Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Complex Problem in Game Theory

Alright, ever wise blog audience, solve the following story problem:

1) Due to the semi-strike currently existing in the university, there is one particular class (Class X) regarding whose convening there is a constant state of uncertainty.

2) The professor has stated that he will come every week, but will only give class if enough people show up.

3) Enough seems to be defined as 9+ students. Perhaps 10.
a) Normally, there are 10-12 students present.

4) Most members of the class would prefer that class not take place at all, since then they will not have to come to campus, often in the pouring rain.

5) Once members of the class have arrived, there is some disagreement about whether they would prefer that there be class or not.
a) The class is incredibly boring and most people are anyway only taking to fulfill some requirement.
b) Some members of the class seem to genuinely enjoy it.

6) Nobody wants to miss a class that does take place, since the material will be on the test and they are scarily obsessed with their grades.

7) If enough classes fail to take place, the class may be canceled, which would waste any effort already invested into class attendance.

8) There is a possibility that if the course will be canceled even if all classes take place, either because not enough students have had any attendance or because the semester as a whole will be canceled.

9) The professor, in planning the test, says that he will make every effort to accommodate students that have not been present, but that he has no idea how he will do this.

10) Neither the students among themselves, the professor, nor the university has any power to coordinate things. The only forum in which information is shared and tactics can be discussed is in the classroom itself, the discussion thus limited to people who have chosen to attend. I go to class?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Rebbe

Like all young children, Yitzi fashioned G-d in the image of his father. Thus, Hashem was bearded, solemn, and sacred. Hashem loved everybody, just like Tatty did, but Hashem loved Yitzi the best because he was special and he would become the rebbe when Tatty went up to Hashem and left all of the chasidim for Yitzi to take care off.

At seven, he was securely expectant. By ten, he began to doubt. He was not holy when he prayed and he did not remember all his Torah and he went to sleep long before the light went off in Tatty's study. He had known that he would not be as great as the rebbeim of the stories. Now he wondered if he would be great at all.

He buried the hot-stomach doubt and continued learning. Eager teachers found signs of genius in his willing intelligence and signs of piety in his tired, wary eyes. They told each other that he was G-d-fearing and when he heard them, he wanted to tell them that he never thought about G-d. But he didn't, because he was a liar.

One afternoon when he was eleven, he came into Tatty's office. Tatty talked to him about the Tosafos's reading of Rashi and he thought about the boys playing outside and how only he had to be great and wasn't. And then he looked suddenly into Tatty's sacred eyes and it came to him that Tatty did not know. Tatty did not know that he was not great or that he wished that he could play outside instead of standing in the office learning with the Rebbe. It was too big of a thought for him to think at all once and so he broke it down into little pieces and thought it for the next few months.

These were the pieces of the thought: Tatty does not know that I am not great. Tatty is very great. Hashem gives him help to know how to lead the chasidim. But Tatty doesn't know that I am not great.

He wavered for a moment on the brink of doubt. But Tatty was great.

So there must be greatness that he could see in Yitzchak, like everybody said there was. And yet at the same time, Yitzchak was not great.

He pushed himself harder, stayed up later, clenched himself tighter when he prayed. But he never felt the still, small flame that he could see in Tatty's eyes. It seemed to him that trying was not enough, and yet he knew that fear of G-d was in his hands and the failure must be his.

Meanwhile, boys treated him with ginger respect. Meanwhile, his teachers' eyes blazed with devotion. Meanwhile, Tatty got sick and weak as though his soul was eating up his body. Meanwhile, Yitzchak's prayers and nights got longer and longer and nobody knew what a liar he was.

Tatty died when Yitzchak was twenty. His voice trembled at the funeral when he spoke of his father's greatness and his own inability to be a tenth of what Tatty had been. Weeping chasidim comforted each other with the new rebbe's humility.

Almost before
shiva was over, they came to him, asking him about their businesses and their wives, begging him to pray for their sick and dying, bringing him their chickens and their consciences for his examination. They expected him to know everything the way that Tatty had.

But there was no certainty in him. The chasidim piled faith on him like a boulder and questions like volleys of stones, and wanted to tell them that he didn't know, that he couldn't do this, that he wasn't great. But the chasidim deserved greatness, deserved certainty delivered in Tatty's calm voice.

Sometimes he tried to tell himself that Tatty must have felt the same way, that certainty was a myth and Hashem did not speak to anyone clearly. But he had seen the light in Tatty's eyes and he had heard his voice and he knew that there was something there that he had not achieved.

He was twenty three the first time that a tale of piety sparked no hunger, but only a distant wonder. Examining the feeling, he realized that he already knew that he would never become great. That he could not be great. There was an odd certainty to the thought. But it could not be true. Greatness was a choice that belonged to him and Hashem expected him to choose it.

He pushed harder. Late at night, he would lean his head against his books and beg Hashem for the one gift that he knew that he must earn. And his students, tiptoeing past, heard him sobbing and gazed at the door in humbled awe.

He tried harder, so much harder that he could feel the straining, but he was still not great. He felt it breaking him and there was a curious desperation in his eyes that even the chasidim whose questions he answered did not know how to read.

One Friday night, he looked over the rim of his cup at the rows of devout faces staring up at him. Words boiled up in his mouth like vomit and he closed his mouth so they would not spill out. In the brief stretch of silence, he almost heard himself shout that he was not a rebbe, that he had no certainty, that he had failed them and never become great. And he could feel the relief, the burden lifted. But where would it go? Who should bear it if not the rebbe?

He could not speak. He closed his eyes on the crowd of faces, felt the tears well up beneath his eyelids and knew that the next day, the chasidim would be whispering about this latest proof of his holiness.

Then he finished kiddush, gagging on despair and his declaration that the L-rd had chosen him from among all nations and desired him from among all peoples. The chasidim passed the cup around, each awed to drink when the rebbe had put his lips.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Five Things

I've been memed by Miri. (Is that pronounced mehme or meem? I never know.) The meme is to list five semi-interesting things about you that aren't in your frumster profile, even if you don't have and would never, ever have a frumster profile. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I'm never loathe to talk about me, so...

1) My nose is distinctly crooked. You don't notice it so much just looking at me- until I point it out to you- but if you were to look up my nose- and why would you not- you would see that all the cartilage in the middle is on one side. Which makes it slightly harder to part my hair down the middle because I can only trace up the nose starting from between the eyes.

2) I have never gotten drunk. Maybe a little giggly on Pesach, although really, that's always been more nauseous and gagging on matza, but never actually drunk. I'm secretly really curious about what kind of drunk I will be.

3) I can compose bad doggerel pretty much extemporaneously. Like so:
With no need to haw or to hem,
I am fulfilling a meme.
It's harder than it might seem,
Because I think that it might be said 'meem'.
Lousy, but fast. Of course, for all you know, I spent a half hour and rhyme dictionary over that baby.

4) I don't eat salad. Or almost any vegetable. Ever. I have recently been forcing myself to occasionally eat lettuce, but it's an uphill battle.

5) I deliberately pick up verbal quirks and use them until I get bored of them or else they become permanently incorporated into my vocabulary. The word of the week is taka, but it's starting to annoy, especially since always proceed it with a click of the tongue, like so: "*click*. This taka thing is taka a problem." Quirks that have made it include calling people dear, saying "not unlike...a ninja" with little to no correlation to the conversation at hand, and 'your nose'-ing everything. It's annoying. Your nose is annoying! Not ninja. Who happens to be annoying.
....stopping now.

I tag anybody who actually reads this who has not heretofore been tagged.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Legal "Dvar Torah"

A piece of Torah given over by one of my Mishpat Ivri professors:

There seems to be a question in parshat Chaya Sara. Avraham says clearly that he intends to purchase only the cave of Machpela itself, but when the property is transferred, the pasuk clearly states that he received the cave, and the surrounding field, and everything on the property. Why is this? So Nechama Leibowitz says how can we explain the change?
(insert thumb scooping ai-ai-ai-aiaiaiai here) If you look at the archaeological records of Hittite law texts that have been found, we see that the law ordered that when a piece of land was only partially transferred into new ownership, with the original owner maintaining some of the rights to the property, the original owner was liable in the full burden of royal taxes on the land and was absolved of such only when the land was entirely sold. So Ephron, once he realized that he was selling the most valuable part of the property, realized it made more sense to give Avraham the whole thing and make him worry about taxes.

Making this parsha, perhaps, the earliest written record of what lawyers like to call "tax planning" and cynics like to call "tax evasion".

Oh, and what I like best about this 'vort' is imagining the dozens of inspirational/brilliant chap (the talmud kind, not the British kind) explanations that have been given on the same pasuk.

Note: Ignore the craziness that the computer is doing with sizes. We just can't seem to agree these days.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

To My Internet Connection

Dear 725597:

I don't think I ever really understood you. Sure, I was delighted when things started working out between us and we had some good times, back in the days when you connected easily and smoothly. But I never really understood what caused your random moodiness, your capricious silences, your sudden disconnect. Sometimes I blamed the computer; maybe sometimes it really was his fault.

But nowadays you ignore me more and more. You lie to me, saying that everything is all right, but when I test this claim, it's clear that you're not connecting to anything. And I try again and again, every means of communication possible, but there's nothing there. Sometimes you get along perfectly with all of my roommates and only sulk at me. Sometimes you strand the entire apartment.

Do you not realize how much I depend on you, how much I miss you when you aren't there, how long I sit desperately trying to force you to cooperate, pleading and cursing as you sit there, unheeding?

Someday, I am so going to find a new internet provider. And then you will be really sorry.