serve the King out of fear, but rather out of love. Among them there are obviously many levels, with different responsibilities assigned to different men.

In the analog, the lowly servants represent the seventy guardian angels of the seventy nations, while the servants and ministers that the King serves at his table are holy angels who do G-d's will, the highest emanations of holiness, who are always with the King.

We can now understand the greatness of the Jewish people. That they don't want to receive anything like dogs or servants is easily understood, but their refusal to deal with anyone but the King, in place of his highest and most trust-worthy ministers, is admirable. This is comparable to a person who visits a King, and passes through chamber after chamber, each filled with more treasure than the previous one, until he gets to the last chamber, which is more incredible than anything any man has ever imagined. Many people will stop at this last chamber, because they're filled with awe; only the true wise man will pass by and go to meet the King, because only the true wise man is filled with the desire to see not the king's wealth but rather the King himself.

This is what the Alter Rebbe said, "I don't want your Garden of Eden, I don't want your World to Come, I want you alone." The Alter Rebbe certainly knew how great these levels were, and in fact he had a greater knowledge of them than most people. And the highest levels don't hide G-d, rather they transmit his rays. And yet he only wants Hashem. This is why the Alter Rebbe specifically said, "Your Garden of Eden, Your World to Come", because even though they are Hashem's, he still wants only Hashem.

These two explanations of "I choose the King", that a person doesn't want even the highest spiritual emanations, but only G-d himself, and the simple meaning, that a person only serves Hashem and not idols, have a connection. The Garden of Eden is great, because it's an incredible spiritual experience, where the souls bask in the rays of divine glory. When Hashem himself is chosen though, it leads to complete nullification. If a person makes a mistake and chooses to bask, choosing pleasure in front of truth, then it can lead to a person choosing to worship false gods. He might even come to that these false gods have free choice. Idol worshipers thought that there was something to be gained from serving the sun and stars; choosing anything but Hashem, even his greatest spiritual worlds, is the same thing.

Even is someone wants the Garden of Eden specifically because it's Hashem's, there is a problem, because he can come to think that Hashem gave it, or anything in the world, power to choose who to help, as was explained above. A Jew has to know that everything in the world comes only from Hashem.

The main mistake people make in serving idols is that they confuse something which is only a tool for the master. The sun and moon provide benefit for the world, but they have no choice in the matter. The benefit gotten is also mistaken. The physical world is not an ends, but rather only a means with which to serve Hashem. That's why some people choose to worship false gods, because they think that physicality is primary, and therefore they spend their lives trying to accumulate as much of it as possible. The same thing is worth the highest spiritual worlds; they too are only a means to an end, and choosing them is the first step on a slippery path to idol worship.

The source of gentiles is in the "outer will"; they only exist for another reason. They don't realize this, and think that they are the reason for existence, and from this comes the thought that whatever brings the most physical benefit also has the free choice to dispense that benefit. Jews, on the other hand, are the primary purpose of creation, and they therefore recognize that they should serve the primary, Hashem.

The Jewish people serve Hashem because of their souls and because of their intellect. The soul sees that it's source is in the inner will, that it is the purpose for which the world was created, and that affects the brain, that it too should be able to understand. From the intellect the choice in Hashem will permeate every thought, word, and action, causing a Jew to truly be a G-dly person.

King David asks Hashem in Psalm 70 to remember him. This can be explained with a parable. There was once a King who got angry at his flock of sheep and sent them away. At the same time he destroyed their enclosure and fired the shepherd. Later the King was reconciled toward his sheep, and brought them back. He also rebuilt their home. The shepherd wondered what was going on, and asked the King, "Why haven't you rehired me?" So too David asks Hashem, from the end of Psalm 69, "You have remembered Zion and and rebuilt Judah (end of the aforementioned Psalm 69), but I have not been brought back?" Therefore David asks Hashem at the beginning of Psalm 70 to be remembered. The question is, if the King remembered the sheep, why didn't he remember their shepherd? The answer is that a person can have everything but still lack the main thing, which is a revelation of G-d. The purpose of the King is to teach Torah, and since the Torah as we have it now is nothing compared to the Torah of Moshiach, David asks Hashem to let him shepherd the Jews in this infinitely higher way.

Now we can explain the Jew's choice of Hashem and Hashem's choice of the Jews. Hashem chooses the Jews because they are the purpose of creation, and this leads to the Jews choosing Hashem, because they recognize the truth. A Jew wants Hashem, to the exclusion of all else. Whatever Hashem wants, the Jew also wants. Since the whole purpose of creation is to make a dwelling place down here for Hashem, that is also the Jew's goal. Hashem gives physicality, and the Jew turns it into spirituality, and this will be fulfilled with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days, Amen.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Minyan grows in Brooklyn

I had several conversation-worthy happening occur this Shabbos, but none struck me so much as a new Minyan I participated in this morning. 770 is great when you have to catch a Shacharis at 1:00 PM, but for weekly Shabbos prayers? Personally, I have nothing against not being able to hear anything and getting pushed around by smelly foreigners, but I understand that some people might not be so into this sort of thing. The obvious solution is to pray in another synagogue, but until now I never did this, because there isn't really any place where my friends are or where I'd feel comfortable. Maybe in four or five years my friends will start Beis Shmuel Tes Zayin, but until then, what's there to do?

This week I went to a new Shul that just opened a little while ago. Based in Darchai Menachem, which itself is based in the NCFJE building (you know, those people who run Camp Emunah-Bnos Yaakov Yehuda), MyShul (website here) is a welcoming place where you can hear what's the Chazzan and Torah reading, and don't get pushed around. One of the kids even gave a Dvar Torah, which I thought was really cute. Unlike 770, I could actually hear what he was saying. Of course, I was Davening during the speech, but you can't expect me to change everything I do in one week, right?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Less or more

Normally I don't write about politics. This isn't because I'm not interested, but rather because I have nothing particularly strident to say about the matter, which in politics is as good as having nothing at all to say. Back in the day, before things were the way they are, I was quite loud when it came to politics, and probably made quite the nuisance of myself. This wasn't any different than anyone else discussing politics of course, so no one really minded.

Today I find myself thinking more and more about the state of Israel, the good 'ol USA, and the people governing both these countries. If there's one thing that's true in this whole sordid saga, it's that we really don't know what's going on. What's Bibi, Barack, Hilary, Avigdor, David, Tzipi, and all the rest really thinking? I wish I knew. But we don't know, and instead we're left reading articles and listening to talking heads and watching silent heads who all really don't know what's going on either, but they're being paid to say something, and by golly they're going to say it.

So what's there to think? You could go for the "L-rd of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers" route, which is all well and fine, but it's not particularly interesting. In fact, if you choose to look at the world through this particular prism, what else is there to do? Wake up, brush your teeth... brush your teeth, go to sleep. Not much worrying required. Not much thinking required either.

Alternatively, you could rush headlong into the battle, calling up talk shows with opinions no one's interested in, reading every single pertinent article online and making sure to leave at least three comments on each one, and of course going to mikveh every morning to catch up on the latest gossip. This option has the benefit of being exciting, but that's about it. As much as you talk, you're not going to accomplish anything. All right, a lot of people evidently don't mind uselessly prattling away, but even they would (hopefully) admit that it's a waste of time.

This leaves only one option: angsty posts. Yup.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Have you seen this man?

I could swear I had seen this guy in 770...

(courtesy of the The Gray Lady)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Morton hears a moo

When it precipitates, the salt comes out in vast torrents. Of course, if NY, has its way, there will be no more salt food. Aside from the obvious, like how will they serve cold cuts, there remains a deeper issue. Generally, in order to stop something, it's wise to not only stop the result but also the effect. In this case, will NY stop the rain so that the salt will stop pouring? I merely inquire.

In any case, a big Mazal Tov to Yossi and Bat Sheva Shomer on their wedding last night. It was quite the wedding, as these things go, and Yossi danced very nicely. I'd post some photos of myself from the wedding, but none of the websites have posted anything yet, so perhaps I'll post some at a later time. I also had quite the tête-à-têt with Rabbi Chaim Schapiro, among others (as in, I had conversations with others, not that the tête-à-têt was with others, which of course is impossible.

Earlier in the day I bumped into the several times aforementioned Shaya Lowenstein and his bride to be, Mushka Raigorodsky, who informed me their plans to be nuptialized in beautiful Los Angeles, California. Did I just say beautiful? Ha! The only beautiful part of LA, CA, is inside 7215 Waring Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90046. Regardless, I asked the future Lowensteins if they'd be flying me out to their wedding as part of the shadchanus gelt they owe me. I was told to take my wife for a honeymoon in LA. Forget that LA is a terrible place for a honeymoon, and that attending someone you don't know from bean's wedding for six hours is a miserable thing which I would never do to my wife, I still thought my ticket should be sponsored- after all, I made the shidduch, correct (it would be difficult to fly a basement anywhere)? Shaya mentioned that just like I went to my shadchan's wedding, I should go to his. As the Rosh would say, "touché"!


Big Mazal Tov to Zalman Friedman (Big Fan) on his engagement to Brochie Marazov (presumably a future big fan).

Also, here's a couple pics of yours truly at last night's wedding, courtesy of COL.

In this pic you can see me and Chaz looking into each other's eyes. Rather strange.
Only two of the people in this pic are currently married. Email me if you want info about any of the others...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Better late than never, eh?

Last night I attended yet another lchaim, and this time, I'm sorry to say, I did not encounter Shaya Lowenstein while I was walking home. Actually, I encountered my chavrusa from last year, but that's a different story for a different time. The reason I did not encounter Rabbi Lowenstein on my walk home was because it was in fact his lchaim. Yes, once again, the power that is TRS has worked its funky voodoo thing again. A few months after only the briefest of mentions, Shaya is engaged to Mushka Raigorodsky of LA, CA. Do I take full credit for this remarkable turn of events? I'm much too humble for that, but I will begin accepting advertisement from eligible singles.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Strange ways

I saw a couple of very strange things this Shabbos. The first came as I was walking to 770, that bastion of messianic insanity, and coming up towards me was a woman wearing a tichel. This in itself is not so normal, but it's also not exactly blog material. As she came closer I noticed that she had something in her hand, and she was licking it. No, it wasn't a shiatsu, it was an ice cream bar!

Later on, while walking home from some Shabbos visiting with the dear wife, we encountered what seemed at first to be a normal site: Israeli guy, pointy shoes and tight suit, wearing a kippah, smoking a cigarette- hold on there one moment, smoking a cigarette? On the holy Shabbat day? While wearing a kippah? The mind boggles!

The first incident did not perturb me so much, because I've seen this woman before, and I believe she could be charitably classified under the "Crown Heights Crazies" label. The second case though? I'm just not sure. What in the world was this guy thinking?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Final thoughts?

Over the last couple of weeks I've been trying to decide whether I should close down this here blog or not. The little hiatus with the tznius thing was cute, and it showed that when I have something to write about I can still crank it out like it was 2009 (did you read the original letter? A masterpiece!), but then again, all that goes to show you is that right now I really have nothing to write about. The piece I did on Motzei Shabbos was really nice, vintage TRS, but opportunities for that kind of thing are now few and far between.

At various times I considered shutting down this here blog permanently, but it seems that some of you like to read the archives (I can't imagine why), so I guess that woudn't be a very nice thing to do. I could let it lie fallow, like some other bloggers, only posting once in a blue moon, but that-- well, that's essentially what I'm doing anyway. You may wonder why I'm writing all this, or as e would call it, "Metablogging", but I suppose it's because I want some sort of closure, if indeed that is to occur, or at least to notify people that I'm still around, just temporarily muzzled. Take it as you will.