Posted by: admiralfrum | November 23, 2009

Subversion and Subversiveness

Hakoras Hatov:

A bochur in Lubavitch posted this summary to one of my favorite sichos. I know it’s from last week’s parsha, but it really uplifted my shabbos to think it over again. Now I’m normally the type of person to immediately stop paying attention as soon as I see any dvar toira online. As soon as I see them I skip over them. I guess if I wanted to learn I wouldn’t be online in the first place. But this one’s different (at least to me).

Eisav – a character so bad we normally suffix his name with “HaRosho”, had something we should aspire to. Eisav is HaKoivesh es Yitzro, while Yankev Avinu is Chossid HaMeulah. War and Peace. Conquering or sitting in a tent. Eisav’s trapping – deception and deciet – is the bread and butter of Yiddishkeit. Making a dira lo yisborech and dealing with the world is about revealing certain things and not revealing other things. The world is a place of falsehood, and we need to use deception in order to deal with it. Eisav just made a mistake; he made trapping and field work the basis of his lifestyle, while in order to succeed you need to always put kedusha first.

Personally I’m always interested in the Dark Side of life – deceit, violence, anger, money, whatever. In order to live a frum life in the world today it you need to understand it, because otherwise you can’t choose the right way to go. If you are choosing between chaim and tov and moveis and rah, you have to know all of your choices. You might think you’re avoiding bad, and actually choosing worse.

In chabad you sometimes hear stories and tidbits that are very subversive. That the Rayatz’s kittel had the monogram “JS“. That all the big mashpi’im smoke. That the Rebbe davened in his room most mornings. What does this teach us? That it’s not so poshut. This world is about priorities, and seemingly  negative activities often have benefits that are worth the costs.

At the moment I’m learning Ete”r, from the Rebbe Rashab. I’ve learned bits of other hemshechim but this one seems to be a special fit for me. Last week I noticed the word in Chumash Toldos (25:21): וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַיהוָה לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ, כִּי עֲקָרָה הִוא. Rashi says there that all עתר is loshon הפצרה ורבוי – urging in prayer. It’s not quite connected to what I get out of it, but I think it’s fitting as eter is good for davening.

At any rate, it’s nice to identify with Eisav for once.
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Posted by: admiralfrum | November 17, 2009

Vision of Gan Eden – R’ Chaim Vital

I mentioned Sefer HaChezyonos earlier, so here I include a little translation of one of the chapters there (2nd Chelek, 5th Os). Hopefully you will see why it made Lazar laugh. When I started this I wasn’t aware that it had already been translated by Paulist press. I had considered translating it for an independent study credit next semester (that would have been fun). It’s a little bit silly that the only translation was done by the Catholics, but I guess that’s how it goes.

The year 1586, Sabbath eve of the 8th of Teves. I said kiddush and sat at the table to eat, and my eyes were flowing with tears. I sighed and groaned because on the 10th of Cheshvan that passed I married my wife Chana and they bound me with witchcraft. And I said to Hashem Yisborach: “Behold, through a shailas chalom I returned her as mentioned above, and how can such a great suffering occur to me, particularly that I had the sin of keri levatola when I checked myself with her”.

And I also cried over the great bittul of not learning torah for those two years, as I have written in the pamphlet “About my soul” (printed in this volume). And from my great worries I did not eat at all, and I lay on my bed on my face crying, until I fell asleep from great weeping.

I dreamed an incredible dream, and saw myself sitting in the house of Rabbi Shem Tov Halevi za”l(the Raza), davening mincha, which is called an eis ratzon, on shabbos afternoon. After the davening an elderly man with the appearance of Rabbi Chaim Halevi Ashkenazi za”l [the Ari] stood before me and called me by name. He said “You Rabbi Chaim – do you want to go out to the fields with me to escort away the shabbos queen, as is your custom to greet her when she comes in, and I will show you incredible things?”. And I said “Here I am”. Thus we went and walked to the wall of the ancient tower at the west side of Tzfas, next to the “Chan”, where the doorway used to be.
it's pretty steep And I looked and behold there was a huge mountain with its summit in the heavens, and he said to me “Come ascend with me and there I will tell you the story of my shlichus that I was sent to you”. In the blink of an eye I saw him sitting on the top of the mountain and I was sitting below. I couldn’t go up at all because the mountain was steep like a single wall and was not sloped like other mountains. I said to him “I don’t understand: I am young and I cannot ascend at all, but you are old and you went up in the blink of an eye”. And he said “You Chaim, Don’t you know that every day I go up and down by way of this mountain a thousand times to do the shlichus of the Omnipresent one. Why do you wonder about it?”.

When I saw that at first he called me Rabbi Chaim and and now he called me Chaim, and also listening to terrifying words, I knew that he was certainly Eliahu Z”L from the tribe of Levi, and then I my eyes teared and flowed with great terror. I entreated him with tears and said to him “calm my soul with your eyes, and ascend with me”. He said “Don’t be afraid, because my shlichus is to you”. My arms strengthened and I ascended to the mountaintop with him in the blink of an eye. And I saw, a ladder was placed on the mountaintop with its feet on the ground and its top reaching to the heavens. The only had 3 rungs, that is to say bars or levels, and between each rung and the next was the distance of the height of a man. He said to me “Until here I have permission to help you, now and onwards see what you must do”. He disappeared and I cried from great suffering.

And behold, an important woman, beautiful as the sun, sat facing me on top of the ladder, and I thought in my heart that she was my mother. She said “What’s going on my son Chaim crying like that, I heard your tears and came to help you”. She reached out her right hand and lifted me to the top of the ladder. I saw there a large round window, with a fiery burning flame coming out from it, going back and forth like lightning with great force, and it burned anything that in its way. I knew in my heart that it was the flaming sword that turns, at the opening of the Garden of Eden. I called with a bitter soul to the woman and said “Mother mother, help me now from this flame so that I don’t get burned”. She said “Only you can help yourself from the sword, therefore I will tell you what to do. Look – place your hand on your head and you will find there cottonwool, white as snow, take it and put it in the burning window and it will close, and then cross over quickly”. And It seemed to my lowly knowledge that the wool was my hair that had been transformed from black (din) to white through some merits, through the secret of ‘and the hair of his head was white as wool’. I did it and crossed quickly. Right away the fire returned and the woman disappeared.

And Eliahu z”l returned as before, and he grasped me with his right hand and said to me: “Come with me to the place where I was sent to take you”. And he brought me to a vast courtyard, without measure, and inside it were great rivers drawing living waters, to water the garden. On the banks of the rivers on both sides were beautiful fruit trees, fat and flourishing, without end. Most of them were apple trees, fragrant like myrrh. They were exceedingly tall, and the branches curved close towards the ground as they left the trunk, creating a kind of sukkah below them.

And in that garden were countless birds which looked like white geese, moving the length and breadth of the garden and repeating the mishnayos of maseches Shabbos (because it was then friday night, as mentioned at the beginning of the dream). And in teh course of their travel they would recite a mishneh or a perek and then curve their necks to eat apples from the trees and drink water from the rivers. And this they did continually. And I understood that they were the souls of the tzaddikim who were masters of the mishnah, but I did not know why they had the appearance of white geese and birds, and not the appearance of men.

And I went further deeper into the garden until I saw an elevated place [aliyah] that was large and high, as though it were on top of a high hill, and there was no building below it. It went from the ground of the garden to the height of a man, and opened on the west side, and a ladder of three levels made of stone went from the ground to the opening. And Eliahu z”l disappeared fry my eyes. And I ascended the ladder alone, and went into the entryway of the elevated place, and I saw G-d sitting alone on a chair on the south side of the wall. His appearance was like the Ancient of Days, an old man with a beard white as snow, infinitely beautiful, and the tzaddikim sat before him on the ground on top of beautiful new cushions and rugs, learning Torah from his mouth. And I knew in my soul that the were the tzaddikim known as ‘Bnei Aliah’ and they had the image of men, gazing at the face of the schinah and learning Torah from his mouth continually. They were not on the same level as the baalei mishneh, for they looked like birds and geese, about them it is said (Brochos 57a) “One who sees a white goose in his sleep should expect wisdom”. And they stood in the courtyard of the garden and did not receive the face of the schina continually like the bnei aliah, and they didn’t learn torah directly.

And when I entered and saw his face I was terrified and a shaking gripped me and I fell to the floor in a fetal position, without any strength at all. And he sent is hand and grasped my right hand and said “Chaim my son, come and go, why are you fallen on your face, do not fear and do not be afraid.” And I said to him “My lord, I have no strength left and my majesty is turned to destruction because of my great fear of you. I do not have strength to arise”. And he said “Behold I have strengthened you and and reinforced you, stand in your place and sit at my right hand, in this empty space, as though you actually sat next to me”.

Then I said to him “How can I sit next to your right hand in that place, behold that place was already prepared for R’ Yosef Caro”. And he said to me, “That is what I thought at first, but afterwards I gave him a different place and I give you this place, and I have already prepared it for you”. And I said to him “Behold this is the place of Shmuel the Ramathite z”l”. And he said to me: “It is true that it is his place, but when the Holy Temple was destroyed he took it upon himself not to sit at this place until the future temple will be built. And then he went to the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem and he stands there continually and mourns it until it will be built. Therefore his place is left open, and I give it to you that you may sit in it”. Then I sat to his right, literally next to him, on the cushions on the ground like the other tzaddikim.

And he said to me: “This place is good in your eyes”. And I replied “Who can recount the wondrous great praises of this elevated space, however explain to me the difference between the baalei mishneh and the bnei aliyah, that there should be such a great difference in their appearance”. And he said “Have you forgotten what the sages said (Sanhedrin 92b) that “In the time to come HKB”H will make wings of eagles for the tzaddikim and they will swim on the face of the water”. This group are called baalei mishneh, because they appear like birds and geese and dwell on the face of the water that is in the rivers of Gan Eden, as you have seen with your eyes”. And then I said to him: “My lord, I have already recalled what is written in the introduction to sefer hatikkunim on the posuk “If you come across a birds’ nest… and the mother is sitting on the chicks or eggs…”, that you take the young because the eggs are baalei mishnah, and the young are baalei kabbalah, and these are baalei aliah, these that have the appearance of children”.

And I repeated to him “My Lord, have mercy on my soul, leave me in this place and don’t return me to descend into the fallen world, because it is revealed to you that I intend to do your will and I am afraid that the yeast in the dough will cause me to sin and I will be lost from this holy place”. And he said to me “You are still a young man and you have more time to toil in my Torah and my Mitzvos, but you need to return in order to complete your soul, and at the end of your life you will return to your place here. And if you are afraid to descend in case you sin, give me your hand and swear to me that you will not forsake the study of the Torah for any other occupation at all, and I will swear to you that I will not change or switch this place for anyone but you, and this will be your place at my right hand forever”. Then I raised my right hand and swore to keep those words, and he too swore to keep his word. And he said to me “Go in peace, remember and do not forget all these things”. Then I descended from the elevated space, I alone, and I found myself standing in this lowly world in the dream itself, and I did not see anything from all that I had seen in my ascent before.

Incredible stuff, no?

Posted by: admiralfrum | November 11, 2009

An Unusual Last Name

He's the one in the middle

A friend of mine, a freshman, is related to the famous Yiddish critic, Shmuel Nigger. We asked him how he came to have such a charged name – I was shocked when I first read that name, even despite the African-American solidarity that is present in Yiddish poetry. So it turns out that his family was from Russia, where their family name was Tcharnie, Russian for ‘black’. When he came to America he changed it to ‘Nigger’. Go figure.

Posted by: admiralfrum | November 2, 2009

In Central Park – אין סענטראל פארק

In Central Park – אין סענטראל פארק

,ווער איז שולדיק אין דעם וואָס מען זעט ניט דײַן בוים
.גאָרטן אין שנײ, מײַן גאָרטן אין שנײ
,ווער איז שולדיק אין דעם וואָס מען זעט ניט דײַן בוים
,אז סע גײט שפאצירן אין דיר אזא פרוי
,וואָס איר בוזעם הייבט זיך אוּן ווארפט זיך אזוי
ווי איבער צערודערטע כ’וואליעס און שוים
,א שיפל אין ים, מיט ים–רויבער צווײ
– ,וואָס שרײַען, אז זײ זײַנען ים–רויבער צווײ
.גאָרטן אין שנײ, מײַן גאָרטן אין שנײ

,ווער איז שולדיק אין דעם וואָס קײן הירש איז ניט
.גאָרטן אין שנײ, מײַן גאָרטן אין שנײ
,ווער איז שולדיק אין דעם וואס קײן הירש איז ניטאָ
אז א גלח וואָס דארף זײַן פרום ווי א קינד
,לויפט נאָך דעם קאפעליוס זײַנעם אין ווינט
!אונ ער שרײַט צו אים העי און האָ, און הא–לאָ
און דער קאפעליוש אין זײַן וויסטן געדרײ
– ,הערט אים ניט, אין זײַן וויסטן געדרײ
.גאָרטן אין שנײ, מײַן גאָרטן אין שנײ

,ווער איז שולדיק אין דעם וואָס איך בין דיר פרעמד
.גארטן אין שנײ, מײַן גארטן אין שנײ
,ווער איז שולדיק אין דעם וואָס איך בין דיר פרעמד
,אז איך גײ נאָך דעם שאלֹ און דאָס היתל דאָ
,ואָס בײַ קײנעם אין לאנד איז אזוינס ניטאָ
אונ אז כ’האָב נאָך א באָרד וואָס דײַן ווינט צענעמט
ווי א אידענע שטרוי, וואוּ זי זוכט אן אײ
— ,פאר איר קראנקן קינד, פון דער הון אן אײ
.גארטן אין שנײ, מײַן גארטן אין שנײ

Who is to blame that I can’t see your tree,
Garden in snow, my garden in snow.
Who is to blame that I can’t see your tree-
When a women goes out for a stroll in your snow,
Her bosom rising and bouncing so,
As on choppy waves in the sea
A boat with two pirates who row
And shout that they are pirates who row-
Garden in snow, my garden in snow.

Who is to blame that there are no deer,
Garden in snow, my garden in snow.
Who is to blame that there are no deer-
When a priest who should be good as a child
Is running after his hat gone wild
In the wind, and shouting: Hey, Ho, and Oh Dear!
And the hat, in its damn whirlblow,
Heeds him not, in its damn whirlblow-
Garden in snow, my garden in snow.

Who is to blame that I’m a stranger to you,
Garden in snow, my garden in snow.
Who is to blame that I’m a stranger to you-
When I wear a scarf and a cap at a slant,
Things that no one would wear in this land,
And I still have a beard that the wind blows
Like a woman seeking an egg in the straw
For her sick child, and egg in the straw-
Garden in snow, my garden in snow.

This fine poem was written by Moishe Leib Halpern and published posthumously (translated here by Benyomin and Barbara Harshav). It somehow captures the exact spirit of Central Park (or other public parks for that matter). The sights are ordinary yet idiosyncratic, the rhythm is powerful, and the metaphors are a stroke of genius. The pirates are hilarious – certainly they are Jewish – and reveal the face value of everyday life, that sometimes a full bust is nothing more than an announcement of a full bust. While Moishe Leib occasionally contains the trite leftist rants typical of contemporary Yiddish Literature, he always brings his own fresh and ironic twist. He’s probably my favorite Yiddish poet at this point in time – perhaps I will type more of his work in the future. I’m still getting used to the yiddish typography so please excuse the inconsistent nekudois.
Posted by: admiralfrum | November 1, 2009

Looking to Buy a Rifle

Note: Postdated from Sunday, October 25.
These past few weeks I have been looking into buying a rifle or two. I plan on moving to New Jersey in less than a year, so it would be wise to pick up a few “bixen” while it is still convenient. In NJ they make you wait to buy a “Firearms Purchaser ID”, often with waits of up to a year for spite depending on the whim of the paper-pusher who will be stamping it. And get this – you need one to buy a slingshot. Yes, SLINGSHOTS are considered firearms in New Jersey, along with BB guns and pellet guns. If you buy one without an ID (or under 21) you go to jail. Even Soviet Russia never reached such levels of creeping bureaucratic nanny-ism. For shame. My current state of residence has the usual gamut of idiotic laws found in any Northeastern state, but it is a veritable utopia of libertarian freedom compared to New Jersey. I would rather buy here than there.
At any rate, I looked into the possibility of a Face-to-Face transfer. At the federal level such sales take place just the way G-d intended them to be – paperless, as free as a chassidishe wind blowing through Lubavitch in Elul. You need a proof of state residency, he needs reasonable belief that you are not a convicted felon. He takes a small bundle of cash and you walk away with your shiny new pea-shooter. Thomas Jefferson would be beaming proud.
With such a possibilities, I began to peek around in the classifieds seeking an instrument worth my while. I was flirting with the idea of buying something to keep under my mattress. I live in the dorms here in college and wouldn’t want to provoke hysteria for being caught with a military-industrial-kiling-spree-evil-black-assault-rifle, but as long as sufficient precautions were taken (past the 99th percentile) it seemed considerable.
Pretty, but a 9-pound trigger pull sucks.

the gorgeous MSAR STG-556

The most interesting prospect was an MSAR STG-556, a clone of the Steyr AUG, selling for ~$2000. It is a dandy little bullpup, a joy to shoot and far more ergonomic than it’s unusual appearance suggests. At only 30 inches long you don’t need a conspicuous rifle case – you could probably even fit it inside a tennis-racket bag. If you do housework it is the perfect little rifle to sling over your shoulder in case of zombie attack.It is for sale in my state by a Police Sergeant. There was also a garden variety AR-15 going for $750 in Greenwich of all places. Both are pictured below.
ho hum

The generic AR-15.

Ironically enough, the STG-556 happens to be a creation of New Jersey’s “assault weapon ban”. An assault weapon is a style of rifle that cannot be exactly defined, so New Jersey law picked five features on a gun that make it ‘evil’ if you have two or more of them, and appended a long list of named rifles that didn’t fit the criteria but were deemed sufficiently scary to ignorant legislators. The Steyr AUG (designed by the Austrian military and not found for less than $6k in the US) was listed and couldn’t be sold. However a knifemaking company named MSAR came along and fixed that for us. They took the AUG’s plans and improved upon them – adding a bolt hold-open, a forward assist, and tinkered internals. Out comes an improved clone of the AUG, but since it does not carry the name “Steyr AUG” it is now deemed safe and acceptable for NJ’s citizens to own. Thus Gun ban => improved guns; stupid legislation and capitalism working together at their finest. To my lament the FAL, my dream of a rifle, did not enjoy such treatment. AR-15’s (the de-facto assault rifle) managed to end up legal while the Marlin 60 (the de-facto children’s rabbit gun) did not.

FAL Para

Oh FAL, how I pine for thee!

It looks bad, doesn't it!Marlin_Model_60_22LR.JPG
Above: an AR-15 – Legal in New Jersey

Below: The Marlin 60 - Illegal Assault Weapon

With further inquiry I found out that state law may require a state form to be filled out for face-to-face transfers (the DPS 67-C and the DPS 3-C), as well as the usual 14-day waiting period and so on. This would make it about the same as buying from a regular Gun Dealer, with no advantages at all. At the end of the day I think I will probably just buy some stock 308 Winchester and keep it in the safe of the university Rifle Club.
To be continued…
Posted by: admiralfrum | October 19, 2009

Sefer HaChezyonos – Rabbeinu Chaim Vital

I brought a copy of this into Shul this past Shabbos. Few people seem to have heard of it but it’s a gevaldike sefer.Sefer HaChezyonos I showed it to a friend of mine named Lazar. Lazar is one of those Young Israel types who has gone fruity in his old age. He is a psychologist, and loves to sit at the back of shul and hum funny songs, make jokes about people and women and life.

He read the book and was absolutely gripped by it. Every few pages he would laugh out loud or show me some incredible statement. The sefer really is incredible – it is a sort of spiritual autobiography, describing things the Ari said to R’ Vital about his own significance. I suppose it is kind of like the Reshimos in that way – contains autobiographical statements that ‘blow your socks off’. It has gilgulim and palm-reading, witchcraft and flying; but best of all it contains Chaim Vital’s visions and dreams, which contain some very powerful imagery (mountains, heavens, etc.). Lazar said it shows you the kind of kooks who were writing our halocho (בדרך צחות, referring partly to Yosef Karo, their contemporary). I retorted that that’s how yiddishkeit works, you find stuff just as kooky in the Tanach, Gemora, etc. Our religion is full of kooks.

He wants to do a translation of it with me. It seems that it has great potential for work within academia because it contains candid accounts of dreams from such a pivotal character Judaism. It would be a field of gold for Freudian or Jungian readings, and that would just be as a starting point. I can’t figure out why no-one has heard of it. The language is very simple and it reads smoothly in narrative form. Perhaps because it wasn’t fully published until 1866. I’ll update if anything gets underway.

Posted by: admiralfrum | October 19, 2009

Ahoy there!

Dear Reader,

Good evening, and welcome to the first post of my blog! Life’s whimsical ways have placed me in a rather unique position – though a BT from a young age, I have now floated my way up to the highest echelons of ivory-towered academia. My interests are idiosyncratic, and not always appropriate for what people think a-good-chassidic-admiral-such-as-yourself ought to be interested in. Well interests they remain, and I intend to air them out in in the public forum for everyone to see and comment upon. I don’t really like the concept of anonymity, so please consider this little work of mine to be a constructed identity. I will be honest and forthright, and if there is reason for me to reveal myself – perhaps I will. I hope that you will find my writing interesting, well-written, and personal.

Though the immediate stimulus for this project is my Thermodynamics midterm tomorrow morn (I procrastinate), a few bloggers have been great inspirations for me. Your efforts are appreciated to no end:

The Shaigetz

The early work of Tzemach Atlas

Hirshel Tzig

Bad4Shidduchim

Heshy Fried

A good evening, a gut’n choidesh and a gut’n yohr. Der Eibishter should bentch us all.

~Admiral Frum

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