Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Courtesy (II)


            The rapid approach of Sukkos, so close on the heels of Yom Kippur, took us [a Jewish couple in Taiwan on a Fulbright scholarship] by surprise. We had not yet developed a routine for sukkah-building and now we were confronted with the realization that we had only a few days for our construction project. Fortunately, there was no shortage of materials since an abundant supply of bamboo poles was available, and I immediately began to erect the frame for the sukkah.

            Each day as I worked on the structure, Chinese passerby would stop to watch, scratch their heads and move on. As the sukkah grew more complete, the number of onlookers increased. I constructed a roof of small bamboo branches and leaves, making sure that there was enough open space among them to see the stars at night. On erev Sukkos I moved the kitchen table and chairs outside and set them up in the bamboo shack. Devorah [the couple’s daughter] helped with the decorations and, like Jewish children the world over, had a great time tying fruit to the overhanging limbs.

            About an hour before candlelighting [time] and the onset of the festival, Mei-Mei [the family’s Chinese housekeeper] informed us that we had a visitor. A very serious looking university official was waiting at the front door. After exchanging courtesies, the official stated that he had been sent by the Dean of Studies who wished to know what aspects of our assigned accommodations displeased us. The university would do everything in its power, he said, to oblige us.

            We stared at the official in confusion. Several times we had expressed our gratitude to our [academic] hosts for the truly delightful accommodations. How could they possibly have gotten the impression that we were dissatisfied? We assured our visitor that the cottage was ideal and that we were very pleased and appreciative.

            Now it was the official’s turn to look perplexed. “If that is the case,” he stammered, “why are you moving out of this house and building a new one outside?”

            Mei-Mei, as usual, was listening from the wings. Before we could reply, she inserted herself into the conversation and calmly explained. “Tomorrow is the fifteenth day of [the] eighth lunar month. Chinese celebrate mid-autumn Moon Festival. Chinese eat mooncakes and walk in the light of the moon. [Mr and Mrs Schwartzbaum] are yoh-tai-ren. They celebrate festival by eating and living outside, like old Chinese saying ‘to wear moon on your head and use stars as your cloak’.”

            “Oh, now I understand,” the official said with a smile. “I did not realize that our customs were so similar! Gung Hsi! Gung Hsi!

            Chag sameach!” we replied.

Abraham Schwartzbaum, The Bamboo Cradle: A Jewish Father’s Story 120–21 (2d ed. 1989) (emphasis added).

Seth Barrett Tillman, Courtesy (II),’ New Reform Club (Apr. 27, 2023, 3:06 PM), <>;

Wednesday, April 26, 2023



Three Kingdoms


Chapter 120: Courtesy


One day [General] Yang Hu* [of the Sima-Jin Dynasty] and his officers went out to hunt, and it happened that [General] Lu Kang** [of the Sun-Wu Dynasty] had chosen the same day to hunt. Yang Hu gave strict orders not to cross the boundary [between the two armies], and so each hunted only on his own side. Lu Kang was astonished at the enemy’s scrupulous propriety.

He sighed, “The soldiers of Yang Hu have so high a discipline that I may not make any invasion now.”

In the evening, after both parties had returned, Yang Hu ordered an inspection of the slaughtered game and sent over to the other side any that seemed to have been first struck by the soldiers of Wu.

Lu Kang was greatly pleased and sent for the bearers of the game.

“Does your leader drink wine?” asked he.

They replied, “Only fine wines does he drink.”

“I have some very old wine,” replied Lu Kang, smiling, “and I will give of it to you to bear to your general as a gift. It is the wine I myself brew and drink on ceremonial occasions, and he shall have half in return for today’s courtesy.”

They took the wine and left.

“Why do you give him wine?” asked Lu Kang’s officers.

Because he has shown kindness, and I must return courtesy for courtesy.

When the gift of wine arrived and the bearers told Yang Hu the story of their reception, he laughed.

“So he knows I can drink,” said Yang Hu.

He had the jar opened, and the wine was poured out. One of his generals, Chen Yuan, begged him to drink moderately lest there should be some harm come of it.

“Lu Kang is no poisoner,” replied Yang Hu.

And he drank. The friendly intercourse thus continued, and messengers frequently passed from one camp to the other.

One day the messengers said that Lu Kang was unwell and had been ailing for several days.

“I think he suffers from the same complaint as I,” said Yang Hu. “I have some remedies ready prepared and will send him some.”

The drugs were taken over to the Wu camp.

But the sick man’s officers were suspicious and said, “This medicine is surely harmful: It comes from the enemy.”

However, Lu Kang said, “No; old Uncle Yang Hu would not poison a person. Do not doubt.”

He drank the decoction. Next day he was much better.

When his staff came to congratulate him, he said, “If our opponents take their stand upon virtue and we take ours upon violence, they will drag us after them without fighting. See to it that the boundaries be well kept and that we seek not to gain any unfair advantage.

Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms (translated Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor, 1925) (first printed version circa 1522).

Seth Barrett Tillman, ‘Courtesy,’ New Reform Club (Apr. 26, 2023, 7:37 AM), <>; 

*Yang Hu (courtesy name: Shuzi) was the Marquis of Juping. Sima Yan offered him a dukedom, but he turned it down. I suppose the reason he turned it down was that had he accepted he would have had to give up his military field command. 

**Lu Kang (courtesy name: Youjie) was Lu Xuns (courtesy name: Boyan) son. General Lu Xun defeated (Shu-Han) Emperor Liu Bei (courtesy name: Xuande) at the Battle of Yiling and Xiaoting Hill circa 221222 CE. Lu Xun served (Wu) Emperor Sun Quan (courtesy name: Zhongmou). And Lu Kang served Sun Quans grandson (Wu) Emperor Sun Hua (courtesy name: Yuanzong). Sun Hua was the fourth and last emperor of Wu. The conquest of Wu by (Jin) Emperor Sima Yan (courtesy name: Anshi) circa 280 CE marked the end of the Three Kingdoms period. As the nameless poet proclaimed: All down the ages rings the note of change, For fate so rules it; none escapes its sway. The three kingdoms have vanished as a dream, The useless misery is ours to grieve.” 

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

A Biblical Injunction

Leviticus 22:28 

But you shall not slaughter, from the herd or the flock, an animal with its young on the same day.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Chapter 91

     When he was about fifteen, Cao Rui, who was an expert archer and a daring rider, accompanied his father to the hunt. In a gully they started [startled?] a doe and its fawn. [Emperor] Cao Pi shot the doe, while the fawn fled. Seeing that the fawn’s course led past his son’s horse, Cao Pi called out to him to shoot it. Instead the youth bursts into tears. 
     “Your Majesty has slain the mother. How can one kill the child as well?” 
    The words struck the Emperor with remorse. He threw aside his bow, saying, “My son, you would make a benevolent and virtuous ruler.” 
     From this circumstance Cao Pi decided that Cao Rui should succeed, and conferred upon him the princedom of Pingyuan.

Seth Barrett Tillman, A Biblical Injunction,’ New Reform Club (Apr. 18, 2023, 12:03 PM), <>; 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Understanding Patriotism


Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Chapter 106


“I feared lest I should not see you again,” said the Ruler of Wei [Emperor Cao Rui]. “But now I can die content.”

The general [Sima Yi] bowed and said, “On the road they told me the sacred person was not perfectly well. I grieved that I had not wings to hasten hither. But I am happy in that I now behold the dragon countenance.”

The heir, Cao Fang, was summoned to the Emperor’s bedside and also Cao Shuang, Liu Fang, Sun Zu, and certain others.

Taking Sima Yi by the hand, the dying Emperor [Cao Rui] said, “When Liu Bei [Emperor of Shu-Han] lay dying at Baidicheng [castle], he confided his son, so soon to be an orphan, to the care of [prime minister] Zhuge Liang, who labored in this task to the very end and whose devotion only ceased with [his own, that is, Zhuge Liang’s] death. If such conduct is possible in the mere remnant of a dying dynasty continued in a small state [Shu-Han], how much more may I hope for it in a great country [Cao-Wei]! My son [Cao Fang] is only eight years of age, and incapable of sustaining the burden of rulership. Happily for him he has ample merit and experience around him in the persons of yourself and his relatives. He will never lack friends for my sake.”

Turning to the young prince [Cao Fang], he continued, “My friend Sima Yi is as myself, and you are to treat him with the same respect and deference.”

Cao Rui bade Sima Yi lead the young prince forward. The boy threw his arms around Sima Yi’s neck and clung to him.

“Never forget the affection he has just shown,” said Cao Rui, weeping. And Sima Yi wept also.

Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms (translated Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor, 1925) (first printed version circa 1522).



Tillman’s commentary: Why is this scene affecting? Because at the end of his life, the ruler of Wei took a lesson in governance from Shu-Han. Shu-Han was Wei’s great enemy, but it was an enemy within a shared language, culture, and civilization.

Seth Barrett Tillman, Understanding Patriotism,’ New Reform Club (Apr. 16, 2023, 5:01 PM), <>; 


Monday, April 03, 2023

Jeffrey Blehar and the Problem at National Review



Jeffrey Blehar, writing on National Review’s The Corner, wrote: “Everyone knows by now that Donald Trump slept with Stormy Daniels and then paid her hush money when she threatened to go public, using his attorney Michael Cohen as a cut-out.” Jeffrey Blehar, Of Course It’s Political,’ National Review: The Corner (April 1, 2023, 6:30 AM), <>.

Actually, we do not know that Trump slept with Daniels. Only Trump and Daniels would know. There are no photographs or videos—something Daniels might know about. Nor has Daniels produced any physical evidence supporting her allegations. We just have her word for it. What we do know is, and it has been long reported, that Trump is a notorious germaphobe—a fact which cuts strongly against Daniels’ claims. Would a notorious germaphobe sleep with Daniels?

The fact that some at National Review dislike Trump is not surprising. The fact that some at National Review take Daniels’ claims at face value absent concrete physical evidence is also not surprising. But the fact that the editors at The Corner published Blehar’s assertions as an undoubted truth which “everyone knows” only shows that—all too many at National Review are willing to destroy their publication’s institutional good will.

And why would they do that? It is virtue signaling. By demonstrating that they are oblivious to the actual evidence at hand (and the lack thereof), by putting reason and fair-play aside, they illustrate the same primal unreasoned hatreds about which the American right would usually castigate the left. And here they do it to prove their worth to the beautiful people. The sad truth is…the National-Review-types could never convince the beautiful peopleno matter how hard they try to do so.

Seth Barrett Tillman, Jeffrey Blehar and the Problem at National Review,’ New Reform Club (Apr. 3, 2023, 6:54 AM), <>;