Tuesday, July 27, 2010

No temps

I know you've all been desperately waiting for a new post (hey Sam), and believe you me, there's lots to write about. Only thing is, I'm no waiter to be ranting, and anyway, it's kind of hard to be anonymous when you're working for the world's largest media retailer (box). Plus, there's the whole picture on the side of the page thing. Be that as it may, there's still plenty I can write about without getting my pants sued of. For example, did you know that I'm working on a real live book deal? No details no, but expect to see my name in print within the next three years or so. And the day job? So far so good. Learned lots re: headphones today. Now I just need to pay a decent pair for myself.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Quick question

If the Rabbis had known then what we know now, would they have made the washing of the hands with soap following a visit to the lavatory mandatory?

As is my usual wont, I merely inquire.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Back to the Kansas

So many years ago, out of the land of Goshen, I heard my people's crying heart... In other news, here's yesterday's news, served fried on a stick:
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.

A couple of nights later we went to Lawrence to learn some Torah with the locals. Lawrence is the home of Kansas University, and so I learned Kuntres Inyana Shel Toras HaChassidus with a student (Lawrence is the home of KU, and therefore I learned with a guy? Whatever happened to the almighty editor?). 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.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Amused at the muse

Two years ago I blogged a whole long piece, and no one commented! The shame! Maybe it's because I end everything off with "yup"? It's supposed to be an ironic commentary on life, the universe, and everything, but perhaps it's been misinterpreted? Anyway, here's a republishing of that long ago post:

I was at a loss tonight, because I really couldn't think of anything to write. Thankfully I popped onto Hershel Tzig's site and was directed to another site which seems to think that Chabad is the embodiment of evil on G-d's green earth. I really enjoy sites like these for a couple reasons. The first is that they validate my belief in Chabad; the second is that they give me something to write about when the times they are a slow.

It's really amazing that some people spend so much of their time bashing us. Sure, I bash people when they annoy me, but I don't go around looking for people to slam. Do I wake up in the morning and think, "Who can I hurt today?" No, I wake up in the morning and think, "Man, I'm a moron, I should have gone to sleep before 3:00 AM". You understand the difference? The haters are always thinking about other people, while I constantly think about myself.
As I was reading the posts, and especially after reading the comments, I found myself formulating replies. I stopped myself and said (in the hushed tone normally reserved for visitors to the Minnesota History Center), "TRS, can't you read what they have to say? Instead of trying to fight back, just absorb their words and try to understand that they have a valid point of view." Once I stopped laughing I began to type a response. Then it hit me: You just can't argue with these people. So I stopped typing. It occurred to me that I also don't take criticism very well; after all, yesterday I made a typo, an august presence advised me of its existence, and instead of admitting my mistake like a man I made a joke of the whole affair. Where's the accountability?

This specific blog itself is actually, I must admit, quite fair in its approach. There's a great story that he brings from Rav Hutner:

There is the well known story about the bed of Sodom (also known as the Procrustean bed). If a visitor to Sodom was too short he was stretched and if he was too big for the bed his legs were cut off. Rav Hutner said, "We have such a bed in the frum world. The difference is that if someone doesn't fit his head is cut off."

Fine. So I really don't have too much of a problem with this blog. Many of the comments are off the wall, and he seems to think that all of Lubavitch waves yellow flags around, but these are quite ordinary problems. There's nothing particularly offensive about what he says. So what's my problem? I was just looking for something to write. Today's MS, you see, was a bit uninspiring. While I was making phone calls I realized that I could open a very successful business: Everyone I talk to says they're "just about" to go on vacation. I should start charging people to have me call them and then they'll magically be going on vacation! I think that this idea is worth at least five million a year, and I'm looking for some venture capital to help me start this thing.

Moving right along, it has come to my attention that we're currently in the middle of the nine days, and we're supposed to be sad that we don't have a temple. Is anyone here depressed? Does the sting of exile bite into anyone's heart?

I didn't think so. What can we do about this? I don't know. Seems to me that we've all settled into a malaise that only something really exciting can get us out of. If, for example, the sun were to have some major histrionics, most of us would take life a little more seriously, at least for the fifteen seconds we'd have before being wiped out like a bunch of Toyotas in Detroit.
The nine days, huh? Tough time. Yup.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The ten plagues of Facebook

1. Face Worship. Facebook, the Book of Faces, could have been a blessed endeavor, strengthening family and social relations with the help of a social network. Unfortunately, however, it is a monster that has attacked its creator and become an impediment with its worship of faces. Man is not a face but a soul, which is revealed through its good character and good deeds, not through outer appearance, or through various artificial shows that one puts on for the sake of photo-ops. “Grace is false and beauty is vain, but the woman who fears Hashem – she shall be praised” (Mishlei 31:30). One time our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, was invited to an exhibition devoted to his father, Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. He said, “People will see his books and his pictures there, but they won’t see his fear of G-d there. I’ve got no business going.” How the soul suffers, seeing itself shoved into a corner, alone and scorned – and the individual being judged by his picture.

2. Exposure. A person has to be humble and modest, and not to expose personal details for all to see. The Jewish People are humble. A Jew does not have to be so extroverted, to reveal his personality and emotions to all, but only to his true friends. One time, Prime Minister Golda Meir was interviewed following the Yom Kippur War, and at the end was asked: “What do you feel personally?” She answered, “What I feel personally, is personal.” A person has to be a bit introverted. Moshe placed a veil over his face. Likewise, one should not peek with curiosity into the lives of others, and certainly not into the pictures of women, all the more so if they are immodest.

3. Advertisements. Facebook is sponsored by advertisements, some of which are disgusting, full of offensive language and sexual immodesty, provoking people to commit acts that are base, coarse and forbidden.

4. Crime. Since the information is out in the public domain and available to all, all sorts of unsavory people take advantage of it for evil: identity theft for the sake of extorting monetary contributions; for convincing people to come to rendezvous where they will be robbed; as well as the use made by various types of sexual perverts; for sending junk mail, and for racist groups that encourage hatred.

5. Addiction. Facebook is the fifth biggest cause of addition in the world. 400 million people in the world are addicted to it, and 2.5 million in Israel use Facebook. 75% of youth are regular users. Facebook addicts can spend 4-5 hours a day on it.

6. Loss of time. Time is one of the most precious things in life. A person thinks he is going into Facebook for a moment, and he may be stuck there for long hours.

7. Superficiality. It’s all so shallow, so full of nonsense. People pursue that nonsense, and wallow in it. Pictures and videos, talkbacks and cheap blogs, and blogs responding to blogs. People engage there in superficial discourse, in nonsense, emptiness and shallowness, and they become shallow themselves. It’s a vicious cycle, and it gets worse.

8. Exhibitionism. A person develops a longing to be seen by others, to share glances and find favor in the eyes of imaginary, virtual friends. He constantly updates his personal profile in order to increase his popularity. He strikes an alluring pose and has his picture taken in order to draw attention to himself. He becomes enslaved to finding favor in the eyes of others, and to being seen by them.

9. Disintegration. Time disintegrates. Life disintegrates into grayish nonsense. One’s personality disintegrates. True, quality friendships disintegrate into virtual friendships.

10. Loss of friendship. Friendship is something vital to a person. Friendship or death! Loneliness is an awful sort of wretchedness. Therefore, one is supposed to acquire for himself a friend (Avot). Facebook instead supplies addiction to a shallow kind of socializing, engulfed in meaningless excitement, in virtual friendship. Pictures no longer reflect life. They have become the essence of life. It is the end of friendship. Facebook is a social network devoid of friendship, because a true friend is like a war buddy – someone ready in every situation to offer help and support. Certainly social connections are good, but that’s not a real bond, but the destruction of the concept of friendship. Facebook also leads to the disintegration of the family. 20% of divorces are because of Facebook and the corrupt chats that go on there. True friendship is face to face, not face to screen or screen to face. Therefore, please harness all your courage and cancel your membership in Facebook. Be brave! At first you will have 4-5 days of feeling dazed, but after that you will feel wonderful pleasure and supreme freedom.

Yeshiva Ateret Cohanim/Ateret Yerushalayim. This is from Rabbi Shlomo Avi-ner, the Rosh Yeshiva.

Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Pinchas 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg