Monday, October 31, 2005

I was going to write about how I noticed today that my piano playing has gotten better and how now that I've been practicing with chords, my fingers are starting to feel differently, but rather, I got a mistaken e-mail from an old friend today -- someone whom I wouldn't have expected to hear from ever again based on our previous interactions. I would say with humility that this was one of those situations that got messed up on its own without my help -- do you ever have those experiences where you did everything right but everything turned out wrong? I am of the opinion that specifically with this scenario, G-d personally did it -- He intervened, He entered into this person's head, he twisted things around and influenced this person's thoughts, and with His mighty hand, He compelled the result of our interactions to be the way they were. How can that be anything other than good?

Anyway, my first reaction was that it hurt knowing that I was on the mind of this person. It actually made me feel lonely knowing that I was probably actually NOT on this person's mind and that I received this e-mail purely by mistake -- not even because of the person we are talking about, but because I missed the idea of being on someone's mind / being thought about. After what happened and the surprising turn of events, I wished to be erased from this person's memory as if we never met. I wanted to undo everything we said to each other and every feeling I trusted with this person. I feel that I opened up under false pretenses and I was misled into sharing my feelings with this person.

Yet it is true that every person has an affect on every person one comes into contact with -- you can't deny this, even if it is just a face, a voice, or a memory that stays with you.

So this is it. I'm surprised that I am actually learning the Jazz style, and how my fingers are actually picking up the shapes of the notes. It is astounding to me to see how my brain is unconsciously learning to play each time I walk away from the piano in frustration. It seems that every time I play, I have learned to be a bit better.

On second thought, if I believe that everything that happens is from Divine Providence -- which I do -- then getting this e-mail was an act by G-d or one of His angels urging me to do or think something. Then again, it could be an interference from the dark side -- oooooh, aaaaaah, boo! Happy Halloween, by the way. Either way, you cannot paskin (make a determination regarding) the future based on messages from the universe without the help of hindsight. Being aware of strange occurrences is one concept. However, acting upon them as if they were prophecies (looking for the hidden meanings in messages) is stupid.

I believe strongly that the quality of my life is based on the value decisions I make which determine what kind of person I will become. What deeds I fill my time doing also will affect the person I become. If my actions are meritorious, then good things will happen, and vice versa. Bottom line -- I received this e-mail, which was followed by a generalized apology letter to everyone else who received this same message from this person.

I acknowledge that something could be going on regarding this person below the surface of what we perceive to be reality that will affect me and my existence. I have taken notice of this e-mail, and I am not messing around with fate by writing back or by reacting or responding. This is a piece of my past I would just rather be left alone. "Just be still and see what your Creator has planned for you."

Friday, October 28, 2005

I need to pray. I missed davening with a minyan this morning because I was up late last night, and my tefillin are in my car. I have so much to do today, but I know that if I start my day without praying, it will not happen. I'm going to force myself to do it now.

Benefits of Working Hard

I've been spending considerable time lately in front of the Casio Privia piano that I bought during last month's self-improvement spending spree. I have a book on Jazz that I've been learning from, and I wanted to comment on how difficult it has been to learn the new style (II-V-I) of chords and inverted chords from scratch.

I've been playing blues and the New Orleans style of piano by ear since I was inspired in high school by a close friend of mine who up to and including today is by far the best piano player I have ever seen. However, my playing was purely by ear. This new style is literally, by the book. I have never seen something so difficult.

I find that I'll walk away from the piano with a headache, but when I return to the piano some time (hours / days) later, my mind is clear and I unconsciously learned the material that was previously frustrating to me. I must also comment that this sometimes takes many tries before it happens, but when it does, the feeling of accomplishment is very empowering. What I do with that newfound power is I channel it into the next level of learning which causes the frustration response all over again, albeit now at a higher level with more complex playing.

I wonder whether in a few months or years I will look back and say, "wow, I did it." I am starting to experience that now [that I am studying for the Bar Exam] with regard to the years of hard work to get through law school. I suppose this feeling is common for me when I accomplish something that I worked really hard on. Another area that I've felt this is with regard to my religious pursuits and in my Torah learning.

I once decided to every day go to sleep knowing more and being a better person than I was when I woke up that morning. Anthony Robbins calls this model of living "C.A.N.I." which stands for constant and neverending improvement. I believe this is the goal of life. The trick is to channel it into a skill set or set of knowledge that will reap both spiritual and physical rewards, and not merely momentary pleasures. Of course I am still thinking about last night where I faced a challenge and somehow succeeded in pulling myself away from a temptation that I didn't think that I had the strength to overcome.

I still see myself as weak in this area, but as of last night, something inside me changed and I made some kind of resolve, although I am not yet sure what it is.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Pleasure Calls To Me as the Full Moon Calls to the Werewolf and yet I don't answer...

Its 3am and I've turned into an insomniac again. I'm not exactly sure why. In preparation for my Patent Law class, I spent considerable time reading the Casebook Summaries. For those of you who aren't familiar with these, I feel like a whore every time I succumb to use them instead of reading the text. These summaries, regardless of the publisher, give you the issues and the rationales from the cases, along with enough facts to understand what the professor is talking about in class. However, it sincerely lacks in details, which is where us law students get caught when we use them. I had a dream that I got caught using them and I was completely embarrassed when I was found out. Part of me wonders whether it is an honor code violation to use them in preparation for class instead of actually doing the readings.

After class there was a Pre-Halloween Party in the cafeteria. People were dancing and partying and the lights were all off. I got scared in the bathroom when someone with red eyes and a hood walked towards me.

A girl I am attracted to was drunk and she saw me and came out of the party to talk to me. Normally she's too cool for me and I'm too shy to pursue anything non-academic with her. Plus, I am religious, and we were in school and for me there is a difference between going clubbing and dancing in a bar versus doing things in your own home (I consider my school my home since I spend so much time there and most of the people I spend my days with are there). Even though I have been shomer negiah for many years now, and even though as of late I've slipped a bit allowing my hands to be shaken by women when we say hello, tonight was different because I was attracted. There was a danger here of doing something I shouldn't do, and I knew I was in unfamiliar territory.

As she was talking to me, she put her hand on my hand which was grasping my rolling book bag (carry-on bag in which I keep my books) very tightly. My normal impulse was to hold her hand but this wouldn't have been meaningless and so I let her hand drop to her sides as I took my hands back from her grip with a smile and a bead of sweat rolling down my forehead.

Almost in tears [of course I am being dramatic], I excused myself and instead of going into the party, I left the building to go home. I walked away from an experience that could have been amazing, and I am not talking about the girl, I am talking about the dancing at the party. But it was personal tonight -- I could feel it. My heart really wanted to stay which is why I knew that I needed to gather all my might to go because this wasn't the place for me.

As I walked out of the building, I said to one of the security guards, "I don't know why I live the life I do. All this discipline better be worth it." I was going to call my rabbi and tell him that life better be good because the life that I am not living calls to me so strongly as the full moon calls to a werewolf hiding within the bones of its human host. My fangs grow, my eyes widen. Yet I stay in control and I don't let temptation overcome my understanding of right and wrong. I don't hate myself for this. I just think I am a cruel S.O.B. to restrain myself from experiences like this, even if it is for my own good. I sure hope that there is truth and pleasure -- greater than the kind I am missing -- around the bend. !New! Browser

There is a new kind of browser which builds upon the Mozilla Firefox browser. It is chock full of features and it is cutting edge. (It is also FULL of bugs and crashes, so if you're not okay with a few scrapes and bloody knees, beware.) I think the software will be pretty cool. I'm actually writing this blog entry from the software [between crashes].

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What do you think?

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Mysticism of Today and Tomorrow

Since tonight and tomorrow will be what is called Hoshana Rabba and Simchas Torah, I figured that I would share a quick vort (lesson) that I learned from the Lubavicher Rebbe, and then I'll share something personal.

As you know, for the last week, us Jews have been carrying around something called a Lulav, which is a palm branch and various other types of branches all bound together. Some have a smell, others have a taste, some have both, and some have none. The interesting part is that for these next few days, we have these branches bound together and we shake the Lulav in every direction.

I don't know why we shake it, but I do know that it causes a great upheaval in the spiritual realms. The effects here seem minimal, but in the spiritual realm, the effects are earth shaking.

The different types of branches symbolize the different types of people. The branch with taste correlates with someone who does G-d's commandments; the branch with a smell is someone who learns G-d's Torah. (Or vice versa). The important thing is that during this week, all of us somehow spiritually are bound together and we affect each other in magnitudes I cannot describe. The interesting thing is that tonight for Hoshana Rabba, we all say the whole [5] book[s] of Tehillim (Psalms) together, and tomorrow, we all dance together in the streets, which is a physical manifestation of what was until now symbolic and on the spiritual realm. And as Chassidus (the study of Jewish mysticism) teaches, specifically through physical actions do we bring about the greatest spiritual effects, and how much higher a Jew get by everyone of all religious and observance levels dancing together with the Torah?

As for my personal comment, the fact that we are saying the whole book of Psalms is a big deal spiritually. It does something -- what, I do not know. However, there are codes within the Psalms; if you say one combination, you get one result; if you say another combination, you get another result. These codes are no longer known to us, yet we still say selections each day -- we also say the whole book on the Shabbos Mevarchim (the Sabbath preceding every new month) and on select holy days such as today when the decrees of the new year (Rosh Hashanna) are signed, sealed, and delivered.

Lastly, regarding the clouds. As you've seen in the videos I put on the web, I learned the uncanny skill of melting big clouds in the sky. However, I couldn't explain why or how it worked, but it did. As you know, this is why I became religious (one of the reasons) -- I wanted answers to explain events such as this.

Finally, I cornered my rabbi into a conversation on a pseudo-topic where he described that things like this can happen, where righteous people can somehow reach into the spiritual realm and make a change at its source, and the physical world reacts by manifesting or de-manifesting something. However, he used very specific language saying that only Tzaddikim (righteous people) can do this, and you know me -- I am no righteous person. The fact that I sin proves this because by definition, a righteous person does not sin.

So how I am able to melt clouds is beyond me and still without an explanation as to how "I" can do it, but nevertheless, at least now I have more of an answer, that to do this, one needs to be living at a level that is not bound by physicality and physical rules. Maybe somehow I fit into the category, although how is beyond me.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sad Today... Not Sure Why.

I wish I had something more positive to say. I’m quite lonely. I spent a considerable amount of time by my rabbi’s house, but because his house was full of guests and I am like a natural resident there, I felt like I was in the background for most of the holidays which I spent sleeping when I wasn't eating or in synagogue.

That’s exactly how I’ve felt these past few weeks – like I am in the background. Today I picked up food for our Sukkah party for the Colorado Jewish Law Students Association. Nobody noticed. Someone asked me if she can make a beracha (blessing) on the Lulav, and when I helped her with it, someone screamed out, "shake it", so she swung it against the wall almost breaking it. I am positive that it is no longer kosher. I will have it checked tomorrow.

I bought food for the Sukkah party. Nobody noticed. Everyone came in, ate, and left. Later on when I came to the Sukkah to study and pray, the place was a mess. Food was spilled everywhere. People didn’t clean up after themselves. I cleaned everything up, prayed, and ate some leftover vegetables.

While I was at Staples picking up some supplies, I went to park my car, and someone cut in front of me and took the space I was pulling into.

Everyone at school is talking about the interviews they have been receiving. I haven’t even sent out my resume to anyone. I don’t feel that I would get a job even if I tried. I don't feel like I am like the other people. I’ve been spending all my free time studying for the bar exam. I am hoping that somehow I will find a good job when I graduate and pass the bar.

Later, while I was standing in the Sukkah on my own as the sun began to set, I heard a girl walk by with her friends and say, "I promise you, there was pizza in there before." I wished I had a girlfriend or someone to speak to. I am feeling quite lonely. I can't bear being good for much longer, and being bad was no fun because when I tried, nobody wanted to be bad with me. I kept having a good effect on people which isn't what I wanted. People talk about good things around me. Nobody does rebellious things in my presence, so clubbing and getting drunk was a lonely experience too. I can't escape this.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Father Teach Me To Play Baseball, Please.

Regarding my father. I was sad to see him show up to shul today AFTER it ended. He missed Yizkor (in memory of parents) and he didn't feel bad about it. I was heartbroken, and when I gave my pledge to the shul, in my heart I said to myself, "so that my father grows a heart."

Sitting on the bimah, when I told my dad that he missed Yizkor and that everything is over until this afternoon, he said, "I came here to see you." I wish he didn't. He broke Yom Kippur to see me. He was wearing leather shoes (not permitted) and he was dressed in business casual (cowboy) clothing, not a suit.

I was reminded of the time that I sent the counselors to keep him away from me when he drove hours to see me when I was a child in summer camp. I faked fearing that he would beat me. In reality, I didn't want to see him then, and I didn't want to see him today. I only have emotional reasons for this response.

Later when he didn't want to stay until Mincha, I asked him why he even came at all. I asked him why he prayed if he declares that he doesn't believe in this "crap." If he doesn't believe in this crap, "then his parents are dead and there is no soul or afterlife or G-d and they are just dead," I said. He said, "I keep them alive in my heart." I didn't say this, but I thought, "Yeah, just as alive as your last sexual experience with your non-Jewish girlfriend." I actually said that keeping someone alive in your heart doesn't really keep them alive, because their memory dies when you die. I then was wondering how he felt if I told him that I wouldn't say kaddish for him when he died because it is all "crap".

Either there is an afterlife, a soul, and the whole organization, or people DIE AT DEATH. There is no other reasonable alternative.

My dad was hurt when later on I told him I want a seat in between us for books. I didn't want him rubbing up against me or touching me. You know how this makes me feel. Plus, my stress level goes through the roof when I get within a foot or so from him and I completely glaze over and I zone out to avoid the anger that boils in my heart from the past.

I realized something today about why I am angry at him. He never taught me anything as a father should. Isn't that weird? Oh yes, he taught me to lie, to steal, to seduce, to cheat, to be dishonest, to ride a motorcycle, but he never taught me something of value. I was sad today about this. I wondered if he knew how I felt about him. Again, I know my statement is emotionally true, but probably factually false. I am just expressing how I feel.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"G-d, I did bad, you did bad -- Let's start a new account."

My Rabbi tells a story every Erev Yom Kippur about a guy at an inn who has two journals. Every year he looks into the first journal which contains his sins, and he takes account. Next, he looks into the second journal which contains G-d's sins (things that didn't go right for him) and he takes account. He looks at both books, says, "G-d, I was bad, you were bad -- let's start a new account."

While this was a joke, I am actually considering starting these journals. My first sin for tonight is listening to loshon hara and not saying anything about it while people were commenting on the chazzan's slow speed. I could've said something or stood up and walked away, but I just sat quietly and listened.

My first entry in G-d's book was also today. While backing up in the torrential rains motzi (after) Yom Kippur, I hit a black parked car. I didn't cause any damage, but I was embarassed when I walked over to the person and said, "I hit your car. I was going very slowly and so I don't think I caused any damage -- I checked -- but if I did, let me know and I'll pay for the repairs." I could have said nothing and gotten away with that, but being that Yom Kippur just passed, I felt that I wanted to do the right thing.

Otherwise, I blew the past two hours checking e-mails and looking for sewing machines. I know nothing about this; in fact, I am a complete space cadet when it comes to sewing. But I have many clothes where I want to take in my shirts, and I want to hem up my pants and sew on missing buttons that it would cost so much to have my stuff altered at a tailor that I thought I would venture out and learn a new skill to do it myself. It can't be that difficult.

Regarding school, I am feeling overwhelmed handling both the bar review and classes. I am not staying afloat, and this is bothering me. I need to overcome my "stupid distracted state" (SDS) and I must get to work. I am serious about this. I am passing the point of no return where my grades will start to get affected if I don't get down to business and catch up on the volumes of work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lack of Sleep declares, "No School Today"

Something hit me today. It wasn't the lazies, but it was an incapacity to be able to move or get anything done today. I was tired beyond belief. I still am.

I went to sleep last night around 1 am. I won't say that it was because my dad kept me up late -- again. I woke up this morning at 5am (yep, four hours of sleep), went to minyan to pray, and then I went to the gym. I lifted again the same amount of weight as yesterday. I also pressed some weight and now by body is feeling it. I might have pushed too hard.

But when I came home, I got frustrated because my investments weren't going my way. I was also annoyed because my computer wasn't working properly and the hard drive was spinning, effectively locking me out of my computer for twenty minutes at a time. Stupid me waited. Then who knows what I did -- a little piano playing, a bit of reading, some breakfast -- the time snapped from 10:30am to 1:30pm. I lost three hours of time doing who knows what.

At 1:30pm, I was physcially exhausted and I could barely move. I tried to pack up for school and do some work, but my mind was so exhausted I couldn't focus enough to be able to pack my bags and get into my car. Now it is 2:45pm, and hour and a half later -- I napped for half an hour, but I am still exhausted -- and I decided to skip the three classes I have today in order to catch up on some work.

Missing classes in law school is a VERY BAD thing to do, and I just blew off all my classes. I am not happy about this. I wish I knew what I could do to get my energy back. It just feels like it was sucked out of me.

My classes technically start at 3:15pm. I could make it if I leave now. Maybe I should bite the bullet and just get in the car and go to school. Maybe I'll do that. Let's see if I can. NO. I want this time to prepare for the bar exam. There is too much work that I CAN do if I stay home that if I go to school it will be a waste of a day in classes (I am not prepared for my classes and I DON'T LEARN when I am not prepared). I don't want to waste my day. Instead, I want to do bar review.

This is my decision. I am taking the day off to do bar review. My professors will understand.


All That Jazz, All That Muscle

I am very excited 1) that I am awake at 5:15am and 2) that I've been working on my goals faithfully and with diligence.

Last night and most of yesterday, I spent considerable time practicing on my new piano. I was learning how to play in the style of Jazz -- I was learning the rules and the chord progressions, including sevenths, minor chords, diminished chords, and the such. The Jazz book I am learning from is teaching me to learn the techniques it teaches in EVERY KEY -- it is now clear to me where I went wrong when learning to play the blues and New Orleans style piano -- I learned to play in only one or two keys, and then I developed my abilities on those keys for many years without learning the other keys. Now, being very skilled in those keys, as I am now returning to learn the other keys, I feel that I am starting all over both in skill and in style. Had I learned to play in all the keys like I am doing now with Jazz piano, I would be a master at the piano!

The exciting part with what I am doing now is -- now that I am playing Jazz in the different keys, I am hearing the subtleties between the chord inversions and the same chord progressions in the various keys. A few months ago I met with a person who was a composer of music. We spoke about the subtle reasons why someone would choose to play a specific note over another, versus why someone would augment a chord versus choosing to play a diminishing a chord -- all these minor and subtle changes not only change the sound of the music and its mood, but they elicit a specific feeling within the player and within the listener. This is so subtle that one would need to be attuned to the music to pick it up. But, when one develops this subtle ability, the pleasure one can get from something as simple as using one chord over another is so intense that it can excite the heart and paint a smile deep in the cheeks of all of those who come into contact with these musical pieces. I've wanted to play Jazz my whole life. I am happy I am getting to this now. This is a big achievement.

On another note, I went to the gym last night after learning a technique by Pavel Tsatsoline in his book for developing strength and muscle without bulking up. I am a man with gladiator proportions -- bulking up is not something I need to do. Rather, I could use some tone and cuts in the muscles I already have.

So in the gym, I did something called a deadlift, where one simply lifts an enormous amount of weight and then releases it quickly to the ground. Doing this kind of exercise is dangerous for the back and the other muscles unless one has learned the techniques, which I have by reading Pavel's books. On my first try, lifting 100 lbs of dead weight seemed too easy, so I upped the weight to 180 lbs. Add the weight of the bar (another 20 lbs.) and you'll find that I lifted 200 pounds, close to my own weight. This is a big deal. I am very excited about this, especially because I'm learning how strong I really am. This may seem silly to some, but coming from the point of view of being a scrawny kid in high school and college with slim shoulders and experiencing my growth spurts late in my college years, I still often see myself as the tiny 170 lb. kid rather than the developed 220 lb. man. That's a 50 lb. difference, and I am the same height I was back in college (over 6' tall). So lifting this amount of weight has been an exciting experience for me. Even more exciting is now, the next day -- I feel no pain and no strain, which means that I have lifted within my means.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Can Anyone Help Me Find A Watch??

Can anyone help me find a watch? My psychologist said that he feels that I would do better if I wore a watch on my wrist, especially because I don't pay that much attention to time on the wall or on the Palm.

I'm looking on and I like the style of item 1145345 (above). Simple, nothing fancy, but not cheap looking. I also like the idea of an automatic watch (which this one is not), but I don't want to spend that much money; after all, this is a watch we're talking about. Also, size DOES matter -- I want a smaller watch that is discreet and that won't catch people's eye. Function over form matters to me.

Can anyone help me find a watch? I am not limited to's web site. I'd really be thankful.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

My HeroMachine Character

This is my character on the HeroMachine website.

"The frightening thought is when you look at the complete image; those that know me will see me looking back at them."

Here are the rules:
1. Delve into your blog archive.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

My 5th sentence from my 23rd post is:
"The frightening thought is when you look at the complete image; those that know me will see me looking back at them."

Nothing SO interesting here... Money Stuff

There isn't that much exciting going on. I spent Shabbos hiding out on my own in my father's house, which is too far from any minyan to attend services. I still fully kept shabbos, davened (prayed), and did everything I was supposed to, sans the mitzvah of hearing the weekly Torah reading.

I wish I lived closer to a shul that way I can enjoy a peaceful shabbos like the one I just had, but including the minyan and the shul experience. My dad is still talking about building closets in my room, even though I told him that I plan on moving out soon. He's in denial, just as he usually is when I do something that is against his wishes.

Other than reorganizing my bookshelf by topic, (i.e. Nigleh, Halacha, Chassidus, Tanya; Law books by course topic; Secular books by books on persuasion, investing, grammar and proper writing, "feel good" books by Rabbi Twerski, M.D., and previous journals), I spent a considerable time today reading Pavel Tsatsouline's book called "Power to the People," a book on the strength training techniques the Russian atheletes use when training for the olympics. I've been very impressed by his books and his style of writing lately, and I've found his advice to work very well when it comes to getting results in stretching and exercise.

Otherwise, everything seems okay. I found out early Friday morning that my massive amount of private loan debt's interest rate has been inching up these past few months from 4% to almost 7%. That's a big jump, and I don't think it is going back down any time soon. So, I am thinking of taking all of my investment account Roth IRA money that I saved during college and taking a disbursement to pay down the school private loans. I checked on the IRS website, and this use of my Roth IRA funds would avoid the 10% penalty that the IRS imposes on early withdrawal of Roth IRA funds.

I feel that using my funds to pay the school loan guarantees me a 7% interest (that I will not be incurring), and this is a better deal than playing with the money in this crazy market and risk losing even more of it like I did a few months ago.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Confusion of Gender Roles in Shul

I just posted a comment on Mirty's page regarding women and shul. Her article was about the politics of a shul regarding the various practices and I agree with her. I often wonder why people can't just show up, pray, and do the mitzvos. I wonder about the spiritual value for all the other chazonnis (cantorial productions), speeches, and the wasting of time with kovod (honors) given to the members so that they will give tzedakka. If I want to give tzedakka, I usually just give it. My opinion is that we should just pray, serve Hashem, and get it all over with.

Anyway, the topic of her post was about kovod from a woman's point of view. I wrote a comment saying that it is nice for women to be at shul, but it might be a confusion of a woman's role to think that they have the obligation to actually be in shul. When a woman is not in shul during a mitzvah, the husband or father is supposed to come home and do the mitzvah (i.e. blowing the shofar) at home for his wife and children. This whole idea of women comming to shul and wanting aliyas and making their own services as a response to the men's services seems to me to be a bit confused because I never learned a source that would give women the idea that they should do so. I do think women getting together to pray is admirable, yet the idea of a minyan (ten men together praying so that the shechina will dwell upon them) has to do specifically with ten men; women are not mentioned in the definition nor in the interpretations. I would say perhaps this is based on a male-based control over the religion, but women also have a very important role in Judaism. Rabbi Manis Friedman goes deep into the power of women in his lecture series. As far as I know, ten women together davening don't form a minyan. And women laining (reading the Torah) and getting aliyahs is not the way things are; I'd posit perhaps the Shulchan Auruch (Code of Jewish Law) is wrong, but good luck changing that one -- every Jew accepts the Shulchan Auruch, even women. It feels to me that there is a confusion of the roles here with Jewish women and shuls, and it's probably the men's fault for not having a proper Jewish atmosphere at home. My comment to Mirty is below. [I came back to this post a few hours later and I realized how offensive this post is. I don't mean what I said to be interpreted as chauvenistic; I'm just trying to communicate what I learned in a simple and direct way.]

I hope it is not offensive for me saying this, but I learned a while ago that women doing the shul thing is a confusion of their roles. Women are superior to men in many ways, one of which is kedusha. Men are required to pray three times a day, plus some. Women don't have such a stringent requirement.

In many orthodox shuls, women don't even come to shul. The thought that "Judaism is in the shul" is an American concept which from what I've learned is a confusion of the idea that "one should make one's home a bayis hamikdash." The holiness is in the home -- not barefoot and pregnant, but the domain of a man is the shul and the domain of a woman is the home. There is no stigma to either. I see it as a very honorable thing. Are you angry at me for saying this?

Again, women davening is an honorable thing. They have the obligation to daven. However, doing all the activities that men are supposed to do seems to me to be a confusion of the gender roles.

Everyone, have an easy fast. G'mar chasima tova. -Zoe

Monday, October 03, 2005

Dreamed of Killing a Bad Man

5:53am: I dreamed that I killed a bad man. He had an invisible black drug that he injected into me. I stabbed him in the back with a knife. When nobody arrested me, I took another knife and I stabbed him again in his back. I felt that "now I've killed a man."

I woke up feeling that I had done justice.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Dirty Tzaddik and Teshuva

I wanted to write down something I learned from my Rabbi this Shabbos that moved me. He was teaching me and a friend something about Rosh Hashanna originally taught by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe), the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn; the shiur was given by Rabbi Yoel Kahn, a very respected Rabbi. The topic was about what exactly is Teshuva (repentance), and how one would go about doing it. (I've written this down and added pieces from my own understanding about sinning.)

For starters, a man in Jewish law can marry a woman with conditions, for example, under the condition that he is a tzaddik gamor (a completely righteous man). However, even though he might be a complete sinner, his condition is fulfilled and he is married with a safek (a doubt).

How is this possible if we know that his whole life he was a complete sinner? Even moreso, he could be holding a pork sandwich (not allowed), which he was in the middle of eating right before he proclaimed "you are now betrothed to me under the condition that I am a complete tzaddik." How can this be a valid marriage if we know he’s not a complete righteous person? [Hold this thought and let’s move on to the next topic. We’ll come back to this soon.]

If one wants to join the army, the first thing one must do is sign up. There are many levels to signing up... You need to fill out the forms, you need to take a medical exam, you need to pack your bags and show up to boot camp for training, and most of all, regardless of what position you will hold in the army, (i.e. a soldier, a cook, a chaplain, etc.) you still need to stand in line for roll call.

Through these actions when one signs up to the army (which as we see, there are many levels), the essence of what one does during these steps is he acknowledges that he is part of the bigger organization – in our example, the U.S. Army. When we stand at roll call in the morning, we stand not in our own capacity as an individual unit, but as part of a bigger entity. We acknowledge, "you are our superior; we are on your team."

So too as Jews, the first thing we say in the morning is "Modeh ani lefanecha, melech chai v’kayom, shehechezarta bi nishmasi b’chemla rabah emunasecha" which on its surface is saying "Thank you G-d for returning my soul to me." However, on a deeper level, it says "Modeh ani lefanecha," which means, "I admit before you..." BEFORE YOU! Every morning what a Jew does is he or she LINES UP before his Creator and stands for roll call. He says, "I’m on your team, G-d -- Present and accounted for."

Throughout the day and throughout the year, people sin. We sin. We do things that are against the will of G-d as described in his Torah. What we often don’t realize is that each sin creates a blemish, or a stain on our souls, our spiritual garments.

Of course the worst part of a sin regardless of how one sinned is the fact that the sin occurred. This is akin to a soldier going AWOL (away without leave), where he does things that are not becoming of a soldier. In it’s essence, regardless of what he does while he’s away (whether he goes to a bar or visits a friend), he has disobeyed the army’s rules and he is in trouble. Similarly when a common person disobeys a decree of a king. In both cases, it does not matter what he did specifically, but the fact that he disobeyed the decree or the military rule separates him from the larger entity of which he is part of, whether it is the U.S. Army or the king’s dominion.

In itself, this is a problem. However, the type of blemish on your spiritual garment that occurs from a sin also matters. For example, you can do something small that creates a small stain. This can easily be washed away. Or, you can do something that leaves a giant stain, which requires a special chemical to make it go away. These require more work to clean. However, both of these can be washed away. There are also sins that rip the garment. These sins can’t be washed away, but they can be repaired with a little bit more work.

Going a little bit deeper, just as we have a body and soul, so does our sin. When we sin, we literally create an entity of un-holiness which itself has a body and a soul. Its body is of course not physical as we know physicality to be, but nevertheless, it is a body. It is said that these entities that are created from our sins follow us and torment us throughout the year, living as parasites on our life force until we repent.

How does it have a body and a soul? Well, when we sin, our sin happens by us doing a physical action. This action creates the body of the unholy entity. Its soul comes from the desire we experience when we are taking part in that sin. When we repent, we must literally kill both this body and this soul of the sin we created by our transgression.

In Tanya, it was taught by the Alter Rebbe that in order to repent one needs first to resolve to stop sinning in general (in addition to resolving to stop the particular sin one has taken part of). The reason we resolve to stop ALL sinning is akin to saying that you are joining the army in its entirety. You are not joining on Tuesdays or to take part in one war, but not the other – rather, you are signing up to be a soldier in the army as a whole. This is the same when it comes to G-d. You are telling G-d, "I am YOUR servant completely and I will follow your decrees in their entirety." How you intend to do this an in what time frame and how is between you and him.

Once you have stepped on board and have acknowledged that you are on G-d’s team (i.e. standing for roll call by saying "Modeh ani lefanecha" every morning, or standing before G-d during Rosh Hashanna, the next step is to say viduy during the appropriate time of the service (Viduy are specific words one says while lightly beating one’s heart and thinking about the specific transgressions that one has committed throughout the year.)

By doing these two steps, one slays the body and the soul of the entity he has created through his sin. He kills the soul of the entity by resolving never to sin again; this cuts off the life force that is sucked from the person and given to the unholy entity. He kills to body of the entity created by his sin through the viduy (the action of lightly beating the chest while saying the particular words of repentance). Through this action, one purifies one’s self of one’s sins and cleans his garment and removes all of his blemishes in preparation to be judged by G-d himself during Yom Kippur, the upcoming holiday.

This is a two step process, but can occur at many levels. However, it's essence (and first step) is that a person resolves never to sin again and decides to accept the responsibility of being a Jew by saying, "G-d, I am on your team. I belong to you." This repentance can free a person of his sins. At this point, he is considered a tzaddik gamor (a completely righteous man), and for that moment, he is completely free of his sins. However, his spiritual garment is still dirty and it needs to be cleaned through viduy. This is how one can have a "dirty tzaddik," where he is a completely righteous person, even though his garment is still dirty.

When a man says, "I am betrothed to you under the condition that I am a complete tzaddik" as we saw above, it is now understood how it is possible that this man who is a sinner and is holding a pork sandwich in his hands may have done this kind of repentance by accepting the yolk of heaven upon himself and saying "G-d, I am on your team," so we accept his condition and presume the marriage valid with a suffok (a doubt), even though his garments might still be dirty. This is also what happens on the month of Elul and on Rosh Hashanna, where one greets G-d in the field and then his palace. The relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is akin to a marriage, where G-d is one party, and the Jewish people are the other party.

Rabbi's Note: I wanted to comment that after my rabbi read this, he wanted to clarify that the first step is to do repentance by first accepting the yolk of heaven by saying, "G-d, I am on your team," and by doing viduy on Rosh Hashanna. One continues this process throughout the days of repentance between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, where on Yom Kippur, one becomes absolved of all his or her sins. He wanted to make it clear that THIS was the foundation of Teshuva (repentance). [Waking every morning and saying "Modeh ani" and doing teshuva during tachanun (by doing viduy during the prayer service) is a benefit we get every day, as if every day is a mini-Rosh Hashanna.]

My comment: I also wanted to comment on my reaction to him reviewing my notes on the shiur. I was very impressed with how carefully he reviewed each point, with a serious face I have never seen on him before. I feel that in his heart he was reviewing the words of the Rebbe, and just as the Rebbe used to carefully review everything that he taught for accurateness, so too did he review the words I wrote to make sure I understood it how he wanted it to be taught. This made the whole experience very serious for me and put fear into my heart because I realized that we are not just talking about abstract concepts -- this is real and is a serious thing. I was actually scared by the intensity in which he reviewed my words above.