Bo (Exodus 10:1 – 13:16)

Seven plagues down, three to go.  Then it’s time to leave Egypt.

For the next three weeks, we’ll be reading heavy-duty, seminal sections of the Torah: The Exodus, the splitting of the sea, and the giving of the Ten Commandments. 

For the 8th plague, locusts polish off everything in Egyptian fields that hadn’t been destroyed by the hail. The plague of locusts needs no “gee, how did that happen?” head-scratching.  Locust plagues plague us to this day.  Even the collective noun for locusts is plague, i.e., “a plague of locusts,” like “a gaggle of geese.” If you watch the 1937 film The Good Earth, you’ll see an authentic-looking swarm.   It looks authentic because it is.  The special effects people hadn’t figured out how to make a good fake locust plague when they heard a real one was happening elsewhere, and they were able to rush a camera crew there to film it. 

The ninth plague, darkness, is one I’ve often written about in depth here.  Speculations as to its natural origin (a khamsin? Solar eclipse?) are irrelevant.  This not an ordinary lack of light.  As I wrote last year, “No, this is an almost palpable darkness, darker than night (Rashi). Lamps and candles are useless (Nachmanides).  It’s like the darkness of the chaos preceding creation; or maybe it’s a taste of hell (Midrash, Exodus Rabbah).  The Egyptians do not leave their homes.  They are paralyzed, isolated, demoralized.  This is national clinical depression.”  And the Israelites have light in Goshen.

Pharaoh is now willing (for the moment, anyway) to let the Israelites leave, as long as they leave their flocks.  No deal, so the 10th plague follows, the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn.  In the ensuing chaos, the Israelites flee.

Before the 10th plague, the Israelites are given instructions on how to celebrate the first Passover.  Each household is to sacrifice an unblemished one-year old male lamb, “take from the blood and place it upon the doorposts and the lintels of the homes in which they shall eat it. They shall eat the flesh on this night, roasted over fire and accompanied by matzot and bitter herbs… roasted over fire whole…Thus shall you eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes upon your feet and your staff in your hands.” (12:3-11) Then the Lord will slay all the firstborn of Egypt, human and animal, but pass over the Israelite houses that have been marked with blood. 

But why do they need to mark their entries with blood?  This and the requirement to be dressed ready to go are the only actions that are commanded only for that first Passover.  Surely the Lord doesn’t need this mark to figure out who’s who.  Rabbi Michael Hattin, in his d’var “The ‘Blood Service’ of the Paschal Sacrifice.” posits that this is a birth motif: 

“Israel is safe and secure within, while without, chaos and confusion reign. As dawn breaks, the screams subside, the bolted doors are flung open, and the people of Israel step into the blinding light of freedom. The symbolism of the experience is crystal clear: on that night of terror, a nation is being born, and on the morrow they are brought forth. The threshold, consisting of doorposts and lintel stained with blood, defines the decisive moment in time and space that separates the protection and stillness of the ‘womb’ from the harsh cries of daylight. To cross that verge, to pass through that painful portal, is to experience that most excruciating and exhilarating of all experiences: birth.” 

(Personally, I didn’t find it exhilarating at the time.)  Since birth only occurs once, the marking with blood is not repeated.    R’ Hattin finds parallels for the symbolism of blood and birth in Ezekiel 16:1-7 [“As for your birth, …you were instead cast out into the field in your repulsive state…. I passed upon you “and saw you wallowing in your blood, and I called to you: ‘by your blood you shall live, by your blood you shall live!'”] and in Midrash Mekhilta, Parashat Bo Chapter 5, where the blood of the paschal lamb and the blood of circumcision are presented as means by which the Israelites earn redemption.

Immediately after leaving Egypt, the Israelites are given a few more laws, concerning the perpetual observance of Passover, the dedication of the firstborn, and tefillin (13:16, “a sign upon your hand and frontlets between your eyes”).  These are all actions to help the Israelites remember and teach their children what happened.

Next time: The Israelites learn that Pharaoh has changed his mind yet again, and wants them back.

Shabbat shalom,


How many locusts does it take to start a biblical plague? Just three
November 6, 2015 11.16am EST (excerpt)

Locust swarms have caused chaos throughout history. Just one swarm can cover 20% of the land surface of the Earth, affecting the livelihood of 10% of the world’s population by consuming up to 200 tonnes of vegetation per day.

But how many locusts does it take to make a swarm? It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but understanding and controlling locust plagues is something we’ve been striving to do for thousands of years. If we can understand what makes a swarm, hopefully we can understand how to stop it. This is exactly what our international research team tried to do – and the results are in. The answer is just three.

Cannibal creatures

Our study, published in Physical Review E, used mathematical modelling to show that a locust in a swarm must be able to interact with at least two neighbours simultaneously. Without those two neighbours, the insects can’t reproduce the striking spontaneous changes in direction we are used to seeing in flocks of starlings, schools of fish – and swarms of locusts.

By watching locusts move around a ring, we identified some interesting behaviour. Small numbers of locusts move around the ring at random, but larger groups start to march together in the same direction. These groups will then spontaneously switch to march in the other direction. The more locusts in a group the longer the time interval between switches and the more stable the swarm.

We were able to reproduce this behaviour in a mathematical model and discovered that locusts move more randomly when they don’t have near neighbours. So, forming a swarm is all about neighbours – but that doesn’t make it “neighbourly”. The reason locusts pay so much attention to their neighbours is because locusts are cannibals.

The best way for swarming insects to get the protein and salt they need is to eat each other. And that’s bad news for any locust that isn’t watching what its neighbours are up to.

Consequently, when in a group, any locust that is out of line with its neighbours will expose its vulnerable flank and face a greater chance of being cannibalised. By being in line, they will be safer – but will also help hold the swarm together.


tph new antidepressant


Q: What do you call someone who derives pleasure from the bread of affliction?
A: A matzochist.

A blind man is sitting on a park bench. A Rabbi sits down next to him. The Rabbi is chomping on a piece of matzoh. Taking pity on the blind man, he breaks off a piece and gives it to the blind man. Several minutes later, the blind man turns, taps the Rabbi on the shoulder and asks, “Who wrote this #&*$ ?!!” (BTW, I first heard that one from Cantor Norman Swerling, z’l. IGP)



tph darkness statue



A 14-year-old boy who complained of a chronic rash on his left arm and hand has been diagnosed with a “tefillin rash” – caused by the chemical potassium dichromate, which is used to process the black straps of the phylacteries.

An article in the September issue of the Hebrew-language medical journal Harefuah (of the Israel Medical Association) by doctors at Sha’are Zedek Medical Center describes the unusual case.

The boy was described as the youngest person to be recorded with such an allergic reaction to leather tefillin straps. Other victims have been as old as 77 (such a man was diagnosed after 20 years of suffering from allergic contact dermatitis).  Others were devout men, including rabbis, who wear their phylacteries not only to recite the morning prayers but also keep them on all day as an “extra mitzva.”

“Tefillin allergy” is relatively rare in Israel. It is due not to the tefillin themselves, but to the chemicals used to process the leather straps.  The rash appeared in the boy about a year after he first began to don phylacteries for his bar mitzva, wrote Drs. Pinhas Hashkes and Efraim Sagi of the Jerusalem hospital.

According to estimates, about a quarter of the male Jewish population in Israel wears tefillin on a regular basis. But as they are worn for less than an hour at a time, the allergic response does not appear in all users with sensitivity to the chemical.  Some who were diagnosed turned to their rabbis for permission to wear their phylacteries over their sleeves instead of their bare arm, while others place clear cling plastic under the leather straps. In addition, a Bnei Brak shop called Machon Pe’er sells tefillin processed without the offending chemical.


Quotes about Birth

  • There is no birth of consciousness without pain. Carl Jung
  • Impressionism; it is the birth of Light in painting. Robert Delaunay
  • Leaving home in a sense involves a kind of second birth in which we give birth to ourselves. Robert Neelly Bellah

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Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

Sources: 2016, 2013, 2012 comments on Va’era.

This week, we more or less start over.  Va’era makes last week’s story of the first encounters of Moses and Aaron with the Hebrews and Pharaoh seem like a TV pilot.  The basic elements were there, but, as drama, it needed polishing and fleshing out.

That’s what we get this week.  First, there’s a marvelously majestic introduction by the Lord in a mirrored structural form known as “chiasma.”  Exodus 6:2-8 follows a pattern a b c d e d c b a, i.e.,

(a) I am the Lord; 
(b) appeared to Abraham Isaac Jacob; 
(c) covenant re: land; 
(d) bondage in Egypt; 
(e) I will redeem you; 
(d) burdens of Egypt; 
(c) bring you to the land; 
(b) Abraham Isaac Jacob; 
(a) I am the Lord. (See Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot, vol. 1, pp. 115-118)

Next is a bit of stage-setting genealogy, leading into Levi’s descendants, where we are told Amram and his aunt Jocheved are the parents of Moses and Aaron. 

Then we get back to the narrative, with some divine clarification: Before Pharaoh lets the Israelites go, he’s going to refuse several times, and the Lord with then strike the Egyptians with “chastisements,” i.e., plagues.   And so, Moses and Aaron go back to Pharaoh, who demands a “marvel,” so Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a serpent.  Pharaoh is unimpressed, but he gets the first hint that this is a different ball game when, after his magicians do the same thing, Aaron’s serpent swallows all the Egyptian ones.  Of course, he still refuses to let the people go and the plagues follow, one after another. 

Various natural explanations for the plagues have been proposed, but of more immediate relevance is why the plagues are necessary at all.  There are two big reasons.  One is so that the Egyptians will recognize the existence and power of the Lord, i.e., to know that this God is the Lord.  In fact, references to “knowing” occur 10 times between Exodus7:5 and 14:18.  Isaac Abravanel (15th c.) divides the plagues into three groups, representing aspects of the Lord that the Egyptians needed to acknowledge: (1) the Lord exists, (2) the Lord punishes and rewards, and (3) the Lord can change the nature of things at will.   The other reason is to demonstrate these properties to the Hebrews.  Pharaoh’s bricks-without-straw edict had distracted them and caused them to doubt the possibility of redemption.  They need the concrete demonstrations of divine power as much as, or more than, the Egyptians do. (Leibowitz, pp. 170-173)

According to Rashi, Pharaoh hardens his own heart for the first five plagues and the Lord does it for the last five. When the frog plague hits (#2), Pharaoh starts negotiating – get rid of them and I’ll let you go sacrifice – but reneges.  Two plagues later, he offers to let them go, but not far away, and then reneges.  Three plagues after that, with Egypt largely in ruins and Pharaoh’s own magicians and courtiers begging him to give in, the same thing happens.  

The Torah portion ends after the seventh plague, giving us a chance to catch our breath.  It’s like an ocean wave gathering strength and pausing for a moment before it crashes down and causes total havoc.  That crash is what we’ll see next week.

Shabbat shalom,


Phlebotomy Jokes

  • Don’t mess with me! I get paid to stab people with sharp objects
  • No, I’m a phlebotomist, our blood suckers work in the billing department
  • I wanted to be a phlebotomist, but I found the work to draining.
  • I was reminded my blood type is ‘Be Positive’


tph kermit


Head Lice

Apparently, head lice have now become resistant to the drugs normally used to treat them.

The problem has scientists scratching their heads.


How to Tell the Sex of a Fly

A woman walked into the kitchen to find her husband stalking around with a fly swatter.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Hunting flies,” he responded.

“Oh! Killing any?” she asked.

“Yep, 3 males, 2 females,” he replied.

Intrigued, she asked, “How can you tell them apart?”

He responded, “3 were on a beer can, 2 were on the phone.”


tph milk cows

———————- 2001

Disability Determination
Claimant: Job (no surname)

Date of Injury: September 26, 2507 B.C.E.
Date of Evaluation: 11/28/2001

The claimant appeared for an independent Medical Evaluation based on his assertion that he has a disability because he has become so depressed that he cannot continue in his usual occupation as a farmer.

Mr. Job notes that on the morning of September 26, 2507 B.C.E, he was feeling fatigued, and had been resting from working in his fields, when a cloud of locusts appeared and began devouring his crops. He ran to the house to get help in flailing away the insects. However, on his way to the house, he discovered his cattle all lying on the ground dead. He arrived at his house, only to find it in flames. His wife and seven children were all inside, burned up.

Mr. Job states that he then fell to his knees and prayed to God, only to discover that his entire body was covered with boils. Since then, his neighbors have shunned him.

It is Mr. Job’s claim that he has been so upset by these events that after vainly trying to chase the locusts away, he simply let them eat his crops. He said that he has not been able to return to work since that time.

Assessment: It is clear from his account that the claimant has a history of feeling fatigued in connection with farming work. He admitted that the work-related fatigue began prior to his applying for the disability insurance. It seems quite evident that his so-called depression is an offshoot of this…a psychologically motivated effort to avoid gainful employment. He did show signs of open sores, but these are likely to be self-induced. In my opinion, Mr. Job has a form of Munchhausen Syndrome where he is driven to excoriate his skin, fueled by a covert psychotic disorder. I infer the psychosis from his mutterings about God and the Devil being behind his problems.

In conclusion, I see no basis for compensating this man for an obviously pre-existing condition.

Lou Siffer, M.D.
Psychiatric Consultant


My most memorable hailstorm came on the day of my high school graduation.  The tradition was, and still is, that the graduates wear white dresses (it was a girls’ school) rather than cap and gown.  It was understood they would be reasonably modest; a few years earlier, each girl had to come in with her dress and kneel in front of the vice principal, and if the hem did not touch the ground, it was too short.  My class was spared that.  We also each got a bouquet of red carnations.  Anyhow, we must have looked weird riding the subway on a weekday morning, all dressed in white, but somehow, I managed to keep the dress clean.  After we graduated, picked up our yearbooks, and collected the obligatory signatures, I took the subway and trolley back home.  However, a big storm came up, and I was pelted with hailstones as I ran the two blocks home from the trolley.  My yearbook, diploma, and I were all soaked.  Luckily, there was no real damage.  If fact, the diploma dried out to have a wavy look like old parchment.   IGP

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Shemot (1:1 – 6:1)

It’s only January 4, and I’ve already had enough of snow, ice, wind, daily highs below 20⁰F, slippery roads, and car mishaps (I’m fine, the car isn’t, but it’s drivable).  To think that, at this time 2 years ago, I was concerned that flowers were blooming too soon, it was that warm.  Below, I’ve cobbled together comments from past TPH’s, with an anecdote about my mother, about another cold winter day, at the end.

The book of Exodus is known in Hebrew as Shemot, (“names”), as is the week’s portion, because it starts with the names of Jacob and his sons who went down to Egypt.  A new pharaoh enslaves the new generation of Israelites and schemes to weaken them by killing their newborn sons, first by trying fruitlessly to enlist the aid of the midwives, Shifrah and Puah. 

Are these midwives Hebrew or Egyptian?  According to the Talmud and several medieval commentators, they are not only Hebrew women, but the mother and sister of Moses.  A different tradition is that the midwives were Egyptians, as they are described as having “feared God” (1:17), a phrase used to describe non-Hebrews who have come to believe in the Hebrews’ God.   And it seems more logical for Pharaoh to expect Egyptian women to carry out his nefarious order. 

After the failure of his scheme, Pharaoh simply decrees that newborn Hebrew boys are to be thrown in the Nile.  One such newborn, placed in a pitch-smeared basket in the bulrushes next to the Nile, is adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, who names him Moses.  Thanks to his sister Miriam’s intervention, he is nursed by his own mother, Yocheved.

Fast forward:   Moses, now an adult, has both a keen sense of justice and a temper, which together lead him to kill an abusive Egyptian taskmaster.  Fearing for his life, Moses flees to Midian, rescues the 7 daughters of Jethro (at a well, of course), marries one of them (Zipporah), and lives quietly as a shepherd until he’s 80.  Then he is shown a bush that burns without being consumed and has his first encounter with the Lord, who tells him that he is to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. 

Moses is dragged into this new position kicking and screaming, finally capitulating when he runs out of excuses and is told Aaron will help with the public speaking.  The Lord outlines the entire plan (3:16-22) and teaches Moses a few nifty signs and wonders (Effective Presentations 101).  At first, all goes well.  The people are convinced, and Moses and Aaron meet with Pharaoh to ask him to let the Israelites go, for 3 days of worship in the desert.  But then, Pharaoh snidely refuses, saying he doesn’t recognize this god and increases the slaves’ workload by making them gather their own straw for brick making.  The slaves lose faith and blame Moses, not for the last time. Moses, perplexed, asks the Lord “What gives?” The Lord replies that this was just a warm-up act, with the main show still to come.

This portion is filled with strong women who get things done.  In addition to those above, Zipporah saves Moses’ life by circumcising their son on the way to Egypt (strange little episode, 4:24-26).  They cared enough to fight back, and they came up with and implemented practical solutions.  I am fortunate to come from a long line of similarly strong women, not the least my mother Lillian.

Lillian had a close friend from Normal School (teacher training), whom we called “Aunt” Rosanna.  Rosanna’s sister Margaret recently learned that Lillian had passed away and related her fondest recollection of our mother.  In February, 1954, Margaret’s husband died.  She had a small daughter and was 4 months pregnant.  It was extremely cold, and there was snow on the ground.  Everyone expressing sympathy was concerned about the pregnancy, but Lillian thought about what Margaret needed immediately.  A few days before the burial, she asked Margaret if she had a fur coat.  She didn’t.  So Lillian took public transportation to the opposite end of the city (Southwest Philly to Tioga) and brought Margaret a fur coat and a fur hat.  That’s the type of practical, effective action initiated by the women in this week’s Torah portion.  It’s the same mindset, whether for rescuing Hebrew babies or protecting a young widow from the cold at her husband’s burial.”

Shabbat shalom,


Don’t worry; Moses was a basket case, too

In case you needed a reminder today that we are all works in progress, a Salvation Army church on our (long, hot, tiring) drive home from the cabin gave me a laugh-out-loud moment with this one:

“Someone always shows up to pull us out of the bulrushes, don’t they?”

Peace and deep breaths to you and yours.


tph toasting marshmallow

———————– (from 2004 – dead link)

Borrow Some Straw?

A first grader was sitting in class as the teacher was reading the story of the Three Little Pigs. She came to the part of the story where the first pig was trying to acquire building materials for his home.

She said “…And so the pig went up to the man with a wheelbarrow full of straw and said ‘Pardon me sir, but might I have some, of that straw to build my house with?’

Then the teacher asked the class, “And what do you think that man said?” and my friend’s son raised his hand and said “I know! I know!, he said….. ‘Yikes! A talking pig!'”

The teacher was unable to teach for the next 10 minutes.


Matryoshka Obstetrics

tph matryoshka obstetrics


Rebellion Quotes

I think every girl has a little bit of rebellion inside. It’s always fun to not follow every trend and not be the perfect good girl. It’s edgy to be a little rebellious. Behati Prinsloo

If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation. Abigail Adams

Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness. Alice Walker

The genius of any slave system is found in the dynamics which isolate slaves from each other, obscure the reality of a common condition, and make united rebellion against the oppressor inconceivable. Andrea Dworkin

An oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured; but this oligarchy of sex which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters of every household… carries discord and rebellion into every home of the nation. Susan B. Anthony

There is something that Governments care for far more than human life, and that is the security of property, and so it is through property that we shall strike the enemy. Be militant each in your own way. I incite this meeting to rebellion. Emmeline Pankhurst

tph powerpoint-compiler

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Vayekhi (Genesis 47:28 – 50:26)

Is Joseph in ancient Egypt like a Jew in 21st century America?  He is successful, respected, even publicly honored, and moves freely in Pharaoh’s inner circle.  Yet he is still a Hebrew, and thus “outside”.  His brothers are kept geographically outside, in Goshen, so it is easy for them to remain Hebrews.  Particularly at this time of year (no, I won’t get into that “December dilemma” stuff), I wonder how comfortable Joseph was with his partial assimilation into Egyptian society and how this was transmitted to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.

Vayekhi is the last Torah portion in Genesis.  Since we have another four books to go in the Torah, I suppose we can’t expect a tidy “happily ever after” resolution here.  However, enough loose ends are tied up to make way for the book of Exodus.

At the start of this week’s portion, Jacob and his family have been in Egypt for 17 years.  (Why didn’t they leave after 5, once the famine was over? Was Jacob waiting for a divine signal?)  At 147, Jacob realizes he will soon die. He makes Joseph swear to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah, which holds the remains of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Leah, but unfortunately not Rachel.  Jacob then blesses Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, giving Ephraim, the younger one, precedence (Ephraim).  He also and formally adopts them, so that Rachel is the matriarch of three tribes, not two. 

Finally, Jacob gives a “blessing” to each of his sons which is more like a performance review (which I no longer have to endure since I’m retired, heh heh heh) with a dash of prophesy.  Jacob’s ratings, are roughly as follows: Highest of course are Judah (progenitor of kings) and Joseph (perennial favorite).  Judah, who has remained with his brothers, leads them; while Joseph, despite (or because of?) his great abilities, is better at managing programs and manipulating individuals.  Next come Asher and Naphtali; Zebulon, Dan, and Gad; Issachar and Benjamin; and, at the bottom, the three eldest, wishy-washy Reuben and cruel Levi and Shimon (the Shechem massacre).   As we’ll see in Deuteronomy, the tribe of Shimon pretty much disappears.  Oddly, considering his low rating, Levi is the progenitor of Moses and Aaron.

Jacob dies, is embalmed, mourned, and buried in Canaan.  Joseph’s older brothers fear that Joseph’s kind treatment had been only for Jacob’s sake, so they make up a story that Jacob wanted him to forgive them, and they offer themselves as slaves.  Nothing Joseph says or does can reassure them, nor heal the breech between them.

Genesis ends with death and foreshadowing. On his deathbed, Joseph tells that the Lord will bring them out of Egypt to Canaan and (50:25), “(w)hen God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.”  We do not read of Egyptian mourning for Joseph, in contrast to Jacob decades earlier.  There is a definite sense that all will not be well in Egypt for Jacob’s descendants.  

Shabbat shalom,


tph buried or cremated

Performance Review Humor


Regular readers of my blog and books know I hold the review processes in many organizations in contempt…Here are some … phrases used in reviews and their humorous interpretations.  I’ve taken the liberty of expanding the list where appropriate. (selections)

A CHANGE LEADER:  Loudly Indecisive.


CALM UNDER FIRE:  Too dazed and confused to act.

CANDIDATE FOR FAST-TRACKING:  I will do anything to get this person assigned to another team.

CHARACTER ABOVE REPROACH:  Still one step ahead of the law.


ENGAGES CO-WORKERS:  Sends out weekly joke email.

ENJOYS JOB:  Needs more work to do.

GOOD ORGANIZATIONAL KNOWLEDGE:  Knows where the bodies are buried, may have buried them himself.

HAPPY:  Is paid too much.

HIGHLY PROFESSIONAL:  Owns a suit and wears it occasionally.

INDIFFERENT TO INSTRUCTION:  Knows more than superiors and lets them know it.

INSPIRES OTHERS:  Incites revolution with the other peasants.

LEADERSHIP MATERIAL:  Spine and soul have been removed.

WILL GO FAR:  Related to someone in senior management.


From 2015

Hollywood Endings: ATALHEA (And they all lived happily ever after.) By IGP

Happy, moralistic endings became de rigueur in Hollywood movies starting around 1934 with the enforcement of the Hays Code.  A few examples [SPOILER ALERTS]: 

  • In Booth Tarkington’s novel Alice Adams, Alice learns the futility of social climbing and decides business school won’t be so bad after all.  In the movie, Alice gets the rich guy (no business school) and her father gets his glue factory. 
  • In the Broadway play, The Bad Seed, little Rhoda’s mother succeeds at suicide but not at murdering the cherubic psychopath.  In the movie version, Rhoda is struck by lightning and her mother survives. 
  • In the play, Our Town, Act 3 is incredibly poignant because Emily has died and now sees how hard it is to appreciate life while alive.  In the film, with William Holden and Martha Scott, Emily lives and all of Act 3 is her feverish dream.

I could go on.  In fact, I will, with my own proposed ATALHEA endings:

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-63):  Dobie gets Thalia Meninger and Maynard G. Krebs becomes an upstanding citizen and marries Zelda.  ATALHEA.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):  Before he has a chance to steal the $8,000 from Uncle Billy, Old Man Potter is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Clarence, Angel 2ndclass).  Potter reforms enough to rewrite his will, leaving everything to George Bailey, and dies of a massive heart attack as soon as the ink is dry. ATALHEA.

Romeo and Juliet:  Juliet tells her parents flat out that she’s already married to Romeo and probably pregnant.  Her parents throw her out and she runs away to Romeo.  ATALHEA.

2017: I’m open to additions.

64 People and Their Famous Last Words (selections)


Poignant, funny, sad, weird or mean—last words can make quite the impact as we shuffle off the stage of life. Here are 64 notable examples.
Italian artist Raphael’s last word was simply: “Happy.”
5. Composer Jean-Philippe Rameau objected to a song sung at his bedside. He said, “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.”
12. Nostradamus predicted, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” He was right.
15. Marie Antoinette stepped on her executioner’s foot on her way to the guillotine. Her last words: “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur.”
16. Richard B. Mellon was a multimillionaire. He was the President of Alcoa, and he and his brother Andrew had a little game of Tag going. The weird thing was, this game of Tag lasted for like seven decades. When Richard was on his deathbed, he called his brother over and whispered, “Last tag.” Poor Andrew remained “It” for four years, until he died.


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Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

We have reached the climax of the Joseph story.  Judah eloquently pleads to Joseph on Benjamin’s behalf, emphasizing the pain his remaining in Egypt would cause his father and offering himself as a substitute slave.  At this, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, who are dumbfounded, and tells them not to worry, their selling him was all part of God’s plan, which has enabled him to save many lives. Then, since the famine has five years to run, he arranges for the whole family to come down to Egypt (70 souls, whose names are all listed for the Torah reader to slog through).  Jacob hesitates, though he wants to see Joseph, but the Lord assures him that this is what he is supposed to do.  And so, they all live happily ever after in Goshen.

Not exactly.  While the brothers do indeed regret how they treated Joseph at 17, they never actually apologize to him, nor do they trust his good will to be permanent.  When they are presented to Pharaoh, they ignore the instructions Joseph gave them. When Jacob is introduced to Pharaoh, Joseph’s boss, he kvetches about how miserable his life has been.  They were settled in Goshen because it was good pasture land and they could they could be shepherds without offending Egyptian sensibilities; but their sequestration was probably a relief to all concerned, including Joseph.  We are also left wondering what Jacob has been able to figure out as to the brothers’ role in Joseph’s disappearance.  And why did Joseph never notify, or even check on, Jacob, at least during the years he has been in power?  The commentators have a variety of answers for this last one, none of which I find really convincing.

The tense family dynamics in the Joseph story can be probed by focusing on one element: tears.  Who cries, when, and why.  So, I’ve inserted below some excerpts of a d’var Torah I gave 14 years ago about this:

“To be able to weep indicates you can both feel and express deep emotions.  Esau weeps when he’s tricked out of his blessing.  Jacob weeps with joy when he meets Rachel.

“In our story, Joseph weeps several times.  He does not weep when he is thrown into the pit, when he is sold as a slave, when he is thrown into prison, or when he’s forgotten there.  He tends to weep at times of emotion-laden insight.  For example, he cries when he first sees his brothers in Egypt (Gen. 42:24) and hears them expressing regret for their actions toward him years earlier. 

“Next, he cries when he reveals his identity (Gen. 45:1-2) and when he kisses each of them.  But only Benjamin cries as well.  The other brothers do not.  They are emotionally stuck and cannot fully accept Joseph’s assurances that he has indeed forgiven them and that what they did was part of God’s plan.  And so, they cannot weep.

“When Joseph meets Jacob, the Hebrew is not clear as to which one of them weeps. To Ramban, it is clear: ‘It is well known who is crying – the aged father who discovers, after years of despair and mourning, that his son is alive.’  I agree with the commentary of R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, who wrote, ‘Yosef wept.  Yaacov did not weep.  Yosef could still weep.  Yaakov was finished with weeping, because he had wept enough in his life…Since he had missed Yosef, Yaakov had not ceased from weeping…Yosef…had had no time to give himself up so much to the pain of separation…Now when he fell round his father’s neck again, he felt all the more what the separation had really meant to him,..  Yaakov had already become Israel.  Yosef still wept.”

“When Jacob dies (we’ll read about that next week) and the brothers fear Joseph’s benevolence will end, Joseph weeps again, frustrated and saddened at their lack of faith.  While he has been able to forgive them, they still have not been able to forgive themselves.  They still cannot weep.”

The Torah portion ends as Joseph’s work for Pharaoh eventually results in serfdom for most Egyptians, in which they give 20% of their income to Pharaoh.  This wasn’t really very harsh, in comparison with common practice at the time, but it does provide ironic foreshadowing of the later enslavement of the Israelites.

Shabbat shalom,


Family Reunions

Family reunions are when relatives gather from all over to be reminded why they scattered in the first place.

Alfred E. Neuman
fictional mascot and cover boy of Mad, an American humor magazine

Family reunions is that time when you come face to face with your family tree, and you realize some branches need to be cut.

Rene Hicks
American comedian

I had to go back to New York recently for a family reunion… I walk in there, I look at everyone, and I think: ‘I’m getting my tubes tied; that’s it; the tree ends here.’

Cathy Ladman
American stand-up comedian, television writer & actor


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Immigration Jokes

“As you know, Arizona recently passed the toughest anti-immigration bill in American history. The idea behind this bill is to drive illegal immigrants out of Arizona and back to their homeland of Los Angeles.

“I called the governor’s office in Arizona today, and the recorded message said press one for English, press two for English, press three for English.

“It’s an unbelievable law. And it’s already starting to backfire. Today, a group of Native Americans pulled over a bunch of white guys and said, ‘Let’s see your papers.’” —Jay Leno


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Dysfunctional Family Bingo

This is one of my favorite games, though it involves considerable preparation. A few weeks before the holidays, gather with friends and provide each person with a bingo card. Each player fills in her bingo squares with dysfunctional phrases or actions that are likely to surface at her particular family party. For example, if you dread the inevitable “So when are you going to get married?” that question goes in one square of your bingo card. If your brother typically shows up crocked to the gills, put “Al is drunk” in another square, and so on.

Take your finished cards to your respective family gatherings. Whenever you observe something that appears on your bingo card, mark off that square. The first person to get bingo must sneak off to call the other players, and announce her victory. If no one has a full bingo, the person who has the largest number of filled-out squares wins the game. The winner shall be determined at the post-holiday meeting, where she will be granted the ever gratifying free lunch.


Quotes about Crying

Crying is cleansing. There’s a reason for tears, happiness or sadness. Dionne Warwick

When I was two, a dragonfly flew near me. A man knocked it to the ground and trod on it. I remember crying because I’d caused the dragonfly to be killed. Jane Goodall

I suppose I’ve always done my share of crying, especially when there’s no other way to contain my feelings. I know that men ain’t supposed to cry, but I think that’s wrong. Crying’s always been a way for me to get things out which are buried deep, deep down. When I sing, I often cry. Crying is feeling, and feeling is being human. Oh yes, I cry. Ray Charles

I’ve laughed, and I’ve cried. Laughing has got it over crying. Glen Campbell

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Miketz (Gen. 41:1 – 44:17), 4th day of Chanukah (Num. 7:30-35)

We know from the Joseph story that repetition is a sign of a dream’s significance.  I have had some classic recurring dreams myself; e.g., it’s the end of the semester and I have done absolutely none of the course work, or I’m in a play and have forgotten my lines, or I’m partially unclothed at work.  One recurring dream that I used to have involved driving.  I was uncomfortable driving and didn’t until I had to, to get to work.  In my dream, the car would speed up, out of control, and I couldn’t remember which pedal was the brake, so I’d step on one, and the car would speed up.  I’d think “Aha!”, step on the other, and the car would speed up, because I had two accelerators and no brakes.  I always woke up before I crashed.

Anyhow, my first traumatic experience at work was my first safety meeting.  Safety was a religion, and this manager’s meetings included confession.  One attendee had twisted an ankle on an exercise trail, and another had slipped on a few rainy steps (no injury, but it was in front of the manager).  Each had to confess how it happened and how to prevent a recurrence.  This made a profound impression on me, and I had a dual accelerator dream soon after.  I was driving in downtown Quincy, MA with a friend in the car, and the car speeded up, and I ran over the car in front of me, flattening it, apparently killing someone.  I went on trial for murder, but what made my manager livid was what the incident would do to our safety record.  There was also something about herbal tea, but I forget what.  That was my last dual accelerator dream.  Pharaoh’s dreams at the start of this week’s portion seem bland by comparison (how’s that for a segue?).

It’s now two years since the royal wine steward was sprung from prison.  Pharaoh has a pair of disturbing dreams.  In one, seven fat, healthy cows are swallowed by seven emaciated ones, which remain emaciated.  In the other, seven healthy ears of grain are eaten up by seven withered ones, which remain withered.  No one can interpret the dreams.  Finally, the royal wine steward tells Pharaoh about the young Hebrew slave in the dungeon who is a gifted dream interpreter.  Newly shaved and in fresh clothes, Joseph is brought to Pharaoh and interprets the two dreams as one: seven plentiful years will be followed by seven of famine.  One thing I (eventually) learned at work was never to point out a problem without simultaneously proposing a solution.  Joseph knows this instinctively and immediately urges Pharaoh to appoint a capable man to set up and direct the storage of the surplus grain during the fat years as a reserve to feed the people during the famine.  Pharaoh appoints Joseph. He is given an Egyptian name, dresses like an Egyptian royal, marries an Egyptian woman, has two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and fits in with the Egyptian court.

Two years into the famine, Jacob tells his remaining sons, except for Benjamin, to go to Egypt to buy grain.  They are a rather pathetic bunch, still under their father’s thumb and haunted by their treatment of Joseph.  When they arrive, they do not recognize the viceroy as their brother, since Joseph is now much older and is in his Egyptian regalia.  Joseph recognizes them, accuses them of being spies, and holds Shimon hostage until they can return with Benjamin to prove their story that they are all brothers.  He already knows how guilty they feel about what they’d done to him, because they’ve been talking about that in Hebrew, thinking he wouldn’t understand.  He secretly returns their money. 

Eventually, the food runs low, and Jacob allows the 9 brothers to take Benjamin with them to Egypt, along with some carefully chosen (by Jacob) diplomatic gifts and the returned money.  Joseph treats them all like family, even seating them in age order.  He secretly returns their money as before, but also puts his silver divining goblet in Benjamin’s sack.  When the goblet is found, Joseph magnanimously offers to let them go home if they leave Benjamin behind as a slave.  Will they?  Tune in next week.

Since this Shabbat is also Chanukah (חֲנֻכָּה‎), there is a second scroll reading, this year for the 4th day, Num. 7:30-35, about offerings brought for the dedication of the Tabernacle. analogous to the Maccabees’ rededication of the Temple.  There is also a special haftarah, Zechariah 2:14-4:7, chosen for themes of light (cf. the Chanukah menorah, or “chanukiah”) and of a Temple rebuilt and rededicated, declaring (4:6), “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the Lord of hosts.”

Here are a couple of interesting sites about Chanukah, its history, and its observance customs:  Mayim Bialik explains everything you need to know about Chanukah ,  Hanukkah (lots of information, especially history), and Why do we really light candles on Hanukkah? (why fire?)    And here are my Chanukah comments from 2014 (abridged):

Children’s version of the Chanukah story: The Syrian Greeks (Seleucid Empire) tried to force the Jews to renounce the laws and defiled the Temple.  The Hasmonean family (Mattathias and his sons, including Judah the Hammer (Maccabee)), kicked the Syrian Greeks out and rededicated the Temple.  Only a day’s worth of pure oil existed, but it miraculously burned for 8 days (whence the custom of celebratory fried food) while more was prepared.

But the reality was rather different.  The 8-day holiday was like a very late Sukkot, which hadn’t been celebrated because of the Temple defilement.  The struggle was largely a civil war.  Urban Jews were adopting some Greek customs willingly. The high priest, Menelaus, pushed Antiochus IV to forcibly Hellenize Jewish worship, leading to the rebellion.  Hasmonean rule turned corrupt and eventually led to subjugation by Rome.  The oil story is really all there is about Chanukah in the Talmud; the rabbis generally disliked celebrating military victories, especially celebrating the Hasmoneans.

Jews have always adopted some local ideas and customs, reinterpreting them if necessary.  Joseph manages to maintain his Hebrew identity while at the highest levels of Egyptian society and passes that on to his children.  One reason is the Egyptian distaste for foreigners in general, so he is allowed to remain separate.  Joseph becomes acculturated to Egypt, but is not assimilated.  We, in an open society, struggle to maintain that distinction, but do not always succeed.  Those lines can get blurry.

Shabbat shalom and Chanukah sameach (happy)


Twenty Dreams Interpreted (selections, from 2012)

By Roz Warren, posted January 26, 2012

A dream about a thunderstorm means that your husband is snoring again.

A knife may appear in your dream to indicate that when you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way.

A dream containing a scale indicates that you need to stop gobbling chocolate chip cookies before bedtime.

Dreaming of an elephant means your husband needs to stop gobbling chocolate chip cookies before bedtime.

Dreaming of a raging fire means you forgot to turn down the thermostat before you went to bed. (Or else it’s just another hot flash.)

Dreaming of a waterfall means you left the water running.

To see muscles in your dream suggests that you have some unresolved Schwarzneggerian issues.

Train Wreck
A dream about a train wreck means that you’d better stop voting Republican.

Dreaming of riding in a taxi indicates that when you wake up extra early tomorrow morning and rush out the door to make sure you get to that important meeting on time, your car isn’t going to start.

A Pig Being Cleaned
Dreaming of a pig being cleaned means you think dream interpretation is a bunch of hogwash.

Roz Warren writes for The New York Times and The Funny Times. Her work also appears in Good Housekeeping, The Christian Science Monitor and The


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Quotes about Fitting In

Don’t worry about not fitting in. The things that make people think you’re weird are what makes you you, and therefore your greatest strength. Birgitte Hjort Sorensen

Fitting in is unnecessary. Embrace who you are. You will go through rough times in high school, but always stay strong, and never deny yourself! Neon Hitch

I was always a class clown, so I never had trouble fitting in; I just had trouble finding out where I really wanted to be. Logan Henderson

I came to terms with not fitting in a long time ago. I never really fitted in. I don’t want to fit in. And now people are buying into that. Alexander McQueen

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Two bone weary public servants were working their little hearts and souls out. Their department was just too busy for staff to be able take flex. But there had to be a way …

One of the two public servants suddenly lifted his head. “I know how to get some time off work” the man whispered.

“How?” asked the second worker.

Instead of answering, the man quickly looked around. No sign of his Director. He jumped up on his desk, kicked out a couple of ceiling tiles and hoisted himself up. “Look!” he hissed, then swinging his legs over a metal pipe, hung upside down.

Within seconds, the Director emerged from the Branch Head’s office at the far end of the floor. He saw the worker hanging from the ceiling, and asked him what on earth he thought he was doing.

“I’m a light bulb” answered the public servant.

“I think you need some time off,” barked the Director. “Get out of here – that’s an order – and I don’t want to see you back here for at least another two days! You understand me?”

“Yes sir”, the public servant answered meekly, then jumped down, logged off his computer and left.

The second worker was hot on his heels.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the boss asked.

“Home,” he said lightly. “I can’t work in the dark.”

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Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1 – 40:23)

Why Joseph?

Though this week’s portion starts out, “And Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan” Joseph immediately takes center stage.  Except for the story of Judah and Tamar (the purpose of which seems to be to flesh out a featured character and show his maturation) and Jacob’s last words to his sons, the final 14 chapters of the book of Genesis tell the story of Joseph.  Yet he is not a patriarch, and his descendants are not the leaders of the nation (Ephraim’s nation of Israel disappears).  His main role seems to be to get the family to (spoiler alert) move to Egypt as part of a divine plan.  Indeed, the mysterious stranger who directs him to his brothers in Dothan (37:15-17) may have been an angel, and when he reveals himself to his brothers in Egypt, he tells them that God, not they, had sent him there.

As narrative, this is a really well-written story, with interesting, flawed characters, intense emotions, and plot twists.  Joseph, now 17, is Jacob’s favorite: he is Rachel’s son (and didn’t cause her death), handsome (probably takes after Rachel), and smart.  He is also clueless with regard to the potential ferocity of his brothers’ feelings.  (Then again, despite his own experience with Esau, so is Jacob, who probably should at least have delayed giving Joseph a special coat that seems to designate him as the future head of the family.)  Does he tattle on the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah because he’s being responsible or because he wants to show them up?  When he tells his brothers of a dream in which their sheaves bow down to his and they react badly, what does he do? He tells them of another dream in which the sun, moon, and stars bow down to him.  Though this confirms to Jacob he has picked the right son, it seals his fate with his older brothers.

In the end, after Reuben’s half-baked attempt to take charge and save Joseph, the brothers sell him to a caravan, and he seems to have been sold once or twice more before landing in Egypt as a slave of Potiphar.  His ability and charm impress Potiphar (good) and his wife (bad).  She repeatedly and unsuccessfully tries to seduce him (classic workplace sexual harassment, which, BTW, in the U.S. is not just man on woman, but can be woman on man, man on man, and woman on woman). She finally accuses him of attacking her, which lands him in prison.

There, he again impresses the boss and rises in the hierarchy.  He also impresses two fellow prisoners when he interprets their dreams: the royal baker will be executed in three days, and the royal butler (wine steward) will be freed in three days.  Now Joseph seizes his chance to get out by telling the butler his story and prevailing on him to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh.  He doesn’t.  Joseph languishes in prison for two more years.  Did Joseph misjudge the butler’s willingness to help him?  Was the butler willing but afraid to ask a favor of one who had so recently thrown him in prison, and for a lowly Hebrew slave? Was the Lord telling to Joseph to just cool his heels as events played out? 

Tune in next week.

Shabbat shalom,


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Funny Family One-liners

  • When I was a boy, I had a disease that required me to eat dirt three times a day in order to survive… It’s a good thing my older brother told me about it.
  • My mom said that if I don’t get off my computer and do my homework she’ll slam my head on the keyboard, but I think she’s jokinfjreoiwjrtwe4to8rkljreun8f4ny84c8y4t58lym4wthylmhawt4mylt4amlathnatyn
  • Please go play with your brother. That’s basically the reason we had him.
  • My parents won’t say which of their six kids they love the best, but they have told me I finished just out of the top five.
  • I wonder what my parents did to fight boredom before the internet. I asked my 17 brothers and sisters and they didn’t know either.


From Good Clean Jokes (A, Kostick et al., 1998) p. 314        

Teacher:     You have ten older brothers? 
Mark:           Yes. 
Teacher:      Does your mom holler at you a lot? 
Mark:           Nope.  By the time she finishes hollering at my brothers and gets to me she usually has laryngitis. 


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Top Ten US Weekly/People Magazine Headlines for Biblical A-Listers

10. Yosef named Sexiest Man Alive in Egypt
9. Scandalous Scoop: David seen canoodling with Batsheva
90 year old Sarah, suddenly expecting!!
After 22 years, Father and Son Reunite in Egypt!
6. Esther wins Fox’s Shushan Idol
5. Miriam’s Az Yashir (the song at the sea) tops Billboard charts
4. “Team Rachel” and “Team Leah” t-shirts hot-seller, which side are you on?
3. Isaac gets PUNK’D!
2. Avrohom and Hagar: Are They Still Together?
1. Who wore it better: Adam or Eve?

——————— (sent out in 2011 – dead link)

Prison joke 

Several years ago, Andy was sentenced to prison. During his stay, he got along well with the guards and all his fellow inmates. The warden saw that deep down, Andy was a good person and made arrangements for Andy to learn a trade while doing his time.

After 3 years, Andy was recognized as one of the best carpenters in the local area. Often he would be given a weekend pass to do odd jobs for the citizens of the community, and he always reported back to prison before Sunday night was over.

The warden was thinking of remodeling his kitchen and in fact had done much of the work himself. But he lacked the skills to build a set of kitchen cupboards and a large counter top which he had promised his wife. So he called Andy into his office and asked him to complete the job for him. But, alas, Andy refused. He told the warden, “Gosh, I’d really like to help you but counter fitting is what got me into prison in the first place.” 


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