This is a great video

March 26, 2007

A Pesach Story

March 26, 2007

It shouldn’t be this way. We should not rely on man to redeem us from our troubles. We have cried out and G-d has said no. We shouldn’t be pressing for Him to save us. But maybe I should start from the beginning.

He had come riding in on a white donkey. Just like all the others. I came out to protest this cruel betrayal of the people’s trust, but the charlatan did a few tricks and the yokels fell groveling (of course it didn’t impress the pros). This man with a name which doesn’t belong to our people is coming in as our savior, ha! I refuse to say this snake’s name because I do not like mentioning the Egyptian gods.

It isn’t enough that our people are being stolen by this cult leader, he is also stealing them for a new G-d, one unknown in our tradition. The G-d of the Jews is Keil Shakai, not YKVK

Why won’t the people listen to me? We have a tradition that we must be slaves for 400 years and as everyone knows only 200 or so have passed. Where is the faith in the elders which we had in previous years? Ephraim was nearly wiped out only a generation ago because of one of these, we can afford to lose one tribe, but a whole nation? How can they keep on this path. G-d has promised us we won’t be destroyed, but we don’t have to be so many, after all there are only a few thousand stars in the sky.

Just the other day I had an argument with a friend of mine, My study partner thinks he is a test from G-d to know whether we believe in his promise to redeem us, not through political means and negotiations with the Pharaoh, but through a strong hand and a mighty arm. I’m of the opinion that he was a plant form Pharaoh. I it all fits. A young prince suddenly has an epiphany and wants to rescue the slaves? It’s all the rage in the study halls as me and my fellow tribesman started to discuss who this man is. One thing is for sure: he is no Levi, such a man who marries a foreign girl and is raised in the palace is no kin of mine.

I can just see it playing out, this traitor comes in front of the magicians and outdoes their best efforts. Then after a long, drawn-out dance we get our three day holiday, he gains control of the masses, and once in a while we leave to the desert to pacify the masses. We must not follow him in this madness. G-d wants us to believe in him, not a stammering fool who ran away after murdering a man in cold blood.

Text found from speech to Sanhedrin in Egypt c. 1500 B.C.

Moses is doing exactly what I expected and this entire story is playing out as I thought it would. The magicians coming out and saying that it was the finger of G-d was a masterful performance and Pharaoh is just waiting for Moses signal before graciously giving us a few days off for a holiday. Even though we, the rightful leaders, tell them to wait for a miracle from G-d and not some magician to help them; they still defect in ever increasing droves, thousands every day.

Address to Sanhedrin, clearly later than the first speech, probably the same speaker.

They say darkness will come and that those who don’t believe will die during this plague. That scared many of my colleagues, but my faith is strong, I will not falter. The darkness is coming but, I will not fear it for G-d, Keil Shakai, is with me, I will not fear. The darkness envelopes me, I can barely move, maybe I was wrong, maybe I should have believed, maybe G-d wants….

This text found in the same chamber as the others, stops abruptly.

Notes: This story reflects my viewpoints and no others, any reference to anti-Zionist arguments is probably intentional. Regarding the Midrashim, I chose only thise which fit the narrative, I’m not really interested in debating Midrashim I don’t think are literal either.

Lay off Alberto Gonzalez

March 20, 2007

Besides being a slick fielding shortstop in the Yankees minor leagues Alberto Gonzalez is the Attorney General who is in hot water. Alberto Gonzalez fired nine U.S. Attorney generals including several who had prosecuted prominent Republicans, like Duke Cummingham. This monumentally stupid idea has several Democrats calling for Gonzalez’s resignation. Although based on the timing I think the firings are political (midterm, and bunched together [if it was malfeasance you’d expect a less clustered distribution]) Alberto Gonzalez should be left alone.

There are three possibilities regarding these U.S. Attorneys.

  1. They were fired for malfeasance and deserved it. They actually were corrupt. In this case Alberto Gonzalez did nothing wrong. This may seem unlikely, but it isn’t impossible.
  2. They were fired for political reasons. This is the most likely reason, but it means that Alberto Gonzalez is not responsible since any such orders would have come from above.
  3. They were unjustly fired for malfeasance. This is the explanation which puts the blame on Gonzalez the most, however it is also the least likely by far.

I think this whole situation was terribly handled, and reeks of an administration, frustrated by party corruption, shooting the messenger for it. Perhaps the thing which makes it most disturbing is that the administration seemed to ignore any possible consequences, while the timing makes it obvious that they knew that there would be political backlash.

What Happened With the Golden Calf?

March 17, 2007

Last week we read about the golden calf. On the surface it seems incomprehensible to anybody about how the Jews could have sunk to idolatry so soon after they received the Torah.

For this reason various answers are given. One is that the Jews didn’t sin on their own, but were pressured into the by the Eiruv Rav, while another says that the Jews didn’t really mean to do serve idols they just wanted a new intermediary.

The major problem with these answers is, for the first, how many Eiruv Rav were there? Because 3,000 were killed by the sword and they also got a plague, which in other cases in the Torah kills around 25,000 (Midian). So many Jews were clearly serving the idol, enough that G-d wanted to destroy the nation, and furthermore the Eiruv Rav were not the moat influential people out there. The second answer leads to the question of why they were punished so harshly. They didn’t know that they weren’t allowed to make graven images, the Torah hadn’t been given yet. Also the verse clearlyh states that they wanted it as an Alohim Achair (other god)

Another problem with the standard account is why is Aharon considered to have done a bad thing? Before the Torah was given there would be no reason to apply Y’harag v’Al Ya’avor (Kill and don’t transgress) when you know that your actions will make no difference whatsoever.

I believe I have an answer to these questions. The Jews knew that Hashem existed, they had just gone through the Exodus and been sustained by miraculous manna. However, they considered Hashem to be one of many gods, the most powerful, but one of many. However, Moshe was considered by them to be the only one who could deal with Hashem. So they went and worshiped another god (I don’t know what god the golden calf represents, if you have an idea mention it in the comments) this was a serious sin, a rejection of G-d. This is why G-d wanted to destroy the people and start over with Moshe. The people obviously didn’t worship G-d they worshiped Moshe.

This is the reason why Aharon made such a mistake in helping to build the calf (or not preventing it), Aharon had credibility as a substitute for Moshe as he preformed several miracles, but he failed.

This problem of people worshiping Moshe cna illustrate several things in the Torah. For instance G-d told Moshe to send the spies, because he didn’t want the people trusting Moshe’s word. If they wouldn’t trust G-d they shouldn’t trust Moshe about the land. In fact this might be a strong reason why the generation had to die out before entering the land. The Jews might have had the nerve to conquer the land if Moshe led them, but they couldn’t have felt the sense of ownership and feel confident in driving out the invaders once Moshe died.

The last straw was by the Well of Miriam. It had dried up and with it went the last symbol of somebody besides Moshe having the miraculous powers. G-d told Moshe to tell the rock in His name to give water. Instead Moshe hit the rock in a display of power, cementing the impression people had that Moshe was the only one who could channel G-d for them.

This also explains why Jericho had to be conquered through a miracle. The people needed to know that G-d could do miracles through people other than Moshe.

The most interesting promotion I’ve heard of

March 12, 2007

I was watching the broadcast of the Yankees spring training game against the Red Sox. In between innings they had local ads on and one of them was for a furniture store in Boston. The offer was intriguing, if the Red Sox won the world series several types of furniture  would be  retroactively free.  I’m assuming the store owner has insured away his entire liability on the deal, but there are three interesting things involved.

1. How would the insurance company value the Red Sox chances of winning the world series? Would they simply use the Vegas odds which would give them their percentage, or would they use some other system?

2. Over at Marginal Revolution they’ve been discussing Knightian Uncertainty so if one knew how Bostoners viewed the Red Sox’s chances of winning the world series one could tell if they reacted differently to this then a simple flat percentage off.

3. One could find out (if there was enough data, unfortunately the sale only lasts until April, 16th) how customers changed their attitude towards the sale based on a Red Sox win or loss. If the Red Sox happened to have an injury in that time period you could get a good idea of how much the market valued that player.

A primer on ad hominem

March 8, 2007

A couple of days ago I was driving in my car back from school when I switched on the radio. It was Michael Savage who I can usually stand for 5 minuted top. He didn’t disappoint as he launched into a tirade against Ritalin as an unnecessary drug. Now I know at least one person who could definitely not function without Ritalin, yet is a star student. It probably is over prescribed, but that is mainly because you get extra time on the SATs if you need it. However, he was responding to a study about  what amount of  ADD there was  in the third world. Now Savage dislikes these pills because he has his own set of cures, for example did you know that Vitamin C cures AIDS? However, to call these researchers, and I paraphrase only slightly, “those perverts, those child lovers from  Berkeley,” seems a bit beyond the pale. What is most interesting is that Michael Savage has done this thing so often that he is immune to scandal. Savage has reached a level of offensiveness that Ann Coulter and others can never hope to achieve.

Are we all Mamzerim?

March 6, 2007

    This has been a question which has interested for some time.  We know that a halachically kosher Jew can not marry a mamzer. However the interesting thing is that all of the mamzer’s descendants for all time are mamzerim. Therefore one undetected mamzer could wreak havoc on an entire family tree and possibly on all of Judaism.

According to the Rambam a woman who is raped by some Jew she could not marry and has a child, the child is a mamzer. Now even if we take a conservative estimate and say that such a thing only was kept secret once every 100 years (surely on the low side and no I won’t buy the “The Jewish People were exceptionally holy they would never do such a thing argument”) Then you come to the inescapable conclusion that the only people who are still pure are people who just converted to Judaism.

So remember if somebody brags a bit too much about their yichus you can just say, “Well I know you’re a mamzer”.