Category: Shtick

Official “Fail Rav” Image Gallery

By now anyone who would find this website should be familiar with the “Facepalm” and “FAIL” memes. The former is usually a response to a stupid or ignorant statement made with earnestness and sincerity, while the latter generally applies to all sorts of blunders. A few years ago I created a kind of portmanteau of the two, specifically for use in unproductive Jewish religious conversations online which I helpfully dubbed the “Fail Rav” or “#FailRav.” The title picture for the movie Lonely Man of Faith and the book Divrei HaRav, provided a particularly appropriate portrait of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik for this purpose:
With the help of some meme generators I stamped the requisite “FAIL” subheading and uploaded it to a now defunct image sharing site. Lest the internet lose another irreverent meme, I recreated a collection of Fail Ravs which you’re free to use as you see fit.


Introducing: Kiruv Bingo

Ever feel like Jewish “outreach professionals” all regurgitate the same condescending sanctimonious pablum? Instead of feeling infantalized, have some fun with your friends by playing Kiruv Bingo! You know the rules, you know the rabbis, just play along!

Kiruv Bingo

Sarah Palin’s Tour de Force

I’ve been following the Sarah Palin bus tour “story” with the same cynicism and disdain as Jon Stewart. But the thought occurred to me that perhaps I had seen this sort of thing before somewhere. And after rummaging through the vault of irrelevant data that is my brain, I uncovered what can only be described as a revelation.

Loyal readers, I submit that Sarah Palin is the modern day Lex Luger.

Pre-Purim Poem 2011 / 5771

Following the precedent set last year, my sermon for the Shabbat before Purim was delivered in rhyming couplets. I’m also pleased to report this one was equally well received

It’s Purim again and you know what that means.
It’s time to revisit our Purim routines.

Gifts to the poor and baskets of fruit
Reading megillah as we holler and hoot

And the meal of course which should make you rethink
Just how much of whiskey and wine you should drink

But when we celebrate this particular season
We often ignore or forget its main reason

For unlike hagim when we reenact miracles
On Purim we mostly promote the satirical

We’re laugh, we sing, and we put on a spiel
One day to have fun – so what’s the big deal?

God saved us again, this time through means hidden
And where does it say letting loose is forbidden?

Now I don’t mean to stop anyone from enjoying
And I’m sorry in advance if I’m being annoying

But I’d like to remind everyone in this shul
We have deeper meanings as a general rule

There’s of course nothing wrong with our celebration
I’d just like to include a small contemplation

Yes we were saved from a terrible danger
From a drunk king and Haman – the whole plot’s arranger

We all know by now how the story begins
But consider the question – just when did we win?

With all of our parties we hardly give thought
To the end of the story and the war that was fought

Haman’s great plan was to have the Jews killed
And so he affected how the king willed

Ahashverosh decreed that throughout all his lands
The Jews could be killed just by his command

Esther and Mordechai worked out their own plot
To ensure Haman’s plan would come out for naught

It involved Achashverosh getting drunk one more time
Which it seems is as easy for this Rabbi to rhyme.

It is a long story and so I’ll condense
This “great help” from the king just allowed self-defense

The whole of the empire – still free to attack
The only change now is that Jews could fight back

Now as miracles go and what God can do
This seems kind of lame – to me if not you

At least by Hannukah we fought with poor odds
That we can say that we won with assistance from God

In the story of Purim there is nary a mention
Of even a hint of divine intervention

The groups of the Jews seemed to fight on their own
And any assistance was at best unknown

For Achashverosh too did not intervene
And the outcome of battle could not be forseen

And yet they took arms to fight for their lives
And because of their courage, our people survives

But there’s an important description our Megillah makes clear
That our deadly opponents were overtaken by fear

At the climax of Haman’s elaborate scheme
נָפַל פַּחְדָּם עַל כָּל הָעַמִּים

So why were they frightened – what need to be scared
Of a people for whom the king barely cared?

An answer I’d offer lies within all mankind
That it is towards freedom that we are all inclined

And when banded together to fight for what’s right
Few forces can stop us, no matter their might

The greatest response to a powerful bully
Is to stand up as one and oppose him quite fully

As we’ve seen recently, sitting here quite complacent
Middle East revolutions – some only still nascent

The price that it takes to create a free nation
Cannot be adjusted to any inflation

But people will tell you that despite lives that were lost
That sometimes the battles are worth every cost

To be perfectly clear and avoid all confusion
I am not advocating for armed revolution

But to remind everyone that in times of distress
We cannot remain silent while being oppressed

There are all sorts of reasons and tired excuses
For ignoring one’s pain and recurring abuses.

It’s too big, too hard, our opponents too massive
There’s no need to act, I’ll just sit and be passive

On Purim at least – for one day, or two
We put those aside for what we had to do

When we join together, united as one
There is no evil we cannot overcome

Unique to Purim, for all lessons learned
Is that sometimes our comfort and cheer must be earned

Having faith in God is all well and good
As long as our own role is as well understood

For the Jews in the Megillah, Purim meant to them
קִיְּמוּ וקבל וְקִבְּלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם

They reaccepted the Torah with total free choice
And only after committing, were they free to rejoice

So recall as we dine on meal that’s most hearty
That sometimes we must fight for our own right to party

A Pre-Purim Poem

The following is a sermon I gave at The Stanton St. Shul 02/27/2010 for Erev Purim. If memory serves, I believe I heard the main derash from R. Mordechai Friedman at Yeshivat Har Etzion but the poem is fully original.

I’m also proud to say this was the first sermon I gave which elicited applause. Most of my sermons typically evoke a standing ovation, though that’s probably due to kaddish.

The YUTOPIA Sermon Citation Challenge

Anyone who has heard my sermons knows that I like spicing up my talks with various non-religious references from popular and obscure culture. Perhaps my best/worst line was the following analogy: “The Jewish community is like Soylent Green – it’s made of people.”
I didn’t say they were always funny, but they do make sense in context.
Sometimes people get the references, other times they don’t, but I’ve taken the attitude that I’m just going to drop what I can and let people pick up what they may.
So I’d like to try something new as a challenge. This week I’ll actually take requests – you tell me what references to make (the general the better), and I’ll try working it into a coherent sermon.
In other words, hit me with your best shot, and I’ll hit you with my best peshat:

Rambam’s Yehareg V’Al Ya’avor In Pseudocode

Last night in my weekly Rambam havruta, we started chapter 5 of Yesodei Hatorah. Rambam begins the chapter by discussing the obligation to sanctify God’s name (kiddush hashem) and its corollary prohibition against desecrating God’s name (hillul hashem). In providing examples, Rambam segues into the laws of yehareg v’al ya’avor – the conditions under which someone should allow himself to be killed rather than violate a commandment under duress.

But while the laws in Rambam are usually straightforward, the laws of yehareg v’al ya’avor have several qualifiers and criteria to evaluate, to the point that it became difficult to keep track of all of them in proper sequence. Being the computer geek that I am, I figured that pseudocode could come in handy. The following snippet assumes the functions do(); which entails preforming the sin in question and die(); means to allow oneself to be killed. It’s not necessarily the most efficient code mind you, but I’m going for maintainability.1

big3[] = {murder, idolatry, illicitSexualRelations};
if (governmentDecree == true){
else {
    if (big3[].contains(sin)){
        if (nonJewBenefits == true){
        else if (numJews < 10){             do();         }         else {             die();         }     } }

There, that should make everything perfectly clear.
Update: Seth Berger contributes the following optimized code:

if( (!governmentDecree || !big3[].contains(sin)) && ( nonJewBenefits || numJews < 10)) {     do(); } else {die();}

Update 2: Reuven Weiser corrects Seth's optimization since in Seth's code a non-big 3 sin could still result in do(); if a non Jew benefits. This is incorrect and should rather be:
if( (!governmentDecree && !big3[].contains(sin)) && ( nonJewBenefits || numJews < 10)) {     do(); } else {die();}
This sort of confusion often comes up with too much negative logic. We can flip things around to create a slightly more readable optimization:

if ( (governmentDecree || big3[].contains(sin)) || (!nonJewBenefits && numJews >10)){
else {do();}

1. For Brisker’s, of course

Great Moments In Package Design

A few weeks back I bought a generic pair of scissors from a downtown Duane Reade. Of the many ways in which a pair of scissors could be packaged, these in particular were attached to a cardboard backing with a metal washer fastening a loop around one of the handles. Thus after tearing off the backing, the loop was still firmly attached like so:

Now if only I had some utensil, device, or mechanism which could sever this superfluous and intrusive connection.
Oh wait….