Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17) ), Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (Numbers 28:9-15)

I can see without glasses! 

OK, close-up stuff is blurry without reading glasses.  But driving is wonderful, and I can see the trees’ individual leaves, and I can see where I am when I wake up.  This, friends, is due to the miracle of cataract surgery, replacing cloudy lenses with artificial implants.  The cataracts had developed over a few years, during the last of which, for about 4-5 months, I would see rainbows around bright lights, which was really cool (though dangerous while I drove).  My new status is a big deal which I’m still getting used to, having worn glasses since 1961.  Being very, very near-sighted was part of my identity.  When I got safety glasses at work, the optician told me I was one of maybe the 5 most near-sighted people on site (I think there were about 3,000 at the time).

It was weird after the operation on the first (right) eye –  the left eye image was yellowish and small, the right, bright and bigger.  There actually appears to be about a 20% increase with the implants.  The old high-power lenses had shrunk the image while sharpening it.  When I looked at Ben & Jerry’s pints, I thought they’d come out with a new size.  

Yes, this is actually connected to this week’s Torah portion.  “Re’eh” means “See!” or “Look!” 

We read (Deut. 11:26-28): “See (“re’eh”), this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey (“tishme’u”) the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.”  Very straightforward.  We’ll get to a slew of specific blessings and, especially, curses later into the book. For now, this is a statement of fact (or high probability) that they can expect obeying to lead to a better outcome than straying.  Also, “re’eh” is singular, while “tishme’u” is plural, contrasting individual understanding with the action of the entire community (see also commentaries in A Daily Taste of Torah, Kleinmann Edition, Rabbi Y. A. Weiss ed., vol. 12, pp. 66-67).

At this point in Deuteronomy, we start dealing with legal details, which are meant to impose order and a degree of centralization on practices.  One big task will be to rid Canaan of all traces of idolatrous practice.  Part of this means to be on guard against being lured into such practice by false prophets, even if they are their own close relatives,  They are given permission to eat meat (first time they can eat meat not from a sacrifice), but with restrictions.  Only certain animals are kosher (fit) and they cannot eat the blood, which led to kosher slaughtering practices intended to maximize bloodletting and minimize pain.  They must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk, “lo t’vashel g’di bachalev imo.”  Those five Hebrew words have led to thousands of pages of commentaries (so far) on separating dairy and meat foods.

Appropriately for their initiation as an agricultural people, the Israelites (re)learn laws concerning the sabbatical year, remission of debts (see also Leviticus 25:1-7) and tithing.  Hebrew slaves must be freed in the seventh year of service and not sent out empty-handed; a slave who wants to stay is to have his ear nailed to the door.  We always read that section (14:22-15:18) on Shemini Atzeret, and when the 8th day of Passover and 2nd day of Shavuot fall on Shabbat; the rest of Re’eh, 15:19-16:17, is always read on those three days, since it concerns the festival celebrations.

This weekend is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the start of the last month before Rosh Hashanah.  During Elul, in preparation for the High Holy Days, the shofar will be blown daily, except on Shabbat.  We read Numbers 28:9-15 (sacrifices, surprise) from a second scroll. There are various customs concerning the haftarah, since we’re in the midst of the seven Haftarot of Consolation.  My congregation reads the Shabbat Rosh Chodesh haftarah, the last chapter of Isaiah, 66:1-24.  

Rosh Chodesh Elul is also our wedding anniversary, according to the Hebrew calendar (It’s August 14 in the secular calendar).  Happy 41st, sweetie!

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,


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CBS April 25, 2010, 8:33 AM Susan Spencer of “48 Hours”

Decisions, Decisions… (excerpts)

Remember the old joke about the psychiatrist who asks his patient if he has trouble making decisions? And the patient says, “Well, doctor, yes and no.”

We’ve all been there. Eggs or pancakes? Golf or church? The front page or the crossword puzzle? Even on Sunday mornings . . . decisions, decisions, decisions!

Science writer Jonah Lehrer sees every one of those choices as a tug of war, an exhausting battle between our gut feelings and our reasoned thoughts.

“For a long time people have said that the best way to make a decision is to be rational,” Lehrer said. “And yet, in recent years, scientists have discovered that the rational brain can only take in a few bits of information at any given moment. So, you start giving it too much information and it starts to short-circuit and sputter.”

“Our emotional brain is actually much better at taking in lots and lots of information,” he said. “Summarizing lots of data very efficiently, and saying, ‘Here’s a feeling. Don’t worry about all the details. We’ve already taken those details into account.'”

We process emotions in the front part of the brain, and damage to those frontal lobes can spell disaster for decisions.

Take the strange case of a brilliant former business exec known only as Elliot.

Surgery for a brain tumor left his intellect intact. Doctors were thrilled . . . until they realized what the surgery had not spared . . .

“He lost the ability to experience emotions,” said Lehrer. “Now, you’d think that this would make Elliot the best decision maker possible, right? ‘Cause he’d be perfectly rational.

“It turned out, though, that Elliot became pathologically indecisive,” Lehrer said. “He would spend all day trying to figure out where to eat lunch, or which pen to sign his name with. I think the larger point here is about just how essential our emotions are in the decision making process.”

 “[But there] are feelings you just happen to have at the time you’re making a judgment or a decision, but they really should not be an input to your decision,” [psychologist Jennifer] Lerner said. “Happiness and anger are remarkably similar; they both make you under-perceive risk.  They both make you take more risks. And they both are associated with this sense of certainty and control.”

Which can be downright dangerous.


Is it Kosher?

The Shapiros were sitting at the Shabbos table for Friday night dinner.

“Are worms kosher?” little Moishie asked his mother.

“No they aren’t,” answered his mother. “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” said Moishie, “there was a big one in your salad, but it’s gone now.”


Five sets of teeth

When he arrived in New York the customs official was perplexed as to why anybody would have 5 sets of gold teeth. So Moisha explained. “We Orthodox Jews have two separate sets of dishes for meat products and dairy products but I am so kosher and religious I also have separate sets of teeth.” The customs official shook his head and said, “Well that accounts for two sets of teeth. What about the other three?” Moisha then said “Vell us very religious Orthodox Jews use separate dishes for Passover, but I am so religious I have separate teeth, one for meat and one for dairy food. The customs official slapped his head and then said, “You must be a very religious man with separate teeth for food and dairy products and likewise for Passover. That accounts for four sets of teeth. What about the fifth set?” “Vell to tell you the truth, once in a while I like a ham sandwich.”


Vegan and Vegetarian Jokes

Q: Why did the tofu cross the road?
A: To prove he wasn’t chicken.

Q: What do you call a fascist vegan?
A: Lactose intolerant. 

Q: What does a vegan zombie eat?


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Quotes about Free Will

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will. Jawaharlal Nehru

Free will is an illusion. People always choose the perceived path of greatest pleasure. Scott Adams

The Creator, in taking infinite pains to shroud with mystery His presence in every atom of creation, could have had but one motive – a sensitive desire that men seek Him only through free will. Paramahansa Yogananda

As far as I can see, it’s not important that we have free will, just as long as we have the illusion of free will to stop us going mad. Alan Moore

We must believe in free will, we have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer


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Eikev (Deut. 7:12 – 11:25)

The name of this week’s portion, “Eikev,” means “reward.”  In other words, all the good things that will happen to the Israelites in the Promised Land  – fertility, good health, military victory – are not automatic but are contingent on their behavior (10:12-13):  “12 And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, 13 keeping the Lord’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good.” 

They will eat until they are satisfied. Lest they start feeling too self-satisfied, Moses reminds them that they do not prosper solely by their efforts.  They are not self-made.  They are being favored only because the Lord made a promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and because the Lord wants to rid the Land of the idolatrous Canaanites.  In fact, the Israelites are darn lucky they have survived thus far.  Moses reminds them how his intervention was needed to save them after they built their golden calf.  The fragments of the first set of tablets of the Ten Commandments are kept in the Ark with the second set as a tangible reminder.  And they must teach all this to their offspring, down through the generations.

This portion also contains the second paragraph of the Shema (11:13-21), which includes commandments concerning tefillin (11:18) and mezuzot (11:20).   Affixing a mezuzah to a door jamb is a much more widely observed practice than wearing tefillin during weekday morning prayer.  In fact, I don’t think I actually saw anyone praying with tefillin on until I was an adult, mainly because I didn’t go to weekday morning prayer services.  Then there’s the issue of women wearing tefillin.  Forbidden? Allowed? Commanded?  If you just go by the Biblical text, women are as much commanded as men.  But the rabbis exempted women from time-linked commandments and “rabbinically exempted” over time hardened into “societally forbidden.”  Pushback includes interesting (mis?)interpretations of halakha (Jewish law) concerning cross-dressing and bodily cleanliness.  Frankly, I think it’s a matter of tzniut (modesty in dress and behavior) and how your society defines what is proper. Then there’s the motivation question. Elana Sztokman wrote in Tefillingate: Orthodoxy must not reject its most committed women  (as cited at ), “…even though women are not prohibited from the commandments of tallit and tefillin, women should nevertheless only be permitted to take on the commandments if our motives are deemed ‘pure.’ This rationale has given men and rabbis permission to be the self-appointed judge and jury for women’s religious expression, peering uninvited into women’s hearts and minds, making judgmental determinations about our relationship with our Creator, and passing sentence on what is permitted or not permitted based on their vicarious role as all-powerful judge over women.  No Jewish man has ever been subjected to this kind of examination and ownership.”

When a girl or woman wants to participate in some activity previously done only by men, men often think it’s because the barrier exists and she wants to be the first woman to overcome it, her interest in the activity per se being secondary.  My observation is the reversed: She wants to (read Torah, wear tefillin, lead services, etc.) for the same reasons a male does and then finds there is an externally-imposed barrier she needs to deal with.  Sometimes there’s an internal barrier as well, a confounding gut reaction.  I have worn tefillin at services, though not recently.  I own a set.  I keep meaning to relearn how to wrap those leather straps around my hand and arm and to practice at private prayer until I am as comfortable wearing them as my tallit. I keep meaning to.

Shabbat shalom,


tph A_Mis-Made_Self_Made_Man


When Ben and his family returned home from his son’s Bar Mitzvah, they were shocked to discover that all the money and cards he received had gone missing! Rivkah, Ben’s wife swore she handed all the cards and money to the Rabbi and asked him to keep an eye on it throughout the party. Ben didn’t want to accuse his Rabbi of stealing, so decided it was best to avoid him!

A full year later, Ben see’s the Rabbi at the grocery store. The Rabbi corners him and says “Ben, nu! Why have you been avoiding me!” Ben sighs. “To be honest Rabbi, I have been avoiding you ever since we discovered that the cards and money have been missing from the Bar Mitzvah!” “Tell me, Ben,” the Rabbi says. “Has your son been putting on his tefillin?” “Of course!” Ben answered. “But what does that have to do with the money?” The Rabbi answers, “I put the cards and money in your son’s tefillin bag which he clearly hasn’t opened since his Bar Mitzvah!” 



(#1779) The power of a mezuzah   [My thanks to Frank R for the following]

Joshua operates a successful mobile phone business in Tel Aviv and has recently opened an office in Shanghai. When he rings Jian, his Chinese partner, to see how sales are doing in Shanghai, Jian says, “Mr Joshua, things are not going so well. Our shop is suffering from a number of robberies and I don’t know what to do. Do you have a similar problem in Tel Aviv?”
“No Jian, not really,” replies Joshua. “We have this little box that we put on our doorframes, it’s called a mezuzah, and this protects our homes and offices from any harm.”
“Oh then please send me one, Mr Joshua, as I don’t know what else to do.”
Joshua puts one in the post that day with instructions on how to put it up. But three weeks later the mezuzah is returned to him, so Joshua rings Jian. “I’ve just got back the mezuzah I sent you. So nu, didn’t it work?”
“It worked fine, Mr Joshua,” replies Jian, “I’ve had no more robberies.”
“So why did you return it to me?” asks Joshua.
“Because it drove me and my customers mad, Mr Joshua, that’s why,” replies Jian. “Almost as soon as I put it up, the shop kept on being visited by different types of men with collection boxes in their hands asking my customers, ‘tsedaka kallah?’”

tsedaka kallah: charity for brides


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Quotes on Being Satisfied

It’s easy to impress me. I don’t need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I’m content. Maria Sharapova

Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? Bob Marley

A lion’s work hours are only when he’s hungry; once he’s satisfied, the predator and prey live peacefully together. Chuck Jones

I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best. Oscar Wilde

Rest satisfied with doing well, and leave others to talk of you as they will. Pythagoras


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Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11), Shabbat Nachamu

Comments are from 2015 and 2011:

(2015) Happy Tu B’Av!  If you recall Tu Bishvat and Tisha B’Av, you should be able to figure out that Tu B’Av means “15th day of the month of Av,” which is today, July 31, 2015 (July 27, 2018).  This mysterious little holiday has enjoyed a rebirth in recent years.  In the Talmud, we read that, on Tu B’Av, the unmarried girls of Jerusalem would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards while eligible men scope out potential mates.  It’s kind of a nice way to rebound from Tisha B’Av. 

(2011) In this week’s portion, Moses is trying to connect with the new generation of Israelites.  His stories of the incomparable miracles of the Exodus and Mt. Sinai grab their attention.  “(H)as anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another.” (4:32-34)

Now he can appeal in turn to intellect and emotion as he tries to ready them for their new lives in the Promised Land.  He is trying to teach them how and why they should obey the Law.  How: scrupulously, not adding to or subtracting from it.  Why: If they obey, it will go well with them, and if they don’t, it won’t.  We usually think of that as a basic carrot/stick, reward/punishment approach, and verses 4:26-28, when Moses calls heaven and earth to witness that the people will be utterly wiped out if they act wickedly and carve idols, certainly support that.  But Abarbanel (15th century commentator) instead sees this as preventive medicine.  That is, the doctor tells the patient, if you do thus-and-so, you will avoid illness; if you don’t, you’ll get sick and have to be subjected to medical treatment (not a happy prospect in Abarbanel’s time).  Just the facts.

Moses presents his own punishment (twice) as an object lesson and tells the people: I can’t go over, but you will, and if you search, if you follow the Law, you will find the Lord.  He then starts his recap of the Law with the Ten Commandments, a bit different from the version in Exodus 20, for example, including references appropriate for settlers in Canaan (e.g., the stranger in your settlements should also observe the Sabbath, and you shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s field).

What comes next is probably the most well-known text in our liturgy, the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9), which begins with “Shema Yisrael” (“Listen up. Israel!” “Pay attention!” “Yo!”) and continues with commands to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” and to teach the Law to the children down through the generations.  My friend Stanley wrote me, “For the Bible, ‘love’ is action, not an emotion…’love’ means fidelity. loyalty, faithful obedience… ‘heart’ is the seat of the intellect while it is the ‘intestines’ which are the seat of the emotions.  For Maimonides, this love arises from intellectual conviction, but one’s soul “is ever enraptured by it” (N. Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 66-67).  A powerful melding of rationality and passion.

This Shabbat, the first following Tisha B’Av, is known as Shabbat Nachamu (Comfort), after the beginning of the haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26: “Nachamu, nachamu ami”, a command to the prophets to comfort the people.  There were three Haftarot of Rebuke, but there are seven Haftarot of Consolation.  You can hurt someone quickly, but healing takes time (cf. seven days of shivah See also The Day After Destruction by Rabbi Mychal B. Springer, which I cited last year)

Shabbat shalom,



In case you were wondering why several verses of the haftarah look especially familiar, it’s because they are used in Handel’s Messiah:  Isaiah 40:1-4, 5, 9, and 11.  IGP


The Future of Love According to Kids (excerpts)

Ashley May and Sean Rossman, USA TODAY 4:54 p.m. EDT July 18, 2018

The kids of Gen Z are growing up in a world far different than their Millennial predecessors. So, how does this affect their thoughts on love? We took our cameras into schools across the nation to find out. (The videos of the kids at the website are worth viewing.  IGP)


It feels like you’re in a room of hearts trying to find the perfect one.  Amber, 10

I think love is more than just a feeling you have towards one person.  I think love is an understanding you have about yourself.  Francisco, 18


A boy likes me. And then we were in line for lunch and then he’s like, “Hey guess who I’m going to dance with?” And then he said my name. Farah, 8.

If he says that he needs to go to the restroom and he doesn’t come back, that means that it didn’t go well.  Amber, 10

I just got to know them as a person and then developed feelings for them…  I didn’t have to do a lot of, like, scary asking out things.  Mark, 15


Marriage would be like a super love.  Like, forever. Benicio, 8

It’s like a legal, like, connection with two people who most likely love each other. Westin, 13

Family Life – Kids, What kind of parent

I never really liked kids.  So I probably wouldn’t have children, but my mom says my mind will change.  Carlos, 12

I don’t want to talk about it.  Charlie, 6.

To be a parent my child can trust.  Francisco, 18


Q: Could you please pay a little attention?
A: But I’m paying as little attention as I can.

Teacher: I see you missed a day of school.
Student: Yes, but I didn’t miss it much.

Q: What is a forum?
A: Two-um plus two-um.


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Quotes on Comfort 

The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone. Karen Salmansohn

Cats are connoisseurs of comfort. James Herriot

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself. Alan Alda

This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure. Winston Churchill

Baking cookies is comforting, and cookies are the sweetest little bit of comfort food. They are very bite-sized and personal. Sandra Lee

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Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), Shabbat Chazon, Tisha B’Av

We are now starting the fifth and final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, from the Greek, Deuteronomion, literally “second law”.  In Hebrew, it is known as Devarim, דברים, “words.”  Words are such slippery things.  This past week, we were told that “would” was actually “wouldn’t,” bringing to mind a bit of legalistic parsing 20 years ago, “it depends on what ‘is’ is” (Trust me, after 11+ years of patent work, the latter phrase actually makes some sense.  So glad I’m retired!).  And remember teachers’ comments on report cards?  In our local school district, they replaced common phrases with 39 numerical codes.  For example, in place of “Irene is a pleasure to have in class,” (I usually was) you might see “1, 10, 18,” code for “shows enthusiasm for learning, contributes to class discussion, needs to improve handwriting.”  The verbal comment potentially has greater subtext – depending on the teacher, “a pleasure to have in class” might mean “always obeys me,” “so quiet I forget she’s there,” “always knows the answer” or “likes to sweep the classroom floor.”  

Deuteronomy is mainly a series of orations Moses gives to the Israelites during the last several weeks before they cross the Jordan: history, laws (whence the book’s Greek name), blessings and curses, and Moses’ song.  A lot will be familiar, so you may experience a sense of déjà vu.  But Deuteronomy is not like the other books in at least three ways.  First, many of the laws in it do not appear earlier in the Torah.  Second, there is a major emphasis on teaching and learning.  As I’ve noted here before, Rabbi David Hoffman has written in The Book of Devarim and the Birth of Talmud Torah,  “No form of the Hebrew root l-m-d (to learn, study, or teach) appears in any book of the Torah other than Devarim, where it appears seventeen times in thirty-four chapters(F)or the Jew, learning is an active process that is primarily about making meaning…to develop a personal, rich, and nurturing relationship with God.   Study is the means by which we make meaning in our own lives.”  Third, Moses speaks to the Israelites in his own voice, with his own words, not simply conveying what he’s been told to say.  Quite a change from the tongue-tied shepherd at the burning bush.

This week, Moses begins his history lesson.  Where does he start?  Creation? Ancient history? Their life in Egypt? The Exodus? Revelation?  No.  He gives a quick overview of their own journey.   Recent history, especially their own, is a useful hook to grab their attention. While most of his audience were born in the wilderness, people who were children or teens at the beginning are also present and remember some the incidents.  So, he tells of leaving Sinai (aka Horeb), the hierarchy of local magistrates and judges, and the disastrous incident with the 12 spies.  He then fast-forwards to recent months.  When they experienced military victories and the land was apportioned.

Beginning Saturday night, we observe the fast day, Tisha B’Av (literally 9th of Av, though this year we postpone its observance until the 10th, since we don’t fast on the Sabbath except on Yom Kippur).  This commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples and several subsequent disasters, like the expulsion from Spain in 1492. We chant the book of Lamentations and mournful poems called kinnot. This Shabbat, directly preceding Tisha B’Av, is called Shabbat Chazon (Vision) after the vision of Isaiah, recounted in the haftarah, Isaiah 1:1-27.  The haftarah is traditionally chanted mainly with the melody used to chant the book of Lamentations. Lamentations is called Eichah, אֵיכָה in Hebrew, meaning “How?!” Lamentations begins, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!”  In the Torah reading, Moses says (Deut. 1:12), “How am I able to bear your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels?!” And in the haftarah (Isaiah 1:21), “How is the faithful city become a harlot!”  Traditionally, these Torah and haftarah verses are also chanted using the Eichah melody.  

I wrote the following paragraph last year.  I repeat it here because the situation has grown worse.

“What is most significant to me this year is the teaching that, while the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry among the Israelites, the Second was destroyed on account of “sinat chinam,” which means “baseless hatred,” among the Jews.  I am troubled by a startling amount of what I consider sinat chinam among world Jewry, factions ever more separated and incommunicative.  And, while not limited to Jews of course, polarization and division (lots of hatred, a lot baseless) may be destroying our country.  We need to sit down, take a deep breath, and focus on the task at hand, which is to chart a viable future from a difficult present.” 

Shabbat shalom,


For Week 1259after hearing that staffers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been advised not to use seven certain terms in budget documents, the Empress ran a contest for euphemisms, terms that make unpleasant concepts seem less so. Of course, most of the civilized world doesn’t need to disguise “science-based” or “diversity.”

4th place:  Imprisoned: Scouting locations for the next Harvey Weinstein movie. (Ben Aronin, Washington)

3rd place:  Starving: In the faminy way. (Jesse Frankovich, Grand Ledge, Mich.)

2nd place: Serial groper: Outreach engineer. (Ivars Kuskevics, Takoma Park, Md.)

And the winner: Excrement: Gross domestic product. (Melissa Balmain, Rochester, N.Y.)

Honorable mentions (a sampling):

Recession: Fun-size economy. (Bill FitzPatrick, Rochester, N.Y., a First Offender)

Climate change: Thermal advancement. (Mark Raffman, Reston, Va.)

Treason: Situational patriotism. (Drew Bennett, West Plains, Mo.)

Binge drinking: Imbibitional capacity determination. (Chris Doyle, Denton, Tex.)

Body fat: Core insulation. (Mark Raffman)

Collusion: Special opportunity for international cooperation. (Jesse Frankovich)

Corruption: Market-based governance. (Ben Aronin)

Rotten meat: E. coli sanctuary. (Melissa Balmain)

Death: Medical bill abatement process. (G. Smith, Vienna, Va.)

Electric chair: Power seating. (David Kleinbard, Mamaroneck, N.Y.)

Solitary confinement: Quiet time. (Davey FitzPatrick)

War: Future History Channel programming. (Melissa Balmain)

We also invited the opposite — dysphemisms, terms that cast concepts in a worse light:

Evidence-based: Disloyal. (Warren Tanabe, Annapolis, Md.)

Fry cook: Arteriosclerosis engineer. (Jesse Frankovich)


Twenty-first-century teaching

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Déjà vu (selected) 

You’ve probably heard of “déjà vu,” the illusion of having previously experienced a situation that is happening now. Here are some related expressions

Feel like I’ve…
…smelled this bad odor before: déjà phew
…visited this menagerie before: déjà zoo
…scared this person away before: déjà boo
…read this mystery book before: déjà clue
…been in this courtroom before: déjà sue
…felt this sad before: déjà blue
…waited in line before: déjà queue
…eaten this dinner before: déjà stew
…pursued this person before: déjà woo
…had this feeling of déjà vu before: déjà too
…been on this airplane before: déjà flew
…sketched this portrait before: déjà drew
…ended this relationship before: déjà through

Gastro glossary: Eatymology is a cheeky compendium of modern food terms
Rebecca Tucker  November 11, 2015  12:25 PM EST  (excerpts)

Eatymology is a dictionary (by Josh Friedland), a 200-page compilation of food words recently added to the gastronomical lexicon, most of which have been minted since the year 2000. And in case you have any doubts regarding the veracity of these terms, Eatymology’s sources — ranging from The Wall Street Journal to scholarly articles — are thoroughly cited. In other words: it’s all real.

Friedland himself has coined one gastronomic term that doesn’t actually appear in Eatymology: it’s “borough-washing,” which makes reference to the tendency of certain products to emphasize having been manufactured in Brooklyn, NYC, in order to capitalize on the borough’s hipster cachet. It’s sort of an encapsulation of the whole book: a very real behaviour — and a very apt bit of terminology — with the underpinned suggestion that we’re occasionally a bit precious about this whole food thing.

How we talk now: (8 of) Fifteen new food terms, as defined by Eatymology
Arugulance (noun):
 A perceived attitude of superiority and snobbery manifested in a predilection for pricey—yet delicious—peppery greens.

Foodiot (noun): A fervent gastronome whose outsized obsession with food infuriates others.

Gastro-anomy (noun): Individual anxiety fueled by open-ended food choices and the lack of clear criteria for nutritional decision making.

Honey laundering (noun): Fraud involving trade in tainted honey to skirt U.S. taxes.

Nut rage (noun): An angry reaction to nuts served in an improper manner.

Selmelier (noun): A culinary professional who specializes in salt and its uses in cooking and pairing with food and wine.

Sourdough hotel (noun): A place of lodging for sourdough starters—live cultures of fermented flour, water, and wild yeasts—where they are looked after while their owners go on vacation.

Twecipes (noun): Extremely abbreviated recipes, published via Twitter, that provide cooking instructions in no more than 140 characters.


Quotes about Lamentations

Jerusalem is a festival and a lamentation. Its song is a sigh across the ages, a delicate, robust, mournful psalm at the great junction of spiritual cultures. David K. Shipler

If it were possible to cure evils by lamentation and to raise the dead with tears, then gold would be a less valuable thing than weeping. Sophocles

As long as there’s been poetry, there have been lamentations. Edward Hirsch

How Americans restore trust may be an existential question for their country, then, but it’s ultimately a practical one: What U.S. society needs to answer it in the coming years aren’t lamentations but practical measures, especially among the emerging generations that will define America’s future. Stanley A. McChrystal

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Mattot-Masei (Numbers 30:2- 36:13)

My eyesight is currently very asymmetrical and not up to par for extended close work. I expected to be through with all that on Thursday.  But it’s not to be, because my second cataract surgery unexpectedly had to be postponed from today to tomorrow because the manufacturer sent the wrong lens.  This was discovered after the eye was already really, really dilated and I had taken a very effective dose of Valium, so I’m still blurry in more ways than one.  So, rather than waiting for continuous clarity on Friday, I will take advantage of an interval of only mild cloudiness and send this 2012 (pre-retirement) missive today. Old comments, new humor. 

From 2012  I like to set aside vacation days so I can take Fridays off in the summer for a combination of miscellaneous errands, chores, and goofing off.  Kind of like this week’s double Torah portion, Mattot-Masei.  This morning did not start well.  I woke up with a headache, thought my purse had been stolen after I left it at the local bakery, and took a short cut to an errand that turned out to be a long cut.  But I’ve noticed that when 3 things go awry first thing, the rest of the day turns out OK.  So far, so good: my headache is gone, my purse was found intact, and the errands are done.  And how is this like this week’s Torah reading?

The reading ends the book of Numbers, not very grandly, but with a combination of getting some miscellaneous chores and errands done (see?) and finishing up the final preparations for entrance into the Promised Land (OK, that doesn’t parallel my goofing off).  And at the end, despite a few bumps, it looks like things are finally turning out OK for the Israelites.

Mattot begins with a section on vows and commitment, including a rule that a husband or father can nullify vows made by the wife or daughter; however, widows and divorcees are totally responsible for their own vows.  The war, against Midian, announced in last week’s reading, is carried out.  Bil’am (Balaam) is killed.  The war is a combination of massacre and looting; in fact, Moses is angry that the army initially let the women and children live instead of only young female virgins. This is another one of those troubling episodes that is really difficult for us to explain or justify. Mattot ends with a deal made with the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh, who don’t want to cross over the Jordan because where they are looks really good for grazing cattle.  Moses, who is probably gnashing his teeth at their casually turning down the one thing he can’t have, allows it as long as they send troops ahead to help conquer Canaan.

Masei includes a summary of the Israelites’ itinerary for the 40 years since they left Egypt, a mini history lesson for this new generation.  The boundaries of the Promised Land are set.  The tribal chieftains are named.  48 towns are set aside for the Levites and 6 “cities of refuge” are established to protect those guilty of manslaughter (not murder).  Finally, Zelophehad’s daughters show up again because a wrinkle has come up regarding inheriting their father’s portion (legal decisions always generate wrinkles afterwards): what happens to that land if they marry outside the tribe? It’s decided that they should marry within the tribe (according to the Talmud, this was just advice, not a command), and indeed, they marry their cousins.

We are now in the midst of a semi-mourning season, the 3 weeks before Tisha B’Av, and the haftarah is the second of the three Haftarot of Rebuke, Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2 (those last few verses vary), which picks up where last week’s ended and rebukes Israel for disloyalty to the Lord. It’s also the second of 10 haftarot between now and Rosh Hashanah that are connected to the season, rather than the Torah reading.  More on that next week.

Shabbat shalom,


Military Pranks Are Scarier Than Bombs

The military has a long, proud tradition of pranking recruits. Here are some favorites from

  • Instructed a private in the mess hall to look for left-handed spatulas
  • Sent a recruit to medical-supplies office in search of fallopian tubes
  • Had a new guy conduct a “boom test” on a howitzer by yelling “Boom!” down the tube in order to “calibrate” it
  • Ordered a private to bring back a five-gallon can of dehydrated water (in fact, the sergeant just wanted an empty water can)


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Laughable, Risible and Amusing Complaints Made By Holidaymakers to Travel Agents

6 The beach was too sandy.

12 My fiancé and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.

14 The brochure stated: “No hairdressers at the accommodation”. We’re trainee hairdressers – will we be OK staying here?

Funny Australian Travel Agent Stories:

These questions were posted on an Australian Tourism website and the answers are the actual responses by the website’s official. Their travel agencies obviously have a sense of humour.

Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street when I visit Australia? (from USA) 
A: Depends how much you’ve been drinking.

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (USA)

A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle-shaped continent south of Europe. 
Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not… oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross.

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (USA) 
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is…oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races.

Q! : Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA) 
A: Rattlesnakes live in A-mer-i-ca, which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled, and make good pets.

Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA) 
A: Yes, but you’ll have to learn it first.


I had to include these, part of a storyline.  My husband’s family came from Plock (pronounced Plotsk, more or less) in Russian Poland. IGP

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Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

Do Pinchas and our current president have any characteristics in common, such as  operating outside regular channels and being chosen by God?  

This idea came up last week at services and was relayed to me by my husband (I was ill – better now).  My reaction then: Nonsense!  After some pondering, my reaction: Nonsense!!  Pinchas takes a public stand against sexual immorality and saves his people from the plague.  He is part of the established order and has the experience and training to carry out his duties correctly. He still supports obedience to the established law; even in his single, desperate act, he is not trying to get rid of due process.  His act of zealotry is singular and selfless, and, for this, God designates him to be the progenitor of a hereditary priesthood.  He is not acting to gain personal power and glory.  I see no commonality at all with the actions nor motivation of the current president.

The story of Pinchas is only 18 verses long, neatly broken into 9 verses read last week, the actual incident, and 9 this week, the explicit divine approval and the names of the fornicating couple: Zimri, a leader of the tribe of Shimon) and Cozbi, a princess of Midian.  Splitting the story has the effect of diminishing it a bit.  Similarly, when the Lord grants Pinchas a “covenant of peace,” in the Torah scroll the word for peace, shalom, in 25:12 is typically written with a broken letter vav:   

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signaling that “peace that results from violence, even required violence, is defective.”  Still, one can regard this peace as something, an inner pace, that will help Pinchas contain his zeal. The rabbis were ambivalent about vigilantism and zealotry, condoning such actions as singular events by singular people.  The haftarah  assigned to this portion is I Kings 18:46-19:21, in which the prophet Elijah, alone in a cave, finds encouragement and inner peace in a still, small voice.  It’s a perfect match for the Pinchas story; in fact, in midrash Elijah is identified with Pinchas.  Yet that haftarah is rarely read, only when Pinchas is read before the 17th of Tammuz, which last occurred in 2014 and happens next in 2035.  Yes, this enables us to get all 3 Haftarot of Rebuke read before Tisha B’Av (more below), but it’s also another indication of the rabbis’ discomfort with zealotry, however justified.

The rest of the incidents in this portion are pretty much in a tying-up-loose-ends mode as the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan.  There is a new census, mainly concerning potential soldiers for a war against Midian.  Interestingly, while there is a 0.3% drop overall, there are big variations among the tribes, from – 63% for Shimon (Zimri’s tribe, hmmm) to +64% for Menasheh.  The land is apportioned among families, and the five daughters of Zelophehad, who had died without a son, petition Moses to inherit their father’s portion.  Moses asks the Lord, who agrees, and the lines of inheritance are clarified. Moses is told that he will soon die and formally presents Joshua to the people as his successor.  We conclude with all those little portions about sacrifices that we add on Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, each day of Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret.

This past Sunday was a minor fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, which initiates a 3-week period culminating in the 9th of Av, during which we mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem.  For the next few months, we will read 10 special haftarot, 3 Haftarot of Rebuke (warning, admonition) before the 9th of Av and then  7 Haftarot of Consolation.  To get them all in on time, we start this week with the first Haftarah of Rebuke, Jeremiah 1:1-2:3, in which Jeremiah resists his call as vigorously as Moses did. 

Shabbat shalom,


Revealed: Self-styled ‘grammar vigilante’ corrects badly punctuated shop signs in dead of night

Harry Yorke, online education editor

3 APRIL 2017 • 9:39PM

A self-styled ‘grammar vigilante’ has revealed that he has spent years changing offending shop signs in the dead of night.

Wielding an ‘apostrophiser’ – a broom handle laden with two sponges and a number of stickers – the man has corrected tens of missing and misplaced apostrophes on shop banners across Bristol over the past 13 years.

The pedant, who is yet to reveal his identity, claims his efforts are needed to bring an end to the improper use of English. But critics suggest he should start with his own name – as apostrophes are strictly a matter of punctuation rather than grammar.

While (some are) more than happy for the grammarian to point out mistakes, many are less receptive.  Jason Singh, 42, who owns the tailors Tux & Tails, claims that he potentially faces paying thousands of pounds for his sign to be corrected.

The issue, the omission of an apostrophe in “Gentlemens”, has been corrected with what appears to be two blobs of paint, or stickers.

“I did take it lightly at first, but now I’m a little angry to be honest,” he said. “We think it’s paint, and this is vinyl, so if we have to replace it you’re looking at a few thousand pounds.”

However, the vigilante has defended the legality of his work, telling reporters that some of the mistakes he redresses are “just wrong” and that “it’s more of a crime to have apostrophes wrong in the first place”.

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said the force was unaware of any complaints being lodged.


Elementary School Math

Mrs. Agren, a 5th grade math teacher, posed the following problem to one of her classes:

“A wealthy man dies and leaves ten million dollars. One-fifth is to go to his wife, one-fifth is to go to his son, one-sixth to his butler, and the rest to charity.

Now, what does each get?”

After a very long silence in the classroom, Little Mikey raised his hand. The teacher called on Little Mikey for his answer.

With complete sincerity in his voice, Little Mikey answered, “A lawyer!”


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Barbecue Quotes

Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start. Anthony Bourdain

Being so closely related to the South, barbecue was part of segregation and helped defeat it. Bobby Seale

I can trace every romance of my life back to a meal. My memories are enhanced by the tender morsels had at tables across from lovers, on blankets with friends who’d eventually become more, in banquets, barbecues, and breakfasts. Stephanie Klein

My first outdoor cooking memories are full of erratic British summers, Dad swearing at a barbecue that he couldn’t put together, and eventually eating charred sausages, feeling brilliant. Jamie Oliver

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Balak (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9)

The comments below were first posted July 4, 2014. IGP

While looking for this week’s jokes, I saw a description of Balak, King of Moab, as “a few noodles short of a kugel.”  Not very bright.  He’s in a panic after hearing about the Israelites’ recent, nearby military victories, and what does he do?  Does he assemble a mighty army?  Does he try to negotiate with Israel?  No.  He sends for a sorcerer to curse Israel.

This sorcerer/prophet is Bil’am (commonly referred to in English as “Balaam,” which I’m told is probably closer to the ancient pronunciation – thanks, David).  Yes, in the Bible, the Israelites do not have a monopoly on prophesy.  Bil’am does have a connection with the Lord, but it’s a connection with some static in it.  Bil’am doesn’t get that, as a rather low-level prophet, he’s only supposed to convey the Lord’s messages.  Rather, he tends to hope to change a divine decision he doesn’t like to one that he does.  Case in point:  all that will-he-or-won’t-he go with Balak’s emissaries stuff.  Yes, the Lord tells him he can go but is clearly not happy about it.  As I wrote here a couple of years ago,

“Bil’am is told not to go with them (imahem, 22:12), then he’s told he can go with them (itam, 22:20), then when Bil’am goes with them (im, 22:21), the Lord is angry and blocks his path with an angel and fiery sword whom only Bil’am’s old she-ass can see.  After beating her a few times, the poor animal talks and Bil’am is finally able to see the angel and is warned to say only what the Lord tells him to. The Vilna Gaon explains what appears to be divine fickleness with reference to the Hebrew words used for “with” (yes, it depends what “with” means), im, used to indicate total commitment and philosophical alignment and et, which just indicates physical proximity. By this reasoning, the Lord directed Bil’am only to accompany Balak’s messengers in 22:20, but Bil’am instead joins them (22:21), whence the divine anger and angel with the flaming sword. And apparently Bil’am can’t see the angel at first because he is with (im) the enemies of Israel.”

What happens next is that Bil’am blesses the Israelites.  Balak tries to change Bil’am’s perspective, literally, by moving him around to get different views of the people, but Bil’am blesses them a second time and even a third, even though Balak finally tells him to just shut up.  This third blessing includes a statement that has become part of our daily liturgy, (Mah tovu ohalekha Ya’akov, mishk’notekha Yisrael,” “How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!” 24:5).  Before leaving his outraged client, Bil’am provides some actual prophesy (24:15-23) concerning the fates of Israel, Moab, and several other peoples, not soon, but someday.  [BTW, I gave a d’var Torah on the nature of Bil’am in more detail eight years ago, which I have posted for reference.

The last nine verses of this week’s portion bring us back to the Israelite camp with an abrupt change in mood.  Presumably at the instigation of Bil’am, the Moabite women are shamefully consorting with the Israelite men and invite them to sacrifice to their god.  Pinchas, son of High Priest Elazar, takes it upon himself to kill one high-status fornicating couple in the act with a spear.  Was this vigilantism?  Justice?  Vengeance?  Justifiable homicide?  We’ll consider this next week.

Shabbat shalom,


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Do animals have a sense of humor? (excerpts)

By Peter McGraw and Joel Warner

[In memory of Koko, expert in sign-language, who died in her sleep on June 19, 2018, at the Gorilla Foundation’s preserve in Woodside, California, at the age of 46. IGP]
Scientists believe human laughter evolved from the distinctive panting emitted by our great-ape relatives during rough and tumble play; that panting functions as a signal that the play is all in good fun and nobody’s about to tear anybody else’s throat out.

Nonhuman primates don’t just laugh—there’s evidence they can crack their own jokes. Koko, a gorilla in Woodside, Calif., who has learned more than 2,000 words and 1,000 American Sign Language signs, has been known to play with different meanings of the same word. When she was asked, “What can you think of that’s hard?” the gorilla signed, “rock” and “work.” She also once tied her trainer’s shoelaces together and signed, “chase.”

But what about other members of the animal kingdom—do they have funny bones? Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado–Boulder professor, believes they do.   As Bekoff points out, Darwin argued that the difference between human and animal intelligence is a matter of degree, not of kind. Or as Bekoff put it, “If we have a sense of humor, then nonhuman animals should have a sense of humor, too.”

A similar sentiment inspired psychologist Jaak Panksepp to enter his lab at Bowling Green State University in Ohio one day in 1997 and tell undergrad Jeffrey Burgdorf, “Let’s go tickle some rats.” The lab had already discovered that its rats would emit unique ultrasonic chirps in the 50 kilohertz range when they were chasing one another and engaging in play fighting. Now the researchers wondered if they could prompt this chirping through tickling. Sure enough, when the researchers began poking at the bellies of the rats in their lab, their ultrasonic recording devices picked up the same sounds. The rats eagerly chased their fingers for more.

Whether you call it laughter or not, Burgdorf is convinced these rats’ ultrasonic noises signal they’re experiencing happiness. Hence the “laughing pill” experiment: He and his colleagues are testing a new antidepressant medication on rats, to see if it makes them “laugh,” or chirp happily. If all goes well, Burgdorf believes the resulting medication could eventually be approved for humans.

Parshas Balak

by J. Efram Taub Posted: 07-09-2006(Viewed 992 times)

BILAAM: Can I curse them? Can I curse them? Can I curse them?

G-D: Sure…try it…

BILAAM: (Ahem) —Mah Tovu Ohalecha…

BALAK: Why I oughta…

G-D: (snicker)



Top 10 Talking Donkeys (Excerpts. Slightly longer version sent out in 2013)

This is a list recognizing the ten greatest talking donkeys from books, movies and television.

10  The Ass in the Lion’s Skin, a fable attributed to Aesop. An ass dresses in the skin of a lion so that he can go around scaring the other animals. He’s caught when a fox hears him bray.  Moral: you can never tell a fool by the way they dress, but you always can once they open their mouth.

9 Ya’foor, Muhammad’s Talking Donkey  From a story in the book The Beginning and the End in which Muhammad receives from God a gift of four sheep, four goats, ten pots of gold and silver and a black donkey that can talk, obey him, and does not desire females.

8 Benjamin, a pessimistic but realistic talking donkey in Animal Farm (1945), by George Orwell.

7 Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey  Nestor is a gray, stop-motion donkey with freakishly long ears who is rejected by all the other donkeys. Orphaned, he wanders to Israel and finds Joseph and Mary, whom he helps travel to Bethlehem.  The narrator is a talking donkey named Spieltoe. 

6 Leroy From the movie The Muppet Musicians of Bremen, Leroy is a talking donkey who plays the tuba. The Muppet version of the German folktale is set in the rural bayou of Louisiana, and the music is New Orleans-style jazz.

5 Baba Looey  A short cartoon burro with a sombrero and a thick Mexican accent, from the wild west themed Quick Draw McGraw Show. When Baba Looey, “Quick Draw” it sounds like “Quick Straw.” Now that’s adorable.

4 Balaam’s Talking Ass Numbers 22  To recap, the prophet Balaam and his donkey are traveling together when the donkey sees an angel and refuses to walk any further. Frustrated, Balaam begins to beat the animal until it speaks, etc. (Hey, just go read the portion. IGP)

3 Eeyore Originally created by the British author A.A. Milne for the Winnie-the-Pooh books, Eeyore has reappeared in several Disney movies and television shows and has achieved the greatest popularity, by far, of all the characters in the series.

2 Donkey Shrek  He’s positive, sensitive, talkative, his favorite food is waffles, and he even flew for a brief moment with the help of some pixie dust. Yes, the one and only Donkey from the Shrek tetralogy, voiced by veteran Eddie Murphy, hardly needs any further explanation (so I won’t give any.  IGP).

1 Bottom  Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  And it all starts with Bottom, who dreams the dream, or as he calls it, the “most rare vision,” and any high school teacher could tell you the most important role in any Shakespeare comedy is the fool.

Plus, he’s an ass named Bottom. How could he not be at the top of this list?


Quotes on Perspective

It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities. Kristin Armstrong

You must look within for value, but must look beyond for perspective. Denis Waitley

Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable – a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. Brian Greene

A little perspective, like a little humor, goes a long way. Allen Klein


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