Vayetze (Gen. 28:10-32:3)

This week: Karma, rags to riches, encounters with angels and God, another match made at a well, identity theft, kids and more kids, and Biblical genetic engineering.  Romance and machinations.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Definition of karma

1 often capitalized the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence

Each individual is born with karma, the residual from past lives that must be resolved …— Diane Goldner

broadly such a force considered as affecting the events of one’s life

Claude says, “You reap what you sow.” I call this idea karma, that what goes around comes around.— Anthony Walton

The deception of Isaac by Rebecca and Jacob gets Jacob the blessing, but it also means he has to flee Esau’s wrath and lose Rebecca’s protection.  And he isn’t going to be away for a few days, as Rebecca says, but over 20 years. And he reaps in Haran what he had sown in Canaan.

The stories of the Biblical patriarchs often include parallels, sometimes outright repetitions, like passing one’s wife off as one’s sister, disputes over water rights, going to Haran for a wife, matches identified through kindness at a well, and encounters with God and angels.  There are unique experiences as well, such as Abraham’s arguing with God at Sodom, Isaac’s near sacrifice, and Jacob’s dream.

On the way to Haran, with only a rock for a pillow, Jacob dreams of a ladder with angels going up and down it (changing shifts, according to Rashi) and learns of his and his descendants’ destiny.  When he awakes, awed, he anoints the rock with oil and names it Beth El, “House of God.”

Now mirror images appear, sometimes as karma, sometimes just irony. Abraham’s servant arrived in Haran with a caravan of 10 camels laden with gifts.  Jacob is alone, on foot, and essentially penniless. He is alone, on foot, with few possessions.  Rebecca was the one who gave water to the servant and his camels, and here Jacob waters the sheep for his lovely cousin Rachel (also showing off by rolling over the huge stone covering the well).  Rebecca’s brother Laban does not deceive Abraham’s servant, but does trick Jacob. More than once.  Most significantly, after working 7 years for his beloved Rachel, on the wedding night, older sister Leah is substituted for Rachel by Laban. This deceit in darkness echoes the deception of blind Isaac.  What goes around, comes around indeed.  But Jacob loves Rachel as Isaac loved Rebecca and so agrees to marry her in exchange for working for Laban 7 more years.  And they stay for 6 years beyond that.

The ensuing baby competition between Leah and Rachel has its comic aspects, like when Rachel trades a night with Jacob for some of Leah’s mandrakes, but it’s also the origin story for the Children of Israel.  Leah starts off, having 4 sons. Rachel’s complaint to Jacob is cut short (unlike Isaac’s sweet prayers on behalf of Rebecca), and she offers him her servant Bilhah as a surrogate.  Bilhah has two sons.  Leah, not to be out done, gives Jacob her servant Zilpah, who has two sons with Jacob. Leah has two more and, by the way, a daughter.  Finally, Rachel has a son, Joseph.

Jacob now wants to leave Haran. Laban, however, recognizes how much he has profited by Jacob’s skill with the livestock. He agrees to give Jacob all the speckled goats and dark sheep as pay and then stealthily removes all those animals from the flocks.  Jacob does not protest but uses his skills in animal husbandry (Biblical genetic engineering) to breed his own speckled goats and dark sheep.

Though he’d started with nothing, Jacob is now wealthy, like his father and grandfather. This rankles Laban and his sons.  Jacob has a dream in which the Lord tells him to go home (good timing), and Rachel and Leah agree it’s best for their family.  They try to slip away quietly, but Laban comes after them, claiming he is only interested in his daughters’ welfare. And, anyway, someone has stolen his household idols. After a fruitless search for the idols (Rachel had stolen and hidden the successfully, but Jacob doesn’t know that),  Jacob finally gives Laban a dressing-down the way every dumped-on employee would like to tell off a bad boss.  They then make a truce, and Jacob and his family head toward Canaan. 

Shabbat shalom,


tph Crabby Road bad boss


Quotes about Karma

Karma is karma. Karma is in life. You do the wrong things, you get the wrong things out of it. Antonio Brown

I try to live with the idea that karma is a very real thing. So I put out what I want to get back. Megan Fox

There’s a natural law of karma that vindictive people, who go out of their way to hurt others, will end up broke and alone. Sylvester Stallone

My mother believed in curses, karma, good luck, bad luck, feng shui. Her amorphous set of beliefs showed me you can pick and choose the qualities of your philosophy, based on what works for you. Amy Tan

On one hand, we know that everything happens for a reason, and there are no mistakes or coincidences. On the other hand, we learn that we can never give up, knowing that with the right tools and energy, we can reverse any decree or karma. So, which is it? Let the Light decide, or never give up? The answer is: both. Yehuda Berg

tph jacobsladder


A marine biologist developed a race of genetically engineered dolphins that could live forever if they were fed a steady diet of seagulls. One day his supply of the birds ran out, so he had to go out and trap some more. On the way back, he spied two lions asleep on the road. Afraid to wake them, he gingerly stepped over them.
Immediately, he was arrested and charged with transporting gulls across sedate lions for immortal porpoises.


How to tell if You are a MoM (Mother of Many)

You Know you are a MoM when:

1.You know where the bathroom is in any major store you visit.
4. You do most of your thinking and praying in the bathroom.
11. You have at least three witty replies to “Are they all yours?”
12. You just really wish people would not think they were clever for saying, “Don’t you know what causes that?”
21. Taking the kids grocery shopping with you makes you feel like a mother duck.
46. You can quote entire pages from Dr. Seuss without having to pause to think about it, and can sing any number of Raffi or Disney songs from memory.
50. When the first two kids move out, you can’t believe how much smaller your family feels.


Jokes about Polygamy

Do polygamists get a group rate in divorce court? by Ham on Wry

Some guys refer to their wife as “their better half.” What if you’re a polygamist? “Here’s Joan, my better sixth?”  by JimMcCue

Doesn’t make sense that most women are against polygamy. Every little girl had at least ten Barbies and just one Ken. by DianneGallagher


What Does Love Mean? See How 4-8 Year-Old Kids Describe Love (selections)

–by Ladan Lashkari, Dec 29, 2010

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”

Rebecca – age 8


“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”

Terri – age 4


“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.”

Danny – age 7


“Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss.”

Emily – age 8


“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

Bobby – age 7 (Wow!)


“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”

Nikka – age 6 (we need a few million more Nikka’s on this planet)


“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”

Tommy – age 6


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Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

I hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving. If not, maybe you’ll be extra ready to relate to the tales of dysfunctional family life in this week’s Torah portion. Comments below are from 2009.

This week’s reading is focused on family dynamics.  The story is familiar to us: After twenty years of marriage and a difficult pregnancy, Rebecca gives birth to Esau and Jacob.  She has learned that Jacob is destined to rule over his very slightly older brother, but there’s no mention of her discussing this small matter with her husband.  The boys are as different as possible in appearance, behavior, and values.  Rebecca favors Jacob (a quiet homebody, something of a mama’s boy) and Isaac favors Esau.

Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for some lentil soup, which, while disrespectful, is not totally unreasonable since the birthright concerned more in the way of religious or priestly duties than would appeal to Esau anyway.  Finally, Rebecca directs Jacob’s deception of Isaac, even putting animal skins on his arms (boy, Esau must have been really hairy) so that the nearly-blind Isaac would bless Jacob thinking he was Esau.  Jacob goes along with the deception, but reluctantly.  Esau subsequently declares he will kill Jacob after their father’s death, and Rebecca packs off her dearer son to her brother in Haran, not realizing she will never see him again.

Usually, Isaac is pictured as a somewhat simple-minded dupe, favoring Esau because Esau is a hunter and makes good venison stew and, perhaps as a consequence of that favor, Esau loves Isaac.  I think there’s more afoot than that.  In this portion, Isaac seems to be re-living his father Abraham’s life, including passing his wife off as his sister, dealing with a dispute over wells with Abimelech (same name, probably a different person with “Abimelech” a title like “Pharaoh”), and having a long-barren wife (though his prayers for Rebecca don’t seem to have a parallel in the Abraham/Sarah relationship, nor does his explicitly stated love for Rebecca, nor his fondling of her when they are visiting Abimelech), He even has two sons, the elder being the wilder one, unsuited to carry on the message of the covenant.

But Isaac favors the “wrong” son.  Perhaps his warm involvement with Esau fills an emotional void for him after a troubled relationship with Abraham (I assume if your father ties you to an altar as a sacrifice and holds a knife to your throat, that affects your relationship with him).  Perhaps Esau reminds him of his older brother Ishmael, and Isaac’s tenderness is a way of making up for Ishmael’s banishment.  Perhaps he admires Esau’s fearlessness and ability to take care of himself and sees in him traits he wishes he had himself.  Perhaps he realizes that Esau is the one who needs parental attention more, since he doesn’t take naturally to spiritual values the way Jacob does.  And look at the blessing intended for Esau (27:28-29) versus the one Isaac gives Jacob before he leaves home.  As Nehama Leibowitz pointed out, “Esau’s” is concerned only with material wealth and power, while the blessing Jacob is finally given concerns the legacy of Abraham and the covenant with the Lord.  Perhaps Isaac wasn’t so blind after all?

Shabbat shalom,


tph stolen identity returned


Quotes about Blindness

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. Helen Keller

The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it. George Bernard Shaw

Self-interest makes some people blind, and others sharp-sighted. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Every man can see things far off but is blind to what is near. Sophocles

Blind don’t mean you can’t, you know, listen. Stevie Wonder


Jacob never needed to set up that complicated plan to steal the blessing from Esau.

He could have just sneezed and let Isaac say, “bless you, Jacob.”


tph are they twins


(6 of) 19 Jokes About Siblings That Are Waaaaay Too Real

  1. Oblivia‏ @aveuaskew

[hugging mom at sister’s funeral] “And you said I’d never be your favorite”

  1. Ramblin Mama @ramblinma

“Please go play with your brother. That’s basically the reason we had him.”

  1. Drew “EAT THE RICH” Schnoebelen‏@Dschnoeb

I think the only girl I know that hasn’t said “you’re like a brother to me” is my sister.

  1. Me: hey dad, what did you do before the internet?

Dad: you have thirteen bros n sisters, do the math son.

9. James Breakwell, Exploding Unicorn  @XplodingUnicorn

Me: You ate all the cookies and your sister got none. What does that tell you?
4-year-old: I won.

  1. Robert Knop @FatherWithTwins

Me: Shhh, your brother is still sleeping.
4yo: *runs upstairs
“Wake up!”
*runs back downstairs
“No, he’s not.”


Deer Jokes

Did you know the white-tail deer can jump higher than the average house?
This is due to its powerful hind legs and the fact the average house can’t jump.

I once met a deer who could write with both hands.
It was Bambidextrous.

Loud ammunition is better for hunting deer.
That way you get more bang for your buck.

Did you know that John Deere has a sister company that no one knows?
Jane Doe



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Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

This week: a rare peaceful interlude in the stories of biblical family life. [For tension and intrigue, see the accompanying haftarah, 1 Kings 1:1-31, in which David is dying and his throne, promised to Solomon, is usurped by another son, handsome, spoiled Adonijah.]

The portion is called Chayei Sarah (חַיֵּי שָׂרָה), which means “life of Sarah,” but it concerns her death at the age of 127.  Tradition has it that she died of shock because of Isaac’s near-sacrifice.  Abraham decides not only to bury her but to actually purchase land to be his family burial plot in perpetuity.   As I noted last year, since Abraham was a resident alien, it was not a trivial matter for him to own land. We are generally taught that the negotiation between Abraham and the Hittite Ephron is simply flowery Near Eastern bargaining, but it is actually a carefully crafted legal transaction.  It is conducted in public at the city gate, the community meeting place; and the text contains specific legal terminology that is found in ancient Near Eastern court records of property transfers. [Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966), Chapter X] And so, Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah and buries Sarah there.

After a few years, Abraham realizes that Isaac is 40 and unmarried (oy!) and decides to find him a suitable wife. We may find it odd that Isaac doesn’t find his own wife; then again, maybe Terah matched Abram with Sarai.  Abraham wants Isaac’s bride to be a nice, monotheistic girl from back home who is willing to move to Canaan.   He sends his servant, assumed to be Eliezer, to Aram-naharaim to carry out this mission.

Eliezer prays to God that he will find a very special girl, one who will be so kind that, when Eliezer asks for water, she will not only draw some for him, but water his ten camels as well.  At the well outside the city (there’s always a well in Biblical matchmaking), Rebecca comes over, Eliezer asks for a sip from her jar, she lets him drink fully, and she waters his camels.  Ta da!  Furthermore, she is beautiful, a virgin, and Abraham’s great-niece.  We are introduced to her brother Laban, who is particularly impressed by the rich presents Eliezer has brought.  Rebecca is not only willing, but eager, to move to Canaan as soon as possible. (Hmmm…)  She and Isaac marry, and all is well with them. For now.

From 2014: I usually find the tone of this story to be like those tales where a boy or girl must carry out some difficult task to prove s/he is the right bride/groom.  Something like choosing the right casket, or giving a kiss to the right person at the right time in the right place, or choosing the right sister.  But I was taken by the d’var Torah written by Britain’s Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks about this portion, “The Kindness of Strangers.”  He focuses on the kindness shown by Rebecca.  He tells this story written by Yale law professor Stephen Carter, about his moving into a white neighborhood as a child (Stephen Carter, Civility, New York: Basic Books, 1999, 61-75):

“Sitting with his two brothers and two sisters on the front step of the house, he waited to see how they would be greeted. They were not. Passers-by turned to look at them but no one gave them a smile or even a glance of recognition. All the fearful stories he had heard about how whites treated blacks seemed to be coming true. Years later, writing about those first days in their new home, he says, ‘I knew we were not welcome here. I knew we would not be liked here. I knew we would have no friends here. I knew we should not have moved here…’

“As he was thinking those thoughts, a white woman coming home from work passed by on the other side of the road.  She turned to the children and with a broad smile said, ‘Welcome!’  Disappearing into the house, she emerged minutes later with a tray laden with drinks and cream-cheese and jelly sandwiches which she brought over to the children, making them feel at home.  That moment – the young man later wrote – changed his life.  It gave him a sense of belonging where there was none before. It made him realise…that a black family could feel at home in a white area and that there could be relationships that were colour-blind…

“He adds that it was no coincidence that she was a religious Jew. ‘In the Jewish tradition,’ he notes, such civility is called ‘hessed – the doing of acts of kindness – which is in turn derived from the understanding that human beings are made in the image of God.’ Civility, he adds, ‘itself may be seen as part of hessed: it does indeed require kindnesses toward our fellow citizens, including the ones who are strangers, and even when it is hard.’ To this day, he adds, ‘I can close my eyes and feel on my tongue the smooth, slick sweetness of the cream cheese and jelly sandwiches that I gobbled on that summer afternoon when I discovered how a single act of genuine and unassuming civility can change a life forever.’”  (By the way, I often had a cream cheese and jelly sandwich when I was little and having lunch with my father.  I didn’t know of anyone else who ate them. IGP)

(Back to 2019) Now we conclude the stories of Abraham and Ishmael.   Abraham takes another consort, Keturah (maybe Hagar come back). They have six sons.  Abraham provides for them while he is alive but wills everything else to Isaac.  Abraham, content, dies at the age of 175, and Isaac and Ishmael together bury him with Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah. Ishmael’s story ends with a list of his 12 sons, who become chieftains of 12 tribes.  Ishmael dies at 137 years of age.

Next week: a return to family dysfunction.

Shabbat shalom,


The Torah in Haiku – CHAYEI SARAH

“The Life of Sarah”
Is the name of this portion
Which starts with her death

Could that be because
Our lives are reflected in
Those we leave behind?


tph cinderella


tph matched with myself

———————-  (From 2013)

Why are you marrying her?

A minister was called to a local nursing home to perform a wedding. An anxious old man met him at the door. The pastor sat down to counsel the old man and asked several questions.
“Do you love her?”
The old man replied, “I guess.”
“Is she a good Christian woman?”
“I don’t know for sure,” the old man answered.
“Does she have lots of money?” asked the pastor.
“I doubt it.”
“Then why are you marrying her?” the preacher asked.
“She can drive at night,” the old man said

My husband-to-be and I were at the county clerk’s office for our marriage license. After recording the vital information–names, dates
of birth, etc–the clerk handed me our license and deadpanned, “No refunds, no exchanges, no warranties.”

Little Johnny was reading from a Hans Christian Anderson book. “Teacher?” he asked, “Does m-i-r-a-g-e spell marriage?”
“No my child,” sighed the teacher. “But it should.”


A lawyer wanted to buy an apartment for his family, but kept being denied by landlords because he had 8 kids.

People keep telling him to lie about how many kids he has, but being a lawyer, he feels too guilty to lie. One day, however, he decides that enough is enough. He tells his wife to take the 7 younger kids with her and go to the cemetery. He then takes the oldest kid and brings him to visit a new apartment. They go over the details of the purchase, and right before the man signed the papers, the landlord asked him a last question:
– Do you have any other kids?
– I have seven others, but they’re at the cemetery with their mother.


Quotes about Kindness

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough. Franklin D. Roosevelt

We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that. Ellen DeGeneres

Choosing kindness is just as easy as smiling. Jacob Tremblay

The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love. William Wordsworth



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Vayeira (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24)

(2016 comments, lightly edited) This is not a G-rated Torah portion. 

We start with a nice little story of Abraham’s hospitality, as he recovers from his circumcision, to three strangers. They turn out to be angels who confirm that Abraham and Sarah will have a son; they don’t bother to tell Sarah, but she overhears and laughs incredulously since Abraham is 99 and she’s 89. 

Then it’s off to Sodom.  God decides to tell Abraham that Sodom will be destroyed but not why.  Abraham assumes that there must be some decent people there, so he bargains with God, who agrees not to destroy the city if there are a mere 10 innocents.  There aren’t. 

Nephew Lot lives in Sodom. Like his uncle, he offers hospitality to two men (angels) (good) and protects them from a mob (good), offering his two young daughters in their place (not good).  The angels manage to drag Lot and his daughters out of Sodom, but his wife looks back and becomes a pillar of salt as Sodom and nearby Gomorrah are destroyed by fire and brimstone.  Lot’s daughters get him drunk, seduce him, and get pregnant; their children are the progenitors of the nations of Moab and Ammon.

Then Abraham pulls that “but Sarah’s my sister” trick again, this time on Abimelech. Abraham excuses the ruse by saying he and Sarah have the same father, so she is his (half-)sister as well as wife. Abimelech sends them on their way enriched with livestock, slaves, and money, and they later make a treaty concerning water rights at Be’er Sheva. 

So far, we’ve had pimping, seduction, incest, horrific destruction, and lying.  And there’s more.

Isaac is finally born, circumcised, and weaned.  His name means “laughter” which is the height of irony in view of his future.  Sarah does not like Ishmael to “play” with Isaac (shooting arrows at passers-by? pedophilic incestuous sodomy?), so Abraham banishes Hagar and his beloved Ishmael, who nearly die in the desert before God opens her eyes to nearby water and a bright future for her son.

Finally, God tests Abraham by telling him to take “your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac” and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah.  [This episode is referred to as the Akedah (binding)]. Abraham is about to kill his son when he is stopped by an angel, now that he has proven he fears God and has not withheld his son, his only son.  Note that “whom you love” is no longer part of the description of Isaac.   Abraham sacrifices a ram instead and goes home.  We don’t know where his traumatized son went at that time.

The episodes of Sodom and the Akedah bookend the portion.  Prof. Reuven Kimelman writes in Testing Abraham: Justice in Sodom
before Loyalty in the Akedah
 ,  “Only through challenging God on the basis of justice [concerning Sodom] did Abraham find out that God was just, indeed willing to temper justice with mercy. The result was not only the confirmation of Abraham’s belief in Divine justice but also the maintenance of his worthiness of Divine promises.”  As Abraham Joshua Heschel notes: “It was because of the experience of God’s responding to him in his plea for Sodom that Abraham did not question the command to sacrifice his beloved son.”    

However, as persecution became a core experience for Jews during Roman persecution and the Middle Ages, they felt ‘their sufferings and sacrifices exceeded by far everything endured by the original Akedah’s father and son.’ (Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, 21).  Indeed, they sympathized with Abraham because he couldn’t fully demonstrate his devotion to God by sacrificing his son. “

The portion ends with news of Abraham’s brother’s family, including young Rebecca, about whom we’ll read next week

Shabbat shalom,


I stumbled upon a really neat source for essays interpreting each Torah portion,  which is where I found Prof. Kimelman’s essay.  Here are a couple other titles there that are pertinent to Vayeira:

Biblical and Greek Ambivalence Towards Child Sacrifice
Lot and his Daughter’s Motives for their Incestuous Union
The Expulsion of Ishmael: Who Is Being Tried?


tph isaac and the comma 2


tph sodomandgomorrah_weatherreport


Hotel Jokes

I had to leave the hotel earlier when two grand masters arrived and started talking about their best tournaments. I can’t stand chess nut boasting in an open foyer.

A photon checks into a hotel and is asked if he needs any help with his luggage. “No, I’m travelling light.”

Stayed in a posh hotel with towels so thick I could barely shut my suitcase.

Stayed in an Elvis themed hotel. The restaurant is for people who Love Meat Tender.


Pregnancy Tweets

From Zoe vs. the Universe @zoevsuniverse
4-yr-old saw picture of me pregnant.

I explain that she was inside me.
She thought for a bit then said: “I never want to do that again.”

From Sweatpants Cher @House_Feminist
Yelp review for pregnancy:

1/5 stars
Took way too long
Super uncomfortable & crowded
Aesthetically just very bad
No alcohol

From MyQuestionableLife  @2questionable
Some days I want to time travel back to pregnant me and whisper, “Go take a nap.  This is your last chance!”


Quotes about Laughter

We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that. Ellen DeGeneres

The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. Mark Twain

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. Kurt Vonnegut

From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it. Groucho Marx

I believe there is a direct correlation between love and laughter. Yakov Smirnoff


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Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27)

Now that we’ve got all the universal stuff out of the way, we begin the story of the Jewish people with the first of the patriarchs, Abraham (How many of you remember a little book we read in Hebrew school book, “HaYehudi HaRishon,”  “The First Jew”?).  At first, his name is Abram.  He is married to Sarai.  Abram is 75, Sarai 65. Childless, they leave their home at a Divine command to go… somewhere, which turns out to be Canaan. There’s a carrot (12:2): “I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” (That reminds me of how corporate executive wannabes would go off to… somewhere drop of the boss’ hat. 7 years since retirement! Yay!).  Because of famine, they sojourn in Egypt, and Abram protects himself by passing the beautiful Sarai off to Pharaoh as his sister (believe it or not, this is considered one of the 10 tests of Abraham by the rabbis). Lot breaks off from the family (Their workers fight. Surprise.), gets into trouble with local kings, and is rescued, not for the last time, by Uncle Abram. 

Abram is not only promised a son, but, a covenant with the Lord, in which his descendants will be as numerous as the stars and possess the land of Canaan (with a 400-year detour enslaved in a land not their own). But right now, there is no son. It was common then for a barren wife to give her husband her maidservant as a concubine, so Sarai hands over Hagar. But major conflicts ensue between Sarai and Hagar after Hagar gives birth (surprise) when Abram is 86. Abram doesn’t know how to deal with the two women and just tries to distance himself).  Thirteen years later, the Lord formalizes the covenant (Chapter 17), including name changes: Abram to Abraham (“father of multitudes”) and Sarai to Sarah (a more formal term for “princess”).The portion ends with the circumcision of Abraham, Ishmael, and all the males in the household as a sign of the covenant.  Once more, Abraham (99) is told he will have a son, and with Sarah (89)!  He laughs.

We really know very little about Abraham himself.  Why was he chosen?  Why did he become a monotheist?  Why did he marry Sarai? The rabbis flesh out his story with Midrash (stories to fill in blanks), like that story about smashing idols in his father’s shop. We see him as a good man who wants to take care of his family and longs for a son to inherit him.

People have many identities, depending on both circumstances and choice.  Circumcision is one mark of identity for male Jews. (Old joke: What do you call a Jew greater than 8 days old who has not been circumcised? A girl.)  There are some small health benefits, but in times of persecution, when circumcision visibly identified a Jew, being circumcised could be fatal.  Yet baby boys were still circumcised, in faith and defiance.

Names, of course, also indicate identity. They can indicate parentage, residence, occupation, or whim.  When Eastern European Jews were required to choose surnames, some even chose different surnames within the same nuclear family. I’ve been into genealogy for years, and Eastern European Jewish genealogy is particularly challenging.  Names in Yiddish (Hebrew script) are transliterated into Russian (Cyrillic) or Polish (Latin) and then written again on a ship’s manifest by someone who knows only German (in Hamburg) or English (e.g., Liverpool) or at entry (or later) in the U.S.  My father’s father’s surname, Grundwag, became Grundwark, Grondwog, Grunwog, Greendwog, Greendway, and Lord knows what else.  That branch of Grundwags settled on Greenwald in the U.S.  I have generally found it easier to research my husband’s family, Plotzkers from Płock (pron. “plotzk”) in Poland.  But even there I have problems, like not realizing part of the family in the U.K. changed the name to Preston.  Oy!

Shabbat shalom,


To each his own

A priest and a rabbi operated a church and a synagogue across the street from each other. Since their schedules intertwined, they decided to go in together to buy a car. After the purchase, they drove it home and parked in on the street between their establishments. A few minutes later, the rabbi looked out and saw the priest sprinkling water on their new car. It didn’t need a wash, so he ran out and asked the priest what he was doing. “I’m blessing it,” the priest replied. The rabbi considered this a moment, then said, “Oh,” and ran back inside the synagogue. He reappeared a moment later with a hacksaw, ran to the back of the car and cut off the last two inches of the tailpipe.


tph packed myself in a box


Names to Avoid for a Baby

Al E. Gater         Helen Hywater

Amanda Lynn    Herbie Hind

Anita Room       Holly Wood

Arty Fischel       Horace Cope

Barry D. Hatchett  Hugh Raye

Ben Dover          Ima Hogg

Bennie Factor     Iona Mink

Carole Singer     Jack Pott

Chester Minit     Jay Walker

Crystal Ball        Jim Nasium

Dick Tate           Joe King

Dinah Mite         Justin Thyme

Don Keigh          Kay Oss


tph abraham and sarah condo


Quotes about Identity

I was born by myself but carry the spirit and blood of my father, mother and my ancestors. So I am really never alone. My identity is through that line. Ziggy Marley

In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity. Erik Erikson

Some people have an identity. I have an alibi. I have a shadow self. Andre Aciman

I definitely have a strong sense of my Jewish and Israeli identity. I did my two-year military service; I was brought up in a very Jewish, Israeli family environment, so of course my heritage is very important to me. Gal Gadot

Often we lose our identity trying to please or placate others. Mary Manin Morrissey


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Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

It’s a good thing we finally got the sukkah down (mostly – just the frame and tied-on bamboos poles left).  There was a big storm around here yesterday (October 31), though the most dramatic portions came well after the trick-or-treaters and mainly affected Philadelphia and suburbs.   In Glen Mills, PA, only about 8 miles away, an EF2 tornado touched down about 11 pm, along with straight-line winds of 111 to 135 mph; no injuries there, thank goodness.  Lots of power outages still.

I don’t think the Flood story in this week’s Torah portion, Noah (guttural ‘h’ like the ch in Bach) incorporated a tornado, nor the short-term, scary winds.  But it sounds much worse.  This was not just a rainstorm:

7:11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst apart (“cracked open”), and the floodgates of the sky broke open. 7:12 The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

7:24 And when the waters had swelled on the earth one hundred and fifty days, 8:1 God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and God caused a wind to blow across the earth, and the waters subsided. 8:2 The fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were stopped up, and the rain from the sky was held back; 8:3 the waters then receded steadily from the earth. At the end of one hundred and fifty days the waters diminished, 8:4 so that in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.

Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, Provence, 1160-1235) comments on the “fountains of the great deep” in 7:11: they began to crack open, and to emerge from below. As a result of tremendous amounts of rain having poured down from the skies, the crust of the earth was weakened, so that the waters underneath found it easy to burst forth in streams all over the place. This process, once started, continued and accelerated and even when the 40 days of rain had stopped, the waters kept rising for 150 days due to the waters coming out of the bowels of the earth.

And it took still more time (and the dove and raven tests) until it was safe to leave the ark.

“Flood stories appear in cultures worldwide.  Mesopotamian flood stories include the epics of ZiusudraGilgamesh, and Atrahasis.…The Gilgamesh epic is closest to Noah’s story….Noah’s story differs in two important ways.  First, the flood has a moral basis; it occurs because of the corruption of humanity and Noah is good enough to be saved.  Second, the aftermath of the flood is a covenant with the Lord, tied up with a rainbow, through which humanity is to obey some basic laws and the Lord will never again wipe them out (at least, not with a flood).” (IGP, TPH2015)

“Noah is given instructions (9:1-3) that parallel those given to Adam (1:28-30), but humanity will now have different relationships with the earth and animals.  Adam’s descendants had already done a lot of subduing the earth, so that was left out of Noah’s charge.  Adam was commanded to live in harmony with the animals, and he and they were to be vegetarians.  Noah is told the animals will now fear humans, who can now eat all of them.

“Noah’s next big discovery is wine.  …(W)ine is regarded as a generally positive contribution to human life.  We sanctify all sorts of occasions with wine – holidays, weddings, circumcisions.  We use wine to welcome the Sabbath and to see it out.  Rashi (1040-1105), the seminal commentator on Torah and Talmud, reportedly made his living as a vintner.  It’s interesting to see who else in history were vintners.  For example, Chaucer’s father and grandfather were involved in the wine trade; 14th century England got significant tax revenue from imports of wine from, e.g., Spain, Cyprus, Capri, Portugal, and France.  And Thomas Jefferson has been called “America’s ‘first distinguished viticulturist,’ and ‘the greatest patron of wine and wine growing that this country has yet had.’”  (IGP, TPH2013) Unfortunately, Noah gets drunk, passes out, and is mistreated (interpreted as various types of “sexual immorality” by the rabbis) by his son Ham (see Rashi’s comments).  Not a good start for the new world.

After some who-begat-whom discussion to describe the origins of the ancient nations, we read about a new settlement in the valley of Shinar, in which the inhabitants decide to build a town and a tower (better, a ziggurat) up to the sky, their goal being to make a name for themselves and keep from being scattered all over the earth (11:4). Skilled at brickmaking and building, they begin to do just that. The Lord and angels are alarmed, cause the people to start speaking different languages, and scatter them all over the earth.  It’s a weird little story. As David Hazony points out in his essay, Tower of Power, we are not explicitly told what is so bad about the people’s ambition.  Also, there are no individuals, just a very technically astute, collective mass acting as one.  It can also be read as a sly satire on the 300-foot ziggurat to Marduk in Babylon. Perhaps today we can best read it as a paean to individual identity, a cautionary tale about the dangers of worshipping technology, and a warning that absolute unity can be evil.  That’s a lot for a mere 9 verses.

The portion ends with a listing of the descendants of Noah. A descendent of Shem, Terah, is living in Ur with his son Abram, grandson Lot, and Abram’s barren wife Sarai.  They leave their home and head toward Canaan, but only get as far as Haran, where Terah dies.  The story of Abram and Sarai in Haran continues next week.

Shabbat shalom,


tph Noah IKEA


Noah Jokes

Where did Noah keep the bees on his Ark?
In the Ark hives.

As the animals left the ark, Noah told them to go forth and multiply. After some time, Noah came upon two snakes who were just lying there sunning themselves…
So Noah asked them, “Why aren’t you multiplying?”
The snakes replied, “We can’t, we’re adders.”

Noah’s son walks into a kosher deli and orders a sandwich.
“Sorry,” said the owner. “We don’t serve Ham.”

What’s the difference between Noah’s Ark and Joan of Arc?
One was made of wood, the other was Maid of Orleans.

I think Noah might be the craziest of Biblical figures; hearing God, building an ark, gathering animals
The whole thing sounds delugional.

Torrential rainfall? Rising floodwaters?! No escape?!! Don’t worry…
I Noah guy.


tph noah-i-said-an-ark


Wine Quotes

“In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.”  Napoleon Bonaparte

“Either give me more wine or leave me alone.”  Rumi, circa 1200’s

“The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.” Benjamin Franklin, circa 1700s

“What wine goes with Captain Crunch?” George Carlin

“Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.” Alexander Fleming

“A gourmet meal without a glass of wine just seems tragic to me somehow.” Kathy Mattea (Yup. IGP)


From The Funniest Things Ever Said, New and Expanded, edited by Steven Price (2019), p. 134

Elaine Stritch & Noel Coward: Tower of Babel

During a rehearsal one day, Elaine Stritch began to sing, “When the tower of Babel fell,” and pronounced the line to rhyme with “scrabble.” Noel Coward promptly corrected her: “It’s ‘baybel’ Stritch.” “I’ve always said ‘babble,'” the actress replied. “Everyone says ‘babble.’ It means mixed-up language, doesn’t it? Gibberish. That’s where we get ‘babble’ from.” “No,” replied Coward. “That’s a fabble.”


Manqué business: Week 1130’s Foreign-phrase puns (selected)

Washington Post, July 26, 2015, p. E15

By Pat Myers

In Week 1130 we asked you to make a pun on a foreign term or phrase (or a foreign term that’s become an English one) and describe the result. Here’s la crème of about 1,700 entries. Not sure what the original term was? You can see links to them all in the online Invite at

4th place: Carpe BM: Clean up after your dog! (Neal Starkman, Seattle)

3rd place: Hate couture: Wrapping yourself in the Confederate flag. (Nan Reiner, visiting Boca Raton, Fla.)

2nd place and the deck of “Aussie Sheila” cards: In MoCo parentis: Calling Child Protective Services if you see some kids walking down the street. (Stephen Dudzik, Olney)

And the winner of the Inkin’ Memorial: ’Sup du jour: Whatever greeting is currently hip. “A fist bump followed by a low five and a quiet ‘yo’ is the ‘sup du jour’ in Flatbush. (Bird Waring, Larchmont, N.Y.)

Honorable Menschen (und Frauen):

Ice versa: Giving back the engagement ring. (Tom Witte, Montgomery Village)

Amor vincit amnesia: Typical soap opera plot. (Mark Raffman, Reston)

Hea culpa: It’s the other guy’s fault. (Jim Stiles, Rockville)

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même shows: The new sitcoms look a lot like the old ones. (Skip Livingston, Hopewell, N.J.)

De Plorabus Unum: The one thing we can all agree on is we don’t like each other. (Art Grinath, Takoma Park)

Non compass mentis: “Don’t worry, honey, I know exactly where we’re going.” (Matt Monitto, Bristol, Conn.)

Sinus qua non: The phlegm de la phlegm of nasal infections. (Kathy El-Assal, Middleton, Wis.)

Nom de fume: Your rants-only Twitter handle. (Pam Sweeney, Burlington, Mass.; Larry Neal, McLean)

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Bereishit (Genesis 1:1 – 6:8)

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is starting a criminal investigation into the beginnings of the DOJ’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, without even stating what the Federal crime being investigated is (there must be an explicit one to have a criminal investigation).  That sounds like a political Mӧbius strip, or maybe that famous M. C. Escher drawing Ascending and Descending, 1960, featuring what Escher called a “very profound and absurd” eternal staircase.

tph Escher Ascending and Descending 1960

Order and disorder.  Or disorder masquerading as order?

This week, I was going to compare the Genesis Creation story with the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which I’d learned about last fall in a course taught by Rabbi Michael Kramer, but I found that I did that last year.  Then I was thinking about all the other themes in this week Torah portion,  such as the meaning of “bereishit,” usually somewhat inaccurately, if majestically, translated as “in the beginning”; the two Creation stories in Genesis, cosmogenic in Chapter 1 and anthropogenic in Chapters 2 and 3; what being made “in the image of God”(b’tzelem elokim) means; the nature of Paradise (and Star Trek – see my 2016 TPH for Bereishit); sex (do Gen. 1:27 and 5:1-2 mean Adam = male + female?); why Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden (disobedience, not “original sin”); the multicentenarians, like 969-year-old Methuselah; Cain and Abel; and the role of humans vis à vis God and the animals.

But I was having serious trouble focusing, even with only small doses of disorienting TV news in the background.  Then I heard that the DOJ is starting a criminal investigation into the beginnings of the DOJ’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  That brought me back to order and disorder.

The major element of the creative processes described in this week’s Torah portion is bringing order from disorder, the opposite of what we have experienced since that 2016 presidential election.  This is introduced with the very first word, bereishit.  As I wrote last year, “the Hebrew form of bereishit indicates it’s really “in the beginning of (something),” here, “in the beginning of God’s creating.”  More fluently, “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth…” is really more like “When God began to create heaven and earth —the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water —God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”  Why does this matter?  The two translations represent two quite different approaches to Creation. In one, God exists and then creates heaven and a chaotic earth out of nothing.” [Creation “out of nothing,” or ex nihilo, is a concept attributed to the 2nd century C.E. Christian theologian Irenaeus]. “In the other, we come in after the start of the story. Chaos and water and darkness already exist. We catch God at the start of the creation of order from the pre-existing formless…stuff.”

Disorder is characterized by darkness, water, and a lack of form; order, by light, a wind from God, and increasingly complex forms separated out from the formless “stuff.”  Heaven is separated from earth and sea from land.  Separate lights are created to rule the day and the night.  Animals are created to live in the specific environments of air, land, or sea, and man is created to rule over them.

The Garden of Eden is the ultimate orderly environment.  Animals and humans are vegetarians, so food is plentiful and readily at hand.  Although the humans are created “in the image of God,” they really don’t have to do a lot to live up to that.  There are no needy to care for, nor a need to clothe the naked, or release the bound, or do any of the other deeds later associated with Imitatio Dei.

Yet a perfect world has not been created, only one that is “very good” (1:31) and needs work to improve it or at least keep it from disorder, thus decay.

Disorder is introduced into this world by disobedience.  Adam and Eve disobey and so must leave the Garden and work for a living; but this allows them to impose some order themselves on the world outside.  But disorder continually lurks nearby (4:7, “Sin couches at the door”), and the humans still lack enough knowledge and discipline to prevent it.  Cain, disappointed in God’s rejection of his offering and acceptance of the nicer one from his brother Abel, gives in to his anger and jealousy and kills him.  Much later (6:1-5), we read about (forced?) cohabitation between the “daughters of men” and “sons of God” (Maybe this just indicates that those in authority, like princes, took any women as they pleased, sort of like a droit du seigneur.) which produces beings called Nephilim (giants, fallen ones).  It appears that the nascent societal order has broken down after only about 1500 years.

At this point, God declares that humans are irredeemably evil and decides to wipe them out, along with most of the animals.  Why the animals were included is unclear.  Nor is it clear why God, disgusted with humanity, decides to try again with an existing human: Noah.  We’ll consider that next week.

Shabbat shalom,


Oldie but goodie, last sent out in 2011. I still get a kick out of it.


Whenever your kids are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God’s omnipotence did not extend to God’s kids.

Consider for example, that after creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve.
The first thing He said was: “Don’t.”
“Don’t what?” Adam replied.
“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” God said.
“Forbidden fruit? We got forbidden fruit? Hey, Eve…we got forbidden fruit!”
“No way!”
“Yes way!”
“Don’t eat that fruit!” said God.
“Because I am your Father and I said so!” said God, wondering why He hadn’t stopped after making the elephants.
A few minutes later God saw His kids having an apple break and was angry.
“Didn’t I tell you not to eat the fruit?” the First Parent asked.
“Uh huh”, Adam replied.
“Then why did you?”
“I dunno” Eve answered.
“She started it!” Adam said.
“Did not!”
“Did too!”

Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus, the pattern was set and it has never changed. But there is reassurance in this story. If you have persistently and lovingly tried to give your children wisdom and they haven’t taken it, don’t be hard on yourself. If God had trouble handling children, what makes you think it would be a piece of cake for you?


News Journal, Wilmington, DE, 10/23/2019, p. B4

tph eden non sequitur cropped


Who Am I?

One day a gorilla escaped from the zoo, prompting a huge search of the district and appeals on radio, television and in the newspapers.

He was finally discovered a few days later in the city library where zoo officials found him sitting at a desk in the reading room with two books spread out in front of him.

The gorilla was deep in concentration. One book was the Bible; the other was written by Charles Darwin.

The zoo keepers asked the gorilla what he was doing. The gorilla replied: “I’m trying to figure out whether I am my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”


tph raising retirement to 800


Quotes about Creation

I’m intrigued by the dark. Out of darkness comes creation. Famke Janssen

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

To sit for one’s portrait is like being present at one’s own creation. Alexander Smith

We think we have solved the mystery of creation. Maybe we should patent the universe and charge everyone royalties for their existence. Stephen Hawking

If God had made a perfect world, it would be a magic trick, not creation, with no meaning or place for us to learn and create. Mankind is not yet ready for a perfect world. We do not know how to appreciate perfection. Bernie Siegel

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