Thursday, July 30, 2009


Listening to Eichah last night, I realized a simple thing, namely that of the first 4 chapters in which the Psukim are composed in alphabetical order, there is a discrepancy in the order used. Only the first chapter goes according to the order we're familiar with, chapters 2-4 have Peh before Ayin in all three chapters. Is this a mistake in transmission, or more likely, there were different orders used in different times? Has anyone noticed this, also any suggestions about literature on this topic.
What disappointed me about this finding last night, was the following: I've read Eichah dozens of times already, and it took me to become an Apikores to realize something as simple as this? Were we really that blind? I know we were, but that blind!
Another simple thing that came to my attention is that the meaning of the Posuk,
רְאֵה יְהוָה וְהַבִּיטָה, לְמִי עוֹלַלְתָּ כֹּה: אִם-תֹּאכַלְנָה נָשִׁים פִּרְיָם עֹלְלֵי טִפֻּחִים, אִם-יֵהָרֵג בְּמִקְדַּשׁ אֲדֹנָי כֹּהֵן וְנָבִיא
'See, O LORD, and consider, to whom Thou hast done thus! Shall the women eat their fruit, the children that are dandled in the hands? Shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? (Lamentations 2:20)
has nothing to do with the Gemara's Pshat that says the latter half of the Psouk is a retort by God, referring to the slaying of Zecharyah by the Jews hundreds of years prior. This I kind of knew, but still the Drush which RSH"I brings down was always so vivid, I would automatically read it that way.

Nu, so what's the Mussar Haskel. Don't read TN"KH without Meforshim: you will become an Apikores. And conversely, the surest way to become an Apikores is to read the text of TN"KH by itself! But please boys and girls don't try this at home, it is dangerous.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sholem Aleichem

Nothing beats reading Sholem Aleichem in the original, and I mean nothing. Has anyone ever read it in the original? Any thoughts? Let me know.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Age of Reason?

I'm reading Gershom Scholem's autobiography, and the strongest impression that I got from it so far, was the intellectually stimulating environment he found himself in. The Apikorsus of all brands was there for the picking. There were groups, circles, clubs and organizations of all kinds based on this or that shared common belief. Today, there are a few of us here and there who have to go to great lengths to meet a like minded soul. When I read accounts of that time period, I feel like I'm in the wrong century. Granted, most of the intellectual fads of the time, were based on some sort of socialism, which is revolting to me, mostly due to it's naivete, and completely unfounded belief in humanity. Nonetheless, it was a time fertile for intellectual creativity, and Meshugaim like us, who cared or at least though they cared for the truth, were common enough to be a class for themselves, that can flourish as such.
This bring me to my second point, the different manifestations of our Apikorsus. It seems like these guys had guts, something that I find lacking in many of us, myself including, to a degree. Certainly, much of this difference can be attributed to demographics. Most Jews at that time, especially in Eastern Europe, were religious, and that was the time when those that couldn't stay were leaving. It was a mass exodus, simply because it's time had come. In numbers there is power, and it seems like the established religious power holders, were on the defensive. We're now a century after this process, and the religious community has come back in a much smaller, compact and introverted form. It's also been setup (at least the ultra Orthodox) with the primary goal of keeping its members in the fold. This has created a very different dynamic, a sort of reversion to tribalism if I may use the term, which is very successful at keeping it's limited numbers in the fold.
And still, I think there is something missing. Maybe it's living in America, the land of the cheeseburger and the SUV. I don't know, but why can't we be something more than just a couple of Meshugaim. We're definitely a product of the times, and times have changed, alas they've become more boring.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Random Ramblings

Ah, finally I can sit down and relax with a screwdriver, Oder A Bisseleh Stolichnaya Oif Dem rocks, and sing "M'Ein Olam Hazeh, M'Ein Olam Hazeh" after the last few months, it's been very hectic. A few things of interest:
Yesterday I popped into the only Sforim store in town worth visiting (my Landsleit will know which one I'm referring to), and I saw this on display:

I asked if this is a serious book or A Bisseleh Litzanus, and he said no no, this is for real, to which I replied this is the biggest Litzanus of all. Along these lines, I thought of a great title for a book: "Arbeit Macht Frei". The contents can be any of those tree killing publications all about the Chashivus of Toira, which aren't worth the sticker used for the price tag.

What else, it is beyond hilarious, pathetic, or any other such descriptive what's going on in Moscow. What sort of fool is Obama that he thinks he will cause any good to come out of that rotten mafia posing as a government. Any person with half a neuron in his skull knows, that what brought down the Soviet Union wasn't rhetoric, it was a combination of the arms race with the unnaturally low price of oil in the 80s. Nothing more, nothing less. In reality not much has changed since then, Medvedev is president, like Kalinin was head of state in Stalin's time. I sympathize with Obama's motives on both nuclear and social issues, but there is no one to talk to. There will never be freedom in that God forsaken corner. Freedom is something the people must demand in order for it to be maintained, and in Russia freedom was never demanded, only bread and land. In this country we're also forgetting how to maintain our freedom, but I won't get into that, I'm not going to ruin the blog by discussing politics. When Bernanke was appointed, Bloomberg Markets interviewed him and they asked about his religious orientation, to which he replied, my mother taught me never to discuss two things: politics and religion. One half of that dictum we're blatantly disregarding, the other I would very much like to observe.

On another note, I saw a very good Pshat explaining what was the sin of Moshe Rabbenu in the JPS Chumash by Jacob Milgrom. In short, he explains that the portrayal of a prophet and miracle worker in the Pentateuch is of someone silently performing a miracle, all the while atrtributing the power to God. Before the action, whether it was hitting the water, or throwing ash or the stick, Moshe would say what would happen and attribute it to God. This is contrast to heathen sorcerers and magicians who would say some incantations before performing. The important distinction is that pagans believed that there are certain rules in and outside of nature that govern everything, including the gods. By saying the correct incantations, it was believed that the sorcerer can tap into an existing mechanism, irregardless of the god's will, even in opposition to it. The Pentateuch is trying to stress that everything in the world is in God's power, and any miracle is performed through God's will.
כִּי הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה יוֹרֵשׁ אוֹתָם--אֶל-מְעֹנְנִים וְאֶל-קֹסְמִים, יִשְׁמָעוּ; וְאַתָּה--לֹא כֵן, נָתַן לְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
נָבִיא מִקִּרְבְּךָ מֵאַחֶיךָ כָּמֹנִי, יָקִים לְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: אֵלָיו, תִּשְׁמָעוּן.
For these nations, that thou art to dispossess, hearken unto soothsayers, and unto diviners; but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do. A prophet will the LORD thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; (Deuteronomy 18: 14-15).
That's why Moses never chanted anything when performing miracles. In this instance, God also told Moses to speak to the Jews before performing the miracle through hi ting the rock. Hence taking the stick along. Milgrom follows the interpretation of וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל-הַסֶּלַע as עַל הַסֶּלַע
therefore, Moshe was told to perform a miracle as usual, announce beforehand what is to occur, and then perform the appropriate action. He did so, almost. He said הֲמִן-הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה, נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם
implying that we, not God, will draw forth water. So the transgression was speaking. He brings proof for this from Psalms where it states:
כִּי-הִמְרוּ אֶת-רוּחוֹ; וַיְבַטֵּא, בִּשְׂפָתָיו.
the JPS translation is actually not exact as they translate: "For they embittered his spirit, and he spoke rashly with his lips." The text though literally just means, he uttered with his lips, which implies that the problem was in the speech itself not in the manner thereof.
Maybe I'll have some more on this next time.