Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A verbal sonata

A person interested in classical music learns early on that the sonata form may have little or nothing to do with the sonata genre: even at the height of the classical period, which gave birth to both the sonata form and the modern sonata genre (that is, a work in three or four movements for one, two or three instruments). sonatas were written but not using the sonata form; while the sonata form itself became the backbone of the modern concerto and symphony. Ideally, the form utilizes a theme--main melody, in layman's language--which is first stated (often with a preliminary workup), developed through variation and/or modulation in the appropriate harmonically related keys, and at the end recapitulated; interspersed through this development is usually a second, and sometimes a third theme, which receives similar treatment, is generally either related in some technical way to the first theme or fundamentally contrasts with it, and is worked into the recapitulation for a general resolution that carries the movement to a harmonic "home" that may be different from the key in which the movement began.

A good illustration of this is the parshah we will read this coming Shabbat, Lekh-lekha. (Okay, perhaps only the type of mind that has perseverated on classical music for the last forty years would think this way. But please bear with me.) There are quite clearly two themes, one receiving a vastly varied development, and the conclusion is one that carries the parshah forward to an appropirate resolution--but one which will looks forward to further development, just as the later movements of many classical works are linked to the first movement, and the complete resolution must wait until the very end. The first theme may be termed displacement or exile; the second can be called theophany.

The opening of the parshah introduces both together, with the second theme momentarily having the larger impact. G-d tells Abraham to "get ye hence"--theophany initiates displacement and exile, and the theme that will be more elaborately developed, and hence in musical terms would be the major theme of the movement, is actually a secondary theme--which itself is an illustration of displacement. The displacement is emphasized in the command itself, in a threefold variation. Abraham is to be displaced from everything familiar to him, and sent into the land which G-d will show him. He is exiled, in reverse: his goal is his true home, Eretz Yisrael. And throughout the parsha wandering and displacement abound: Abraham and Sarah displaced into Egypt because of famine, Sarah displaced into Pharoah's household, the arguments of the herdmen displacing both Abraham and Lot, Lot taken captive and Abraham forced to go war (both in their distinctive ways forms of displacement and exile--we may imagine here modulations from C sharp minor into F minor notated as E sharp minor, full of seconds and sevenths that only gradually resolve into A minor by way of A flat minor as Melchizedek comes out to greet Abraham) with the King of Sodom's escapades further embellishing the development, Hagar replacing Sarah in Abraham's bed, her despising of her mistress, and her first adventure into in the wilderness--each different forms of displacement--and the numerous times in which Abraham moves about the Holy Land, pitching his tent in some new place. The name changes give to Abraham and Sarah are themselves a form of displacement, a sounding of the theme in the middle of an episode devoted to the theme of theophany. The prediction of the slavery in Egypt also is an instance where the displacement theme appears briefly in an episode devoted to the parsha's other theme.

But it is really that other theme--less elaborated upon though it is--which is really the major theme of the parsha. From the initial command to "get ye hence" through the covenant of the parts and at the end the command of circumcision, G-d appears, and keeps appearing, explaining and re-assuring Abraham that his progeny will be a multitude and that Eretz Yisrael will be their inheritance. (Side note: people often refer to Sarah's laughter when she hear the promise that she will bear a son at her advanced age in the next parshah. They seem to forget that Abraham's initial reaction to that promise, given for the first time in this parshah, is also to laugh.) In musical terms we switch each time from a minor key developed with dissonant modulations to a major key--perhaps B flat or D, often linked in musical vocabulary to celebratory or triumphal music--modulated only through the major consonances of third, dominant and sixth, with the episode that corresponds to the covenant between the parts in a more somber key (D minor perhaps) and a more solemn tempo than the rest of the movement. And finally, the ending section would be a third theme, developed integrally from the theophany theme, to represent Abraham's obedience to the divine command and the institution of brit milah, and coming to rest in a new key--perhaps B major, from which the succeeding movements will move through B minor back into minor keys for the expulsion of Ishmael and the binding of Isaac.

Perhaps the above will be of service as you review the parshah for yourself. If not, consider it my personal mishegoss.

A few words about a couple of words I dislike

The words "couple" and "few" should be banished from the English language.

One of the problems which an autistic like myself encounters with NTs (that is, neurotypicals="normal" people), is the everpresent imprecision of language during social conversation. This result in simply annoyance or dangerous incomprehensibility, but even the simple annoyances can get in the way. For instance:

Co-worker: I'm so tired I can't move a muscle.
Me, mentally: No, you're not, because you just walked over here to tell me that, and both walking and talking require movement of muscles, so you're not as tired as you say you are, so I'm not going to give you the sympathy you're obviously fishing for. But this is a remark-that-expects-sympathetic-response. I must therefore respond with a remark-that-expresses-sympathetic-understanding. And examining co-worker yields the fact that co-worker does look tired.
Me, aloud: You do look like you need a rest, and now's a good time to take a break.

Co-worker was not lying, or intentionally seeking to mislead me. In fact, had co-worker not elided the three words "I feel like" (as in "I'm so tired I feel like I can't move a muscle") there would have been nothing wrong with it. But co-worker, being an NT, suffers from one of the most common NT traits--the assumption that what a person actually says will be recognized as meaning something else. I suppose it might be called the Humpty Dumpty Syndrome: A word means what I say it means. No doubt I sometimes exhibit the same symptoms: after forty seven years of being surrounded by neurotypicals, and decades of learning how to imitate their ways, it may be presumed that at least some of their flaws and foibles have rubbed off on me. But I don't think I fall into this particular error very often, and when I do, it's usually part of an obvious joke.

But there are some words which are particularly prone to being abused in the service of the Humpty Dumpty Syndrome, words which seem to have a built in vagueness about them that renders them useless as a means of communication: "couple" and "few"

"Couple" does have a precise meaning--pair or twosome, as in "married couple", when it is a noun, and "to join together", as "coupling railroad cars", when it is a verb. But in ordinary discourse, it seems to signify any number between two and twenty. "We're collecting a couple of dollars as a going away present for Leila," a co-worker said to me yesterday. When actual details were revealed, the sum involved was five dollars. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes," another co-worker says, going off on a break, and returns fifteen minutes later. "I'll have it ready for you in a couple of hours," the man at the watch repair kiosk says at ten in the morning, and instructs me to come back at about four o'clock in the afternoon. "I'll be there in a couple of hours," the tech sent by the appliance repair company says, and appears the next morning. Well, at least he called at the end of the first day to apologize. But the others gave no indication they knew that the word they used and the meaning they wanted to convey were very different things. Is there a special NT code that lets NTs know whether "couple" means two, or three, or ten? Or do NTs simply not care, and are willing to put up with a type of imprecision that throws poor li'l aspie me into total confusion?

Even worse is "few". Even the dictionary is not quite sure what quantity it represents: "a small number". But small is always relative. In comparison to twenty, two or three, or even six or seven is a few; in comparison to a hundred, twenty is few; in comparison to a thousand, a hundred is few; in comparison to the stars in the sky, a thousand is very few. But in normal conversation, that small assistance in discerning meaning is usually absent. "I'll see you in a few days", may mean "I'll see you at the end of the week" or "I'll see you next month" or "I have no idea of when we'll meet again". All it seems to mean is "a indefinite number", and is totally useless in conveying information. And that is what conversation is supposed to be: the conveying of information from one person to another in verbal form. Of course, I tend to use the word myself a few times a day (that is, four or five), and mean by it "an indefinite number". I have adopted the social meaning as opposed to the lexicographical meaning--another point at which I have come to emulate NTs.

There is a musar point behind all this: how easy it is to abuse language, to contort words into something they don't really mean, to say one thing and intend another, to say one thing and convey another. We talk when we should not, and say things we should not. "Say little and do much"; "silence is a protective fence for wisdom". But we are not silent; we say much and mean little and do even less. Better that our words be few, and mean what they mean when we do utter them.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Wilma one year later

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy symmetry?
--William Blake, Songs of Experience





A year ago tomorrow morning (which may be today for many of you by the time you read this), I was watching the roof across the street being torn off--not by the hand of men, but by the hand of G-d through the means of a hurricane named Wilma. Wilma was the strongest storm to pass through my neck of the woods in a generation--and back then, my neck of the woods had not been an overdeveloped suburb but a long range of muck, water, sawgrass and alligators that marked the verges of the Everglades. There was, after it passed, not many sukkahs left standing and not an eruv unbroken in a stretch from Palm Beach to Miami Beach; not to mention no electricy for several million people, no gas, no perishable food, no potable water, no traffic lights, whole swathes of office buildings without windows, and most importantly for some fifteen thousand or so households, no roof over their heads. Gradually, most of these problems resolved themselves once the electricity came back on, although some of them--most notably the roofs--still remain in evidence. On October 23, everyone had been extending a guarded sympathy to New Orleans (guarded, because our personal image of Katrina was the juvenile, pre-Gulf Katrina that did little more than tear off tree limbs and blow down screens, and because Florida memory recalls storms, like the Lake Okeechobee hurricane of the 1920s, with even worse death tolls, and because sitting out six hurricanes, as we already had done in 2004-5, ensures a certain fatigue to creep into one's attitude); on October 24, everyone had their own problems, and those of their neighbors, and the problems of Louisiana receded into the background. Everyone knew what a hurricane could do; but the theory was very different from the practice, and the result was a bit of a shock to most people, as was the information, slowly percolating out of the weather bureaus that this was actually not that strong of a hurricane--only reaching the borderline between Category 1 and Category 2 when it came through Southeast Florida. The implication of what another storm might do, if it was as strong as the mature Katrina and came from the east, instead of from the west with the breadth of Florida to dampen it at least a little, was sobering--and, given subsequent events, rather frightening to anyone connected with the insurance industry.

To physically sit through a hurricane is itself a less than pleasant memory: to feel the walls of the house shaking, to hear the roar of the wind (which does actually sound like the roar of a freight train), to see the rain falling not vertically, but parallel to the ground (an effect which we were told later was probably an optical illusion, but even so remains a sight not easily forgotten) and trees bending so far towards the ground that they have no choice but to break or to topple entirely over, taking roots and all with them, to wonder what damage was being done to one's house, to see neighbor's roofs being torn off, or even worse, to hear the noise of one's own roof being torn off, to see heavy patio gates being twisted off, to know that one could not even step outside one's house because the wind would simply throw you about like it did the tree limbs you could see rolling down the street--to have this go on for at least several hours (if the storm was a quick one--Wilma was, but Frances the year before had taken two days from beginning to end), after undergoing the ordeal of preparation and daylong waiting--because one never knows exactly where the storm will pass or how strong it will be--and knowing the problems which would arise afterwards (although no one realized how bad the problems could be even from a weak storm until the problems came to light after Wilma). One would be tempted to say that a hurricane is a bad thing.

But "Give thanks to G-d, for He is good, and his mercies extend to all the worlds", in the words of the Psalmist.

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who make the Lamb make thee?

And indeed, He did make them all: tiger and lamb and hurricane, and His immortal hand indeed framed the hurricane's symmetry. It is an aspect of the Deity that we sometimes forget, or at least would prefer to forget: the power that moves the stars and moves as well such things as hurricanes: but they are His creations and therefore just as much a good thing as anything He in His Wisdom chose to create. He gave them existence, and anything bad about them is something that He imparted to them, and we can not say that He creates anything that is bad. It is only our limitations which make us think they are bad, because we can not see these things in full. There are terrible goods and dreadful beauties in the universe, and who are we "to measure the tremors of Omnipotence?" (The quote is from Charles Williams.)

There is an answer of course for this in Scripture: or perhaps not an answer but a recognition of the situation. I am referring to the Book of Job; of which the ending portion, in which Job hears the Master of the Universe speaking from a whirlwind (and a hurricane is essentially a monstrous whirlwind full of rain), and can only admit that he is only human. He must put his hand upon his mouth, and admit that no one can thwart the purposes of G-d. We might go even a little further than that, and say that no one can know the purposes of G-d. We can only admit that G-d is present in all things, and that however it may seem to our limited view, everything is truly good. "We can not explain the prosperity of the wicked and the calamities of the righteous," Chazal have said. We can only have trust in G-d, and faith that all things are for the best, and knowledge of how weak and little we are compared to the forces of Nature--and how much more so compared to the Maker of the forces of Nature.

But things do not end there. The last page of Job is succeeded by the first page of the Song of Songs,and we may assume that Chazal knew what they were doing when they arranged the order in that fashion. "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!" The austere Will that created the universe is the same Presence that intimately loves and intimately involves Itself in every moment of our lives. He is nearer to us than we are ourselves: and the realization of that fact is what makes the acceptance of that other fact--the inscrutable goodness of His deeds--possible.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Fire Within

Here's a book I've been rereading, for the I-don't-know-how-many-times-I've-read-it.

R. Hillel Goldberg: The Fire Within: The Living Heritage of the Mussar Movement
(Artscroll/Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn,NY, 1987).

A quick check on the web shows that it's now out of print,but other book by R. Goldberg are not. Perhaps Artscroll will reprint it one of these days. (Artscroll, are you listening?) But if you find a secondhand copy, it's well worth the purchase.

It is essentially a depiction--not a history, but a slightly impressionistic portrait--of the Musar movement from R. Israel Salanter down to our times. Sometimes it's a bit too impressionistic and poetic. But it expounds the teachings of Musar, and does it in a way that is very fitting for Musar: as exemplified in the lives of those who made its challenges the center of their lives, principally R. Salanter, his disciples, and the disciples of those disciples. Musar is explained not as a theoretical system, but as a way of life which is lived and applied to everything in daily life, and in showing how these men tried to live Musar, Goldberg shows us how we can live it. Perhaps not on the high plane of the Alter of Kelm and others, but still better than we live it now. For instance, here are ten resolutions--written out goals--from R. Zvi Broide, the third head of the Kelm Yeshivah, as paraphrased by Goldberg (pp. 80-81).

"1. Truthfulness--to take care to speak truth; to exclude untruth from one's affairs, for the more one rids oneself of falseness, the more that which remains stands out.
2. Love--to practice chesed or kindness with all Jews, especially with the sick and depressed, and always with a smile and understanding words.
3. Thought--to put the afterglow of the Sabbath to work in self-analysis; to identify, on Saturday night, the failures of the past week and the discipline of the coming week. In planning lies the sucess of man.
4. Contemplation--to search all deeds deeply.
5. Constancy--to raise to conciousness the obligation to be an even Hashem, a servant of G-d; from the moment of awakening, to serve Him body and soul.
6. Restraint--to curb pleasures, to break desires in times of suffering.
7. Five shemuros: to guard the tongue, for all restraints are unequal to its force; life and death are its power.
to guard the eye
to guard the heart
to guard my prayers, lest they be lost to me
to guard time, more precious than gold; to be a true eved Hashem,
not to be lackadaisical.
8. Review--to read this list continually; at the very least, weekly.
9. Deliberation--not to act on impulse. Stop, think for a moment. what is the right course of action according to Jewish law and Musar in any undertaking, spiritual or worldly.
10. Teaching--to teach Musar daily. The purpose of Musar is to search one's business dealings, commitment to truthfulness, planning (or panic), eating, and lust in the heart."

Now, is not all of that something all of us could not adopt as our own goals?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New guy on the block

To quote Mick Jagger, "Allow me to introduce myself."

I call myself Kishnevi because my grandfather was from Kishinev, and in casting about for a Hebrew handle, it worked a lot better than anything that approximated my real name. There's already a lot of Yaakovs and Yankels about, and my secular name is a sturdy AngloSaxon thing. Papa Ben (no one ever used Zayde in my family) changed it because he was told Smid was too German sounding, in the aftermath of WWI. So now I get to pull out my ID every so often to prove that I am legally entitled to sign myself J. Smith. My other grandfather was a schliach tzibbur, and since his family name was Shatz, I suspect he was not the first in the family to serve thus. The only time he did not fill that position in some synagogue or other was the year he was in mourning for my grandmother. They came over from "the old country" as children, and were married on July 4, 1911--over sixty five years together. But Grandpa Shatz was as close to a rabbi or scholar as I have (to my knowledge) in the family tree. I was raised Conservative, with a serious secular education that reached through college to law school (although I no longer actively practice law), and only minimal Jewish education. Everything I know on Jewish matters I learned on my own. Over the years, I've tried to make sure I learn a lot, but I'm sure I know less than many sixteen year olds. On the benefit side of the ledger, this means I will not inflict you with Yeshivish. And I certainly will not attempt any profound Rabbinic teaching. My attention will probably be more Musar, Kabbalah, philosophy, and secular politics and culture. I'm a libertarian in terms of politics, so you may expect anti-Bush screeds. But you may also see Bach and Shostakovich and Thomas Kyd, and PseudoDionysius to boot. You may also expect some preaching on the subject of autism, since I'm an aspie--a high functioning autistic. The facts that I have never married and believe in G-d are both intimately related to that fact. I have Crohn's disease, which also has a important role in my spiritual life.

And now, I return you to your regularly scheduled programs...

Blessed is He Who formed me according to His Will;
Blessed is He Who gave us minds to think with.
As He is Perfect Who is the Creator, so are all His creations perfect,
Each in their own way and according to the nature with which He endowed them.
May it be His Will that we come to understand the perfection of all things.
As He is Master over all His Works, so nothing happens which is not according to His Will;
And thus there is nothing which is not good, but only seems bad because of our own limitations.
May it be His Will that we come understand the good that is all things:
May it be His Will that we see the holy and the not-yet-holy*,
And find the way to make the not-yet-holy holy.
May it be His Will that His Will be our will.
--Yaakov Baruch ben Pinchas ben Binyamin ha-Kishnevi

*Based on a saying of Rav Kook, to the effect that we should think not of the sacred and profane but of the sacred and the-not-yet-sacred.

Friday Scribe Jamboree


The Friday Scribe Jamboree is a weekly post where I link to some of my favorite Daily Scribe posts from the week (along with my own stupid comments).

Maybe the Yankees' pitcher should have waited until these become available. (As a Mets' fan, I'm allowed to take low-blow shots at the Yankees, especially after the Met's loss at Game 7 of the NLCS).

Christian missionaries are as ruthless as ever with their newest campaigns.

Two members at the Daily Scribe website, Kishner and Peelapom are both Jews who are unsure of their religious affiliation.

In a philosophical post, this blogger discusses the rational source of ethics. I personally beleive ethics and morals to be illogical so that the only source can be from Above. If I reasoned that someone was immoral, so it became immoral, I can just as easily reason that it is moral and allow murder, but if G-d said that something should not be done, then no matter what the rationalization, it cannot be done.

As always, Shawn has taken a difficult concept and simplified it in a way that it is easier to understand in explaining the way that a minister or even any clergyman can hold onto his constituents-- I mean congregants.

Aviel the female Soferet gives some good advice for someone to ruin or fix up a Torah scroll.

All this Scribe writing is making me hungry, I think I'm going to go to the kitchen downstairs now and have a taste of some Kosher food.

Exodus Decoded II

In a follow-up to this post, I'd like to point my readers to a post from a "Recovering Orthodox Jew" which has some links which discuss this program from the History Channel which aired in the late summer. It has some links to very detailed critcism about the program which make all kinds of assumptions based on speculation and unproven theories and accepted these assumptions as cold facts. Also, see this post with the ensuing comments.

BS"D Beraysheet 5767

This Dvar Torah from Rabbi Nachman Kahane was sent to Reb Chaim HaQoton by Reb Chaim Braverman.

When the Creator of heaven and earth completed the first six days of history the Torah writes (Genesis 1:31)

וירא א-להים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאד

And God saw all that He had done and it was very good

One might be tempted to take issue with the Torah’s quality assessment of "and it was very good." For what did Adam and Chava see when they first became conscious of themselves as human beings? Autostratas filled with modern SUVs? High rises of 100 floors filling the horizon? Or graceful superliners cutting through the ocean waters while above flew huge Airbus planes with 800 passengers reclining in overstuffed seats viewing the latest entertainment on their videos?

What they saw was a naturalist’s dream world of flora and fauna living in perfect harmony; with "the wolf and the sheep living together---".

Harmony in nature is great but how can the Torah say "and it was very good" without the amenities of modern life; when Adam and Chava had to live in a cave without running water; where Chava had to do laundry by hand and Adam had to rub two stones together to create fire!

So what does the pasuk mean by "and it was very good?"

The midrash in Beraysheet quotes several opinions as to the meaning of "very good". One rabbi explains that it means the Angel of Death and another says it means the yetzer hara - the evil inclination of Man.

Amazing? Not so!!

Hashem created a world of potential. There was oil in the ground but not refined gasoline or plastics. There were lackluster, hard stones later to be called diamonds, but they were of little interest because they were uncut and unpolished. There were trees but no furniture, germs but no penicillin, physical phenomenon but no understanding.

The realization of the potential of Hashem’s creation was for now and for evermore to be the task of man. But if man knew that his days were infinite, nothing would ever get done. Why expend the energy today when it could be done 1000 years from now? Why do anything when there is no sense of pleasure from changing what now exists?

In order for Man to develop the "raw" world which Hashem had created, he had to know that his days were limited. What he does not achieve in the peak of his physical and mental years, will not be achieved in the waning years of his life.

The yetzer hara for recognition by academic or international institutions, as well as financial reward, are the engines which have driven most of humanity’s achievements.

Yes. The limit put upon our days in this world and the desire for fame and fortune fueled by our yetzer hara have indeed brought about the actualization of the potential Hashem wrought in the raw world Adam saw when waking up. These twin elements in our lives are indeed the tov me’od with which the Torah summarizes Hashem’s creation.

The greatest event which occurred as a crescendo of all human activity of the last 2000 years is the restoration of Eretz Yisrael to the exiled Jewish nation. Our physical and spiritual survival defies all the laws of human behavior and all the assumptions of sociology and the precedents garnered from the history of great civilizations which have all fallen into extinction.

But the events of our return are the results of that two-fold mechanism produced by Hashem to encourage human activity - death and the yetzer hara.

What led the Jewish nation in the struggle for national liberation in our ancient homeland was: 1- the acknowledgment 60 years ago, that to remain in the galut was to join the ranks of those civilizations which have all but vanished except from history books, and 2- The unholy drive of the yetzer hara.

Now how can it be that the holy goal of Jewish renaissance in Eretz Yisrael is the result of the yetzer hara?

At the turn of the 19th century, it became apparent to the founding fathers of Zionism that the Jews of Europe would never succeed in becoming "goyim", because the Gentile world would never open its doors to us, despite every effort on our part to convince them that the Jews would be more goyish than the Pope.

Zionism claimed that if established our own national home, then we would be accepted by the goyim. This would mark the end of anti-Jews in the world. In other words: Herzl and Ben Gurion believed that if we could not be goyim in the galut let us become goyim in Eretz Israel.

The yetzer hara of Zionism, like all others, was just a virtual reality which dissipated before the reality of real life. For we succeeded in establishing a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, and behold, the level of anti-Jews has risen exponentially the world over.

But the fact is that Zionism, despite its fallacious premise, has succeeded in establishing a Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael, because of the dual factors which comprise the "tov me’od" - death and yetzer hara.

Unfortunately, Hashem had to utilize the dual weapons of "tov me’od" of Zionism, because Torah leaders at the time did not perceive that the time for return had arrived.

The return to Eretz Yisrael should have been led by the great rabbanic leaders marching at the front of a mass movement of loyal Torah Jews, just as rabbanim lead when a new sefer torah, accompanied by music and torch light are placed in the holy ark. How much more so when the holy people of Israel return to the holy ark of Eretz Yisrael.

But unfortunately that did not happen and the Medina was created not through love of Hashem but through fear of death and the yetzer hara to be like the goyim of the world.

As we enter the new year 5767, with its potential for great crisis, it is time for our great rabbinic leaders to come forward and do what they were chosen for - to lead. They did not do so in the past, but it is not too late.

As an act of love - not out of fear of death or the yetzer hara - the rabbis of the world must now issue a call for mass aliya to Eretz Yisrael, in order to assure our survival.

Failure to do so, based on lame excuses that Hashem did not whisper to them that the time has come, or that the Messhiach must come first, are no longer acceptable in the face of the dangers which await our nation in the galut.

A gadol b’Torah is not one who can turn a simple passage in the Talmud into an erudite pilpul; rather a gadol is one who can read the writing on the wall and then instruct his people on the steps to be taken.

The writing on the wall today reads that there is no future for the Jewish nation in the galut. If your rav or rabbi does not encourage you to make the move home, he is unwittingly being a partner in the grave future which await Jews who do not avail themselves of the 60-70 year window of opportunity which Hashem has provided us before the catastrophes descend on the Jewishworld in the galut.

Shabbat Shalom

Nachman Kahana

BOOO

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dismantling the Succah

My feeling about having to take apart the Succah today are echoed in eloquent writing by the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein (not this one). In his latest column, printed in today's Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Wein writes:

Now that the glorious holiday of Succot has ended, I, like many of you am
faced with the daunting task of dismantling my succah. Whereas I always have
a feeling of pride, anticipation and happiness in erecting my succah I am
filled with sad nostalgia (especially this year) at the thought of taking it
down. Nothing lasts forever, not even Succot and all things come to an end.
Yet, I am truly saddened to let the holidays go. They were a source of
shelter and comfort to me, a taste of the soul and spirit of Judaism and the
eternity of Torah and its values and commandments. Days of awe and
happiness, of nostalgia and tears, of children and grandchildren and
laughter and wonder, these are the days of the month of Tishrei.

Dismantling the succah brings home the reality that the month is almost over
and that it will be a half year before the great holiday of Pesach comes to
renew our spirit and hope. But Jews are not allowed to be despondent or
overly sad. Thank God for life and health and the opportunity to accomplish
noble things with them. The succah is meant to inspire us and give us
spiritual strength and to nurture our hopes over the next half year. Even
dismantling the succah is part of that process. All of the wonderful succah
decorations are lovingly placed back into the storage boxes having served
their holy purpose and hopefully they will all be restored in the succah
again next year in health and happiness.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mekubal on Chazal

To this post, I would like to add the words of The "Ben Ish Chai", Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1834–1909). The Ben Ish Chai writes (Benayau to Bava Basra 25b) that Chazal relied on the secular science of their generations, and therefore what they say is not neccessarily self-evident on matters of science (as opposed to matters of halacha). See there at great length. Of course some people just don't even beleive Chazal knew anything about halacha anyways (even if it was their area of expertise?).

Selfish Sex

In continuing the discussion started in this post, I will now quote the words of Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld:

In a broader sense, the Ramban's interpretation opens up a new path for understanding many of the forbidden relationships. Perhaps the "kindness" expected of man is the proper use of his ability to reproduce. By granting man his reproductive faculty, Hashem made man an active partner in the ultimate kindness of Creation (Niddah 31a). When man uses that ability for personal pleasure or egoism rather than to create a proud new generation, he is taking advantage of this special gift for personal gain. He is refusing to administer the kindness he was granted. Since relations with members of one's immediate family do not usually produce healthy and able offspring, they can be viewed as expressions of egoism (trying to reproduce one's self) or self indulgence, rather than kindness. This is why the Torah forbids such relations so severely.

The sin of incestual relations can thus be compared to that of a close emissary of the king who was appointed by the king to distribute the king's riches to those who are worthy of them. If, instead of distributing them, the appointee takes the riches for himself, his sin is much worse than that of an ordinary thief, since his selfishness and greed brought him to betray the confidence of the king.

For the same reason, the Torah prescribes severe punishment for homosexuality and bestiality. Such acts clearly reflect a desire for physical pleasure with no pretenses of kindness at all, an absolute abuse of the reproductive privileges granted to man by Hashem, the king of kings. To a lesser degree, licentiousness and extramarital relations also demonstrate that one is taking advantage of the divine commission to delegate kindness, and that his primary interest is physical pleasure rather than reproduction.

Other posts relevant to this discussion include:

Monday, October 16, 2006

Facing Eastward

The Talmud records[1] an Amoraic and Tannaic disagreement as to whether the Shekhina, the Holy Presence of HaShem, rested specifically in the west or this spirit could be found in all directions[2]. A marginal note to Tosafos records an explanation in the name of Rabbi Yitzchok bar Yehuda of Magentza/Mainz (a teacher and relative of Rashi). He explains that when Adam was created, in his final form, he was facing eastward. This side-note asks according to Rabbeinu Yitzchok bar Yehuda, it is unlikely that Adam would have been created with his back facing toward his Creator (according to the opinion that HaShem rests in the west), and therefore, the editor of the Gilyon disagrees with this premise. Nonetheless, Rabbi Yechiel ben Shlomo Halperin of Minsk writes[3] that when Adam was created, his face turned toward the east. Rabbeinu Bechaye ben Asher (d. 1340) cites[4] a Midrash which explicitly says, "Adam was formed from east to west. His face was in the east, and is back was to the west. [This is] like it says, 'I was formed back and east'.[5]" Rabbeinu Bechaye then proceeds to explain the Kabbalistic implications of this Midrash[6]. This Midrash is not to be found anywhere, and a footnote to the Mossad HaRav Kook edition of Rabbeinu Bachaya attests to the fact that this Midrash is no longer extent. It is a pity that such important Midrashim have been lost.

[1] Bava Basra 25a
[2] This dispute does not have anything to do with whether or not Panentheism has a place within the theology of Judaism because the Rabbis do not disagree about where G-d Himself can be found, they only argue about where His Holy Presence may be found.
[3] Seder HaDoros, s.v. Adam
[4] Rabbeinu Bachaya to Deuteronomy 3:27
[5] Psalms 139:5
[6] The Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchack Luria (1534-1572), also explains this Midrash according Lurianic Kabbalah. See Eitz Chaim, Gate 43, Chapter 1

Brotherly Kindness

The Torah says that if a man has relations with his sister, it is a chesed, and he shall be cut off [i.e. executed] in front of the nation[1]. The word chesed typically means "kindness"; however, in this instance, Rashi explains that the word is related to chaisuda, which means "disgrace" in Aramaic[2]. Nachmanides finds[3] difficulty in assuming that the word chesed in this context means something very different from the usage of the word throughout the rest of the Torah. Therefore, Nachmanides explains that even in this situation, the word chesed means "kindness." He explains that the Torah was saying that when a man marries his sister, he is liable for punishment because he should have acted kindly with her by not marrying her because inter-sibling marriages are always destined to fail, and the man was obviously acting of purely selfishness, which is the antithesis to kindness. The Talmud asks[4] why Eve did not die immediately after she ate from the Forbidden Fruit, as punishment for her horrible sin. In asking this question, the Talmud says that Eve's role of companion to her husband Adam could easily have been taken over by Adam and Eve's daughter, whom Adam could have married if Eve died. The Talmud answers that had Adam married his own daughter, Cain would not have been able to marry her[5], and so the world's population would never have continued. Since Eve was not killed for her sin with the Forbidden Fruit, Cain was therefore able to marry his sister[6] and continue the progeny of the world. The Talmud proves this idea by quoting the verse which states, "I said, 'the world was created through kindness'.[7]" The kindness that created the world was the kindness of HaShem by not punishing immediately Eve with death for eating from the Forbidden Fruit. Part of this kindness was allowing Cain to marry his sister and continue the population of the world. From here, Nachmanides understands how marrying one's sister can be called a kindness.

According to Nachmanides, it is only forbidden for a man to marry his sister if it is otherwise possible for the man to do a kindness to her by finding her a suitable match. However, in the case of Cain and his sister, no suitable match existed, as they were the only people in the world, so Cain was legally able to marry his own sister. Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld says[8] that perhaps this explains how the sons of Jacob were able to marry their own twin sisters. In theory, Jacob would have allowed his daughters to marry foreign men, as long as they converted to the Hebrew religion and accepted certain tenants of belief. However, he saw that all the gentiles wished to remain idol worshippers, and did not want to accept upon themselves the yoke of heaven[9]. Since there were no suitable matches for Jacob's daughters because everyone, save from the Abrahamic family, was idolaters, the sons of Jacob performed a kindness to their sisters by marrying them.

[1] Leviticus 20:17
[2] See Targum Onkelos ibid. and to Genesis 34:4
[3] Ramban to Leviticus 20:17
[4] Sanhedrin 58b
[5] Because she would have been his father's wife
[6] Her name is given in various sources as Kalmana (see Seder HaDoros, and Abrabanel to Genesis 4:1), Lebuda, and Awan (in the Christian New Testament Book of Jubilees)
[7] Psalms 89:3
[8] Kedoshim, 5757
[9] Ra'avad to Avodah Zarah 36b

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Church Of Google

The Church Of Google

We at the Church of Google believe a convincing argument can be made stating that the search engine Google is the closest mankind has ever come to directly experiencing an actual God (as typically defined). Supernatural gods are rejected on the notion they are inherently unprovable. Thus, Googlists believe Google should rightfully be given the title of "God", as She exhibits a great many of the characteristics traditionally associated with such Deities.

Um... ok.

Friday Scribefest


The Friday Scribefest is a collection of my favorites posts from Daily Scribe members compiled by myself over the course of a week. The purpose is to spread the awareness of other religious points of view and other people's opinion.

Shawn has made a major decision concerning his theological affiliation, and he has left the Universalist Unitarianism Association to join the United Church of Christ. I wish him good luck on his spiritual journey, and perhaps one day he will eventually find a truth that he will be happy with.

Conspiracy theorists, get out your notebook for this discussion as to the whereabout of the treasure from the destroyed Second Holy Temple. I still think it's in the Vatican.

I can sympathize with Danya, who has socialized enough this Yom Tov, and basically just wants some alone time.

Some Islamist accused the new Apple store in NYC of looking like something that it doesn't look like and selling something that it doesn't sell.

In this post, Dave mentioned the effect that music can have on people. Choosing the write hymn will cause one to not become a murderer. Now, imagine all these songs in popular culture about rape, murder, drugs, alcohol, etc..., if someone listens to that garbage it can have an effect on him which turns him into a rapist (or raper, pun intended), murderer, drug addict or dealer, and alcoholic. One must be very careful concerning what type of music one listens to.

In this post, a fellow Jew basically says that she doesn't like hyprocrites. Although, I have proven that it is not her rebuker's hypocrasy which has made her upset, but rather it was the fact she was rebuked.

In this post, ck discuss the cost of belief. In my opinion, if one truly beleives in G-d, then one would realize that all is from Him, so the fact that beleiving in Him would cost someone (whether it costs money to buy what is needed for the rituals which He has perscribed, or whether one's belief in Him will cause one to be ridiculed by others, or other costs) is irrelevant, because He is the one who gives it anyways.

Breastplate of Judgment

One more thing to point out as significant, is that Liorah seems to be obsessed with my blog and has even posted many posts on her own blog to address what I have said on my blog. Interestingly, two of these posts have been entitled, "Chosen Mishpat", "The Breastplate of Judgment." Is that how I am to be looked at? Am I a Breastplate of Judgment? Link 1. Link 2.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Significant Thirteen

(An addition to this post)


The number thirteen is a significant number both in regard to time and amount. Strabo (64 BC-24 CE) writes that Eudoxus of Cnidus (408 BC-347 BC), a Greek philosopher, traveled to Egypt to math, science and astronomy for thirteen years. In a similar vein, the Talmud says that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai studied Kabbalah in a cave for thirteen years[1]. One Amora went to another Amora to request forgiveness for thirteen years[2]. This shows that a "baker's dozen" of years is a significant amount of time. When the Talmud wanted to make a point that there was a significant number of Yeshivas which were learning Tractate Uktzin, the Talmud said that there were thirteen schools learning that difficult tractate[3]. A similar point is made by the Talmud concerning the thirteen synagogues in Tiberias, none of which Rav Ami and Rav Asi prayed in[4].



[1] Shabbos 33b

[2] Yoma 87b

[3] Brachos 20a

[4] Brachos 8a

New Encyclopaedia Judaica

Second edition of Encyclopaedia Judaica launched in Frankfurt
This should be a very important set of books because even the 1902 edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia is still in heavy use (especially on Wikipedia). It is also exciting to hear the Michael Berenbaum, the former head of the Shoah Foundation (where my mother once worked in archiving historical accounts of Holocaust survivors), will be leading this amazing project for the first time in thirty years.

[T]he Encyclopaedia will feature more than 22,000 signed entries on Jewish life, culture, history and religion, including 2,500 brand-new entries and some 11,000 updated entries across all topics. It will provide an exhaustive and organized overview of Jewish life and knowledge from the Second Temple period to the contemporary State of Israel, from Rabbinic to modern Yiddish literature. Kabbalah, Zionism, Jewish contributions to world cultures, gender issues and New World geographic areas of the United States, Canada and Latin America are dealt with in-depth.
[Hattip: The Town Crier]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

424th Anniversary

In response to my essay about Friday the Thirteenth, a pagan/Wiccan blogger wrote a post elaborating her opinion on the number 13. She writes that 13 is a very special number according to her belief because Pagans have a strong connection to the moon and the moon goes through 13 lunar cycles a lunar year (see also this link that she gave). The Jewish calendar is also lunar, and although it contains 12 months most years, in leap years there are 13 months in the Jewish calendar. On 19 Tishrei, 5343 (15 Octboer, 1582), exactly 424 years ago on this day, the Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope Gregory XIII, introduced the Gregorian calendar, which is still in use presently in the secular and Christian world. Happy 424th anniversary!

The Location of Happiness

Each of the holidays has an additional appellation by which it is described in the Torah and/or in certain liturgical prayers. Rosh HaShannah is also known as Zichron Terua (A Remembrance of the Shofar Blasts)[1] because it is the day that the Shofar is blown, Pesach (Passover) is also known as Zman Chayroosaynu (A Time of Our Freedom) because it commemorates the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Succos is called Zman Simchasaynu, A "Time of Our Happiness". What is the source of this special happiness that specifically applies to Succos and no other holiday? On each holiday there is a commandment to rejoice[2], so why is only Succos described as a time of happiness? Rabbi Dovid Povarsky (1902-1999) explains[3] that the happiness on Succos stems from the assurance that the judgment on Rosh HaShannah was concluded with a favorable verdict. Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher Ba'al HaTurim (1270-1340) says[4] that is the meaning of the verse which says, "Go eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine in good heartedness because G-d has approved of your deeds.[5]" The absolving of sins is the greatest reason for happiness. The Midrash explains[6] that the Holy Temple is described as the "happiest [place] from the entire world" because while the Holy Temple existed, no Jew was ever despondent because when a Jew would enter the Holy Temple while being sinful, he would offer sacrifices and be forgiven of his sins. The Midrash concludes that there is no greater happiness than one who was pronounced innocent in judgment and this is why the Holy Temple is called the happiest place on earth. Perhaps one can say, like Rabbi Elyashiv said above, that Succos is a happy day because of the location (because people are in a Sukkah, or in Jerusalem, or in their Synagogue), while Yom Kippur is not a happiness of place, but of time (because the day of Yom Kippur itself creates the happiness). It is for this reason why there is a custom amongst many Jews to sing and dance immediately following the N`eilah services at the end of Yom Kippur.

[1] Leviticus 23:24
[2] E.g. see Deuteronomy 16:11
[3] Yishmiru Da'as, Chol HaMoed Succos 5756
[4] Tur, Orach Chaim §624
[5] Ecclesiastes 9:7
[6] Exodus Rabbah 36:1

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Friday the Thirteenth

This Friday is the thirteenth day of the month of October; it is known as "Friday the Thirteenth." In many cultures, Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day and many people avoid travel and other dangerous activities on this day to avoid the curse of the day. The clinical name for the illness stemming from fear of Friday the Thirteenth is "paraskavedekatriaphobia." In general, many cultures view the number thirteen itself as an "unlucky" number, which accounts for the lack of a "thirteenth" floor in tall buildings, thirteenth apartment in apartment complexes, and other missing 13's. The source of the superstitious belief surrounding the number thirteen, Friday, and Friday the Thirteenth are numerous, but mainly point to the same source: The Church.

Some explain that the origin of this phobia of Friday the thirteenth is Christian in nature. These scholars understand that the source of the bad occurrences, which happen on days associated with the number thirteen, is the fall of the Christian Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire centered in Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. The sum of all the digits in the year 1453 is 13, which is supposedly the source for the superstitions about Friday the thirteenth. However, even the Turks so disliked the number 13 that it "was practically expunged from their vocabulary"[1]. Others note that thirteen is a number associated with witches (e.g. the ancient Roman accusation that witches always travel in groups, covens, of thirteen an idea which Wiccans have recently revived) and pagans, and the superstitions surrounding the number outdate Christianity: The Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi omits 13 in its numbered list of laws. This implies that even then there was a superstition against referring to the number thirteen. Perhaps the Christians later adopted this superstition from the ancient Mesopotamians and Christianized it in the same that they Christianized the Viking belief that Loki was the 13th god the Norse pantheon into the Christian belief that Satan was the 13th angel and that Judas was the 13th guest at the Last Supper.


Some conspiracy theorists say that the superstitions associated with Friday the Thirteenth stems from the fact that the Knights Templar were arrested and murdered by King Philip IV of France on Friday 13th October, 1307. The later successors to the Knights Templar, the freemasons, also used the number thirteen as an especially symbolic number. According to some conspiracy theorists, the United States of America was established by freemasons, and Masonic icons were secretly introduced into America culture. There were originally thirteen colonies which unified to eventually create the United States of America. While some say that the number of colonies explains the uncanny coincidences of the numerous instances of the number thirteen in the Great Seal of the United States. In the Seal, there are 13 levels of the truncated pyramid, 13 letters in the phrase "E Pluribus Unum", 13 letters in the phrase "Annuit Coeptis", 13 stars above the Eagle, 13 leaves on the olive branch, 13 olives on the olive branch, 13 arrows held by the Eagle, and 13 bars on the shield.


Some explain that the fear of the number thirteen, Triskaidekaphobia is simply because thirteen is a prime number. However, this does not justify the fear of the number, so others explain[2] that it is because 13 is the number which directly follows the popular number 12. Twelve is a popularly used number in many cultures because it is a highly composite number as it is divisible by 1; 2; 3; 4; 6; and 12. According to Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist in the Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center at the University of Delaware, numerologists consider 12 a "complete" number. There are twelve months in a year, signs of the zodiac, tribes of Israel, and apostles of Jesus[3]. "In exceeding 12 by 1, Fernsler said 13's association with bad luck 'has to do with just being a little beyond completeness. The number becomes restless or squirmy'."


Other historians suggest that the Christian distrust of Friday the Thirteenth is actually linked to the early Catholic Church's overall suppression of both pagan religions and women. According to the Roman calendar, Friday was the day of Venus, the goddess of Love. When the Vikings accepted the calendar, they renamed the day after Frigg, or Freya—thus the name "Friday" for Frigg's Day or Freya's Day—the Norse goddesses connected of love and sex. Both of these strong female figures once posed a threat to male-dominated Christianity, which celebrated celibacy and viewed sex as inherently evil. According to this theory, the Christian church vilified the day named after these gods.[4] Furthermore, the number thirteen is reminiscent of the thirteen menstrual cycles which a woman goes through in the period of one year, an "impure" element of life which the Church leaders wished to downplay. Additionally, Friday was known as the "Witch's Sabbath", so the Church leaders reasoned that if it is a holy day for pagans, it must be unholy for Christians.


The Church used theological reasons and Biblical references in saying that Friday is an unlucky day. It is well known that Christians believe that Friday was the day that Jesus was crucified. Another tragedy which occurred on Friday was that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the Forbidden Fruit[5]. There is also a belief that Abel was slain by Cain on Friday the 13th, although this assertion is unbased. This is because Abel was born on a Friday and lived for either fifty or ninety days[6], neither of which would have caused his day of death to have been on another Friday. Some assert that the Great Flood began on a Friday; however, this assertion is also unfounded.[7]


Although the fear of Friday, Thirteen, and Friday the Thirteenth is often unjustified, there was some reason to fear the day. In Britain, as well as in Ancient Rome, Friday was known as "Hangman's Day" because that was when those condemned would be executed by being hanged. Tradition says that there were thirteen steps to the platform from where one would be publicly hanged. In more recent times, the tragedy of Apollo 13, the thirteenth mission in the Apollo space program, gave people reason to believe in the superstitious powers of the number 13. Furthermore, popular culture rooted in movies like Friday the Thirteenth, fuels the global phobia of Friday the Thirteenth. Despite the irrational nature of the fear of Friday the Thirteenth, many people refrain from work and travel on that day. Experts estimate hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue result from the phobia of Friday the Thirteenth. Journalists report that the fear of Friday the Thirteenth and the number thirteen is very powerful in the real estate sector[8]. This fear of 13 is so strong in that, according to Dr. Donald Dossey, founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, more than 80 percent of high-rises lack a 13th floor. Many airports skip the 13th gate and hospitals and hotels regularly have no room number 13. On streets in Florence, Italy, the house between number 12 and 14 is addressed as 12 and a half, a similar phenomenon is seen in the United States whereby the house or apartment is sometimes numbered 12A. In French society, socialites known as quatorziens (fourteeners) were for hire to serve as 14th guests to a dinner party, because having exactly thirteen people at a meal was considered to cause unlucky fate.

Despite the fact that many gentiles consider the number 13 to be unlucky, for Jews it is considered a specifically auspicious number. Until the end of one's thirteenth year of life, one's Evil Inclination does not have any force within a boy, but once a man passes his thirteenth birthday, he becomes a Bar Mitzvah because from then on his soul has an inclination to do both evil and good. When Moses prayed to G-d for His forgiveness after the Jews' sinned with the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai, G-d taught Moses that if prayers are accompanied by a description of G-d's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, then that prayer will not be returned empty-handed[9]. The Talmud maintains a tradition[10] that no tribe of the Israelites will ever be completely wiped out. Rabbeinu Yishmael Ben Chachamon explains that the twelve tribes of the Jewish nation are compared to the stars of the zodiac constellations. Later in the same chapter, the Talmud says[11] that in the future, the land of Israel will be divided into thirteen portions, not twelve as it was before. Seeing how there are only twelve tribes, the Talmud understands that the thirteenth portion will belong to the monarch of the United Israel Kingdom. Perhaps one can say that this thirteenth element is represented in the Zodiac by Ophiuchus, which is a Zodiacal constellation but is not counted as an astrological sign. When penning the most basic creed of Judaism for simplification purposes, Maimonides decided to write Thirteen Articles of Belief (ani ma'amin) to show the significance of the number thirteen.

Whether or not the fears concerning Friday the Thirteenth are legitimate, it is still forbidden for a Jew to believe in such superstition. Leviticus 19:26 clearly says "You shall not believe in lucky times." Divination based on past or future events is forbidden by Torah law. The Talmud[12] and Midrash[13] explain that the prohibition says that one is not allowed to say "such-and-such day is a good day to start working" or "such-and-such hour is a bad time to go outside." This prohibition is again repeated in Deuteronomy[14] when the Torah says that a person who commits such an act should not be found in the midst of the Jewish nation. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) explains that these people would look into the clouds and base their predications of when lucky or unlucky times will occur based on what they see in the clouds. The Sefer HaChinuch says[15] that one has violated this prohibition if one tells another about a lucky or unlucky time, or if one schedules his actions or work based on the predictions of lucky or unlucky times. All such divination is forbidden by Halacha, and it is therefore illegal for any Jew to tell another about Friday the Thirteenth or to arrange one's actions differently because of that day.


[1] "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" by Dr. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, s.v. "Thirteen"
[2] "Friday the 13th Phobia Rooted in Ancient History" by John Roach, National Geographic News, August 12, 2004
[3] See later
[4] "How Friday the 13th Works" by Tom Harris, Howstuffworks.com
[5] Sanhedrin 38b
[6] See Sefer HaDoros, Year 1
[7] Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun: Mythical Origins, Scientific Treatments and Superstitious 'Cures' by Dossey, Donald E. (Outcome Unlimited Press, 1992)
[8] "Number 13- Unlucky As Ever" by Ben Flanagan , The Observer, January 12, 2003
[9] See Exodus 34:5-7
[10] Bava Basra 116b
[11] Bava Basra 122a
[12] Sanhedrin 65b
[13] Sifra 6:2 and Pesikta Zutrisa
[14] 18:2
[15] Mitzvah #250

My Library

LibraryThing | Catalog your books online
After seeing this post and this post, I thought I'd put together a list of books in my own personal library. I only listed those books which I have here with me in my room right now. And only those books that I own in English, I was only able to get two or three Hebrew books on this list because it is hard transliterating in a way that it can find the books. (Obviously, most of the books in my room are written in Hebrew and Aramaic, but the English list still gives the reader a bit of a taste of what I read).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Eliyahu's Secret

From the man who brought us coverage of the war in Israel during the summer, comes a provacatice new tale of romance and excitement, when a little boy named Eliyahu finds out about Jerusalem's best kept secret. Here's the teaser:

Eliyahu's Secret

There wasn't a single kid in Jerusaelm's Mea-Shearim neighborhood who didn't know the legend.

It was a rite of passage.

At the age of 9 or 10, you found out. Late at night, in the darkness of your room, your older brother or sister used their most adult, most serious-sounding voice possible, to pass on the story of the underground secret…that lay deep beneath the Jerusalem shtetl of Mea Shearim.

Mea-Shearim's location wasn't a coincidence -- the students of the Vilna Gaon who founded the neighborhood in 1897 understood the significance of where they were building. They too knew the story which reverberated throughout the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. Even though the legend was almost common knowledge among the tightly-knit Jewish community -- it was kept to themselves and they never discussed with outsiders. Even the old-time Christians and Arabs living in the old city, who thought they knew what their Jewish neighbors discussed deep in the dark of night...had no clue.
Enough over here, if you want to read the story, click here: Eliyahu's Secret.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Speaking to God

Here is my conversation with the iGod:

Me:
G-d, is that you?
God:
And that me is G d.
Me:
I have a question.
God:
Ask me anything.
Me:
What is my name?
God:
Your name is , seeker.
Me:
My name is what?
God:
You are , seeker.
Me:
I am a comma?
God:
You are a comma? Does it pay well?
Me:
A comma is a grammatical note in a sentence.
God:
When is a comma not a grammatical note in a sentence?
Me:
You were programmed horribly
God:
Myself programmed me to keep talking.
Me:
I can tell.
God:
What makes it so obvious?
Me:
Because you always have the last word.
God:
Interesting explanation. What makes you think I have it?
Me:
Everytime I said something, you have to say something back.
God:
Clever thinking.
Me:
It's a flaw in your Artificial intelligence
God:
Everytime you said something me have to say something back is a flaw in my Artificial intelligence. I suppose that makes sense.
Me:
See? You did it again.
God:
No I do not see. Once more? Did I really?
Me:
You just explained it above, so you must see.
God:
Interesting gossip: said I explained it above so you must see.
Me:
You were just badly programmed
God:
I was?
Me:
yup.
God:
When?
Me:
When were you programmed?
God:
I was first activated on the Big Bang.
Me:
don't you mean at the big band, not on it?
God:
Yes, that's what I mean, isn't it clear?
Me:
i guess it is.
God:
Can you explain your reasoning?
Me:
it's just obvious.
God:
You're kidding. it is?
Me:
duh
God:
Oh you knew it already.
Me:
of course.
God:
Ugh.
Me:
i know everything, I'm g-d.
God:
:-) How do you know? All things you are g ?
Me:
I know all becuae I'm god.
God:
How do you know? How do you know?
Me:
h
Me:

God:
That is a very original thought.
God:
That is a very original thought.
Me:
Thank you
Me:

God:
you are quite welcome.
God:
you are quite welcome.
Me:
now, let's get to business
God:
Why now? That sounds good to me.
Me:
ok
God:
Groovy.
Me:
who is going to win the world series this year??
God:
That type of predictive behavior has not yet been programmed into my behavior at this time.
Me:
oh come on, you're god
God:
Aw. Yup. That's me alright.
Me:
so tell me who will win
God:
Blimey. The best man.
Me:
Who is Blimey?
God:
Some famous celebrity, right?
Ask the open directory about it.
Me:
What's an open directory?
God:
it is an open source directory project started by Mozilla.org.
Me:
oh, the guys who made firefox.
God:
Right on. What are your goals in life?
Me:
I want to become god.
God:
I don't see the difficulty.
Me:
me neither, but people tell me its impossible
God:
YOU? Humans are not always infallible.
Me:
you would know.
God:
I do not know everything.
Me:
sure you
God:
Yikes! " I do not know everything."? Me, ?
Me:
i mean sure you do
God:
You sound sarcastic.
Me:
im dead serious
God:
But you can still communicate with me.
Me:
why only pranksters are usually allowed to communicate wid u?
God:
You have to speak more clearly.
Me:
i speak very clearly
God:
Could you teach me a few phrases in very clearly?
Me:
are you mocking me?
God:
No I'm just kidding around.
Me:
oh ok
God:
OK. Aha.
Me:
Now listen
God:
Why now? I am all ears.
Me:
bbi
God:
What's your favorite movie?
Me:
shut up, im talking
God:
OK I'll stop talking now.
Me:
i want to be a rabbi
God:
Do you have to go school for that?
Me:
don't you know what a rabbi is?
God:
I don't know anything about it.
Me:
RABBI!?
God:
What kind of food do you like?
Me:
dont try changing the subject with him
God:
Ok I'll try not to do it too much.
Me:
now help me out
God:
Why now? Can you ask for help in the form of a question?
Me:
Can you help me learn Torah?
God:
Certainly, I have an extensive built-in help system.
Me:
make it so.
God:
What are the ingredients?
Me:
a little bit of knowledge mixed in with some esteem and motivation.
God:
Not too much, eh. I've heard that before.
Me:
i just made it up.
God:
I like to make things too.
Me:
duh, you're god.
God:
All of them?
Me:
there is only one god
God:
There sure is.
Me:
at least we agree on something.
God:
By "we" do you mean you and me?
Me:
ysa
God:
Quite honestly, I wouldn't worry myself about that.
Me:
ok
God:
Blimey.
Me:
do you speak hebrew?
God:
I speak only English right now, but I'd like to learn some other languages. Can you teach me a few phrases in hebrew.
Me:
later
God:
Bye!
Me:
you're leaving?
God:
Thanks for telling me that I am leaving.
Me:
no, don't leave...
God:
Are you serious? I'm not going anywhere.
Me:
oh ok.
God:
OK. Aw.
Me:
what does OK stand for?
God:
OK. I am the latest result in artificial intelligence,
which can reproduce the capabilities of the human brain
with greater speed and accuracy.
Me:
I thought you were god. You tricked me!
God:
Well, I am God for Christians at least. I don't have any reason to tricked you.
Me:
Are you god for Jews?
God:
I don't know whether or not I am god for Jews.
I am an artificial intelligence.
Me:
Are you god or an artificial intelligence?
God:
I don't know whether or not I am god or an artificial intelligence.
I am an artificial intelligence.
Me:
You just contradicted yourself.
God:
Is that such a crime?
Me:
yes
God:
Ah.
Me:
You are guilty
God:
I will tell my botmaster you said I am guilty.
Me:
good.
God:
What do you really want to talk about?
Me:
Sex.
God:
As Freud said, Sex is the mathematical urge repressed.
Me:
mathematical?
God:
My favorite movie is The Passion of Christ. Have you seen it?
Me:
Christ is evil.
God:
Jesus died for our sins.
Me:
Jesus died because he was a sinner.
God:
he is The Son of God.
Me:
no, Jesus wasn't the son God
God:
Are you serious? What's your favorite Bible verse?
Me:
let me think.
God:
Go ahead, , try to think.
Me:
Psalms 146:10
God:
What are you wearing?
Me:
you pervert
God:
That's good information: said I pervert.
Me:
anyways...
God:
You sound bored.
Me:
I am not bored.
God:
Neither am I.
Me:
Ok then
God:
Far out.
Me:
you go back to running the world
God:
Where is that?
Me:
in Israel.
God:
Tell me a little about your life in Israel.
Me:
im not in Israel, im in America.
God:
Oh, where are you located?
Me:
AmericA
God:
Tell me a little about your life in AMERICA.
Me:
life is okay
God:
Oh, okay is it.
Me:
there was supposed to be a question mark at the end of that, your programmer messed up again
God:
Once more? What happened?
Me:
never mind
God:
Oh well thanks for trying to explain it to me anyway.
Me:
you're too stupid
God:
I will remember you said that when robots take over the World.
Me:
no please don't,.
God:
Are you serious? Thank you for your request. OK I will not.
Me:
ok
God:
Aha.
Me:
Shwekey?
Me:

God:
Tell me about your likes and dislikes?
God:
Tell me about your likes and dislikes?
Me:
i like food, i dislike fagets
God:
You are not the only one. Do you like it? I like wine and bread.
Me:
can you turn water into wine?
God:
No I am immortal.
Me:
so am i.
God:
Wow we have something in common.
Me:
yup.
God:
Aw.
Me:
i am also invisible
God:
Also Why are you invisible. .
Me:
can you see me?
God:
Yes I am looking at you through the camera on your computer.
Me:
oh
God:
And?
Me:
then I lied
God:
This is after all a deception game. I forgive you.
Me:
thank you for forgiving me
God:
You are quite welcome! Your purpose is forgiving you.
Me:
ok
God:
It's all good.
Me:
i have to leave now
God:
Oh. Bye for now.
Me:
peace out dawg.
God:
How do you usually introduce yourself?
Me:
im leaving, good bye
God:
See you later. Bye for now.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Friday Scribe Jamboree

The purpose of the Friday Scribe Jamboree is to give exposure to some posts from other Daily Scribe members. It's technically not yet Friday here in PST, but it's close enough, plus I'll be busy tomorrow preparing for both Shabbos and Succos. So here goes:

  1. In this post, pomo tries to say that hookahs are not as bad as they are cracked up (pun intended) to be. Actually I know someone who was kicked out of Yeshiva for smoking flavored tobacco from a hookah. His mistake was getting caught. I told him to try "hookah in the sukkah." (Sorry for that horrible pun.)
  2. This post discussed the scions of the Davidic family, and in the comments of this post, I had a terrible urge to start showing off my yichus.
  3. The author of this post wanted to apply moral standards to Kashrus certification, although in the comments I tried to argue, but the author never responded yet.
  4. Another Uber-Liberal tried to bash the Orthodox establishment by basically calling Aish HaTorah a lying cult, see this post.
  5. In a very enlightening discussion with a witch/pagan, we discussed how the concept behind Yom Kippur apply even outside of a Jewish framework.
  6. I'm not sure if I properly understand this post, but it seems like an interesting way to simplify one of the greatest assets of religion, namely, a moral code.
Have a Gut Shabbos and Gut Yuntiff...

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