Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8)

I am in a good mood.  It was such a lovely day today and likely will be tomorrow as well.  And before class, I had a scoop of delicious ice cream (French Vanilla flavored ice cream with bittersweet chocolate chunks and salted caramel swirls) from the UDairy Creamery’s MooMobile.  Do I really want to dig into Parashat Ki Tavo, with all of its graphic warnings and curses, let alone consider how such horrors relate to today’s mishigas?  Ha!  So, this week you’ll get a rerun for comments, but freshly-dug-up jokes.

(2012) Gee, time flies.  We’re already up to the sixth Haftarah of Consolation, Isaiah 60:1-22, which tells of a time of joy, everlasting light, and salvation. It’s time for Selichot already, this Saturday night.  Selichot, a series of penitential prayers and liturgy, ramps up the emotional intensity of the penitential season that began with the weekday sounding of the shofar this month (Elul).  See e.g.,  The next several weeks include increasing self-examination and asking for forgiveness.

The Israelites are nearing the end of their journey as we near the end of the year by the Hebrew calendar.  This week’s portion begins with commands concerning the first fruits offering the and tithing on a three-year cycle, to support the Levites, resident aliens, widows, and orphans. They are not only told exactly what to do, but exactly what to say (26:3, 5-10, 13-15) – they, not the priests nor other leaders, and the words carry the reasons for the actions.  Moses and the elders now tell the people not only to observe all the Law, but to write it all on huge, plastered stones (Biblical billboards), with an altar of unhewn stones nearby for sacrifices. 

Most of the rest of Ki Tavo consists of the Tochachah, “warning” (this is the major one – the minor one was back in Leviticus).  Half the tribes are to stand on Mount Gerizim, half on Mount Ebal, with the Levites in the valley between, facing Gerizim to pronounce blessings and Ebal for the curses (as described by Rashi).  The people answer “Amen” to each curse. The first set of curses (27:15-26) indicates specific reasons for curses (for example, making an idol, dishonoring one’s parents, indulging in a forbidden sexual relationship) but not what the actual curse will be. The blessings that follow (28:1-14) are based on one omnibus command: If they diligently obey all the laws, many specific blessings will ensue, like fertility (land, animals, and people), rain, wealth, being invulnerable to their enemies, and subservient to no nation.  That’s all familiar stuff and rather obvious, as is the idea of being punished for disobedience.  What’s horrifying is the specificity in the curses that follow (28:15-68), a devastating litany of destruction, loss, unthinkable behavior, loss of control, confusion, mental anguish, despair, and utter, utter hopelessness. 

 Moses steps back and seems to begin a familiar exhortation about the divine miracles the Israelites have seen from Egypt onward and how well the Lord has taken care of their physical needs.  Then, in 29:3, “but the Lord hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, until this day.” Only now are the people fully aware. And only now are they ready to conquer the Promised Land.

Shabbat shalom,


My mom doesn’t like when I curse.
But she’s totally fine with jinxes and hexes.

The United States is always being hit with tragedies and crises like a bad curse…
Just as if it was built on top of an ancient Indian burial ground.

We told the youth at our church that every time they curse they have to do 10 push-ups,
So our church is a gym now.

“May your thousand generations be childless!” yelled my best friend in anger.
He never did think his curses through…



In Week 1272 we asked for updated curses in the Yiddish tradition. (selections)

  • May President Trump insist that you’re doing a fabulous job. (Roy Ashley, Washington)
  • May you always find an error in your sudoku when you are two boxes from completion. (Steve Brevig, Springfield, Va.)
  • May you never figure out where that beeping’s coming from. (Daniel Galef, Montclair, N.J.)
  • May your family always use air quotes when describing your profession (e.g., “Our son Johnny, the ‘writer’” . . . ). (Rivka Liss-Levinson, Washington)
  • May each of your days be better than the next. (Tom Witte, Montgomery Village, Md.)
  • May the paths of your life run as straight and true as the outlines of Maryland’s congressional districts. (Nan Reiner, Boca Raton, Fla.)
  • May you always have spinach in your teeth — and teeth in your spinach. (Liv Johansson, Alexandria, Va.)
  • May you take a long car trip and find that every single public radio station on your route is having a pledge drive. (John Kupiec, Fairfax, Va.)
  • May your health plan provide only thoughts and prayers. (Frank Mann, Washington)


Product Warnings

  • “Do not use if you cannot see clearly to read the information in the information booklet.” — In the information booklet.
  • “Do not place this product into any electronic equipment.” — On the case of a chocolate CD in a gift basket.
  • “This product not intended for use as a dental drill.” — On an electric rotary tool.
  • “Do not use near fire, flame, or sparks.” — On an “Aim-n-Flame” fireplace lighter.
  • “Eating rocks may lead to broken teeth.” — On a novelty rock garden set called “Popcorn Rock.”
  • “Caution: Shoots rubber bands.” — On a product called “Rubber Band Shooter.”
  • “Please keep out of children.” — On a butcher knife.
  • “Do not recharge, put in backwards, or use.” — On a battery.
  • “Do not look into laser with remaining eye.” — On a laser pointer.
  • “Fragile. Do not drop.” — Posted on a Boeing 757.
  • “Do not dangle the mouse by its cable or throw the mouse at co-workers.” — From a manual for an SGI computer.
  • “Do not use house paint on face.” — In a Visa commercial that depicts an expecting couple looking for paint at a hardware store.
  • “For a limited time only.” — From a Rally’s commercial that described how their burgers were fresh.
  • “No stopping or standing.” — A sign at bus stops everywhere.
  • “Fits one head.” — On a hotel-provided shower cap box.
  • “No small children.” — On a laundromat triple washer.
  • “Optional modem required.” — On a computer software package.


Posted by Ron Denka, FB 8/1/18, and Sam R. 9/17/19


Forgiveness  Uploaded 04/01/2012

Once upon a time in their marriage, my Dad did something really stupid. My Mom chewed him out for it. He apologized, they made up.

However, from time to time, my mom mentions what he had done. “Honey,” my Dad finally said one day, “why do you keep bringing that up? I thought your policy was ‘forgive and forget.'”

“It is,” she said. “I just don’t want you to forget that I’ve forgiven and forgotten.”


Quotes about Blessings

A life-long blessing for children is to fill them with warm memories of times together. Happy memories become treasures in the heart to pull out on the tough days of adulthood. Charlotte Kasl

It’s a blessing to have people to support you from across the world. Offset

Forgiveness isn’t just a blessing you deliver to another human being. Forgiveness is also a gift you give yourself. Robin S. Sharma

You never know where a blessing can come from. Teena Marie

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Ki Tetse (Deut. 21:10 – 25:19)

Last week, we learned about pursuing justice to create a compassionate society.  This week, we read about 6 dozen laws that are meant to enable us to do that.

The U.S. is not a theocracy.  However, I do get annoyed when members of our government profess to be pious adherents of the Bible while promulgating laws and policies that directly oppose both specific and overall directives to be fair, honest, and compassionate.  Just a few recent examples, which were way too easy to find:

  • Parts of the Bahamas were totally destroyed by Hurricane Dorian. Acting chief of Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, said at a news conference that it would be “appropriate,” based on both law and historic practice, to extend temporary protected status (TPS) to the victims, which would allow them to stay in the U.S. for at least six months.  Despite that, TPS is not being granted.  Further, the refugees are required to have travel documentation with them, visa and passport, though there are mixed signals about this.  (I don’t know about you, but if my house were totally smashed to pieces, it’s likely I wouldn’t stop to hunt for my passport.  But that’s just me.).  And that is all legal.
  • Then there’s the case of Kaytora Paul, a 12-year-old Bahamian girl who was sent to a shelter for abused or abandoned children because she arrived in South Florida with her godmother, not a blood relative. She’d only been separated from her family because of the logistics of their evacuation, her aunt was waiting for her in Florida, and her mother arrived only 2 days later. Now her mother has to collect documentation to prove she’s Kaytora’s mother and apply to be her daughter’s sponsor with HHS.  That takes weeks to months normally, and the mother must leave the U.S. by September 26 (no TPS).  And that’s all perfectly legal.
  • Then there’s the ending of the “medical deferred action,” program, which allows people to remain in the U.S. for two-year periods if they can prove extreme medical need. A letter was sent to participants giving them 33 days to leave the U.S. even if that is tantamount to a death sentence.  Two who would die if deported testified this week on Capitol Hill, 16-year-old Jonathan Sanchez who has cystic fibrosis; and Isabel Buesos, 24, who was recruited to come to the U.S. as part of a research program to treat her mucopolysaccharidosis type VI (MPS-6).  The medical-deferred action cases will now be reviewed individually, but so far there has been nothing in writing to participants negating the 33-day limit.  All that is perfectly legal.
  • Just one more, because it’s from the Supreme Court. SCOTUS has allowed enforcement of  a new Trump administration rule that denies asylum to anyone who passes through another country on the way to the U.S. without seeking protection there, effectively preventing most Central American migrants from  seeking asylum in the United States.  The enforcement is allowed while a legal challenge progresses through the courts.  Even if the rule is eventually overturned, thousands of refugees will have been hurt because of this perfectly legal ruling.

All legal, all unnecessarily cruel.  All apparently motivated not to achieve a society that is fair and compassionate, but one that is closed off, homogeneous, and compliant.

(This next section, up to “flogged,” is mainly from 2013.) Some laws lead to justice, some to injustice, deliberately or not; and most to more laws.  Laws typically arise because of something that you don’t want to happen, whether or not it actually has yet, or in response to a specific situation.  Then you think of potential future complications and incorporate provisions for dealing with them into your law. Then, once the law is in force, real, unforeseen complications ensue, prompting even more laws.

There several dozen laws in this week’s portion, laws concerning captive war brides, rights of the firstborn of a less-favored wife, insubordinate sons, decent treatment of the body of an executed criminal (none of that sticking head on pikes for display on London Bridge), returning and caring for lost items and animals, helping with fallen animals, not cross-dressing, not capturing a mother bird with her nestlings, and building a barrier on the roof to prevent people from falling off it.  There are specified forbidden combinations of seed, working animals, and fibers in clothing.  Speaking of fibers, we also read details about tzitzit, the ritual fringes on a four-cornered garment.  And then we get into sexual misconduct, suspected or genuine.  Eventually, we read about purity rules for a military camp, asylum for escaped slaves, cult prostitutes, charging interest, and treating all fairly and respectfully: your customers, workers, the poor, the widow, the orphan, and those sentenced to be flogged.

But having a compassionate society requires more than adding goodness. We must remember that we are actively sweeping away evil.  Six times in this portion, we are explicitly told that, by doing such-and-such, ‘you will sweep out evil from your midst’ (19:19, 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:7). Caring for the stranger (also translated “resident alien”) is specifically mentioned in this portion 8 times (24”14, 17, 19, 20, 21; 26:12, 13), usually in laws commanding we care for the fatherless and widows.  Why? “In order that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings” (24:19).  Finally, “Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment.” (24:22)

The portion ends with verses recollecting how Amalek ambushed their weak rear guard (Exodus 17:8-16), which we read on Shabbat Zachor, the one right before Purim (Roz’s Bat Mitzvah!). The Israelites are commanded to remember Amalek: blot out his name but be vigilant against his actual and symbolic progeny.

A few words about the haftarah, or, at least at my shul, haftarot.  Two weeks ago, instead of reading the assigned haftarah for Re’eh, the third Haftarah of Consolation, my shul read the haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh.  To get all 7 Haftarot of Consolation read before Rosh Hashanah, this week we will read #5 (Isaiah 54:1-10) and then the one we missed, #3 (Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5).

These seven Haftarot of Consolation can be viewed as a dialogue between Israel and the Lord (Rabbi David Abudarham, 14th c. Spain,  as cited in Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 154-5).  In the first, Isaiah 40:1-26, the Lord commands the prophets to comfort the people.  Then, in Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3, Zion wails that the Lord has forsaken her.  Next, in Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5, the Lord recognizes that Zion is not Zion’s ready to be consoled, so the next three haftarot contain increasingly intense comforting: “I am He that comforts you!” (Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12); “Sing, O barren one!” (Isaiah 54:1-10); and, “Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.” (Isaiah 60:1-22).  In the seventh haftarah, (Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9), Israel finally rejoices in ecstasy, with expectations of deliverance.

Shabbat shalom,


tph sweep under rug 2


Quotes about Comfort

Bare feet on the grass comfort the spirit and connect the body to the earth all at once!  Maximillian Degenerez

Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.  Brad Henry

Now, God be praised, that to believing souls gives light in darkness, comfort in despair.  William Shakespeare

Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.  Hippocrates

Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort.  Humphry Davy

tph mrs potato head scolds son

———————-  (excerpts)

I have occasionally posted lists of “stupid laws still on the books.”  Now for something a tad different: fake stupid laws from the Washington Post Style Invitational.

Nov. 21, 2012 Report from Week 998 in which we asked for bogus “still on the books” laws: Perhaps before long they’ll be appended to the almost just as bogus lists of such laws circulating everywhere online.

The winner of the Inkin’ Memorial

In Bethlehem, Pa., an innkeeper MUST provide a room for a hugely pregnant woman (because you just never know. . .). (Beverley Sharp, Montgomery, Ala.)

Half-writs: honorable mentions

In California it is not illegal to feed animals in the park, but you are required to report the caloric content of everything you give them. (Josh Feldblyum, Philadelphia)

In the Florida Everglades, it is illegal to catch and gut an alligator out of season, unless you are attempting to retrieve your severed arm. (Beverley Sharp)

In Hawaii, it is illegal to drive your car to another state. (Gregory Koch, Storrs, Conn.)

In Roswell, N.M., it is illegal to hold three-headed races. (Roger Hammons, Ashburn, Va.)

On cars purchased in Massachusetts, directional signals are optional equipment. Nevah use ’em. Why pay for ’em? (Jeff Contompasis, Ashburn, Va.)

In Alabama, all state laws must fit onto two equal-size stone tablets. (Rob Huffman, Fredericksburg, Va.)

Wisconsin now permits public employee unions to bargain only over how many “Dilbert” cartoons may be displayed on cubicle walls. (David Genser)

High school biology textbooks in Kansas must explain that parts of “Jurassic Park” were meant to be merely allegorical. (David Genser)

In Virginia, the “No Person Left Inside” law requires that the census include a transvaginal ultrasound of every female of childbearing age. (Roger Hammons)


tph lost from special place

All. The. Time!


From Jewish Jokes: A Clever Kosher Compilation: A Clever Kosher Compilation

By David Minkoff

The Government is going to put a special tax on tzitzit.  They are being classed as fringe benefits.

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Shoftim (Deut. 16:18 – 21:9)

[I am getting over a GI bug, so the nuts-and-bolts description of what is in Shoftim, from “In verse 16:20” through “haughty heart” is mainly lifted from last year.  The rest is current.]

The Israelites are progressing toward a fair and just society after 40 years.  The United States seems to have spent a similar amount of time regressing from the same, at an increasingly accelerated rate. What do I mean by that?

At our local OLLI, I’ve just started a course on LBJ’s Great Society, the climax both of a long period of progressivism and populism dating from the 1890’s and, more particularly, of the roughly three decades of enormous growth in both the economy and social rights that followed World War II.  In 1945, the U.S. had a huge manufacturing base ready to roar into peacetime production, we faced no post-war depression, and we were the one world power left standing.  We had no serious economic competition; pent-up domestic consumer demand and foreign recovery stoked by aid like the Marshall Plan gave us a huge customer base. Family real income grew evenly throughout all classes until about 1980.  This affluent period was characterized by a sense that we could have both guns and butter – physical security and advancement of social rights.  Increasing attention was paid to “doing the right thing,” the environment, consumer safety and health, and “quality of life.” Republicans and Democrats worked together to get things done.  Interstate highways connected the nation.  Judges increasingly had a mindset that they were to pursue justice.

But following the assassinations, the Vietnam war, Watergate, the growing income inequality and political polarization since 1980, we have gone backwards as a nation, at an accelerating rate.  Today, “(p)eople in our increasingly mean and cruel government continue to get away with ignoring subpoenas and court orders and even their own rules, destroying the hopes of refugees, scarring children emotionally for life, breaking the law with impunity, appointing blatantly unqualified people to senior positions, destroying valuable and productive R&D labs and suppressing data.” (from Mattot-Masei 5779)

The journey of the Children of Israel is a mirror image of our deterioration since the energized post-WWII years.  From the divided, polarized, and rebellious tribes of 38+ years before, the Israelites have communally progressed to the point where they can start to form a just society, sweeping out evil from their midst.  And for that, they need a functioning judicial system, wise judges, and a populace and leadership that respect the Law.  All must study the Law, not just to be able to obey it and avoid punishment, but because they must pursue justice.

In verse 16:20, we read, “tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”   “Tzedek,” justice, includes not simply mechanical obedience but compassion and fairness. Today, we use the term “tzedakah” as a synonym for charity.  According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary  , “fair” implies an elimination of one’s own feelings, prejudices, and desires so as to achieve a proper balance of conflicting interests, while “just” implies an exact following of a standard of what is right and proper. The pursuit of justice is commanded so “that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (16:20) and “sweep out evil from your midst.” (17:7, 17:12, 19:19).

The repetition of “tzedek” in 16:20 has been subject to many interpretations over the millennia (surprise), as I wrote here in 2015. Several from the 9th through 20th centuries are presented by Rabbi Jonathan Kremer in Justice, Pursue Justice .  One of these is the Sefat Emet (19th c.), whose reason for repetition is “We have to keep pursuing justice, knowing that we have not yet attained it.”

The laws in Shoftim, are tools to enable the Israelites to set up a decent and fair society, including laws we’ve already read, like the cities of refuge for those who kill unintentionally, and, once more, the just compensation formula, “… life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”  War is to be waged with rules, so that cities can sue for peace; fruit trees are not destroyed; and the military draft allows compassionate exemptions for new homeowners, those who have a newly planted vineyard, the affianced, and those whose fear who infect others.

No one is above the law, not the priests, not the magistrates, not the Levites, not even a king.  A king must not enrich himself though his office, nor have too many wives.  He must know the Law, even write out two copies of it which he will keep with him and refer to.   The knowledge of his legal limits should keep him from “having a haughty heart.”

We do not have a king.  But under our system of government, we do require a President who knows and protects the Constitution and who recognizes and accepts his legal limits (can you say, “emoluments clause”?).  We also require a Congress that legislates thoughtfully for the public good; and a judiciary of knowledgeable, wise, and compassionate people who both respect the law and recognize the need for enough flexibility to adapt to change.  What I see is an increasingly demented President who believes he is above the law and whose party is his chief enabler and echo chamber, a Congress paralyzed by those incapable of putting country above party, and a judiciary increasingly populated by inadequately assessed people whose overwhelming qualification is their political alignment.

This is a mean, uncivil time in which we must spend resources suing not only to get properly issued subpoenas obeyed and legally requested documents handed over, but to get soap and toothpaste for children whom we have caged though innocent of any crime.  Cruel actions that may be technically legal, like ending medical deportation deferments, are embraced precisely because they are cruel, in the belief that being cruel demonstrates toughness and strength.

We have grown more divided and polarized and less willing to work together for the good of the country and to try to do what is morally the right thing to do.  It is time for us to rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of a justice comprised of compassion and fairness.

Shabbat shalom,


A lawyer cross-examined the adversary’s main witness. “You claim to have stopped by Mrs. Edwards’ house just after breakfast. Will you tell the jury what she said?”
“Objection, your honor,” shouted the other lawyer.
There then followed a long argument between the lawyers as to whether the question was proper. Finally, after 45 minutes, the judge allowed it.
“So,” the first lawyer continued, “Please answer the question: What did Mrs. Edwards say when you went to her house after breakfast on December 3rd?”
“Nothing,” said the witness. “No one was home.”


A lawyer had just undergone surgery, and as he came out of the anesthesia, he said, “Why are all the blinds drawn, doctor?” There’s a big fire across the street and we didn’t want you to wake up and think the operation was a failure.


A lawyer defending a man accused of burglary tried this creative defense: “My client merely inserted his arm into the window and removed a few trifling articles. His arm is not himself, and I fail to see how you can punish the whole individual for an offense committed by his limb.”

“Well put,” the judge replied. “Using your logic, I sentence the defendant’s arm to one year’s imprisonment. He can accompany it or not, as he chooses.”

The defendant smiled. With his lawyer’s assistance he detached his artificial limb, laid it on the bench, and walked out.



I was in juvenile court, prosecuting a teen suspected of burglary, when the judge asked everyone to stand and state his or her name and role for the court reporter.
“Leah Rauch, deputy prosecutor,” I said.
“Linda Jones, probation officer.”
“Sam Clark, public defender.”
“John,” said the teen who was on trial. “I’m the one who stole the truck.”


As a potential juror in an assault-and-battery case, I was sitting in a courtroom, answering questions from both sides. The assistant district attorney asked such questions as: Had I ever been mugged? Did I know the victim or the defendant? The defense attorney took a different approach, however. “I see you are a teacher,” he said. “What do you teach?”

“English and theater,” I responded.

“Then I guess I better watch my grammar,” the defense attorney quipped.

“No,” I shot back. “You better watch your acting.”

When the laughter in the courtroom died down, I was excused from the case.


tph bee eye exam 2


Justice Jokes

Did you hear about that decision the Supreme Court handed down without Justice Ginsburg?
It was ruthless.

Picking a Supreme Court Justice is a lot like crossing a river…
It all comes down to Roe v Wade

The US Justice Department were hellbent on taking IKEA to court a few years ago.
Unfortunately they had to walk away as they were having difficulties putting a case together.

What do you call a werewolf who has taken an interest in social justice?


Quotes about Fairness

We learned about honesty and integrity – that the truth matters… that you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules… and success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square. Michelle Obama

There are vivid memories from my childhood – what we had to go through because of low wages and the conditions, basically because there was no union. I suppose, if I wanted to be fair, I could say that I’m trying to settle a personal score. I could dramatize it by saying that I want to bring social justice to farm workers. Cesar Chavez

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Groucho Marx

The truth is that the vast majority of Americans are good, fair, and just, and they want their country to reflect those ideals. Kamala Harris

When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something. John Lewis

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

The majority of the laws in Deuteronomy are in the next three weeks’ Torah portions, starting with Chapter 12:

“These are the laws and rules that you must carefully observe in the land that the LORD, God of your fathers, is giving you to possess, as long as you live on earth.”

They are introduced by verses 11:26-28:

See, this day I set before you a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but (you) turn away.”

We’ll read about the antiphonal recitation of specific blessings and curses later.  I have color-coded some of the words according to their number in the Hebrew, blue for singular 2nd person and red for plural 2nd person.  The initial command “see” (or “look”) is addressed to each individual Israelite, while the blessing and curse are given to the whole people.  That emphasizes that each individual’s own behavior can affect the fate of the entire people. (See A Daily Taste of Torah, Kleinmann Edition, Rabbi Y. A. Weiss ed., vol. 12, pp. 66-67)

Another implication of these verses is that the Israelites have free will, to obey or not to obey, and they choose obedience or disobedience knowingly.

The laws that follow concern more specifically how to behave in the Promised Land. (12:8): “You shall not act at all as we now act here, every man as he pleases.”  Such laws include purging the land of idolatry and its symbols and not adopting abhorrent practices like child sacrifice and cutting oneself as part of mourning, bringing offerings only to a single location the Lord will choose, remembering to take care of the Levites, eating non-sacrificial meat, and condemning false prophets or anyone who tries to turn them away from the Lord.  On a more personal level, laws address tithing, the sabbatical and jubilee years, taking care of the needy, and freeing Hebrew slaves.

And what is more personal and basic than the food they can and can’t eat?  Laws address kosher and non-kosher animals, not eating blood, and not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.  (this is the source of all the laws on separating meat and dairy).  Such laws have inspired all sorts of explanations concerning cultural food restrictions – why restrict at all and why those particular restrictions.  The overarching issue of wholeness and holiness as a key factor in choosing what animals are fit to eat is addressed in Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas and other references, which I’ve gone into several times already, such as in Shemini 2016 and Re’eh 2017, so I won’t go through all that again here.

But please note that food safety is not the motivating factor for determining what animals are not kosher.   See Shemini 2016.  Many poisonous creatures are unsafe yet not explicitly forbidden, and Jews have always known non-Jews happily eat non-kosher animals with generally no adverse physical effects.  Kashrut, the practice of keeping kosher, is intended as a means to keep the Israelites (later, the Jews) separate and distinct.  It is a powerful tool for maintaining both group identity and individual awareness whenever you put something in your mouth or contemplate doing so.

Re’eh also includes laws on how and why to observe the harvest holidays (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot) beyond sacrifices, now that they will have something to harvest.  Those verses are, not surprisingly, read on the harvest holidays.

All the laws are to be followed precisely, not added to or subtracted from (interpretations don’t count as emendations).

Speaking of sacrifices, we have a second scroll reading, Numbers 28:9-15, with the Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) sacrifices, because this weekend is Rosh Chodesh Elul, which is also the Hebrew date of our wedding anniversary (August 14, 1977).  “Elul,” aleph-lamed-vuv-lamed, can also be an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. There is a special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh that we’ll read at my shul, Isaiah 66:1-24; for other possibilities, since it’s a two-day Rosh Chodesh and we’re in the midst of the Haftarot of Consolation, see Re’eh 2015.  This is the last month of the Hebrew year.  Every day except on Shabbat, the shofar is blown, to help us get ready mentally and emotionally for the upcoming High Holidays.

Shabbat shalom and Chodesh tov (a good month),


Torah in Haiku – R’eih By Ed (2008)

(Below, treif = trayf = unkosher)

The magpie is treif
Definitely good news for
Heckle and Jeckle

Reply by Dov

blessings & a curse
dreaming of eco-kosher
don’t gash your forehead

eggs from the mother
a kid in its mother’s milk
all cruelty is trayf


Quotes on the Individual and Society

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. Friedrich Nietzsche

Teamwork requires some sacrifice up front; people who work as a team have to put the collective needs of the group ahead of their individual interests. Patrick Lencioni

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s the individual effort of everybody working together towards a collective goal that causes real, effective change in America and in the world. David Hogg

Research shows that the climate of an organization influences an individual’s contribution far more than the individual himself. W. Edwards Deming


Kosher Jokes

  • I bought Kosher sausages from the local deli for the first time, and it looks a little weird.
    Is it normal that a bit of the skin is missing from the top?
  • Noah’s son walks into a kosher deli and orders a sandwich.
    “Sorry,” said the owner. “We don’t serve Ham.”
  • A leading rabbi has ruled that marijuana is kosher
    Now we know what kids are gonna be doing for the Jewish High Holidays…
  • Moishe is driving in Jerusalem. He’s late for a meeting, he’s looking for a parking place, and can’t find one.
    In desperation, he turns towards heaven and says: “Lord, if you find me a parking place, I promise that I’ll eat only kosher, respect Shabbos, and all the holidays.”
    Miraculously, a place opens up just in front of him. He turns his face up to heaven and says, “Never mind, I just found one!”


tph new moon


The Harvest Festival

Submitted by IN SEINE  Friday, 5 February 2010

It’s Harvest Sunday at a small village church in rural England and the vicar is organizing his annual harvest service where people bring their home-grown plants and vegetables to the service.

But this year is different. The local village cricket team has just won their league and the village is in a celebratory mood so the vicar decides to do something special – he will combine the normal harvest service with a cricket theme.

The day of the service arrives and the church is filled with flowers. People are bringing in their offerings of vegetables, and in the middle of the display is a cricket wicket, a strip of turf with a set of wooden stumps at each end, and people are laying their offerings on the wicket. Everything is going fine until one lady comes up to the front of the church and places a bag of frozen peas among the other vegetables. She is stopped by the vicar and returns to her seat still clutching her peas.

“What happened?” asked the lady she’s sitting next to.

She shrugs her shoulders and says, “There’s no peas for the wicket.”


tph dilbert freewill

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Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25)

At first blush, Parashat Eikev seems to be just more of the same: obey=reward, disobey=punishment.  There are consequences to actions.  But mechanical obedience isn’t enough, not by a long shot.

Moses tells the Israelites they can have a wonderful future, but they must remember that they are not the only source of that future. They must not be so arrogant as to believe they are “self-made men.”  It was the Lord, Moses reminds them, “who led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its seraph serpents and scorpions, a parched land with no water in it, who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had never known, in order to test you by hardships only to benefit you in the end.” (8:15-16) And they aren’t going to the Promised Land because they are so wonderful (remember all those times the Lord was ready to destroy them, especially the Golden Calf incident?) but because of the promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the wickedness of the current inhabitants.

But Moses assures the Israelites that they can indeed satisfy the Lord. “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, keeping the LORD’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good… Yet it was to your fathers that the LORD was drawn in His love for them, so that He chose you, their lineal descendants, from among all peoples—as is now the case.” (from 10:12-15)

Now we get to how the Israelites are to obey.  This isn’t a dry, legalistic quid pro quo arrangement.  It must be intensely, consciously based on love, including fidelity, loyalty, and faithful obedience.

That brings us to an image in 10:16 which is sometimes translated as “incline your heart” or “cut away the barrier of your heart,” but is literally, “circumcise your heart.”  It means to remove a metaphorical barrier that has desensitized you spiritually.  This spiritual sensitivity is needed for the Israelites to carry out the commandments with the right intent.  Rabbi Charles Buckholtz, aged 40, wrote (Washington Post, July 15, 2013; see also 2013 TPH) how he finally understood this imagery when faced with surgery for an 8 mm tumor on a heart valve after having had 6 strokes in 2 months.  He wrote, “I started to see my surgery — the snipping of an obstruction so that my heart could be revealed and re-sensitized — as a covenant of rebirth. What began as a terrifying and inscrutable (but undoubtedly well-deserved!) punishment had become a vehicle for teaching me how intensely I wanted not only to live, but to live differently.”  He has another stroke right before the scheduled surgery, and then the surgeon does an ultrasound and finds that the heart tumor is essentially gone; apparently, most of it had already broken off and caused the most recent stroke.  “All that was left was a flat mass, smooth against the tissue of the valve, barely detectable and posing no danger to me.”  A fitting and miraculous conclusion to a process in which both physical and emotional obstructions were removed.

Near the end of the portion (11:13-21) are the verses that are the second paragraph of the Shema in our liturgy, once more describing how good behavior will lead to a good life, and misbehavior, to disaster.  Commands concerning tefillin and mezuzot are here as well (11:18 and 20, respectively). These are intended to be tangible reminders of this teaching, and this is a people that unfortunately will need a lot of reminding.

Shabbat shalom,


‘Have tefillin, will travel’ motto of Jewish in-joke comedy maven (excerpt)

About to set off on a world tour with his family, Joel Chasnoff is prepared to be asked by dirty minded airport security about his phylactery use

By CATHRYN J. PRINCE7 August 2015, 3:36 am

GREENWICH, Connecticut — As a stand-up comedian, Joel Chasnoff frequently takes to the friendly skies. One night it’s Miami, two days later it’s Boston. So packing tefillin in his carry-on bag is as normal as tucking in a toothbrush and the approved 3 oz. bottle of shampoo. But in a post-9/11 world, particularly during the Bush years, it raised more than a few TSA eyebrows.

“How do you even explain tefillin 8-foot-long leather straps to people who believe in moral values? Like, they asked, ‘Do you use this in the bedroom?’” Chasnoff asks audiences during on routine. “Only if I can’t find 9 other men.”


Mezuzah stories have made the news for many years.  Newsday, Oct. 31, 2009, carried the following headline:

Yes, a Jewish woman from Dix Hills, Long Island, said that her condominium complex discriminated against her by stopping her from displaying a 4-inch mezuzah on her front “tir” (door).  State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, investigated after receiving a complaint that residents were told to “either take down their mezuzahs or purchase a screen door costing between $300 to $500 to conceal (“oysbahaltn”) the object.”

What happened then: p. 2  “After an investigation by the Attorney General’s office, the association agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and institute new policies permitting occupants to display such religious objects.”


On One Foot        – July 9, 2006

Parshas Eikev, or The Fundamentals of Computer Programming:

IF (condition)

THEN (statements)

[Else if (condition X)

Then (statements X)]

[Else] (else statements)



tph you-may-be-a-self-made-man-but-i-was-technical-advisor - shrunk


Quotes about Consequences

Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune. William James
Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices. Alfred A. Montapert
The consequences of things are not always proportionate to the apparent magnitude of those events that have produced them. Thus the American Revolution, from which little was expected, produced much; but the French Revolution, from which much was expected, produced little. Charles Caleb Colton
It’s easy to play a bad girl: You just do everything you’ve been told not to do, and you don’t have to deal with the consequences, because it’s only acting. Eliza Dushku
I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government. Sonia Sotomayor

tph consequences

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

This week: a little holiday about love, the 10 Commandments redux, the Shema (pay attention!), and comfort.

Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av, this year August 15-16) is a minor holiday that dates at least from Second Temple period (516 BCE to 70 CE).  It was a day of matchmaking, a love festival for romantic couples.  Unmarried girls would wear borrowed white dresses and dance in the fields outside the walls of Jerusalem under the full moon, while young men followed them, hoping to find a bride. Tu B’Av has been reborn in recent years, especially in Israel, accompanied by singing and dancing festivals.

On to the Torah portion:

Deuteronomy is a lesson/sales pitch/pep talk by Moses, as he tries to convince the new generation of Israelites why they should be mindful of their past and obey the Law. He points to his own fate as an object lesson (twice); he can’t pass over the Jordan with them because he disobeyed.  He also points out how amazing their story has been so far. “(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) In Chapter 5, he “re-gives” them the Ten Commandments, the keystone of the Law.  The text is a little different from the set in Exodus 20, probably to make them more absorbable by the current generation, according to the Maharal of Prague.  Moses emphasizes that, if they obey the Lord’s laws, things will go well; and if they don’t, they will be severely punished. Abravanel suggests thinking of this obedience as preventive medicine; if you do (or don’t do) thus-and-so, health (or sickness) will follow as a natural consequence.

That brings us to probably the most famous part of our liturgy, the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9).  It’s not actually a prayer. The first word, “Shema,” is a command: Hear! Listen up! Pay attention! Then there’s a statement (with ambiguous translation) on the Oneness of the Lord.  How the Israelites are to thrive is not simply a matter of carrots and sticks. That would work for automatons.  But the Israelites are to have a covenantal relationship with the Lord, and that brings in another factor: love.  6:5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” [As I’ve noted before, in the Bible, ‘love’ is an action, not an emotion; it means fidelity, loyalty, and faithful obedience. The ‘heart’ is the seat of the intellect and s the ‘intestines’ are the seat of the emotions.]  Further, the Israelites are commanded to teach these words to their children, meditate on them day and night, and use mezuzot and tefillin as personal reminders.  We’ll see the concepts of study and love recur through Deuteronomy.

This Sabbath, the first one after Tisha B’Av, is called Shabbat Nachamu (Comfort) after the first word of the special haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26, in which the prophets are told to comfort the people. (Verses 40: 1-4, 5, 9, and 11 appear in Handel’s Messiah, by the way.) It’s the first of 7 Haftarot of Consolation, versus 3 Haftarot of Rebuke.  It takes a lot longer to be comforted than to be scolded.  Since I expect we’ll continue to need comfort for a while during this time of mishegas, I will explore comfort here over the next several weeks.  After that comes Rosh Hashanah.

Shabbat shalom,


Ten Commandment Jokes

Said Moses after smashing the Ten Commandments:
“It’s okay, I have a backup in the cloud.”

Moses opens his tablet.
The notification says, “You have 10 unread commandments’.

Moses was sent by the Israelites…
to the top of Mount Sinai to negotiate with God over the commandments. After a month of intense discussion, an exhausted Moses came down with a list of 200 commandments.
The Israelites, however, weren’t happy with this, and sent him back up to negotiate a better deal. A week later, a washed-out Moses returned from his mission.
“I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” Moses told the Israelites.
“The good news is that I’ve gotten the list down to ten.
The bad news is that adultery is still on there.”

There has been some controversy regarding priests delivering sermons using an iPad instead of the traditional bible.
I think it’s perfectly fine. After all, Moses delivered the ten commandments using two tablets.


Attention Jokes

What’s the best way for a tailor to get someone’s attention?
A hem.

My wife said I don’t pay enough attention to her.
At least, I think that’s what she said.

Screenwriters are very attention seeking.
After all, they cause a lot of scenes.

This morning on the way to work, I wasn’t really paying attention and I drove into the back of a car at some traffic lights.
The driver got out and it turned out he was a dwarf.
He said, “I’m not happy.”
I said, “Well, which one are you then?”


Kids’ Ideas About Love

Kids, aged 5 to 10, were asked questions about what they thought of love and marriage. Here’s what they said. (selections)

Love and Marriage:

“If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.” — Glenn, age 7

“On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.” — Mike, 10

“Most men are brainless, so you might have to try more than once to find a live one.” — Angie, age 10

“Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” — Dave, age 8


“You learn [how to kiss] right on the spot when the gooshy feelings get the best of you.” — Doug, age 7

“It’s never okay to kiss a boy. They always slobber all over you. That’s why I stopped doing it.” — Tammy, age 10

“I know one reason kissing was created. It makes you feel warm all over, and they didn’t always have electric heat or fireplaces or even stoves in their houses.” — Gina, age 8

Good Advice About Love:

“Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.” — Lynnette, age 8

“Don’t forget your wife’s name. That will mess up the love.” — Erin, age 8

“Don’t say you love somebody and then change your mind. Love isn’t like picking what movie you want to watch.” — Natalie, age 9


Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child.
The winner was a four-year-old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry”


tph grammarnazi comfort


Quotes about Comforting

In some ways, climbing in the clouds is comforting. You can no longer see how high off the ground you are. Tommy Caldwell

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

Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and repeat to yourself, the most comforting words of all; this, too, shall pass. Ann Landers

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. Viktor E. Frankl

There is something comforting about going into a practice room, putting your sheet music on a stand and playing Bach over and over again. Andrew Bird

Fragrance is a bit of a selfish gift because it’s comforting when you’re near someone and you recognize their smell. Blake Lively

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

Comments are both current and, as indicated, from 2014, very lightly edited.  My plan to write all new comments was derailed by my husband’s appendectomy yesterday morning. It was all incredibly efficient. The total time from onset of symptoms for calling 911, ambulance ride, lab tests, diagnosis, surgery, recovery, and arrival back home was about 21 hours. He’s doing very nicely, since it was done laparoscopically.  Onward:

(2019) Words matter.  Our reaction to them is colored by their dictionary meaning, who says them, tone, and context.  The same words can inspire a team to win the big game or incite a mob’s, or an individual’s, deadly rampage.  A leader who sets out to inspire supporters and deliberately inflames them must bear some responsibility for their response.

Sometimes, we hear what we want to hear, as in this excerpt from “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” (Howard L. Chace, 1940), which I first read in high school:

“Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge dock florist… Oil offer sodden throne offer carvers and sprinkling otter bet, disc curl and bloat Thursday woof ceased pore ladle rat rotten hut an garbled erupt.
“Mural: Yonder nor sorghum stenches shut ladle gulls stopper torque wet strainers.”

The whole thing, plus translation into “real” English, is at  Its purpose was to demonstrate how important intonation is in spoken English, almost as important to the meaning as the words themselves.

Which brings us to this week’s Torah portion, Devarim (words), also the name of the book we are now reading. It’s known in English as Deuteronomy.

(2014) From,
Deuteronomy (n.)   5th book of the Pentateuch, late 14c., from Late Latin Deuteronomium, from Greek Deuteronomion, literally “second law,” from deuteros “second” + nomos “law” (see numismatics). A mistranslation of Hebrew mishneh hattorah hazzoth “a copy of this law” [Deut. xvii:18]. The book is a repetition, with comments, of the Decalogue and most of the laws of Exodus. The title was translated literally into Old English as æfteræ, literally “after-law.”

Our formerly tongue-tied Moses is now fluent enough to spend the last month or so of the Israelites’ journey talking to them.  Nachmanides divides the book into three main parts:  1) historical recap as reproof, starting in Chapter 1; 2) the laws, in Chapter 4; and 3) Chapter 26 to the end, blessings, curses, and Moses’ final song.

This week, Moses gives a quick review of their journey, starting with the organizational structure set up before they left Sinai (=Horeb).  Why bring that up first thing?  Perhaps Moses wanted to make it clear immediately how many others participated in the governance of the people from the get-go.  The focus of the history is on the parts most relevant to the present generation, so we zip from Sinai right to Kadesh-barnea, where the Israelites blew their chance to conquer the Promised Land.  Moses then relates their journeys, skipping most of the next 38 years, up to the successful battles against Sihon and Og and the deal he made with Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh concerning their land east of the Jordan.

This is the Sabbath before Tisha B’Av (9th day of the month of Av, which this year is observed on the 10th, the 9th being on Shabbat), known as the black fast in contrast to the white fast of Yom Kippur (mourning versus solemn).  Several disasters are linked to this day, most notably the destruction of the First and Second Temples.  Because it’s in the summer, kids are unlikely to learn about it in Hebrew school; I was introduced to it at camp.  That year, I tried to fast, but a pre-outing check-up showed something amiss in my throat, so they made me stop and stay in camp with a dozen or so other kids.  But I digress. 

The Sabbath is known as Shabbat Chazon (“vision,” from the first word of the haftarah), on which we read the third and last of the Haftarot of Rebuke, Isaiah 1:1-27.  It is traditionally chanted mostly using the melody used to chant the book of Lamentations (“Megillat Eichah”) on Tisha B’Av.  I learned about that, shortly before my wedding, a few days before I was going to chant it, when the rabbi “reminded” me about using the Lamentations trope.  That was back when I could learn such things very quickly, luckily.  I will be chanting it again this year, same synagogue, different rabbi.

Shabbat shalom,


tph dilbert jargon


Canonical List of PCisms (selections)

  • horizontally gifted– fat
  • other aged– too old/young (dual purpose)
  • folically independent– bald
  • outdoor urban dwellers– homeless
  • nasally gifted– runny nose
  • energy-efficient– off
  • people of height– too tall
  • chronologically gifted– old
  • aquatically challenged– drowning
  • differently organized– messy
  • creatively re-dyed– stained
  • uniquely coordinated– clumsy


Washington Post Style Invitational – SWITCH-WITTERS: THE NEOLOGISMS OF WEEK 1307

In Week 1307 we asked you to replace one letter of a word or name with another, then describe the result. (selections)

3rd place: Peerogative: Getting to use the bathroom of your chosen gender. (Steve Fahey, Kensington, Md.)

2nd place and the Christmas Carol Kazoo:  Braxit: An undergarment that was originally intended to separate, but has lost much support. (Frank Mullen III, Aledo, Ill.)

And the winner of the Lose Cannon: Don compos mentis: Of very stable genius mind. (Jesse Frankovich, Grand Ledge, Mich.)

Left at the alter: Honorable mentions

Foxic waste: Substance that poisons the national discourse. (Duncan Stevens, Vienna, Va.)

Romeopathic medicine: A nicer name for erectile dysfunction drugs. (Tom Gleason, Lawrence, Kan.)

Cameraderie: Those grimacing smiles you see in photos of people pretending to like each other. (Frank Osen, Pasadena, Calif.)

Celibration: The joy of no sex. (Karl Koerber, Krestova, B.C.)

Mequel: Junior. (Jeff Contompasis, Ashburn, Va.)

Nap year: The first year of retirement. Actually, every year of retirement. (Ellen Raphaeli, Falls Church, Va.)


(From) 26 Brilliant Quotes on the Super Power of Words

Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well.

5.”…But the human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will run wild and cause you grief.” -Unknown

8.”Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.” -Pearl Strachan Hurd

14.”All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

16.”Don’t ever diminish the power of words. Words move hearts and hearts move limbs.” -Hamza Yusuf

19.”A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.” -Jessamyn West

26.”If we understood the power of our thoughts, we would guard them more closely. If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative.” -Betty Eadie

PUBLISHED ON: NOV 5, 2015  The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of


History Teacher Puns

  1. Do you think ancient Mesopotamians went on Sumer vacation?
  2. Who built King Arthur’s Round Table? Sir Cumference
  3. There’s no time for Stalin when you’re Russian to industrialize
  4. History.  Did I just rewrite history?
  5. Civil War jokes?  I General Lee don’t find them funny
  6. History teachers live in the past
  7. If anyone Khan, Genghis Kahn
  8. I read the constitution for the articles
  9. As a history teacher I like to Babylon
  10. What kind of music did the Pilgrims like?  Plymouth Rock



Parshas Devarim  JULY 9, 2006

Jews: Tell it again!

Moshe: Once upon a time…

Moshe recounts the history of the 40 years in the dessert

God: I love that story



From “The Torah in haiku.”

Fifth Book of Moses

It all sounds quite familiar







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