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Hassidic Rambler



A Jew, a thinker, a spiritual seeker, rambling on endlessly with no one to stop him.



Updated: 2016-06-27T08:34:29.088-06:00

 



Biblical Interpretation

2012-03-20T10:13:22.262-06:00

As Maimonides points out in the first chapter of the Mishnah Torah, there are verses which pose a challenge for interpretation because they seem to contradict things that we know about the world, even some that would seem to imply that the Creator possesses physical form. Some take the approach that the Torah cannot be understood as a literal text, and must be read as an allegorical work intended to impart moral lessons which can be derived from it's stories, but is not a work of imperical fact. Others disdain this approach, pointing out that such a laissez faire attitude to understanding the text undermines it's message by making it so vague that it could mean practically anything. They aver that although it may not make sense to us, the text is to be taken literally at face value.

I believe a better third approach based on a more nuanced understanding of the nature of language is required. Every language uses idioms, phrases that have a precise meaning which is different from the literal meaning of the words that make it up. For example, if I say that I took the ball home, I mean that I grasped a spherical object in my hands and moved it to my place of residence. If, however, I say that I took the train home, I do not mean that I physically moved the train into my house, but only that I rode in it to get home. I am using the word 'took' in a completely different, although no less literal, sense. This difference in meaning would be lost on someone from another period in history, who would infer from my statement that a train must be an object small enough for me to carry.

The scriptures are not a product of our time, and consequently uses idioms with which we are unfamiliar. The only way to understand the intended meaning is to refer to the accompanying explanations of the text that have been passed down to us through Jewish tradition as the Talmud and Midrash, and the classic commentaries based upon them. This is demonstrated repeatedly in Maimonide's Guide for the Perplexed, which addresses many of the idioms found in scripture and explains their idiomatic meaning it's relationship to the words they contain.



The Eternal Haggadah

2011-07-26T18:54:42.801-06:00

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


Shelly's poem "Ozymandias" describes a decayed statue with an inscription defying the ages to despair in face of it's might. It expresses sadness at those who thought they were powerful and important and would last forever, and yet their memory has crumbled to dust. Ozymandias is the Greek name of Ramses the Second, considered by historians to be the greatest of the Pharaohs of Egypt. He is suspected of being the Pharaoh of the Exodus. However, although many large monuments were built to him in his time, not enough information about him was preserved for us to be certain whether he presided at that historical event. If not for the Jewish record of it, the whole story might have been lost to history. The Jewish People were at that time only slaves, and built no statues, and yet they are still around today to tell their tale. It is even more ironic than Mark Twain makes it out to be in his essay "Concerning the Jews."

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?



A Series of Unfortunate Events

2010-01-04T00:50:08.217-06:00

(image) Click here to read a series of newspaper articles covering the scandal at Agriprocessors meat plant in Posteville, Iowa that lead to the arrest of it's owner Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin. The story has been featured in most major newsmedia, but never before have all the facts been laid out in one place.



Empowered

2009-10-26T11:32:04.981-06:00

Work in progress:

I will do what I want, and not let anything get in my way. Even if it becomes difficult, I will not let that stop me. I will not let anything distract me from my goals. I will figure out a way to make it happen. I don't let circumstances control me. I know that I am in control. Just knowing that makes it all worth it.



Equinimity

2009-10-26T11:48:00.404-06:00

The world is a garden.
It is a beautiful place, with many warm, cozy spots to sit and enjoy.
The many pains, frustrations, and hardships
are the nuances that make it endearing. They make life personal and detailed.
All the effort I put into it on account of these weeds make it mine.
I know it intimately, flaws and all, and
I smile knowingly when I come across one of them. Because nothing has gone wrong. All is as it should be.
These are the little challenges, little games, that it plays with me.
Sometimes I just stop and smell the roses,
and take in the grandness of it all.



Above Self

2009-08-18T22:32:35.379-06:00

Rosh Hashana is about accepting G-d as King of the world, as we see from the three special blessings in the prayers for that day, known as Malchios, Zichronos and Shofros. Malchios, kingship is self-explanatory. Zichronos is about how He is in charge of everything, and Shofros is trumpeting His arrival as is done for a king. But what does that mean? Either He is or not, why do we have to do something? It means accepting Him as king of OUR world, the worldview we have in our minds. Normally, I am the king of my worldview. I am at the center of my life, because from where I'm standing, everything seems to revolve around me. (Just as in the theory of relativity, where the observer appears stationary, and all motion is relative to him or her.) I decide how I view the world and what place things have in it, whether they hold a position of importance or insignificance. I care more about what I think on a topic than what anyone else thinks. Who cares what other people think, anyway? Just do your own thing.

Such self-centeredness is ultimately self-defeating. If the value I ascribe to actions is based on my own perceptions alone, then they are only valuable inside my own head, not in the real world. Why should the rest of the world care about how important I think I am and how good I decide I've been? If the importance of my deeds is all in my head, then is it really worth anything, even to me? What is the purpose of doing what I want, if I am only doing it because of own arbitrary whim? As someone once said, "If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, then why does he keep doing it?"

"Like happiness, self-actualizing is an effect, the effect of meaning fulfillment. ...If he sets out to actualize himself rather than fulfill a meaning (out there in the world), self-actualization immediately loses its justification." (Victor Frankl, The Will to Meaning, p.38)

What does give my actions value then? How do I decide what is really important and good to do? Something is only good in the context of a purpose. The frying pan is good for frying in. It is bad for wearing as a hat. The baseball cap would probably be better for that, but it would not be so good for frying in. Is the frying pan good, or is the baseball cap good? It all depends on what purpose you have in mind.

On Rosh Hashana, we recall that the whole world was made by G-d and is governed by His rules. He had a purpose in mind when He created it. So it's really His view and His wishes that determine what is important, and whether something is fulfilling it's purpose or not. He is the King, not me.

Judaism is about the relationship between me and G-d. I do what He wants because He wants it and I love Him and want to make Him happy. It is an expression of the closenes between us that I do these things the way I know He likes them. It is a way of living in which I invite G-d into my life.

(If I admit that values are external to myself, then I will not use only my own intellect to decide what is good. I will seek the advice of experts, just as I would seek the advice of doctors to heal a disease, and not just insist that it ought to work the way that makes sense to me. This is because I acknowledge that it is an objective reality. These experts are the wise men of Israel in every generation, who are so qualified because they have studied to understand what the unadulterated will of G-d is, and have gained enough wisdom to decide accordingly, not merely according to their personal feelings on the issue.)

The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.” (Albert Einstein ---From Mein Weltbild (1934). Reprinted in Ideas and Opinions, 12)



If a tree falls in the forest...

2009-08-05T21:27:12.095-06:00

There are certain axioms necessary for the systematic application of reason. This is what Aristotle called metaphysics, the prerequisite to 'physics', which would nowadays be called science. Science is based on a certain metaphysical position called empiricism, which says that I only know about things experienced by the senses. Judaism is a rival system of thought based on a different metaphysical position. Namely, that reality is not limited to the physical, and that things which cannot be directly sensed, called spiritual, also exist. (Math is an example of a spiritual construct. We cannot see it or feel it. We only know of it's existence by observing the effect it has on the world.)

Science does not accept the spiritual, and so in western society, only physical objects can have rational rules of what is correct and what is not. You must wash your hands because it physically removes germs from the surface of your hands, which could make you physically ill. But art, culture, and style of dress have no right and wrong way of doing things, because they don't exist and cannot be reasoned rationally. There is a distinction between rational science and the culture and religion which govern those things which do not use systematic reason.

Judaism applies reason to every aspect of life, even if it is not fundamentally physical. So it will come up with guidelines for good interpersonal relationships, the proper way to dress, and matters of the heart and spirit. Things like ethics, religion and art and style, which in western society are not treated in a systematic way are well-reasoned and developed in Judaism. (Psychology was started relatively recently and by a Jew, who was neurologist, since that was the closest thing the west had until then.)



Garments of Oppression

2009-07-28T09:54:08.150-06:00

People accuse Muslim culture of being oppressive to women. Women are often forbidden from driving cars, going to universities, and even leaving the home without their husband's permission. I agree that this is unjust and oppressive.

However, the criticism of their concealing style of dress seems empty and hypocritical. In Western culture, society pressures women to spend a lot of time and effort to meet expectations. In the land of Cosmopolitan magazine, almost every magazine at the check-0ut aisle has a scantily clad, plastic surgery (and often digitally) enhanced woman on the cover, whether so-called men's or women's magazines. Every day women make up their faces to match the advertised ideal. They get into outfits that are often tight, constricting, embarrassingly revealing, uncomfortable, and even laughably impractical. The typical women's shoe has a high heel, which is painfully uncomfortable, unhealthy for the foot, and makes walking more difficult. The phrase 'wardrobe malfunction' is a nice way of saying that a woman was pressured into wearing clothing that fails to clothe. Many women now use tape to keep the little bits of clothing they wear from falling off. I don't think women in Muslim countries have to resort to taping their clothing on.

In stark contrast, the style of men's dress in both cultures, and virtually every culture in the world, is virtually the same. They wear loose, comfortable clothing that covers most of the body, except for the head and hands. So typical male attire anywhere in the world will be a button down shirt, pants, and shoes. There are places where men wear robes or kilts, but they are also loose and cover the body.

Muslim dress is oppressive because it is too baggy and concealing, and Western dress is oppressive because it is too tight and revealing. Neither allow women the luxury of dressing as comfortably and dignified as men. This is a case where the middle road is best, and either extreme is unhealthy. The West is right in criticising the oppression of women, but they must stop doing so themselves before criticising others.



The Rules According to Hoyle

2009-07-24T03:17:52.146-06:00

Chess is one of the world's most popular and highly respected games. Benjamin Franklin, in his article "The Morals of Chess" (1750), wrote: "The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it." With these or similar hopes, chess is taught to children in schools around the world today and used in armies to train minds of cadets and officers. Countless books are written on the strategy of chess, and advanced computer algorithms are developed to win at chess.

The unique qualities of chess are a result of it's simple rules that nevertheless give rise to very complex interactions amongst the pieces. The development of the rules of chess is a singular accomplishment. I wonder, who wrote the rules of chess?

Legend says that a wise courtier named Sissa created the game and presented it to the Indian King Balhait. The king was so pleased that he promised Sissa any reward he would name. Sissa replied that he wanted one grain of wheat for the first square of the board, two for the second, four for the third, eight for the fourth, and so on to the 64th square. The king was astonished and annoyed by the excessive modesty of his counselor, but it turned out that the number of grains owed was 18,446,744,073,709,551,615, an impossible amount.

When we play chess, the movements of all the pieces are restricted to the rules that have been created for the game. If one were to find a chess board in the middle of a game, with the pieces spread liberally across the board, one might deduce the steps that must have been taken to arrive at such a state by applying the rules in reverse, and thereby recreate each turn of the game from the very first. Of course, this is assuming that the pieces were moved only according to the rules. They may simply have been placed there initially, disregarding the rules entirely.

As Franklin wrote, life can be compared to chess. It operates according to certain rules. Rules of logic, nature, and physics. The endeavor of science is the discovery of these rules that give rise to everything we see around us.

One of the most basic underlying rules of the universe is causality. The rule that nothing is unless something has caused it to be so. (It is this rule that allows science to draw conclusions from observations.) But this could not always have been the case, or the world would never have come to exist. There must have been a time early in the chain of cause and effect when this rule had not yet been enacted, and a cause existed that did not itself require a cause. Something created this rule and began enforcing it. And this makes sense. Why should this rule exist at all unless something is enforcing it? The same goes for all the other rules of nature. There must have been a time when there were no rules, anything at all was possible, and it was decided to make rules.

I wonder, who wrote those rules?



Religion, what is it good for?

2009-03-01T16:06:09.815-06:00

Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth...What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living.-Albert EinsteinI am shocked by people who oppose religion. Why would any intelligent person be opposed to that field of study which investigates the meaning of life and the consequent moral value of our actions? What could be better for the world than for people to learn how and why to be more moral? Certainly, there is much room for disagreement within this field, but to oppose the field of knowledge itself? This would be akin to opposing science because you disagree with a particular theory.At first I concluded that they were merely ignorant of the meaning of the word. Perhaps they had been taught that religion means superstition, and merely meant that they were opposed to superstition. This is true of some people, and since it is just a matter of which words are used, it is a simple matter to set them straight.Others say they oppose religion because it is the cause of all wars. This argument is fallacious in so many ways that I hardly know where to begin. Religion never caused a single war. Let us take a specific example that is often used, the Crusades. The claim is that it was their being Christian that led them to massacre so many people. If only they would have been opposed to religion themselves, no one would have gotten hurt. According to that, if there would have been more Christians there would have been more deaths. So if everyone in the world were Christian, it would have caused the most number of deaths. This is not so. If everyone would have been Christian, there would have been no need for them to fight against the Muslims, for there would have been none. It was not the religion itself that caused the Crusades, but intolerance for other religions. The very sort of intolerance that those opposed to religion espouse, except that they are even more intolerant, because at least the Crusaders were tolerant of Christianity. But in hating the Muslims they were the same. If the Crusaders would have been opposed to religion, it would perhaps have been much bloodier, because they would not have had to contend with the Christian teachings about turning the other cheek and the Golden Rule.The subject of war is a good example of the important need for religion. The Nazi ideology that led to the holocaust came from the most respected secular thinking of the time: racism and eugenics, both considered up and coming new fields of science based on Darwin's theories. Racism applied the evolution of species to humans, with Africans as the least evolved race, and Europeans the most evolved, with the German "Aryan" race at the pinnacle of evolution. Eugenics applied survival-of-the-fittest to humans by advocating that inferior humans be killed out so that only the most evolved pass on their genes. The conclusion was that all inferior races, including the "Semitic" race, as well as those with any disability, infirmity, or deformity, must be systematically eradicated. Hitler only very thinly masked his hatred for religion, declaring the Ten Commandments to be "the worst thing the Jews have ever done to the world." He had to wait longer before he could gradually bring public opinion against Christianity than against other religions, because most Germans were Christian. Countless people felt co[...]



Yes We Can

2008-12-21T10:57:49.544-06:00

Moses said a lot. A lot about standing up and changing things for the better. And he didn't just say it. He did it. He showed the world that the impossible is possible. He took a nation of slaves to freedom, and the world hasn't been the same since. Because now we know that we don't have to be slaves to the world around us. We are free to change. No one can tell us that we can't.

When a group of colonists struggled to build a new nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, the world was against them. The winter at Valley Forge was a dark one. They were losing the war. A light shone in the snow. It was Channuka and one of the soldiers had lit a candle of hope. He explained
how a small team of Maccabees vanquished an entire army. Freedom had won, and so would they.

When slavery was the law of the land, the negro slaves compared themselves to the Hebrews going out of Egypt, and they knew that their freedom would come. They called Lincoln, Moses.

When Jews were trapped behind the indestructible iron curtain, people all over the world rallied together in quoting Moses: "Let my people go!" and the walls fell.

So many have changed the world, and there will be many more to come. It was Moses who taught us how, who taught us that yes, we can.


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Transcript of the video:
It was the bold encouragement offered by Moses to a nation yearning for freedom

Yes, we can!

It was the phrase that kept our hopes alive during history's harshest times

Yes we can

It was spoken defiantly to those wishing to stamp out religious freedoms

Yes we can

When triumph seemed beyond reach; G-ds miracle was not. In hidden caves, attics and cellars His people courageously whispered:

Yes He can

THIS was the message that G-d sent the world when a small team of Maccabees vanquished an entire army

Yes we can

And was the comforting answer to the Jews in Communist Russia who wondered: Will the Menorah ever shine in my life

Yes. We. Can.

On Chanukah we celebrate freedom. We celebrate with pride. We celebrate in public, in the open because we can! Whether you lit the menorah last year, or 20 years ago, celebrate this Chanukah with family. Celebrate with Chabad

Start lighting YOUR menorah Sunday evening December 21st, 2008 and let the flame of freedom speak for herself:

Yes. We. Can.



Shabbat

2008-11-27T00:44:38.761-06:00

The Holy Sabbath Day

Shabbat is delicious food, a richly-set table, the glow of candlelight, sweet singing, luxuriant sleep. It is an island of tranquility in the maelstrom of work, anxiety, struggle and tribulation that characterizes our daily lives for the other six days of the week. For 25 hours every week (from sunset Friday to nightfall Saturday) the world literally comes to a halt: the business is closed, the car stays in the driveway, the phone stops ringing, and the radio, TV and computer remain off. The pressures and worries of material life recede as if a weekly low tide to reveal the inner calm beneath.

Our focus turns inward -- to family and friends, to our inner self, to our soul. We remember that G-d created the world in seven days, and put us into it for a purpose. He took us out of Egypt and decreed that never again shall we be slaves to any alien master. Our jobs, financial commitments and material involvements are the tools with which we fulfill our divine purpose, not the masters of our lives. This recognition gives meaning to everything we do and makes our lives holy. Shabbat is one of the most powerful ways to actualize our Jewish values and pass them along to our children. Indeed, the Jews have kept Shabbat for 4,000 years, through all the ups and downs of our miraculously long history.

Shabbat is a day of holiness, set apart and elevated above the rest of the week. The unique quality of Shabbat derives from two types of mitzvot. First are the mitzvot that celebrate and sanctify the day such as lighting the holy Shabbat candles and reciting the Kiddush over a cup of wine. Equally important are the mitzvot which require that we refrain from certain activities termed melachah, or "work".

The Mishnah explains that there are 39 different categories of melachah, which encompass all forms of human productivity. These melachot are not a haphazard collection of activities, and do not necessarily represent physical exertion. Rather, the principle behind them is that they all represent constructive, creative effort, demonstrating man's mastery over nature. (This is why modern innovations such as flipping a light switch or driving a car are included in these timeless principles. They qualify for one or the other of the 39 categories because they represent a very clever manipulation of one's sorroundings.) Refraining from melachah on Shabbat signals our recognition that, despite our human creative abilities, G-d is the ultimate Creator and Master.




Jewish Unity

2008-02-28T22:09:12.255-06:00

1949, just after the establishment of the state of Israel, I heard the voice of David Ben Gurion, first prime minister and first minister of defense. He was on the radio between 7 and 7:30 PM on Yoman Hachadashot, News Journal. I will never forget it. He had come back from a visit to the biggest army camp which there was in Israel at that time, Sarafin, near Ramalah. "I saw there," he said, "the dining room at lunch. All the soldiers sat at the table eating lunch. One soldier stood on the side, not sitting with the others, a loaf of bread in one hand and a tomato in the other. He was eating a piece from the bread and a piece from the tomato. I called him over. I said, 'Are you crazy? Why don't you use a plate, a fork, a knife? Why are you standing? How do you eat like this?' ""He said, 'I am an observant soldier. I only eat kosher. All the food which is brought here is kosher, but the cutlery, the plates, and the pots are not. In the same pot that they cooked dairy in the morning, they cooked a meat meal for lunch. I can't use anything which is prepared in this kitchen. The bread and the tomato I can eat, but nothing cooked.' ""I gave an order: All the kitchens of the Israeli Defense Force must be kosher. The same will be in the hospitals and in prison. Why? We are one nation. If there are a thousand soldiers, one observant and nine hundred and ninety-nine liberated, the observant soldier may not eat non-kosher, but the liberated ones may eat kosher. So the kitchen must be kosher. Because we are one nation. We have one army."This became a law in the IDF until this very day. If there is something not kosher we are to be blamed for it. Maybe the rabbi supervising did not do well. But the orders are strict. All public kitchens must be kosher because one out of a thousand was observant.I spoke to a group of Members of Knesset. They asked why I insist on halachic conversions. I said, "Aren't you aware of the wholeness of the Jewish People? The unity of our nation? Conversion is the way of entrance to the Jewish family. If you make it halachic, according to Jewish Law, it is accepted by everyone. Thier children can marry my children, and my children can marry thier children because they are converted halachically. All other ways, you can call them whatever; if they are not accepted by the one out of a thousand, create a split in the nation. Is this what you want? To divide the people? To rend it and cut it apart? Or to preserve the wholeness of the people, the unity of Israel? Love of one's fellow Jew. One nation, one family. To ensure the eternity and to ensure the wholeness, and to be loyal to the Torah. What's wrong with that? To ensure that we exist and we are not in a decline, God forbid.I don't interfere in your synagogues and temples. I do not oversee your prayer book. I do not supervise your meals. If you mix meat and milk, it pains me, but I am not trying to stop you. I have no power to control your behavior. But when we speak about conversion, this is the identity card of our nation. This is the way to enter the Jewish club, the Jewish family, the Jewish nation. There must be one way. This will be the iron bridge. Otherwise it's a paper bridge. We will collapse.- Rabbi Yisrael Meir LauChief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and Former Chief Rabbi of Israelin a talk at the Eternal Jewish Family's third national conference on Adopting Standards for Universally Accepted Conversions in an Intermarriage in Boston MA on October 30, 2006.[...]



Freedom

2009-08-18T18:37:39.177-06:00

We most often think of the stimulus/response theory in connection with Pavlov's experiments with dogs. The basic idea is that we are conditioned to respond in a particular way to a particular stimulus. We are slaves to our environment. Whatever happens to us determines what we do.Victor Frankl was a determinist raised in the tradition of Freudian psychology, which postulates that whatever happens to you as a child shapes your character and personality and basically governs your whole life. The limits and parameters of your life are set, and, basically, you can't do much about it.Frankl was also a psychiatrist and a Jew. He was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them. His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. Except for his sister, his entire family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the "saved" who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated.One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called "the last of the human freedoms" – the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Victor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who cold look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such as lecturing to his students after his release from the death camps. He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind's eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture.Through a series of such disciplines—mental, emotional, and moral, principally using memory and imagination—he exercised his small, embryonic freedom until it grew larger and larger, until he had more freedom than his Nazi captors. They had more liberty, more options to choose from in their environment; but he had more freedom, more internal power to exercise his options. He became an inspiration to those around him, even to some of the guards. He helped others find meaning in their suffering and dignity in their prison existence.The Talmud teaches us that, "a prisoner cannot free himself from his prison." No one rises up out of the pit by tugging at his own hairs. He needs someone else to pull him out. How does one gain the freedom to choose their response? The redemption from Egypt gave us the ability to do so. It is in that sense that the sages say, "not only has the Holy One freed our ancestors, He also freed us with them." How so? By making us aware of an entirely different aspect of our choices and actions. The moral dimension. Something may be enjoyable to do, but not right. Before we would have done it without question. We would have been enslaved by our stimulus response. Now we can think about what we are doing. Is it right? If not, I can choose not to do it. That is the only true freedom.The sages say that "no one is free except one who studies Torah." Seemingly, the opposite is true. The Torah contains rules which restrict our lives. Don't kill. Don't steal. How does that make one free? Because these moral principles enjoin us to rise above our automatic responses. The choice is now on a level that is entirely in our control.[...]



Noise and Music

2008-11-26T19:01:49.061-06:00

There once lived an engineer. He would listen to machines for noisy gears and there he knew the problem lay. Then he would fix them, ending the noise.

One day he met a musician. "Play me some music," he said. The musician played a short tune on his violin.

"That is not music, that is noise," the engineer said. "I know noise very well. I work with noise every day. That is noise. I can fix it for you. The problem is that the string of the baton is rubbing against the strings of the violin."

"That certainly is music and not noise. I know music very well. I work with music every day. That is music." insisted the musician.

"Then you are a charlatan. You claim that you work with music but all that you can show me is noise. Perhaps music doesn't exist at all. You have made it up."

"But I have shown music."

"What you have shown me is not music but noise, and I can prove it."

"How?"

"Play one note on your violin repeatedly." The musician did as instructed. Soon, people nearby called out, "Stop that dreadfull noise!"

"I have proven to you that it is noise," the engineer said.

"To the contrary, when I played a tune, everyone enjoyed it and did not complain, but when I played as you instructed they all complained. This shows the difference between noise and music very clearly," said the musician.

"You are a liar. You made up this story about music youself just to fool people," the engineer said.

"You are a fool. You can't even see what is right in front of your own face," the musician said. They both walked away in disgust.



The G-d Microscope

2008-01-17T13:30:54.225-06:00

How did we all get here? G-d must have created the world. "But that goes against science!" some protest. "It wasn't G-d, it was the Big Bang who created the world." The Big Bang? Is that a nickname for G-d, like the Big Cheese? Who created the Big Bang? Was it an even Bigger Bang? "You are just stubbornly refusing to accept the findings of modern science!" they will say. Does belief in G-d really contradict science?Did G-d create the world? The question is a metaphysical one. Science does not have the tools to address it, much less argue with it. It is a question of the underlying nature of reality. Science only deals with the most superficial, those things which are exposed, visible to the eye. The scientific method involves trying different things and watching the results. If the results have some semblance of consistency we presume that we can expect the same in the future. There are some deep questions which never will be and cannot be answered through these means. They remain hidden beneath the surface, beyond the reach of scientific inquiry. The question is only relevant to science in the sense that science must defend it's borders. Those who pronounce upon such matters in the name of science have overstepped their bounds. They distort science and transgress it's principles of empirical observation. They must be opposed by those who would defend the integrity of science.In days past, science could not tell you what matter was made of, because that was too small to see. They built microscopes, and we could see the tiny parts that things were made of that we never knew existed. They built huge, powerful electron microscopes, enabling us to see atoms. They built enormous particle accelorators, and we can see subatomic particles, protons and nuetrons. Perhaps someday they will build one large enough to see even the things that those are made of. But will they ever build one large enough to see G-d? Imagine if they did. What would he look like? If he looked any different than they expected, they would deny that it was him. So he would look just as they expect. They would look into the viewer of their miles-long microscope and see an old man with a long white beard grinning back at them. So that is what everything is made of. Would that prove the existance of G-d? No. The athiests would use that as proof of their cause as well. They would say, "This shows that there was no need for an intelligent designer of the world to create such a complex being as man, it was built into the very building blocks of creation and therefore bound to happen. We only exist because we are patterning after the most basic element that they saw in the microscopes. More random than anyone had imagined." "But you have seen G-d with your own eyes!" you will say. "No," they will answer. "Who is to say that what we saw is G-d? The reason that it looks like a person is not because it is one. It is far too small to be a person, much less anything more powerful than a person. It is we who look like it because we are made out of it."Don't think so? This is already what they say about revelations of G-d such as DNA. DNA proves evolution because it is far too complex to have been designed that way. Something so intracate must have evolved over millions of years. Everything works together too well to have been set in place by some supreme engineer.[...]



Friday Night

2008-01-16T04:10:35.747-06:00

A poem by my friend DovidIt's evening.Friday night.I have retired from the week and entered the hallowed atmosphere of Shabbat.I've spent the evening praying in Shul in a beautiful congregation. The prayer is so sweet, as we sing together, and welcome the Shabbos queen.Then we all wish each other Good Shabbos and return to our homes.It's time.The Shabbos candles are glowing softly, the family awaits.We sing Shalom Aleichem together to welcome the Shabbat angels who have accompanied us back from Shul.We follow with Eshet Chayil.We make kiddush and sanctify the Shabbos day and declare it holy.A day unto G-d.We sit around the table to beautiful, body and soul warming food. We talk, we chat, we speak words of Torah. We talk about the important things in life, we get a chance to communicate once in the busy week.Everything is still.Peaceful.Quiet.No phones.No emails.No distractions.Serenity.We sing the Zmiros, the ancient tunes so beautifully composed, whose holy words shine in the night.We say Birkat Hamazon - grace after meals, thanking G-d for His infinite beneficience upon us and His endless gifts.It's time.I open the front door.It's cold out, dark.I slip my coat on and my hat, wish my family Good Shabbos, and brave the elements as I walk the few streets to my destination.I walk up the path.The door is ajar.I walk in.Some others sit around a long table.Anticipatory.The Shabbos candles flicker gently on the table here too.At the head of the table sits an elderly-ish Rabbi with a big fluffy white beard, piercing sharp blue eyes, a hint of playfulness on his face.He's surrounded by books. Holy books.He warmly wishes us Good Shabbos as we enter, and then buries his head back in those books.The room is filling up.The table is full.Others sit on benches, some on armchairs.Some sit in the adjoining room.Everyone is waiting.Silently, expectant.It's time.The Rabbi lifts his eyes from his books and starts to speak.His voice is warm, his tone jovial.He begins to discuss the Torah portion of the week.He quotes certain verses.He raises glaring problems and difficulties.Then he expounds on the solutions and approaches of various commentators.As he talks a picture begins to form in the mind.It is one of a jewel - multifaceted.As each interpretation is masterfully given over, another facet of the Jewel sparkles, until, finally, the facets sparkle all together like a multifaceted jewel being held in the light.The begining of the verse is tied to the end and the end to the beginning.Nuances of expression or seeming ambiguities or superfluities are all explained and made clear.Stories are told.Of great men.Intellectual giants and spiritual masters.Witticisms are generously interspersed and jokes are told in passing.There is an atmosphere of divinity in the air.Everyone is in another world.G-d's world.The world of holiness and pure wisdom.Of spirit.The intense, uplifting Shabbat atmosphere enters your soul, and you bond with that greater Oneness.Before you know it it's over, and refreshments are brought.Cakes and biscuits and apple pie, which the Rebbetzin [Rabbi's wife] has personally baked in the early hours.We stay behind and chat with the Rabbi.His eyes twinkle as he engages us in lively interchange.Questions are answered masterfully, more stories are told and pearls of wisdom exchanged.Finally, it's time.We wish each other a Good Shabbos and part ways.As I walk out the door into the cold, crisp air of the late Friday night, I know I am deeply privileged to be part of a world where every week we can partake of a small piece of heaven.And as I leave the house behind, I leave my heart behind with me, wishing t[...]



Our Ancestors

2007-11-15T21:57:45.170-06:00

Excerpted from a paper by Philip LevensWhy Study the Past?In America, history is a subject often slept through in school. Valuing the past and tradition goes against the grain of our national mind set. We are a nation whose collective memory views the Second World War as a black and white documentary and anything before that as ancient history. After all, who has time for the past? What matters is the present, the here and now. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's why our ancestors immigrated to America in the first place. They wanted a chance to live in freedom, unencumbered by tyranny and prejudice.So why should we take time out from our fast paced lives to be concerned with ancestors we never knew? Because to a large degree the past determines the future. If we don't know where we came from, how will we know where we're going?There is something within us that says life is more than just us. We are part of a puzzle that can only be understood over time or perhaps from an infinite vantage point, the view that G-d has. If we could step back far enough and see the strands of destiny we might understand the purpose for everything.Who Were They?Our immigrant ancestors were working class. They spoke Yiddish at home and more often than not worked sun up to sun down. They had large families to feed and didn't have money or time for vacations; sometimes barely enough money for food, but they got by, nobody starved. They weren't heroic or famous men and women but they were exceptionally good parents who loved and cared for their children. In fact, if there is a common theme that runs through their descendants memories, it is how good their parents were to them.They didn't keep comprehensive records of their ancestors. The record ends with the immigrants, their parents names just vague memories. Any further research would have to continue in Europe. If we could go back further it would most likely be more of the same, good, hard working people trying to make the best of their lot in life, which was sometimes incredibly difficult. So difficult in fact, with pogroms, poverty, war, the Depression, and the perils of emmigration, that we can hardly imagine how we would have managed... or even survived.We owe them a great debt for entering into the unknown, for traveling to a new world, a blank page where they dreamed of writing a new script for their futures, and for the future of their children... and we are, all of us, their children. Their memories are perpetuated in the lives of their children and grand-children, through the generations into the stream of history that flows into the ocean of eternity.How Are We Connected?We are these people in so many ways; in the obvious: eye color, height, weight, all of which are determined by genes, a circulating pool where certain traits might not re-surface for several generations. We are a mind boggling combination of DNA from an army of ancestors.But we are not just connected through biology, we are also linked in nearly imperceptible ways, certain gestures, mannerisms, a way of walking, the timber of a voice, even the way we view the world... the subtle things that spell the mystery of uniqueness.[...]



Body vs. Soul: Differing Perspectives

2007-11-15T21:56:36.695-06:00

An intriguing lecture by Rabbi Manis Friedman from the Bais Chana Women International website.

There’s the reflexive way we look at life – the way the body perceives life – and then there’s the way the soul looks at life. To view the world through Jewish eyes is to view the world through the perspective of the soul. Time 9:46
Click on the arrow to listen (object) (embed)



The Soul

2008-05-04T00:00:56.084-06:00

(image) Lyrics of the song Neshama from the album of the same name by Mordechai Ben David

A stranger adrift in an unfriendly land
Of mountains, tundras, and sand
To enrichen the lives in that wasteland is his goal
His name is Neshama, soul

From a mountain came a gift of the only true life
Sinai now stands for bloodshed and strife
When rifles fall silent and tanks cease to roam
The victor will then be the soul

Blackened and charred like a synagogue burned
Lies a tank lifeless and overturned
Four heroes within snuffed out like a coal
But forever and ever and ever alive is their soul



Are PETA the new Nazis?

2007-11-07T00:48:27.910-06:00

History repeats itself with anti-Jewish propaganda. How Genocide Was Made Acceptable to the MassesOn November 10th, 1938, the Führer made an important speech to the German press. Although he made no direct reference either to the Reichskristallnacht itself or to Jews in general, the whole speech can be regarded as his comments upon the lack of support for the pogrom he was getting from the German public. Hitler rebuked the propaganda makers for not having understood his strategy - aiming at war - and he made it unmistakably clear to his audience what exactly he expected them to do in the future: Coercion was the reason why for years I only talked about peace. But gradually it became necessary to condition the German people psychologically and slowly make it grasp that there do exist things that one has to solve with violent means when they cannot be solved by peaceful means. To do so, however, it was necessary not to make propaganda for violence as such, but to elucidate certain events of foreign policy to the German people in such a way that the inner voice of the people by itself slowly began to call for violence. Accordingly, it meant to elucidate certain events in such a way that totally automatically the conviction would gradually evolve in the brains of the broad masses: What one cannot solve with fair means, one has to solve with violence, because it cannot go on like this.The rebuke was certainly understood by Joseph Goebbels, who for the first time decided to use the film medium as a tool for inducing anti-Semitism into the German people. Being responsible for Nazi film production he had, however, earlier preferred other topics (including easy entertainment and more "positive" presentations of Nazi world view) , but immediately after Hitler's speech he called upon the production companies to present scripts for anti-Semitic feature films. His wish for a "documentary" could only be fulfilled after the Campaign in Poland in September 1939, because he lacked footage of Jews actually looking like the Nazi stereotype of the Jew, of services in the synagogue and of ritual slaughtering.From his diary as well as other sources we can follow the production of this particular propaganda film - "Der ewige Jude" - which right from the beginning was intended to become the ultimate public legitimation of anti-Semitism, in accordance with Hitler's afore-mentioned demand.There are strong reasons to believe that the film and its production history should be characterized as a mirror of the decision-making process to launch the Holocaust itself, because the final version of the film can only be interpreted as a deliberate call for annihilation, through it's juxtapositioning of ritual slaughtering - staged as cruelty to animals - and Hitler's notorious prophecy of January 30, 1939.In order to create the strongest effect on the public as possible Joseph Goebbels had ordered ritual Jewish slaughtering to be filmed in the Lodz ghetto, and when he saw the rushes of these scenes on October 16, 1939, he wrote in his diary:Scenes so horrific and brutal in their explicitness that one's blood runs cold. One shudders at such barbarism. This Jewry must be annihilated.He showed the scenes at Hitler's dinner table on October 28, 1939, and those present "were all deeply shocked." Two days later, Goebbels himself went to the ghetto of Lodz - and commented on his impressions in his diary:It is indescribable. They are no longer human beings, they are animals. It is therefore no humanitarian task, but a task[...]



The Cosmological Argument

2008-11-27T02:59:07.984-06:00

A logical proof of G-d's existence based on Duties of the Heart by Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda


Summary:

1. Every finite being has a cause.
2. Nothing finite can cause itself.
3. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
4. Therefore, there must be a first cause which is not itself an effect.This is called G-d.

Explanation:

1. Every finite being has a cause.
If it is finite, that means that it began at some point in the past. That means that something caused it to begin.

2. Nothing finite can cause itself.
It cannot cause itself because this would be accomplished either before it existed or after it existed, both of which are impossible. It cannot cause itself before it existed, because it did not exist yet to effect the cause. It cannot cause itself after it existed. It was already in existence at the time and so nothing was accomplished thereby.

3. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
It is not possible for something infinite to have parts, because a part is defined as a fraction of the whole.
If a part is removed from an infinite object, then it will be less than it was before. This remainder will be either (a) infinite or (b) finite.
(a)If the remainder is infinite, than this infinity is less than the previous one. Infinities cannot be one greater than the other, for infinity is always greater.
(b)If the remainder is finite, and the part which is removed is returned, then the sum will also be finite. This is a contradiction and therefore false, for we said that the whole is infinite.
Therefore, anything that has parts must be finite.
In a causal chain, each cause is a part of the chain. Therefore a causal chain must be finite. It must have a limited number of antecedents, which end at a cause that has no cause before it.

4. Therefore, there must be a first cause which is not itself an effect. This is called G-d.
There must be a beginning to the causal chain of every finite thing, since every finite thing has a causal chain which does not go on forever. This beginning must be infinite, or else it, too, would require a cause.

That means that it is infinite in time, existing eternally without a time at which it began, as well as space, not having any component parts or a delimited region that it occupies. Since it caused all finite things, being all the objects and properties that we know, it therefore has the ability to effect and exhibit all objects and properties, and since it is infinite, it can do so in infinite measure. This includes the property of intelligence. The first cause exists to a greater degree than other things because it's existence is inherent and not contingent on the existence of anything else, whereas the existence of all other things is contingent on it and so merely provisional.



Mob Rule

2007-11-07T00:51:11.410-06:00

There is an excellent article in the New York Post about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It points out that Fatah and Hamas are merely a bunch of mobsters. Their brutally murderous conduct since they were given control of Gaza proves that. It is now painfully obvious that they are utterly incapable of their own state. They have made a stronger argument against any kind of Arab autonomy in Israel than any of their opponents ever could. Here's my favorite part of the article:

Gaza is Judenrein - emptied of all Jews, just as Hitler dreamed Germany would be. No Jews live in Gaza. No Jews patrol Gaza. It's Jew-Free-by-the-Sea, with a charming Mediterranean coast worth billions of dollars in tourism and trade.

So what's the problem? The problem is that the Jews weren't the problem. The problem is that the Palestinians are the problem: They are drenched in an ideology of blood and murder and suicide.

The sooner people learn this, the sooner we can stop them from murdering more people.



PeaceMaker

2007-10-22T21:59:39.116-06:00

(image) A new video game allows you to try your hand at solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was developed by Israeli native Asi Burak at Carnegie Mellon University. He consulted with Arabs and Isrealis on the game in an attempt to ensure realism. You can play as the Israeli Prime Minister or the President of the PLO. Instead of having an objective of merely wiping out everyone in sight like most video games, you win when a lasting peace is accomplished. Read about it here.