Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Modern Midas

The gods looked kindly on him, he was blessed with the gifts of life, health, and brains, and was asked what he wishes for from his gift. What is the one main purpose he will dedicate his gifts for?

He wished his wife should wear gold-earrings, his daughter wears gold sparkly Fifth Avenue clothes, his son has the latest gold-plated X-box, he drives the latest Gold-enamelled lacquered veneer Lexus.

His Wall-street corner office with the gold pen, pencil and letter-opener set, the latest golden Treo, his coiffured secretary with the golden thighs, his priceless Gold Mastercard, the golden tooth he vainly demanded from his dentist.

Their pedigree golden labrador, exquisite golden tulips, gold club members for their ski trips to Europe, a golden donation for the Yom Kippur appeal.

And when the gods ask him what he did with his gifts?


The Lame Gay Pride Parade

Friends of mine in Jerusalem reported back to me about the gay pride parade - a bunch of people walking down a street in pink. Booooring. Berlin, London and New York would be disappointed.

People, you wanna get up the noses of the fundamentalists? Raise their hackles, enflame their passions, you listen to me. Get some goddamn huge floats. Bring in DJ Tiesto. Stick lots of naked women and men making out on them. Do it at midday when everyone is crazy and hot from the midday sun.

Pump that music loud as you can. Give out thousands of whistles. Hell, get some Arab and Jewish men to start making out. Or stick some kippot on the gays heads. A bit of juicy lesbianism always gets the crowd going. You wanna stick it to them? Do it on Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Tisha Be'av. In the Old City. That'll show those obscurantist, backwards, middle-ages dwelling, shtetl-loving, ghetto-pining, rabid mouth-foaming, payos growing, homophobic, bigoted, misogynistic, intolerant extremists. You'll definitely raise awareness and gain publicity that way. Take it from me.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Why Google ruined my life

Once upon a time there was an iluy (prodigy - though not the firestarter variety). He could recite shakla and tarya of sugyos, quote films and songs without hesitation, play the Kevin Bacon game for hours on end, while performing complicated math in his head and giving you the years of birth and death of the major Rishonim and Achronim. He could even spell words correctly.

I've since then lost the ability to retain information of any kind. Partially due to my excessive-inebriation habit. And the advancing years. But also due to a lack of need to remember anything. Thanks to google, there are very few pieces of information I actually must remember. Even a useful Chazon Ish or Meiri when arguing with my more UO brethren. My favorite sports team's results for the last 12 years. The history of zionism. I no longer have to sit down and write out lyrics to a song, or listen to it 1001 times before I know all the words. My memory chip has rotted away, burnt out, to be replaced by a website that sounds like something a baby does.

Thank you google.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Finding G-d Part 1: Love is all you need

We mustn't let ourselves get sucked into this mundane, dreary existence. At any given moment, we have an opportunity to connect to the Ein Sof, the mysterious, infinite, eternal G-d. How? One method is to find G-d through love. When interacting with the people we love, our spouse, our parents, our kids, we find G-d through love. In the care and concern we show for them, the everyday things we do for those we love, we emulate G-d who carries us through dark times and in our hour of need. Next time you have the opportunity to show your love for those around you, remember you are performing one of the most godly acts man can do, and we make the world a more godly place as we do so. Af Hu Rachum, Ata Rachum.

Spread the love, people. G-d wants it so.


Night crawler, beware the beast in black

I love being awake while the world sleeps. It makes you feel that you are alone, one, unique. The long night of the soul. Solitude. Quiet. Serenity. For all you know, the rest of the world has been destroyed in some mega chernobyl-like nuclear holocaust. Yet you sit there blogging away.

One year in Yeshiva over Shavuot I decided that staying up all night pretending to learn was really losing the battle against my body and its incessant need for sleep, so I went to sleep instead, woke up for davening, and learned by myself in the Beis for a few hours till lunch, while the entire world around me slept. Possibly one of my most profound learning experiences (I think I learnt some of Maamarey Hareyiah, Rav Kook's articles). I also loved being awake alone in the dark of the night, the witching hour, while babes suckle from their mothers and women chat to their husbands (Berachot 3a). Though once I had to lock up the big dark shul late at night, after watching an episode of the X-files. That was scary.

I believe that we truly discover ourselves when we are alone, with no one else to distract us or for us to relate our personalities to. Hisbodedus. Don't be afraid to try it. Sitting in the garden on a balmy summer night. Going for a long walk on Shabbat afternoon on your own. Discover your thoughts, your dreams, get to know the real you, as if you were dating yourself. But don't make it the Ikar, the crux. While you are finding the real you, make sure you are still engaged with society, living amongst people, helping them, studying them, learning from others. That is what G-d wants from us.

Veahavta Lereyachah Kamocha - Love your neighbour as you love yourself, but make sure you love yourself.


p.s. brownie point for anyone who can name the band who wrote the song in the title - without cheating

Sunday, June 26, 2005

My thoughts on Aliyah

She had a great song with "try again", was a hot babe, and looked to have a promising acting career as well until her life was so tragically cut short.

Alright, kidding. I've been bombarded with all sorts of comments concerning my views on Israel. Some think I live there, which is fine because I don't want the people in my community here to know who I am. Others think I hate Israelis due to the "sweaty agressive obnoxious" comment. Twenny agrees but she doesn't count (though you are always welcome to express your view here).

I shan't delve into the same old halachic dispute again, the famous Rambam/Ramban/Megilat Sefer/Avney Nezer/Mitzvah Kiyumis debate. I think it's pretty academic, as is the Midrashic three oaths discussion.

What I do believe is that one can be a good Jew in the US. Daf Yomi on public transport, kosher food to the gills, shuls, yeshivas, etc. One can only be fufilled jew in Israel, the land of our forefathers, the center of our life, the location we pray towards. Not just the fact that there is thousands of years of history there, that there are commandments we can only perform there and not here, but mainly because this is the greatest Jewish enterprise, creating and building a modern Jewish state. And despite my previous comments, I think they've (we've?) been pretty succesful, all in all.

Aha, I hear you exclaim. So why don't I go live there? Well, I'm a sucker for the cash, it's all about the money, it's all about the dum dum diddi dee dum. Money money money, it's so funny, in a rich man's world. Show me the money! Money's too tight too mention. I've got a good life, in a good place, with a good job. Truth is, I struggle enough here trying to be a good Jew. I might trot out the old excuse that every Averah done in Israel is far worse (and trust me, I do my fair share of those). Ultimately, I don't have the balls.

I don't sense dissonance between me personally being a comfortable Jew here yet believing that Jews should make Aliyah. Similarly, I can believe that loshon hora is so wrong, damaging and dangerous, yet continue to spread lies and scandal wherever I roam. I'm human, all too human.

I hope that clears things up and gets the trolls of my back. Good night and G-d bless.


Modern Mussar: Following your dream - The Alchemist

I have no idea how people cope without a Shabbos afternoon. The sheer relaxation, serenity and tranquility of a good book after a post-fressing shluff is unbeatable. Try it.

I was fortunate enough to finally get round to reading Paulo Coelho's quasi-Biblical little gem "The Alchemist". Highly reminiscent of Hesse's Siddharta, it forces me to peer deep down inside myself, to challenge my way of life and to ask "Am I living my Dream?". I do have a dream, one which I have hinted to in these (web) pages. I struggle to orient myself towards that dream, knowing that, as Eminem immortalized so profoundly - "you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo". I often get distracted by dollar signs, loose women and the high life, but I feel I am working towards my dream, more on which another time. Books like Coelho's help inspire me and challenge me to make the most of this wonderful gift of life, to do the best with the incredible tools that I have been granted.

The lessons from the above two books are deep and meaningful. The very end of The Alchemist resonates for me with much of Pirkey Avot, about finding equilibrium and harmony in oneself.

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself," the alchemist replies. "And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."

Follow your dream


Friday, June 24, 2005

Booknote - Taryag

One of the many books that I stole off the good Rabbi is called "Taryag" by Rabbi A.H. Rabinowitz (which is going for $70 on Amazon!. Who says crime doesn't pay? Though I see Aronson have put out a slightly less extortionately priced version.)

The concept "Taryag" is the numerical equivalent of the magic number 613. R' Simlai stated in the Talmud that 613 mitzvot were revealed to Moses at sinai, 365 positive ones to match the days of the solar year, and 248 negative ones to correspond with the limbs in the body. Many of the medieval Rabbis compiled varying lists enumerating these 613, Maimonides himself being the most famous of them, and he also formulated the rules for calculating them.

I used to believe, like Shechter and others, that the Taryag dictum was merely for educational purposes, rabbinic hyperbole, midrashic flights of fancy. Rabinowitz claims that this concept was known during Tannaitic times and during the Amoraic era it was accepted Rabbinic tradition.

The author brings various hypotheses concerning the list of 613, including the conjecture that there was in existence a complete list during temple times that was taught to and memorized by schoolchildren. He does seem to argue convincingly that some sort of tradition or list(s) existed pre-Geonic times.

The Rabbis viewed Taryag as important in clarifying the essence of the mitzvot, as opposed to the details surrounding them. It also serves a purpose in understanding the analysis of Halachah, and classification thereof.

Is there a difference between a Taryag Mitzvah and others? A long standing historical debate has been waged concerning the Maimonidean view of the laws derived by the hermeneutical rules and the meaning of Divrey Sofrim, which I shan't go into here (Ein Kan Makom Lehaarich). According to Maimonides, a rule derived by the rules can be repealed by a later Bet Din Hagadol, and there are other Halachic ramifications (Zaken Mamre, Par Heelam Davar and others). There is also a major distinction as to the punishment meted out to those laws which are Taryag and those which aren't.

The author has a long and interesting discussion about the Azharot, the poetic formulations of the Taryag, as well as a close technical examination of the Maimonidean formulation for the enumeration of the Mitzvot.

To sum up, an interesting work that has certainly opened my eyes and broadened my horizons concerning this interesting and under-understood concept.

More to come in the booknote series. Stay tuned.


Dating thoughts

So I'm a funny guy. Well-read. Intelligent. Absolutely nothing wrong with my conversation skills. But why am I being interviewed as a potential spouse based on my conversational ability with a complete stranger over a cup of coffee? It's artificial and unnatural. I might've had a bad day at work. Sometimes I need time to warm up to someone. Or they need time to warm up to me. I don't have the energy for it. It's too fake, too unnatural, and I don't know how people who have been doing it for years haven't gone hair-tearingly insane.

Also, I'll say what most guys think - most of the good ones get snapped up young. So bring on the under-age barely legal ones please. Get them while they're hot and fresh.

I'm going back to meet people normally, socially. Just gotta go for the quality long-term ones.


Thursday, June 23, 2005

G-d bless America

I know, you may have mistaken me for an ardent passionate Zionist. In some ways I am. But I love this country. Heve Mispalel Lishloma Shel Malchus - you should pray for the welfare of the goverment - especially here. We are so lucky to live here and now. Why? What do I love about it?

The way you can go anywhere to shop, and the shops are piled high and cheap as hell.

Some of the lowest tax rates in the world.


Watching the NCAA female softball final - blond cheerleader-type girls running around playing sports, if that isn't heaven then I don't know what is, but it's enough to make anyone want to chop off a limb or commit hari-kiri just to bat one innings with them! The third reich would be happy to know their blonde uber-babes are ruling my world.

I don't suffer the anti-semitism of Britain and France, the high taxes, darkness and cold of Scandinavia. The dull soccer games where you stand around for a couple of hours and it ends up with no goals and a boring stalemate - Yawwwwn. Or cricket, which I can't get for the life of me. One game takes five days? Who would want to watch that, when Tim Duncan is duncan them in?

I don't have to put up with the reputation of being boring - thank you Trey Parker and Matt Stone for telling the world what Canada is really about. 30 million people populating one of the biggest countries in the world - it's enough to drive anyone crazy.

Israel is great but for one major problem - the Israelis! Unless you love a bunch of sweaty, aggressive, obnoxious people. And living in the middle of billions of people who would rejoice if your nation was annihilated.

Ok, we have a load of obese, uneducated, Morgan Spurlock-ignoring trailer trash. We have race issues that will never go away. We do take a deep interest and major role in world affairs, with varying levels of success. Sometimes we are like a giant trying to delicately attach small pieces of lego together, bumbling but well-intended.

With all our faults, warts, fights and idiosyncracies it is still the greatest country the world has ever seen.

Goodnight America, wherever you are (quote anyone?). It's good to be back blogging.


Friday, June 17, 2005

Multiple dating - please help

Someone once blogged about dating more than one person at a time (sorry, don't remember who you are, apologies). I commented that I was against it because you lose focus, you need to be able to give the one you are with all your kochos, energy and attention. Also, it gets really really tough remembering what you said to which one and who you promised to see when.

I decided to focus on the first one offered, we shmoozed on the phone but she lives in a different town and is pretty busy, and we didn't click so well on the phone. So I will see her sometime next week, when she has time for me. But I decided to follow up a different offer, and I've already set that one up for the beginning of next week. Plus we had a good vibe on the phone. She finds me amusing, I can tell.

I will give both girls a first date before going for a second, and I will probably get rid of one of them very early on, otherwise it will not be fair. Is that ok?


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Modern Mussar - Parents beware

This one doesn't really need any introduction, though it would be instructive to hear from those parents out there how much this is true. Children spot falsehood and pick up priorities from their parents pretty quickly, they copycat loshon hora habits at the shabbos table and they grow up with many of their parents values and attitudes whether they like it or not. Let us be warned.

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
He'd say "I'm gonna be like you dad
You know I'm gonna be like you"
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home dad?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then
My son turned ten just the other day
He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw", I said "Not today
I got a lot to do", he said, "That's ok"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him"
Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
"Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head and said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"
I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
It's been sure nice talking to you"
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

Are cyber-relationships healthy?

In "The Man with Two Brains" Steve Martin spends the entire film talking to a brain in a jar. They sing together, indulge in conversations, he even slaps a pair of lips onto the jar and kisses them. Not too healthy you might say.

Chatting to someone in the blogosphere, conversing through IM, even using the old-fashioned e-mail method is not the healthiest way to relate to someone. We do strip down the old labels of fashion, weight and looks, but we build the Other person up in our own fantasy, buxom blondes, strapping construction workers etc. Ignore the fact that the so-called hottie might be a 42 yr old hairy fat man called Gerald and the handsome successful Manhattan entrepenuer is in fact a 68 yr old janitor in the Midwest.

Does it cause more damage than good to get too close to someone in cyberland? Does the blogworld lead to good, healthy sustainable friendships/relationships or merely a bunch of frustrated lonely people living out their fantasies vicariously in their offices and bedrooms across the globe?


Thursday, June 09, 2005

A belated Six Day War prayer

Excellent Subliminal song, also has French and Hebrew verses in it
If anyone finds a link, please post. I highly recommend listening to it:

We need peace in the middle east, to stop this holy war.
It's a sin to kill in god's name so tell me what are we dying for?

Got eight year old children throwing piercing and rocks
they're scared but not thinking when the screaming stops
villages are tormented as the soldiers march and it's
hardly ever mentioned on the news we watch
broken promises ending in an endless feud Muslims and Jews
next they will be fighting for food and there's no specific reason
why the war at all started out over the religion on the wailing wall
then they blamed it on the land now they say it's revenge
and for every grain of sand yo we pay with our flesh
anytime you got a conflict that finishes in blood
there's no way you can stop it or bring it to how it was
now hate drives the people to a senseless rage
we were all created equal to follow in god's ways
let the past teach us all to exist in peace to hold hands
and stand tall in the middle east please

We need peace in the middle east, to stop this holy war.
It's a sin to kill in god's name so tell me what are we dying for?


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Single guys should have babies

No, I'm not advocating pre-marital sex (as much fun as that sounds). Men, listen up and listen well. You want girls to swoon, ladies to fall at your feet, women to be as putty in your hands? Grab the nearest cute baby and get to work.

You make that baby gurgle, giggle and dribble, ensuring maximum exposure to as many single girls as possible. You hold that adorable little thing in the air, swirl it around, make it fly.

It can be outside shul, at a wedding (where they're even more vulnerable than usual), anywhere. Wherever you see the opportunity, where there be single girls and babies around, use the force, men.

Re-enact the Gilette one where the clean shaven hunky guy is holding the immensely cute baby in the air, with the cheesy backing music - doesn't that make you wanna go out and buy razors right now? Now imagine if you are female, you don't want the razor - YOU WANT THE GUY!

So listen all you married couples who believe you've seen the light and want to share the wealth with your less-fortunate single friends (though we know it's really that you are suffering and you can't bear to see people having fun, you want them to suffer too), if you really wanna help - lend us your babies, though only the cute ones please. Not the ones that look like King Kong did as a baby or those that even MJ would stay away from. Just the cute ones.

Men - use this gift that G-d gave us, the gift of luring women by firing up their imaginations. Inspire them to think what a great father you will be, play on their insecurities, manipulate their deep-seated desire for a husband and father to their unborn kids while their biological clock is ticking louder and getting closer to midnight with every tick. I have used the force, and it works. You too can become a Jedi.

Women, there may be men who don't believe in the force. Heretics, Slifkin lovers, apikorsim, skeptics. Back me up, admit to the truth, you will be doing a great service to mankind.


Monday, June 06, 2005

Modern Mussar - the evil inclination within us

Keanu Reeves (yes, Mr. Andersssson) has followed the modern dream, been offered a high-powered corporate job in the bright lights of the big city. In a Faustian pact with the impish AP, Lucifer as Mephistopheles, Keanu sells his soul to the god of mammon. Paradise Lost, never to be Regained. (NB - this film is not for the faint-hearted amongst you, though your type should probably stay away from my blog anyway!).

Once on the ladder of temptation, life begins to unravel. There is always more greed, power and success to be had. Hevley havalim. "He who loves money shall never have enough".

The evil inclination, the devilish voice inside every one of us, is tricky, wily, smart, clever and never to be underestimated. You must check out Screwtape's advice to Wormwood, despite it being crusty, British, dated and very Christian (summary here).

AP puts it best: "And as we're straddling from one deal to the next, who's got his eye on the planet, as the air thickens, the water sours, and even the bees' honey takes on the metallic taste of radioactivity? And it just keeps coming, faster and faster. There's no chance to think, to prepare; it's buy futures, sell futures, when there is no future"

He challenges us with: "You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire; you build egos the size of cathedrals; fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse; grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green, gold-plated fantasies, until every human becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own God... and where can you go from there?"

And the piece de resistance, the persuasive argument that daily eats away at my neshomo: "Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He's a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does He do, I swear for His own amusement, his own private, cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It's the goof of all time. Look but don't touch. Touch, but don't taste. Taste, don't swallow. Ahaha. And while you're jumpin' from one foot to the next, what is he doing? He's laughin' His sick, f***in' ass off. He's a tight-ass. He's a sadist. He's an absentee landlord. Worship that? Never."


Are bloggers dorks?

Are bloggers dorks, nerds, geeks, nebs, plebs? Are we social misfits, outsiders, outcasts, unwanted, unloved? Do we hide in an unreal world, making cyberfriends, having blogaffairs as a result of our inability to make real friends and exist in normal society?

Or are we popular, sociable, friendly, outgoing, active people? Is this just a creative outlet, sometimes anonymous, often not, to rant and rave, to write and react? Not just the source of our friendships, illicit relationships and conversations that we couldn't have on the outside.

Maybe we are somewhere in between?

I rate myself as very popular and highly sociable and I think others view me that way too. How do you rate yourself? How do others view you? Where are you on the blognerd scale?


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Modern Mussar - life-changing decisions

Gwyneth Paltrow, progeny of the Taz and a fellow Rabbi's grandkid, showed us in Sliding Doors how different decisions or happenings can affect the course of our life. The film actually showed us hashgocho protis - Divine Providence - in the way the story panned out. The scarier aspect for me is comtemplating how some of our even minor decisions can totally change the course of our lives.

Follow the course of your life back, think of decisions such as what to study in college and where, who to date or dump, what job to take etc. It's often the seemingly minor decisions that have the more delitirious effect. I know I've made some pretty dumb decisions that have changed my life for the worse (I blame the alcohol!) and a few good ones as well. That's also why I enjoy reading historical revisionism that postulates "what if?", the best example I can think of is Robert Harris' famous Fatherland, a dark disturbing tale about Germany in the 1960's following a victory for the Third Reich in WWII.

This is one reason I've never really dated seriously till recently (do I really want to make a lifelong decision right now? Shev Veal Taaseh Adif).

May we be worthy of choosing the right path in everything we do.


Booknote series - introduction

Some of the scholars of the web have recently retired, some of them removing copious amounts of insightful, thoughtful Torah and the interface with modern life, e.g. the Gadol, AddeRabbi and the Misnagid in his own inimitable way.

Being the scion of great Rabbinical families, alumnus of the some of the top Yeshivos in the US, possessor of a fine mind during those rare moments of lucidity and sobriety, I felt I should try and add my two cents.

I do find that much webtorah is yawnworthy and sounds like those dull shabbos table or sheva berachot divrey torah that you instantly fall asleep during. I would like to do something slightly different. Being the proud owner and pilferer of a eclectic mix of books and seforim, I will try and get through one every few days and post some interesting ideas from it. The modern predilection to have the same books on your shelf is a damning sign of the conformity, conventionalism and sheepness we have sunk into.

From now on I will try and provide a glossary for each post in the comments section (except for words I make up and trademark).


More Modern Mussar

There's an episode of the Simpsons where Bart sells his soul to Millhouse for $5. Suddenly Bart no longer has the ability to laugh, even at senseless violence. He has a dream where everyone is rowing arrowing happily on a lake, with their souls in tow, and he is alone, lonely, sad and miserable. He has to hunt down the piece of paper with his soul on it, which had eventually made it's way back to Lisa.

I cannot fathom the soul, its power of laughter, empathy, joy, tears and pain. The ability to conceive of spirituality, martyrdom, altruism. My soul is me, yet not me. Struggling with my body, embodying my spirit, I am a unity of flesh and breath, bones and consciousness, G-d's touch is within me, pulling and pushing me.