Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

Dam, tzifarde’ah, kinim, arov, dever, sh’chin, barad.  Blood, frogs, lice, flies/gnats/swarms of little flying things, cattle plague, boils, hail.  The first seven of the 10 plagues. 

Why don’t I feel any excitement, any sense of  “Oh boy!” or any desire to make popcorn?  It isn’t just that I know what happens. It just seems so stage-managed.  Pharaoh will initially refuse on his own, then his heart will be “hardened” by the Lord. Eventually, Pharaoh will be pressured by his court and his people and will come to the brink of negotiating a holiday for the Israelites, only to refuse at the end, until the very last plague.  That’s next week.

First, after the no-straw debacle, Moses and Aaron need to go back to Pharaoh for a more formal encounter that will trigger the plagues.  Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a serpent.  Pharaoh is not impressed and has his own magicians turn their staffs into serpents.  But then Aaron’s serpent swallows all the Egyptian ones.  Even so, Pharaoh refuses to let the people go. The next morning, across the Nile from Pharaoh himself, Moses turns the water to blood, the first plague.

There are all sorts of physical explanations for the plagues, which I find mildly interesting. This year, for example, I came across a paper by Siro Igino Trevisanato, “Treatments for burns in the London Medical Papyrus show the first seven biblical plagues of Egypt are coherent with Santorini’s volcanic fallout,” Medical Hypotheses (2006) 66, 193-1196.  The paper shows that volcanic ash could have led, in turn, to an acidic, red Nile. Frogs would have fled the acid environment. Dead fish and frogs could then have been fodder for insect larvae.  Persistent acidic ash aerosols could kill cattle, cause painful skin disorders, and cause unusual weather phenomena. 

Of greater interest is the “why” behind the plagues. As I wrote in 2015, “A sampling of the teachings of ancient, medieval, and modern commentators can be found in a blog Why Not One Plague? and in an otherwise non-traditional paper, “The Ten Plagues and Statistical Science as a Way of Knowing” (T. Benjamin and M. Mandel,  In Midrash Tanchuma, the plagues are analyzed in a measure-for-measure fashion, linking each plague to a particular abuse by the Egyptians.  There is also agreement (RashiAbravanel, etc.) that the plagues are not simply a prolonged attack to get the Egyptians to let the Israelites go, but, perhaps more importantly, are designed to demonstrate the power of the Lord to Pharaoh, the Egyptians, the Israelites, and the rest of the world that will hear about them.  Thus, they have to be really, really impressive.”

Next time: the last three really, really impressive plagues and the Exodus from Egypt.

Shabbat shalom,


Tippling Through the Torah

In every portion, there’s a drink just waiting to be discovered.

[The “Tippling Through The Torah” blog is described at ]

Va-era: Seven Plagues

JANUARY 8, 2016 ~ BARKEEP5776

Recipe: Seven Plagues I can’t promise we’ll add three more to this drink, next week (I’m not sure I can choke down, “Death of the Firstborn”), but it seems right to segregate these seven into one glass.

Begin with a shot of vodka, representing a river. Add 3 oz. cranberry juice (blood), then squeeze in lime (frogs). Dust with cardamom (gnats) and then add a splash to a shot of the swarmiest liquor in my collection, triple sec (your suggestions for “swarms” are gratefully accepted, but this tastes pretty good). Misspell “dever” (cattle plague) with a vav (like I did at first) and you have “dor”, a gin-eration, so add a shot of gin (preferably made by a family), then drop in some pomegranate seeds (boils) and finish with a rain of ice (hail). If your heart remains stiffened after drinking this, just wait ‘til next week. You’ll give in.


tph blood cells donuts


Frog Jokes

When I was at the zoo, I saw something like a frog tapping things out on a piece of wood. Turned out it was a Morse toad.

What creature do you need to park in a restricted area?  Permit the Frog.

What music do young frogs listen to?  Hip Hop.

What music do more sophisticated frogs listen to?  Hopera.


Lice Jokes

Lice have become resistant to most conventional treatments.
Scientists are scratching their heads.

I’ve been researching some useless facts…Want some examples?
I have found out that there are over 10,000 different types of lice.
And that’s just off the top of my head.


60-SECOND SCIENCE(podcast transcript) August 13, 2013

Insects Forego Flocks in Favor of Swarms

 [Mosquito buzzing sound]

Aha—got ‘im! Yes, the mosquitos are swarming this time of year. Alaskans joke that the bloodsucker is their state bird. But have you ever looked closely at a swarm of mating mosquitos, gnats, or midges? It’s a curious thing. The swarm maintains a kind of shape as it moves around. But the bugs inside it seem to flit about randomly rather than flocking like birds.

This collective, yet disordered, flight intrigued physicists in Rome. They shot ultraslow-motion video of swarming midges. Then they mapped the flight of each midge, and did a mathematical analysis of the collective behavior.

Their finding: the motion of the midges is not random. The bugs stay far enough apart to avoid locking into a formation. The swarm instead expands as needed to stay just below the threshold density. The work appears on the site [Alessandro Attanasi et al., Wild swarms of midges linger at the edge of an ordering phase transition]

Flocks and schools move in formation only once the group reaches a critical density.  Below that threshold, the individuals move—well, like midges. Insect avoidance of full-fledged flocking may be a reproductive strategy: after all, it’s hard to mingle when you’re stuck in a line dance.

—Wayt Gibbs


Fun Cow Fact: You can lead a cow upstairs, but not downstairs. Their knees can’t bend properly to walk downstairs!

Cow Jokes for Kids

Q: Why did the cow cross the ocean?
A: To get to the udder tide.

Q: Did you hear about the snobby cow?
A: She thought she was a cutlet above the rest.

Q: What do you get when you cross an angry sheep with a grumpy cow?
A: An animal that’s in a baaaaaaaad moooooood.

Q: Which Sesame Street character do cows like most?
A: The Cownt.

Q: What do you call cattle that tell jokes?
A: Laughing stock.


tph you've got hail


The Egyptians could have used this…

From The Strand Magazine, Volume 28, p. cxxxv (1904)

tph boils cure 1tph boils cure 2


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Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

A malevolent government that feels threatened by an ever-growing group of thriving immigrants. Defiant women who resist official cruelty.  A young man whose temper forces him to hide for decades.  And God, who catches the now old man’s attention as a voice in an ever-burning bush, and proceeds to describe the drama about to be played out.

Welcome to the second book of the Torah, Exodus, or, in Hebrew, Shemot (names), which is also the name of this week’s portion.  The stories are so well-known that it’s difficult to consider them afresh, so I will try to manage that by asking questions, after a bit more of a recap.

Joseph has died.  A new Pharaoh is alarmed at this large group of flourishing foreigners in Goshen and enslaves them. They continue to multiply.  He orders the midwives to kill newborn Hebrew boys. They don’t.  He orders Egyptians instead to drown the newborn Hebrew boys. One boy escapes because his mother sets him in a basket on the shore of the Nile, guarded by his sister; he is rescued and adopted by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter, is named Moses, and grows up in the palace.

As a young man, increasingly aware of his own heritage, he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and kills and buries the Egyptian.  When he learns this has become known, he flees to Midian, where he rescues the 7 daughters of Reuel (Jethro) and waters their sheep at a well (there’s always a well). Reuel gives daughter Zipporah to Moses as a wife, and Moses settles in as a shepherd until he’s 80.  Then he sees a bush that burns but is not consumed, and his life is upended. [Old joke:  It is 1990. The President of the United States sees an old man with a staff and a beard, believes him to be Moses, and tries in vain to engage him in conversation.  The old man finally explains his reticence: “The last time I talked to a Bush, I ended up wandering in the desert for 40 years.”]

The Lord speaks to him from this bush and gives Moses the assignment of leading the Hebrews up from slavery, out of Egypt.  In fact, pretty much the whole story is told here: Pharaoh will refuse his request for the Hebrews to spend 3 days in the wilderness sacrificing to their God, God will strike Egypt with wonders, Pharaoh’s firstborn will die, and the Hebrews will escape laden with stuff from their neighbors.  The Lord also teaches Moses some nifty show-and-tell acts to wow both the Israelites and Egyptians.  But Moses comes up with several reasons why he’s the wrong choice until the Lord, angered, reminds him his brother Aaron can be his mouthpiece.

In Egypt, Moses and Aaron reveal their mission to the elders of Israel and get their buy-in.  Pharaoh, however, not only refuses their request but orders the Hebrews’ workload increased by making them gather their own straw to make the same quota of bricks.  They turn on Moses and Aaron, blaming them for this, and Moses complains to the Lord that he’s been hung out to dry.  And the Lord tells him that now he will see what happens to Pharaoh, and the Hebrews will be freed.

Questions to consider:

  1. Women play a large role in this portion: the midwives Shifrah and Puah, the mother and sister of Moses, the princess who adopts him (and her maids who don’t tell), and his wife Zipporah who saves his life by circumcising their son (strange little episode – 4:24-26).  Why are his mother Yocheved and sister Miriam not named here, and his adoptive mother never named? For that matter, what was the baby’s name for the first 3 months of his life?
  2. Moses was a prince in an autocratic society. Why did he feel he had to hide the fact that he’d killed an Egyptian who was bullying a Hebrew? And not only hide, but flee the country?
  3. Why does Moses complain that God has not rescued the people? He’d been told the whole plan (3:18-22, 4:21-3). Wasn’t he paying attention?
  4. Why did the Hebrews not leave Egypt when the taskmasters were first appointed? For that matter, why did they have to suffer so much before God set the Exodus plan in motion?
  5. Doesn’t God seem like a master puppeteer in the Exodus story, at least until the Hebrews have crossed the Red Sea?

Shabbat shalom,


tph student midwives video


I recently quit working as a midwife to become a comedian…
Turns out my skillset is pretty transferable.
It’s all in the delivery.

A midwife calls a doctor
“Doctor she’s been in labor for 36 hours we need to do a c section.”
“Not so fast,” says the doctor “there’s one more thing to try”
He goes to the obviously pained mother to be and says “what do you call maids in space?”
After the woman gives him a blank stare the doctor says “Vacuum cleaners.”
Upon hearing this joke the woman cringes so hard that she expels the healthy crying baby.
Relieved, the new mother says “Thank you doctor but that’s the worst joke I ever heard.”
The doctor smiled and said, “the punchline sucks but the delivery was perfect.”

I once spoke to a midwife about the miracle of birth
She said “Have you ever witnessed something as majestic as a human birth? It’s wonderful!”
I said, “I was at a birth once”
“Oh? How was it?” she quizzed me.
I said “first it was very very black, then all of a sudden very light”

My wife went into labor last night and our assigned midwife was out sick. Our 2nd choice midwife was on vacation. The only one available to assist us was a damn intern.
We were having a midwife crisis!


tph moses marshmallow

San Diego Company Uses Straw Bales, Clay to Build Homes Designed to Withstand Fire

Published at 12:37 pm on October 31, 2019 [excerpts]

A San Diego-based company is using old school materials like straw bales and clay to build homes that are more fire-resistant for Southern California residents who worry about wildfires season after season.

Simple Construct is applying tried and true, pioneer-like technology to build houses designed in a way that makes them more difficult to burn. And, amid red flag warnings and Santa Ana winds sweeping The Golden State, this type of home protection may be top of mind for many San Diego residents.

Now, when you think of fire-resistant materials, straw probably doesn’t come to mind. However, straw is the primary building material that makes Simple Construct homes harder to burn.

The resurgence of straw bale homes comes more than 200 years after they were first built on American soil.

Simple Construct CEO Rebecca Tasker told NBC 7 the homes are safe and solid.

“There is a sense of shelter and security,” Tasker explained. “These are thick walls; you feel very protected.”


This kid does a show and tell for his 3rd grade class…

But first he wants to get some research on “where do babies come from”. First the kid asks his mother and says “Mum, where do babies come from?” The mother replies, “the stork brought you here.” So, the kid goes to his dad and asks him, “where do babies come from?” The dad replies, “the stork brought you here son.” Finally, the kid asks his grandma. He goes up to her and asks, “Grandma, where do babies come from?” Grandma replies, “the stork brought you here. That’s how you were born, that’s how your dad and mum were born and that’s how I was born.” So, the kid goes to his room and begins to prepare for his show and tell.

The next day he goes in front of his class for show and tell. He tells the class, “My family hasn’t had a normal birth for 3 generations.”


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Vayekhi (Genesis 47:28 – 50:26)

No “happily ever after.”  Jacob doesn’t forgive his sons.  They forgive neither themselves nor Joseph. Joseph does not say he has forgiven his brothers.  Joseph continues his life as Zaphenat-Paneah, in but not of the royal court, and as Joseph, the son and brother of those foreigners in Goshen. Relations apparently are cooling between Egyptians and the Joseph’s kindred.  Even those unfamiliar with the book of Exodus can feel the foreboding.

(Comments below are from 2017.) Vayekhi is the final portion in the book of Genesis.  Jacob dies. His family is getting more settled in Egypt.  Joseph dies.  In these 85 verses, there’s a lot of subtext and foreshadowing and very little sense of a neatly tied up, happy ending.

After 17 years in Egypt, Jacob knows he is about to die and prepares accordingly.  First, he very respectfully (“if I have found favor in your eyes”) asks Joseph (his son, the viceroy) to swear that he will not be buried in Egypt but rather in the family tomb in Canaan.  Later, Joseph is told Jacob is ill and hurries to him. He brings his own sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and Jacob formally adopts them so Rachel will be ancestress of three tribes instead of two.  Jacob also designates the younger son, Ephraim, to outrank the elder, to Joseph’s initial chagrin.  Finally, Jacob gathers his sons for some last words, as Israel, their father (49:2). [BTW, can anybody point me to a commentary regarding in what context the names “Jacob” and “Israel” are each used after Jacob has been renamed “Israel”?]

What are these last words?  They are prophesies of what will happen to each son’s tribe “in the end of days.”  For example, “Dan will avenge his people” (49:16) can be read as foretelling the victories of Dan’s descendant Samson over the Philistines.  Naturally, though, a tribe’s future will reflect the nature of its progenitor, so this is partly a performance review (I am SO glad I’m retired!). Reuben’s own wishy-washy impetuosity is condemned, as is that business with Bilhah (35:22).  Though he is the firstborn, his tribe will not lead the others.  It is Judah who will be the ancestor of Israelite royalty (e.g., King David, who, in the haftarah, I Kings 2:1-12, on his deathbed tells Solomon to observe the Law, reward certain people, and execute certain others.).  Simeon and Levi are condemned for the massacre at Shechem, and they will be dispersed among Israel.  Indeed, the tribe of Levi will have no land, and the tribe of Simeon will shrink in the wilderness and, according to Nachmanides, be absorbed eventually into the other tribes.  Joseph, of course gets a good review and will be the father of two tribes. 

Judah is dominant, not Joseph.  Why?  Perhaps Joseph, though he never loses his Hebrew identity, is too much on the edge of two cultures, whereas Judah has always been with Jacob’s family.  Abarbanel suggests that Joseph, known as Yosef HaTzaddik (the righteous one), is so much a star, so far above, that he always provokes jealousy in people and alienates them unwittingly.  Judah, on the other hand, is always human; and he matures into a leader of people.  Joseph is more a manager of events and a manipulator of people, rather than a leader.

Jacob dies.  There is great public mourning throughout Egypt. Joseph diplomatically asks Pharaoh for permission to bury Jacob in the family plot in Canaan.  They go, with a great retinue, but leave their children and livestock behind in Egypt (foreshadowing?).

Remember the deaths of Abraham and Isaac, when estranged brothers come together to bury their father?  Old wounds are not reopened, and the reconciliations between those individuals seem to stick. Not so here.  For the ten oldest brothers, the reality of their father’s death and the processions to Canaan and back to Egypt (maybe even past the pit into which they threw Joseph) trigger uncomfortable anxieties.  Joseph had been nice to them for 17 years, but maybe that was only on account of Jacob.  Thus, when they return to Egypt, they tell Joseph some arrant nonsense about Jacob telling them to tell Joseph to forgive them.  They also offer to become his slaves.  Joseph weeps (in disappointment? vexation? frustration?) and says again that there is nothing to forgive, that they were the Lord’s instruments.  But note that the brothers never directly ask Joseph to forgive them; they present that as Jacob’s request.  And Joseph, never having been asked, never explicitly says he forgives them.  The rift remains unhealed and their relationship, uncertain.

Joseph lives until 110, long enough to see a few generations of descendants.   Several decades have now passed since Jacob died, and the relationship between the Hebrews and the Egyptians has cooled.  Two signs of cooling: On his deathbed, Joseph tells his brothers that the Lord will remember them and bring them up out of Egypt.  So they can’t leave now, not even to bury their brother as they had buried Jacob.  And when Joseph dies, we don’t see the great wailing in Egypt that there was for Jacob.  Joseph is simply embalmed and put into a coffin, to await the eventual return of his bones to Canaan.

Shabbat shalom,


tph alice pr


For those of you in management who are looking for some creative ways to communicate the performance achievements of your less gifted employees, here are some inspiring quotes taken from actual Federal Government employee performance evaluations.

4.“Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.”
5.“When she opens her mouth, it seems that it is only to change feet.”
18.“When his IQ reaches 50, he should sell.”
20.“A photographic memory but with the lens cover glued on.”
22.“Donated his brain to science before he was done using it.”
27.“If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean.”
28.“It’s hard to believe he beat out 1,000,000 other sperm.”
29.“One neuron short of a synapse.”


40 Funny Last Words That Are the Epitome of Gallows Humor (selections)

11. “Remember, Honey, don’t forget what I told you. Put in my coffin a deck of cards, a mashie niblick, and a pretty blonde.”
— Chico Marx

14. “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”
— James W. Rodgers, convicted murderer (when asked if he had a last request before dying by firing squad)

15. “Surprise me.”
— Bob Hope, comedian (when his wife asked him where he wanted to be buried)

19. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist—”
— John Sedgwick, general of the Union Army (as he was shot mid-sentence)

38. “Oh Lord, forgive the misprints!”
— Andrew Bradford, book publisher


tph elephant forgives


Tool used by ancient Egyptians to remove BRAINS discovered in the skull of a 2,400 year old mummy- after it was LEFT INSIDE by bumbling embalmer (from 2012)


PUBLISHED: 08:44 EST, 16 December 2012 | UPDATED: 06:10 EST, 17 December 2012 (abridged)

A brain-removal tool used by ancient Egyptian embalmers was found wedged in the skull of a female mummy after embalmers left it there thousands of years ago.  The three-inch object was located in the body of a 40-year-old woman dating back 2,400 years, initially causing bafflement among researchers over what it was.  After carrying out CT scans, scientists found the instrument between the left parietal bone and the back of the skull, which had been filled with resin during the mummification.  The mistake made thousands of years ago has helped researchers to understand the ancient embalming process. (You can go to the website to see the nauseating details and pictures. IGP) The tool was made from plants in the group Monocotyledon, which includes forms of palm and bamboo, which may have been used instead of metal because it was cheaper.  The only other brain-removal stick found inside a mummy’s skull dates back 2,200 years and was made from a similar type of material.

The details emerged in a report recently published by Dr. Mislav Čavka’s team, of the University Hospital Dubrava in Zagreb Croatia, in the journal RSNA RadioGraphics (at . I haven’t looked at the report, nor do I plan to. IGP).  “It is known that mummification was widely practiced throughout ancient Egyptian civilization, but it was a time-consuming and costly practice.  Thus, not everyone could afford to perform the same mummification procedure,” the researchers wrote.


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Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

Why are we spending so much time on Joseph?  He’s not a patriarch.  He doesn’t emerge as the family’s leader; that’s Judah.  His sons do not become major players, nor do his descendants long term; they’re part of the 10 lost tribes conquered by Assyria and likely disappeared through assimilation.  I’m not saying his actions don’t matter.  Certainly, saving thousands who would otherwise have died of starvation is no small matter.  But that largely involved astute management, rather than anything touched by the divine.

Last week’s cliffhanger had Benjamin’s freedom apparently hanging by a thread after the silver divining goblet is found in his grain sack.  Now Judah pleads on his behalf so eloquently, with such sensitivity toward Jacob, that, when he offers to remain as a slave in Benjamin’s place, Joseph bursts into tears and reveals his identity.  He assures them (45:5), “Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” They are stunned. He sends them home with lots of gifts and instructions for them to bring the whole household down to Egypt to weather the remaining 5 years of famine.  Jacob almost has a coronary (וַיָּ֣פָג לִבּ֔וֹ, vayafag libo, his heart went numb, 45:26) and has to be convinced by the Lord in a dream that it’s OK to relocate to Egypt and that they will become a great nation there (sounds like more than 5 years’ residency).

And so, the whole family comes to Egypt, which, counting Joseph and his family already there, comes to 70 people (Chapter 46:8-27).  The newcomers live in Goshen under Joseph’s and Pharaoh’s protection. And they all live happily ever after…


Estrangement remains. The older brothers never got along with Joseph before, nor trusted him. He now has a massive amount of power, and he’s already shown his uncertainty about them through his “tests.” So why would anyone expect they’d have a comfortable, brotherly relationship now?  The brothers also ignore Joseph’s counsel to downplay the fact that they are shepherds, which are abhorrent to Egyptians.  Even Jacob doesn’t act properly respectful toward Pharaoh, kvetching about his miserable, short (130 years so far) life and abruptly walks out.  It is probably a relief to all that they’re living out in Goshen.

And what of Joseph? Do we get any clue here as to why his story is so prominent in the Torah?  Not really, at least not yet.  But we do learn more of his complexity as a person.  Every task he performs, he does outstandingly – as Jacob’s son, as Potiphar’s slave, in the prison, as the Viceroy of Egypt.  Not only does he save the region from starvation, but manages to make a big profit by nationalizing the Egyptians’ land and making them serfs (ironic foreshadowing here).

But something is missing.  I don’t think he ever really connects emotionally with people. There seems to be a wall between him and, well, everyone else.  Yes, he does feel and shows those feelings, especially by weeping.  He weeps when he identifies himself, but of his brothers, only Benjamin responds likewise.  He weeps when he meets Jacob, but it appears Jacob doesn’t.  But Joseph doesn’t appreciate others’ emotions.  That nearly got him killed by his brothers and may have played into his not letting Jacob know he was alive. And there’s a certain cold-bloodedness in how he makes a big profit from famine and gradually enslaves the Egyptians: first, bread for money, then bread for their livestock, finally bread for their land (plus 20%/year), except for the priests’ (the 1 percent?).

Next week: part 4 of the story and the end of the Book of Genesis.

Shabbat shalom,


Case of Mistaken Identity

A man standing in line at a checkout counter of a grocery store was surprised when a very attractive woman behind him said, “Hello!” Her face was beaming.

He gave her that “who are you look,” and couldn’t remember ever having seen her before. Then, noticing his look, she figured she had made a mistake and apologized.

“Look,” she said, “I’m really sorry but when I first saw you, I thought you were the father of one of my children,” and walked out of the store. The guy was dumbfounded and thought to himself, “What the hell is the world coming to? Here is an attractive woman who can’t keep track of who fathers her children!”

Then he got a little panicky. “I don’t remember her,” he thought but, MAYBE….during one of the wild parties he had been to when he was in college, perhaps he did father her child!

He ran from the store and caught her in the parking lot and asked, “Are you the girl I met at a party in college and then we got really drunk and had wild crazy sex on the pool table in front of everyone?”

“No”, she said with a horrified look on her face. “I’m your son’s second grade teacher!”


Took That Photo Opportunity

DECEMBER 4, 2016

My entire family has come from various parts of the county to a family reunion during the holidays. On a Saturday, we headed to a local museum and outdoor park for the day.

About midday, my niece, age six, is playing with our various children while the adults sit and talk. A few minutes later, she proudly comes to us and says that she has gotten the family reunion photo done.

We are confused and try to understand what is going on. We press her for more information, as we are worried that some stranger was taking photos of random six-year-old girls.

However, it turns out that, when she was out of our direct view, another family had been taking a professional family reunion photo and had accidentally included her in it, thinking she was a member of their families.

I have always imagined, somewhere in America, there is a set of grandparents and siblings trying to figure out which of their families this random, not actually related, six-year-old belongs to.


Cube Serfs

tph cube serfs


tph mad-classic-dysfunctional-family-thanksgiving-memories-and-if-uncle-clifford-50282475


Quotes about Weeping

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

If you’re embarrassed because you have some notion about how men are supposed to behave, and it doesn’t include weeping, then you have some personal work to do. Ray Bradbury

You know that you’ve healed an issue when you can talk about it and you’re not weeping, when you can speak to it and identify the lesson. You know that you’ve healed an issue when, having gone through that, has a benefit that you live today. Iyanla Vanzant

It’s still scary every time I go back to the past. Each morning, my heart catches. When I get there, I remember how the light was, where the draft was coming from, what odors were in the air. When I write, I get all the weeping out. Maya Angelou

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Miketz (Gen. 41:1-44:17), 6th day of Chanukah (Num. 7:42-47), Rosh Chodesh Tevet (Num. 28:9-15)

Three, count ‘em, THREE Torah readings this Shabbat!  Also Psalms 113-118, 104 and some changes/additions to the prayers. Why? Because the 6th day of Chanukah this year is both Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh Tevet (the first of two days marking the start of the month of Tevet).  The first scroll is for the regular weekly reading, Gen. 41:1-44:17. The second scroll is for the Shabbat Rosh Chodesh reading, Numbers 28:9-15 (sacrifices – surprise). And each day of Chanukah, we read about the sacrifices each day for the dedication of the Tabernacle, paralleling the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees; for the 6th day we’ll be reading Numbers 7:42-47 from a third scroll.  The special haftarah, Zechariah 2:14-4:7, includes the image of a menorah in a rebuilt and rededicated Temple, and also the famous verse, (4:6), “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the Lord of hosts.”

My husband and I just returned from a lovely visit with our daughter in California, and I am not yet totally un-jet-lagged.  I can manage to find suitable humor items.  However, the comments are cobbled together from 2014, 2016, and 2017.  I still like them and hope you will, too.

Part 2 of the Joseph story.  I remember, back when we had Bible reading in public schools, hearing my teacher read this story to the class over a period of several days, like an old-fashioned movie serial.  In the Torah, the story is similarly divvied up, though in bigger chunks.  And this week, we even get a genuine, old-fashioned cliffhanger.

Two years have passed.  Joseph is still in prison.  One night, Pharaoh has two vivid dreams.  In one, seven emaciated cows swallow seven fat ones yet remain emaciated.  In the other, seven ears of grain on one stalk, full and healthy, are swallowed up by seven withered ones on a second stalk, which remain withered.  No one can interpret the dreams.  The chief wine steward finally tells Pharaoh about Joseph, who is summarily shaved, dressed, and brought up from the dungeon.  He not only interprets the content of the dreams (7 good years followed by 7 of famine), but their urgency and what to do to minimize the damage (and, though not stated, make a lot of money for Egypt), including appointing a suitable overseer.  Pharaoh, impressed, makes Joseph viceroy and gives him an Egyptian name, Zaphenat-Paneah, and an Egyptian wife, by whom he has two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.

[By the way, I just learned that Egyptian Pharaohs took new names just as a new Pope does.  “Most Pharaohs are known to us by their birth names but the kings lists use their throne names. For example, Ramesses the Great’s birth name was Ra-messes Mery-Amun (“born of Re, beloved of Amun”), but the kings lists record his throne name User-Maat-Re Setep-en-Re (“the justice/truth of Re is powerful, Chosen by Re.”  (See By the time of the Middle Kingdom, they had four in addition to the birth name.]

So why doesn’t Joseph send news home after this 13-year, absence, both to let his father know he’s alive and to warn them of the famine?  Let’s just say that Joseph now realizes that he is part of a much larger story, one governed by the Lord, and he needs to let it play out.  So, he patiently waits.

Meanwhile, back in Canaan, Jacob, now over 100, is still firmly in charge, and it is clear he had made the right choice when he designated Joseph as future head of the family.  While Joseph is successfully managing the famine in Egypt, Jacob’s sons, rather pathetically, have to be told by their father to go there and buy grain.  All but Benjamin go.  Joseph, who has been expecting them, accuses them of being spies and takes Shimon hostage but also secretly returns their money.  He hears them speaking in Hebrew about how guilty they feel about Joseph, but to find out  if they have really changed, he contrives a test using Benjamin, kind of like a cat “testing” 10 mice.

When the grain is used up, they persuade Jacob to allow them to bring Benjamin with them to Egypt, with Judah guaranteeing his safety.  Now they are treated well, fed, and even seated in order of age.  Then Joseph secretly has his divining goblet is planted in Benjamin’s sack.  When it’s found, he offers to let them all go, except for Benjamin, who will be a slave.  What will the brothers do this time?  Tune in next week.

Back to Chanukah. Children’s version: 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, and they omitted the 4 books of Maccabees when the biblical canon was defined. “The classic rabbinic Hanukkah was an apolitical and demilitarized celebration of hope and trust in divine providence and protection, not priestly violence and national sovereignty” (Hanukkah and State: The Hasmonean Legacy by Richard Hidary).  

In modern times, Chanukah has been a minor holiday celebrating light in a time of darkness, with lighting candles, little gifts of gelt, eating fried foods, and gambling with a dreidel.  For the last several decades, while we were taught in Hebrew School that the holiday marked the first fight for religious freedom, we ironically used that freedom to inflate Chanukah into a commercial competitor of Christmas.  Now we can step back and recognize that Chanukah today symbolizes our modern tension between being part of the surrounding world while remaining genuinely Jewish, however one defines “genuinely.”  And that brings us back to Miketz.   Joseph, despite his Egyptian name, regalia, and wife, clearly never hides his origins nor becomes totally Egyptian.  But it wasn’t easy then, and it’s not easy in 21st century America.

I wish you Happy (secular) New Year as well as Happy rest-of-Chanukah and, of course, Shabbat shalom,


In case you were wondering, here is REALLY how to spell the name of the holiday:

tph chanukah1 spelling


Quotes about Dreams

Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake? Leonardo da Vinci
The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. Sigmund Freud

It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else. Erma Bombeck
The dreamer can know no truth, not even about his dream, except by awaking out of it. George Santayana
We are near waking when we dream we are dreaming. Novalis
I don’t use drugs, my dreams are frightening enough. M. C. Escher


tph Alexa light the menorah



Cow Jokes

  • My cow just wandered into a field of marijuana. The steaks have never been so high…
  • Why do cows have hooves instead of feet? – Because they lactose.
  • Why does a milking stool only have 3 legs? – Because the cow has the udder.
  • Why did the cow cross the road? To get to the udder side.


Corn Jokes

  • Why shouldn’t you tell a secret in a corn field? Because they are full of ears! Now that was a corny joke. And yes, it was rather a-maize-ing
  • How much does a pirate pay for corn? A buccaneer!
  • I just stepped on a corn flake. I’m officially a cereal killer.
  • What happens when you see corn looking at you in your window? A corn stalk!!


tph santa mankoff-6
(Paul Noth/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank)


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Vayeishev (Gen. 37:1-40:23), Chanukah

Joseph: extremely gifted and extremely alone.   A brilliant outsider.

Vayeishev is the first of four Torah portions that relate the Joseph story and bring us to the end of the book of Genesis.  My opinions of Joseph have varied a lot over the years, no doubt influenced by my own life at the time.  I have seen him as a sheltered, naïve, gifted but clueless boy; a spoiled, self-centered teenager and tattletale; a resilient survivor who always, eventually, comes out on top; and an ambitious, manipulative manager.  Then, last year, another image emerged for me: “someone who is both hailed as truly outstanding and perennially outside the society that lauds him.”

First, let’s review this well-known story.  It begins about 9 years after Rachel’s death. Jacob anticipates a peaceful life in Canaan, then undermines that possibility by making it painfully clear that Joseph, though the 11th born son, is by far his favorite.  Not only is Joseph the son of his beloved Rachel, but he is a handsome and very capable young man.  Jacob grooms him for family leadership, giving him some supervisory duties over the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah and awarding him a fancy coat, a ketonet passim (multicolored? full length with long sleeves? embroidered?). 

Then Joseph begins to have dreams that indicate he will indeed rule over the family: the sun, moon and stars bow to him in one dream, sheaves of wheat in another. Obviously, he can’t control what he dreams, and Jacob sees them as vindication of his favoritism, but why did he have to tell his brothers?  Clearly, neither he nor Jacob recognize the intensity of the older brothers’ pent up, murderous fury.  When Joseph is sent out to them alone, they rip off his coat and throw him into a pit. Reuben botches an attempt at rescue. Judah suggests that they sell Joseph instead of killing him. After they sell him, they show Jacob the torn coat, dipped in goat’s blood, leading Jacob to conclude Joseph was killed by wild beasts.

[Interwoven with the Joseph saga are tales of Judah, because will become the real leader of the family and the ancestor of King David.  Here, Tamar is the widow of Judah’s eldest son, Er, and of the second son, Onan, who died after failing in his levirate duty.  Judah really doesn’t want his third son to marry Tamar, so she tricks Judah into impregnating her, thus fulfilling the levirate duty.]

Joseph is probably sold more than once. In Egypt, he is sold to a courtier named Potiphar.  Once more, Joseph distinguishes himself and is given more responsibility.  However, Potiphar’s wife keeps trying and failing to seduce him (whence the use of a shalshelet, a cantillation mark signifying hesitation). Her false accusation of rape lands him in prison. 

No surprise, even in prison, he stands out and is even. put in charge of other prisoners (40:22-23).  He interprets the dreams of the imprisoned the royal baker and royal wine steward as foretelling mean that the baker will hang, and the wine steward will be restored to his position.  Joseph asks the wine steward to speak up on his behalf, but the steward “forgets” him.

Wherever he goes, Joseph stands out as someone exceptionally capable. But that brings both reward and isolation. Jacob’s favoritism is rewarding at first but almost fatally estranges him from his brothers.  His work for Potiphar is outstanding, but in addition to being sexually harassed, he is resented as an outsider, a Hebrew slave (39:14).  In prison, he again shines, but the young Hebrew slave is forgotten by a possible benefactor. 

We’ll see how this pattern continues through his life: always outstanding, always outside. Next week, we’ll see how his skill at dream interpretation not only frees him from prison, but gives him a chance to save Egypt and surrounding countries from starvation.

Chanukah starts Sunday night.  It marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, after the Jews, led by the Hasmonean family, defeated the Syrian Greeks (Seleucid Empire), which had been forcing the Jews to adopt Greek ways in place of their own.  It lasts 8 days, probably as a late celebration of Sukkot.  The oil “miracle” is a nice story made up because the rabbis really didn’t want to celebrate a military win, especially since the Hasmonean dynasty didn’t work out well.  But that’s we eat fried foods like potato latkes and jelly doughnuts (sufganiot). More on Chanukah next time.

Shabbat shalom and Chanukah sameach (happy),


Quotes about Outsiders

In Hollywood, they think they know it all. You, as a writer, are essentially an outsider. Novelists and short-story writers, especially. Ray Bradbury

When I felt like an outsider, movies made me feel inside my own skill set. Steven Spielberg

I’m in nobody’s circle, I’ve always been an outsider. Joan Rivers

I have always been a left-winger and an outsider. I loved being that. I was perfectly cheerful with that role. Then suddenly, you’re one of the talking heads on ‘Nightline,’ and you think you must have sold out. Molly Ivins

It really helps a comedian to be an outsider. John Oliver

tph joseph's closet

————————    [from 2015]

21 Things Every Youngest Child Will Understand (selected)

For everyone who always had to sit in the middle in the backseat. [IGP comments are in brackets.  Full disclosure: I am the youngest of 4 children.]

1 Your parents often called you by the wrong name… [Actually, my mother often called all of us, including her husband, by the wrong name.]

3 You had no baby book or pictures of just you. [When I was about 7, I started filling in my largely blank baby book myself.]

9 You were always last to know any piece of family business. [THIS IS STILL TRUE!]

11 Your parents stopped paying someone to babysit you. [I don’t think my parents ever did.]

15 Your siblings insisted you were spoiled! [So did my mother.]

16 But you were the one wearing hand-me-downs. [Oh, yes.  Mrs. Mullen made us matching holiday clothes, so it was probably 10 years before I finished growing out of all of them.]

19 Everyone treated you like a baby for a long time. [Still do!!]

20 You were always performing to earn your keep. [Yup.]

21 And you did! And you loved it! [Oh, yes!!  Still do!]


Jokes about Dreams

Never give up on you dreams
Keep sleeping

My girl keeps having disturbed dreams, shouting things like “Hobbit!”, “Gandalf!”, and “Mordor!”.
Always Tolkien in her sleep…

My wife told me her dreams were in vivid, but weird colors.
I told her it was just a pigment of her imagination.


tph dizzy dreidel



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Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)

This week, Jacob learns what happens when you try to go home again.

I grew up in West Philadelphia.  Although we moved out in 1970, that is still in my memory as “home.”  My husband worked at Mercy Philadelphia Hospital (formerly Misericordia, or, as we kids called it, “Miserable-cordia”) at 54th & Larchwood for about 8 years and often drove past the house at 57th & Thomas.   A party at the hospital on the occasion of his retirement about 1 ½ years ago led me through “the old neighborhood,” prompting the following thoughts (FB post 7/26/18, shortened).


I’d seen the old house once a few years ago, after it had become a (very small) church, the Church of the Living God & Healing Center (I guess my father’s office is now the Healing Center). But this time I looked around a little more.

Our house-now-church has had some features removed but looks in decent shape. The building catty-corner to it, though, could be used in a haunted house movie, with huge areas of paint curling and fallen off). I think it was a nursing home and then a drug halfway house. Most of the sycamore trees in the neighborhood were gone. The greenery in nearby Cobbs Creek Park looked wildly overgrown all along the parkway. There is still a playground there, now with bright plastic playground equipment.

Overall, everything – houses, streets – seemed smaller, less populated, dingier, more abandoned.  And a lot of the area I drove through just didn’t look at all familiar, even the areas I walked or rode a bus through pretty much daily as a child and that hadn’t changed much physically  I know you can’t go home again. I just wish…I don’t what I wish.


Jacob took 2 years to go home from Haran to Isaac’s home in Canaan.  It doesn’t sound like he was in a rush to get there, though I realize a caravan with such a large household would have to move slowly.  And there are important matters he needs to deal with before he gets there. 

First of these is reaching an accord with Esau, who, he learns, is coming toward him with 400 armed men.  Jacob prudently divides the household into two camps, reminds the Lord of the promise of a good future and many descendants, and diplomatically sends Esau a large tribute of livestock. At night, alone, he wrestles with “a man” (32:25), until dawn, realizes it’s an angel, demands a blessing, and is told he will have a new , no longer Jacob (the supplanter) but Israel (one who strived with the Divine and prevailed).  There’s a whole lot of rich commentary on this wrestling; see, e.g., the references I cited hereWhat I find most compelling is that Jacob must wrestle for the blessing, not get it by guile or with the help of anyone else.

Esau’s meeting with Jacob goes almost too smoothly, starting with Esau’s kiss, which is marked with dots over the letters in the text (suspicious rabbis).  Jacob bows, flatters, calls him “my lord” and presents the family. Esau offers to accompany them.  Jacob, prudently nervous, offers to meet up later (they don’t).   But this meeting allows us to see that their personalities haven’t really changed.  Regarding Jacob’s gifts, Esau says (33:9), “yesh li rav” (I have much). Jacob says (33:11) “yesh li chol” (I have all).   Esau is still restless and discontented. Jacob, who has everything he wants and will soon be settled. He thinks.  

The family settles in Canaan, in Shechem for now, and we learn a bit about some of the offspring.  It’s not pretty.  Dinah is raped (or seduced?) by a local prince who then wants to marry her.  Her brothers Shimon and Levi insist he and all the local men be circumcised and then massacre them during their convalescence and plunder the city. 

After that, God sends Jacob on to Beth El.  There, he rededicates the altar there and his name is confirmed as Israel. Then they continue their journey. On the road to Bethlehem, Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin. Some time after that, Reuben is caught lying with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid and Jacob’s concubine/wife, to Jacob’s disgust.

Finally, they come home to Isaac in Mamre, Kiriath-arba (Hebron).  Rebecca has apparently died and is not even mentioned.  When Isaac dies at 180, Jacob and Esau bury him, as Ishmael and Isaac had buried Abraham.  Esau has settled on Mount Seir, far enough from Jacob. The portion concludes with a list of Esau’s descendants and he leaves the story.

There is a symmetry to Jacob’s life, presented in the text in a form known as a known as a chiastic structure, having the general form A B C D E … E’ D’ C’ B’ A’, which I’ve noted here before.  The brothers’ strife over Isaac’s blessing is paralleled by their reuniting to bury him. Leaving, Jacob is penniless and alone, stops at Beth El, and dreams of angels. Returning, he dreams of/wrestles with an angelic being, returns to Beth El, and arrives with a large, wealthy household.  The parallel incidents are not identical.  The later ones derive from the what occurs during the middle 20 years, like literary karma.

Some people relocate often quickly establish a sense of home wherever they are.  Some stay in one place but also never feel at home. They can’t prevent “home” from changing around them.  Next week, we’ll read about what happens to Jacob’s family at home in Canaan.

Shabbat shalom,


A Jewish mother walks her son to the school bus corner on his first day of kindergarten. “Behave, my Bubaleh” she says. “Take good care of yourself and think about your mother, Tataleh! And come right back home on the bus, Schein Kindaleh. Your Mommy loves you a lot, my Ketsaleh, my angel!”

At the end of the school day the bus comes back and she runs to her son and hugs him. “So what did my adorable beauty learn on his first day of school?”

The boy answers, “I learned my name is David.”

Posted by Rabbi Avi Rapoport at 7:20 PM



Diplomats don’t have to understand something to tell you about it.
A diplomat is a person that’s being run out of town, but makes it look like he’s leading a parade.
Robert Frost–A diplomat always remembers your birthday, but never remembers your age.
Isaac Goldberg–Diplomacy is to do & say the nastiest things in the nicest way.
Oliver Herford–Diplomacy is lying in state.
Henry Wotton (English diplomat and poet 1568-1639)–An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.


From 2011. When my daughter was about ten, she was grumbling at the dinner table about how some of her classmates were “sucking up” to their teacher, and remarked how I didn’t have to deal with that at work (as a grown-up).  After I stopped laughing and choking on my food,  I said that, “sucking up” very much exists in the workplace, and in fact there was this woman who’d come into Human Resources who was doing very well because she was the master at sucking up to the managers.  then I came back to earth and we talked about school.

Not long after, Roz had lunch at work with me.  My co-workers and I were saying how impressed we were with a woman whom we’d heard give a talk recently, and how rapidly she was rising through the ranks.   At which Roz piped up innocently, “Did she suck up?”  I tried to cover my tracks by saying, “Uh, I think she’s just very good at her work.”  [By the way, neither of my children has any desire whatsoever for a career in a corporation.  Wonder why.]


In 1997, Anita Diamant published The Red Tent, a novel in which she tells Dinah’s story from Dinah’s point of view, couched in a vivid description of her imagined life as a woman in ancient Canaan.  While I found only parts of it intriguing, I recognize its importance in opening a whole lot of people to the idea of Midrash, filling in the gaps left in the biblical text.  [Similarly, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had a big impact on people’s opinions about slavery but was in no way a literary masterpiece.] A 2-night movie aired on Lifetime in 2014.  There is a pretend interview with Dinah at  You also might find this amusing: “159 Thoughts We Had While Watching ‘The Red Tent’. We Watched It So You Don’t Have To.” 


From 2007. Awakened man wrestles leopard out of his bed

Only in Israel can a man be sleeping in his bed with his family, have a wild leopard jump through the window and into bed with them, wake up, wrestle, and pin it to the ground all while in his underwear.

(Originally posted on

JERUSALEM (AP) — A man clad only in underwear and a T-shirt wrestled a wild leopard to the floor and pinned it for 20 minutes after the cat leapt through a window of his home and hopped into bed with his sleeping family.

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day,” said 49-year-old Arthur Du Mosch, a nature guide. “I don’t know why I did it. I wasn’t thinking, I just acted.”

Raviv Shapira, who heads the southern district of the Israel Nature and Parks Protection Authority, said a half dozen leopards have been spotted recently near Du Mosch’s small community of Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev desert in southern Israel, although they rarely threaten humans.

Shapira said it was probably food that lured the big cat. Leopards living near humans are usually too old to hunt in the wild and resort to chasing down domestic dogs and cats for food, he added.

Du Mosch’s pet cat was in the bed with him at the time, along with his young daughter who had been frightened by a mosquito in her own room.

Shapira said the leopard was very weak when park rangers arrived at Du Mosch’s home after the surprise late-night visit. He said nature officials would likely release it back into the wild.

Du Mosch said he probably would not have been able to control the big cat were it in better health. As a nature guide, he said, he was familiar with animals and did his best to hold down the leopard without harming it. He said he took it all in stride, “but the kids were excited.” [2019. His daughter was frightened by a mosquito but just excited about a leopard?!]


Quotes about Home

“Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there any more.” – Robin Hobb

“Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.” – Pierce Brown

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” – George A. Moore

“You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.” – James Baldwin

“There’s no place like home. And I do miss my home.” – Malala Yousafzai


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