Chukkat-Balak (Numbers 19:1 – 25:9)

A double portion. Chukkat: purity, death, water, 38 years in 87 verses. Balak: a worried king, a puffed-up sorcerer, a talking ass (literally), and a nasty ending.

Comments are based on 2016-Chukkat and 2017-Balak.

Chukkat starts with the laws of the red heifer, parah adumah, for ritual purification after contact with a corpse.  An unblemished, completely red-haired, unworked heifer is sacrificed and burned to ashes outside the camp, along with cedar, wood, hyssop, and tola’at shani (red bug or worm, a red dye source). The ashes are kept outside the camp. A mixture of water and ashes is sprinkled on the person who needs to be purified.  This is an example of a chok (long o), a command that has no rational explanation.  Naturally, commentators have tried to explain it anyway.  For example, Rabbi David Stav writes, “Why ashes?  Why a cow?  And why did it need to be red?… An explanation is offered in another Midrash: ‘Why the red heifer?  To atone for the sin that was done with the golden calf.  …All sins are red, so the heifer must be red.  And when ashes of the heifer are burnt, they turn white, as it is said: ‘if your sins are red as scarlet, they will become white as snow’… (Yishayahu / Isaiah 1:18).”

According to Rashi, everything from Chapter 20 onwards takes place in the 40th year in the wilderness,  so we have a gap of over 38 years with nothing worth writing about.  We’ll read a travelogue of those years in a few weeks.  For now, it’s mainly sealing fates and segueing from the slave generation to the free one.

Water, always important in the wilderness, figures at several critical points. Miriam dies, and the people complain there’s no water (leading commentators to posit a miraculous well that followed the Israelites until her death).  And the Israelites start whining that they should have died like their brethren:  “Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!”(20:4-5)   Instead of happily anticipating the bounty of the Promised Land, they (the remaining ex-slaves) realize they will never experience it; they will eat nothing but manna until they drop dead in the wilderness (which will be soon if they don’t find water).  Really, do you blame them?

Moses is told by the Lord to speak to a rock to get water, but instead he loses his temper and strikes it, saying, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?”  The people get their water, but Moses and Aaron are refused entry into the Promised Land. Such a harsh punishment has had the commentators scratching their heads ever since.  Basically, the miracle would have been a lot more impressive if Moses had just spoken to the rock.  Also, Moses implied that he and Aaron were responsible for it (“shall we get’).  And the brothers were part of the condemned generation and a little old (123 and 120) to lead a military conquest of the Promised Land.

Then Edom refuses passage across their land, even if the Israelites pay for their water.  Aaron dies and his son Elazar becomes High Priest.  The people complain about the lack of water and the omnipresence of manna, are attacked by serpents (a change from plagues), repent, and are saved by a copper serpent made by Moses.  They sing their gratitude for the well of water now following them.  They win battles against local chieftains Sihon and Og.  Finally, the Israelites are encamped in the plains of Moab, on the bank of the Jordan River opposite Jericho.  The end of their journey is in sight.  Despair is replaced by hope.

Parashat Balak is one of a handful  of Torah portions named for a non-Israelite, and its featured character is another non-Israelite.  The Israelites do not appear until the last nine verses, (spoiler alert) which relate an episode of apostasy and bloody retribution (to be continued next week).  The style of the story varies from slapstick to poetry.  In fact R’ David Frankel, in The Prehistory of the Balaam Story, posits it is actually a composite of at least two earlier stories, one about Balak and the other about Bil’am (That’s the modern Hebrew pronunciation.  My scholarly brother told me that “Balaam” is probably closer to the ancient Hebrew.).  Commentators have also identified three different “Bil’ams” in the text: a genuine, if limited, prophet who is basically a good guy; a conceited buffoon; and a treacherous villain.

The story:  Balak, king of Moab, is alarmed at news of the military successes of the Israelites. He decides to hire Bil’am ben Beor, a reputed prophet/sorcerer, to curse the Israelites.  Bil’am actually does have some connection to the Lord, which he exploits for material, rather than spiritual, advantage.  Bil’am dutifully asks the Lord about the proposed undertaking and is told it’s useless: the Israelites are blessed by the Lord.  Nevertheless, enticed by flattery and the promise of riches, Bil’am really wants to go.  He seems to receive contradictory divine responses (not really – it’s a question of his being given the chance to choose correctly and of the difference between actually joining Balak’s men and just physically accompanying them), assumes it’s OK, and enthusiastically sets out.

Annoyed, the Lord sends a fiery, sword-wielding angel to block his path.  Only his female donkey can see the angel, and she refuses to move forward. He beats her three times, until the poor thing turns around and complains.  Yes, by talking.  Now he can see and listen to the angel.  [This story invariably leads to cutesy wordplay by modern commentators, like What Can a Donkey Teach a Jackass? (Robert L. Deffinbaugh ), Is the Ass a Prophet or is the Prophet an Ass? (Carol Ochs), and Bil’am as a prophet made a fool by an ass (R’ Joel Alter).]

Anyhow, every time Bil’am tries to curse the Israelite camp, he blesses them instead.  In dismay, Balak moves him around so he can see the camp from a different perspective, as if that would help.  It doesn’t.  Words from of one of the blessings have even become part of our liturgy, “Mah tovu ohalekha Ya’akov…,” “How good are your tents, Jacob..,” 24:5. The third time Bil’am speaks, he is actually, genuinely, divinely inspired, not just speaking words put into his mouth by the Lord.  However, he soon descends from these spiritual heights to instigate a plan to destroy the Israelites internally, which we’ll review next week.

The whole thing feels force fit into the Torah.  In Fear, Truth and a Donkey, R’ Joel Alter writes, “What is this slapstick figure doing here in the Torah?” Fear and truth drive the story.  Truth is what Balak and Bil’am try to deny: “What’s going on in the story of Balak and Bilam is a doomed attempt to change what is, and will remain, true.”

What R’ Jan Uhrbach writes in Dreaming of Being Balaam is probably the most imaginative take, if difficult to swallow: “… perhaps the story is instead a dream Moses dreams. … It is not a stretch to imagine Moses plagued with doubts about his legacy, his authenticity, and his character… Or perhaps Moses identifies even more closely with the donkey.” [Yes, I remember that season of Dallas that was subsequently erased by declaring it to have been a dream.]

Finally, JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen (Penn, 1973), in A People Dwelling Apart, focuses on how Bil’am describes Israel as a people dwelling apart (or alone) (23:8-9).  This has been a key issue throughout the history of the Jewish people.  To what degree do we stay apart?  How do we balance an inward versus outward focus? Eisen writes:

“Parashat Balak gives expression to the fact that the balance is often hard to strike. But Torah—our covenant with God and one another—impels Jews to care about and cooperate with others, even as it mandates that we preserve our differences and, to some degree, our distance.”

Shabbat shalom, Happy Independence Day, and stay well,


tph donkey talked


Red Hair

Just a sampling of what’s at this site:

Red hair (or ginger hair) occurs naturally in one to two percent of the human population

The term redhead has been in use since at least 1510.[3]

Several accounts by Greek writers mention redheaded people. A fragment by the poet Xenophanes describes the Thracians as blue-eyed and red-haired.[32]

A DNA study has concluded that some Neanderthals also had red hair, although the mutation responsible for this differs from that which causes red hair in modern humans.[46]

Red hair is caused by a relatively rare recessive allele (variant of a gene), the expression of which can skip generations. It is not likely to disappear at any time in the foreseeable future.[48]

Since 2014, a red-hair event is held in Israel, at Kibbutz Gezer (Carrot), held for the local Israeli red hair community,[110] including both Ashkenazi and Mizrahi red-heads.[111]


Quotes about Water

A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. Eleanor Roosevelt

When a child is locked in the bathroom with water running and he says he’s doing nothing but the dog is barking, call 911. Erma Bombeck

Soap and water and common sense are the best disinfectants. William Osler

My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water. Mark Twain

When the well is dry, they know the worth of water. Benjamin Franklin

tph Jew_in_Exodus_allergic_to_MANNA._


Tent Jokes

It’s just coming into winter where I live, so I pitched a tent and put a disco ball inside.
Because now is the winter of my disco tent.

I was on a camping trip when the coronavirus outbreak was announced. To try to stop the spread, we stayed in our tents all day. I guess you could say,
the camping trip was in tents.

Did you know you can’t run through a campground?
You can only ran… ’cause it’s past tents.

I was out camping one night just laying down in my sleeping bag and looking up at the stars wondering….
Where the hell is my tent?

I lost 25% of my tent.
But it’s okay, now I have ten.


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Korach (Numbers 16:1 – 18:32)

What happens when winning is the goal, and truth doesn’t matter?

Demagogue: NOUN (
1 A political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.

‘a gifted demagogue with particular skill in manipulating the press’

The Israelites have been condemned to spend a total of 40 years wandering in the wilderness. They have about 38 ½ to go. Stunned, they question the leadership of Moses and Aaron.  But who could replace them?

Some candidates quickly come forward, taking advantage of the incipient power vacuum, and hoping to deal with their own grievances. The leader is Korach, a Levite who is jealous of his cousins Moses and Aaron.  A couple of Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, are aggrieved at their tribe’s, thus their own, loss of status; Reuben was after all Jacob’s first-born. [A third Reubenite, On ben Pelet, is mentioned but then disappears. A midrash has it that his sensible wife prevented his joining the rebellion.] Joining them are 250 Israelites, respected leaders among the tribes. They accuse Moses and Aaron of having gone too far in setting themselves above the people, since the entire community is holy. This is a deliberate distortion of reality. They aren’t yet holy and only will become so by keeping the covenant (Exodus 19:5-6).

Speaking specifically to Korach and the Levites, Moses retorts that the Levites have gone too far, and that they should recognize how special their own assigned service is. He tells them to offer incense in their firepans the next day, and so the Lord will show them who is holy. Why the next day? Perhaps Moses wants to give them a chance to repent and back off. (Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 5).

Dathan and Abiram won’t even deign to come talk to Moses’s summons. In fact, they accuse Moses of taking them from a land flowing with milk and honey to die in the wilderness.

Again, the Lord is set to destroy the whole people and Moses and Aaron talk the Lord out of it. 

At the test the following day, Moses tells the people, “if these men die as all men do, if their lot be the common fate of all mankind, it was not the Lord who sent me.  But if the Lord brings about something unheard-of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, you shall know that these men have spurned the Lord” (16:29-30).  The earth immediately opens up, swallowing Korach and his people, except for the 250 offering incense, who are consumed by divine fire.

But this miracle does not end the argument. The people blame Moses and Aaron for the deaths.  

The Lord sends a plague to destroy the people.  14,700 die until Aaron stops the plague by taking an incense-containing firepan and standing between the living and the dead (reminds me of our health care providers and epidemiologists versus COVID-19). Aaron’s authority is settled when his staff sprouts, blossoms, and produces almonds.  The rest of the portion concerns tithes and perks for the Kohanim and Levites, and the Israelites settle down.

What makes these latest rebellions different?  Previous arguments concerned immediate, concrete needs, like escaping Pharaoh’s army, food, and water.  This is about power and authority.  The rebels’ behavior is basic demagoguery; see, e.g., Michael Signer,  Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies (Macmillan. 2009. ISBN 0230606245. pp. 35–6).  Korach presents himself as just one of the people and relates to them on a simplistic, visceral level. He and his fellow travelers rail against the authority of Moses and Aaron in order to subvert the system and put themselves in charge. But, since the authority of Moses and Aaron comes directly from the Lord, rejecting their authority is tantamount to rejecting the Lord’s authority.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote last year that the Sages distinguished between argument for the sake of truth and argument for the sake of victory.  The rebels implied, “there should be no distinction of rank, no hierarchy of holiness, within Israel.” But that wasn’t true. They wanted to be the leaders.  Winning was the goal, not truth.  Had Korach and company won, the people would have been doomed, because that authority would have been illegitimate.

However, there are real issues to address. In this year’s d’var on Korach, Rabbi Sacks wrote, “if you want to understand resentments, listen to what people accuse others of, and you will then know what they themselves want. … What the rebels wanted was what they attributed to Moses and Aaron… They wanted to “set themselves above” the Lord’s assembly and “lord it over” the people. They wanted power.  What then do you do when you seek not truth but power? You attack not the message but the messenger. You attempt to destroy the standing and credibility of those you oppose…

“There was not the slightest attempt to set out the real issues: a leadership structure that left simmering discontent among the Levites, Reubenites and other tribal chiefs; a generation that had lost all hope of reaching the promised land; and whatever else was troubling the people. There were real problems, but the rebels were not interested in truth. They wanted power…When you are arguing for the sake of power, truth doesn’t come into it at all.”

But, in the end, the rebels lose and legitimate authority is re-established. Aaron’s sprouting staff “was a multifaceted symbol of life, light, holiness, and the watchful presence of God.  One could almost say that the almond branch symbolised the priestly will to life as against the rebels’ will to power.”

Shabbat shalom and zei gezunt (be well),


Quotes about Demagoguery

Where you don’t have people who have strong intellectual capacity, you get demagoguery. Hamza Yusuf

There is a line in which populism can cross over into demagoguery. Demagoguery is the crossover where populism becomes a bad thing, and people make things up, and they assign responsibilities that aren’t fair and justified, and scapegoat communities. And then it becomes a very bad thing. Lloyd Blankfein

We have demagogues on all sides of the political spectrum. It’s not helpful. It’s destructive. It’s harmful. So, I don’t like demagoguery whether it comes from the left, it comes from the right. Ron Johnson

If a novelist had concocted a villain like Trump – a larger-than-life, over-the-top avatar of narcissism, mendacity, ignorance, prejudice, boorishness, demagoguery, and tyrannical impulses, she or he would likely be accused of extreme contrivance and implausibility. Michiko Kakutani

Rebel Jokes

·        What do you call it when someone rebels against their diabetes treatment?

·        What do you call your kid who doesn’t believe in Santa?
A rebel without a Claus.

·        What did Julius Caesar say when the French tribesmen rebelled against him?
I can’t believe you had the Gaul to do this. You’re driving me in-Seine. I can’t handle this Rhine now.

·        What’s a rebel’s favorite key on a keyboard?
An R key.

·        Did you hear what happened to the ship that transported live goats?
The goats rebelled and had a muttony.


tph anger mgmt


The Torah in Haiku



Toddler Power Struggle



Did you hear about the Pigeon rebellion?

Yeah, it was a “coo” d’état.


Earthquake myths were cultural standards – a way for ancient people to understand the powerful natural events, according to the Center for Earthquake Research and Information in Memphis. Here are stories that various societies used to explain the shifting earth, as reported on the CERI Web site at

(Selected) Ancient Myths

Greece Thales of Miletos (6th century BC) believed an agitation of the great sea, on which the earth floats, produced earthquakes.

Mexican Vaqueros, California El Diablo, an Indian god, made a giant rip in the ground so that he and his cohorts did not have to take the long way around when they wanted to stir up mischief on Earth.

Gabrielino Indians, Southern California  Long ago, Great Spirit made a beautiful land that turtles carried on their backs in lakes and rivers. One day the turtles began to argue. Three swam east; the other three swam west. The earth shook and cracked. The turtles could not swim far, because their load was heavy. So they made up. But once in a while, the turtles argue again. Each time, the earth shakes.

Hindus of India They believed that eight mighty elephants held up the land. When one of them grew weary, it lowered and shook its head, causing an earthquake.

Mongolia, China A gigantic frog which carried the world on its back twitched periodically, producing slight quakes.

Peru Whenever a god visited the earth to count how many people were there, his footsteps caused earthquakes. To shorten his task, the people ran out of their houses to shout ‘I’m here, I’m here!’ (incorporating in their myth, the wisdom of leaving flimsy houses during an earthquake).

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Shelach (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41)

How about a nice, uplifting Torah reading? Sorry, not this week.

By the end of our previous Torah portion, everyone had become seriously cranky: Israelites, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, the Lord.  While everyone is now behaving, the underlying issues haven’t been dealt with.  Apparently, neither Moses nor the Lord is expert in human psychology, especially not the Lord.  “What’s wrong with these people?” they must have thought. “They are no longer slaves, they’ve witnessed miracles, been given the Ten Commandments and built a splendid Tabernacle. And now they’re almost at the Promised Land! They should be rejoicing and bubbling with anticipation!”  But they weren’t.

Our reading starts with a command to Moses to send 12 men, leaders of their tribes, to spy out the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:17-20):

“When Moses sent them to scout the land of Canaan, he said to them, ‘Go up there into the Negeb and on into the hill country, and see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land.’—Now it happened to be the season of the first ripe grapes.”

Why? Whose idea was this? Here, it seems to be a suggestion by the Lord, agreed to by Moses.  But look at Moses’ account in Deuteronomy 1:21-23:

“‘See, the LORD your God has placed the land at your disposal. Go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. Fear not and be not dismayed.’ Then all of you came to me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead to reconnoiter the land for us and bring back word on the route we shall follow and the cities we shall come to.’ I approved of the plan, and so I selected twelve of your men, one from each tribe.”

Both descriptions seem reasonable, but motivations are clearly different. In Deuteronomy, it is the people’s idea; they are just asking for a practical roadmap. In Numbers, Moses carefully describes exactly what descriptive information the 12 men are to obtain.  Since the people have already been regaled with tales of a land flowing with milk and honey, it appears this exercise is meant to reassure the people with reports from their own leaders. This is a red flag, because it means they still don’t completely trust Moses and the Lord.  In fact, Rashi says they are being set up to fail. The Lord, ticked off that the people want more evidence, decides to “give them now an opportunity to fall into error through the statements of the spies, so that they should not come into possession of it (the land).”

So, the tribal leaders dutifully scout out the land for 40 days and return bearing luscious fruit, including that iconic grape cluster carried by two men. They report, publicly. The good news: yes, it’s as fertile as described.  The bad news: we can’t possibly conquer it, the inhabitants are giants, and we are like grasshoppers in comparison.  Joshua and Caleb vehemently disagree, but they are young and taken less seriously than the others.

Chaos ensues.  Some want to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt. The Lord, now totally fed up, wants to destroy them all and start over with Moses.  Moses points out the really bad PR this would generate in the surrounding nations and pleads for forgiveness for the people.  The Lord relents but kills the 10 negative spies and condemns the Israelites to wander a total of 40 years in the wilderness, until all the adults, except for Joshua and Caleb, have died.  The people mourn.  Some admit they were wrong and try to invade Canaan, but, without the Lord’s support, it’s hopeless.  The underlying self-doubt of these ex-slaves has destroyed their future.

After such an awful turn of events, the narrative pauses. We read a section of laws concerning sacrifices to be offered when the Children of Israel settle in the Land. When, not if.  A man is then stoned to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Finally, we read what became the third paragraph of the Shema in our liturgy, Numbers 15:37-41, all about the ritual fringes, tzitzit, which were to be attached to the corners of four-cornered garments.    

The haftarah, Joshua 2:1-24, shows that Joshua learned from this incident how not to spy before an invasion. His plan is private, not public. It involves two nameless, quietly capable men instead of  12 chieftains. Joshua has no need to micromanage; he just tells the two to observe the Land and Jericho, implying this is to prepare for military action.  And what the men report focuses not on fortifications but psychology. Now the Canaanites are the ones who feel like grasshoppers, and “all the inhabitants of the Land have melted before us.”

Next week: mutiny.

Shabbat shalom,


tph arriving in 40 years


Soviet and Russian Jokes

  • In a prison, two inmates are comparing notes. “What did they arrest you for?” asks the first. “Was it a political or common crime?” “Of course it was political. I’m a plumber. They summoned me to the district Party committee to fix the sewage pipes. I looked and said, ‘Hey, the entire system needs to be replaced.’ So they gave me seven years.”
  • A frightened man came to the KGB. “My talking parrot has disappeared.” “That’s not the kind of case we handle. Go to the criminal police.” ‘Excuse me, of course I know that I must go to them. I am here just to tell you officially that I disagree with the parrot.”
  • An English athlete, a French athlete and a Russian athlete are all on the medal podium at the 1976 Summer Olympicschatting before the medal ceremony. “Don’t get me wrong” says the Englishman, “winning a medal is very nice, but I still feel the greatest pleasure in life is getting home after a long day, putting one’s feet up and having a nice cup of tea”. “You Englishman” snorts the Frenchman, “you have no sense of romance. The greatest pleasure in life is going on holiday without your wife, and meeting a beautiful girl with whom you have a passionate love affair with before returning home back to work”. “You are both wrong” scoffs the Russian. “The greatest pleasure in life is when you are sleeping at home and the KGB breaks your door down at 3 AM, bursts into your room and says ‘Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest’ and you can reply ‘Sorry comrade, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door'”.


Quotes about Self-doubt

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Sylvia Plath

The worst thing about that kind of prejudice… is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds you self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough. Nina Simone

Ironically, parenting is a shame and judgment minefield precisely because most of us are wading through uncertainty and self-doubt when it comes to raising our children. Brene Brown

Fame is hollow. It amplifies what is there. If there is any self-doubt, or hatred, or lack of ability to connect with people, fame will magnify it. Alanis Morissette

As far as I can tell, most actors’ main motivation is self-doubt and neuroses. Daniel Radcliffe

You never know what they’re going to come up with next.

Magen Tzitzit – Fringe Guard Laundry Protector  $11.99


This revolutionary gadget has solved the problem of washing Tzitzit in the laundry. You can safely put your Tallit Katan in the washing machine with the tzitzit from four corners snugly protected in this spiral plastic holder, with a protective cover which stays firmly on during the wash cycle. Suitable for long term usage.

-Designed for multiple, long-term use

-Simple and easy to use

-Produced in a Shabbat-Observing factory in Israel


Texan Farmer

by Jokes in Levels | Oct 24, 2019Level 3 |

A Texan farmer goes to Australia for a vacation. There he meets an Australian farmer and gets talking. The Australian shows off his big wheat field and the Texan says, “Oh! We have wheat fields that are at least twice as large.”

Then they walk around the ranch a little, and the Australian shows off his herd of cattle. The Texan immediately says, “We have cattle that are at least twice as large as your cows.” The conversation almost dies when the Texan sees a herd of kangaroos hopping through the field. He asks, “And what are those?” The Australian replies, “Don’t you have any grasshoppers in Texas?”


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B’Haalotekha (Numbers 8:1 – 12:16)

I really think the first part of this week’s reading is placed there as a delaying tactic, so we can put off reading how the Israelites behaved on the march.


There are still some items to deal with before the Israelites set out toward the Promised Land. First, a gold, seven-branched candelabrum(menorah)  is made for the Tabernacle. (The Haftarah, Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7, is also during Chanukah, not only because it describes such a menorah but because of its vision of cleansing and rededication. )

Then the Levites’ sanctification is completed via sprinkling with water of purification, a full-body shave, laundry, and sacrifices. A “Pesach Sheni” (second Passover) a month after the first is established for those unable to partake at the regular time.  Finally, they get ready to break camp and start their journey, according to the motion (or lack) of a fire by day and a cloud by night that settled over the Tabernacle. I noted here 8 years ago, “This sounded very passive and kind of random to me until I read a lovely interpretation by R’ Chaim Shmulevitz in A Daily Dose of Torah (J. Weiss ed., vol. 9, p. 135), that this is analogous to a mother carrying her infant hither and yon; while she knows she is doing various chores and errands, what her baby is aware of simply being safe in his mother’s arms. So too, Israel was in the Lord’s arms while it was still in its national infancy.”

Whenever they were to set out, Moses was to say the words that are set off by two inverted nuns in the Hebrew (10:35-36) and are part of our service for taking out the Torah.  Further, two silver trumpets are made to summon the people, signal movement, be used in war, and to celebrate.  Since everything is apparently under control, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, feels he can head home to Midian The Israelites march out with great fanfare and excitement.  It is the second year, second month, twentieth day since the Exodus from Egypt.

Then they start kvetching. Yes, the very next verse reads (11:1) reads “The people took to complaining bitterly before the Lord.”  About what, we don’t know. But the Lord is angry and sends a fire. The people turn to Moses. Moses prays to the Lord, and the fires dies down.  This pattern will repeat many, many times on the Israelites’ journey.  Then they complain they want meat  They’re sick of manna. They remember (11:5) the “fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” Now Moses is totally fed up, so the Lord tells him to pick 70 elders, who receive some divine spirit and can help him. The people are deluged with quail, stuff themselves, and are struck with a plague (food poisoning?).

The final incident in the reading shows that even Miriam and Aaron are cranky enough to misbehave. They gossip about Moses’ marriage and complain that they are prophets too. At this, the Lord swoops in and gives them a well-deserved chewing out: Moses is unique. Only he communicates with the Lord directly, rather than through a vision or a dream. Miriam is then stricken with the skin disease tzara’at (not Aaron – supposedly, he just followed her. Right.), which is traditionally associated with slander.  Moses isn’t angry at them but prays for his big sister to be healed. The people wait while she stays outside the camp for seven days.

This is not a good start to the journey.  But the people don’t have confidence in their future.  Most are unable to hold onto the promises of an invisible, and at times deadly, God. They have lost their moorings. They know their past and cling nostalgically to memories of small enjoyments, like leeks and melons and fish.

Similarly, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic no coherent national strategy, with lockdowns and premature openings, lives lost and businesses destroyed, in a particularly high-stakes presidential election year, with the economy in turmoil, I’d guess that most of us have lost our moorings.  Everything has been tossed in the air.  Will there be a second wave of virus? Will it be worse, as in 1918? Will we ever settle into a new normal in which kids go to school and choirs sing and people casually go out to eat?  Probably, but I wish I felt more confidence in that.

Shabbat shalom and zei gezunt (be well),


Joe was getting a shave from a rather inexperienced barber who nicked him several times. The barber, trying to smooth things over, asked, “May I wrap your head in a hot towel?”
“No, thanks,” said Jim. “I’ll just carry it home under my arm.”


17 Light Bulb Jokes That Make You Sound Smart (selected)
By Andy Simmons,

·        How many polite New Yorkers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Both of them.

·        How many fatalists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
What does it matter? It’s just going to go out again anyway.

·        How many Chinese Red Guards does it take to screw in a light bulb?
10,000—to give the bulb a cultural revolution.

·        How many chiropractors does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but it takes six visits.


tph manna-tea 2


Quail Jokes

A chicken, duck and quail were found dead on a swing set.
The police suspect fowl play

I wanted to go bird hunting
But I didn’t quailify.
Get it!? I didn’t meat the quail-ifications!


tph whining pediatrician


Quotes about Complaining

Why does the Air Force need expensive new bombers? Have the people we’ve been bombing over the years been complaining? George Wallace

When I was an orphan, I was the richest kid at the orphanage because everyone else was complaining about not having anything. But when I discovered that you could get two cents for a Coca-Cola bottle, I would follow people around who were drinking it and ask them if they were almost through with it. Wayne Dyer

I think ‘Dilbert’ will remain popular as long as employees are frustrated and they fear the consequences of complaining too loudly. ‘Dilbert’ is the designated voice of discontent for the workplace. I never planned it that way. It just happened. Scott Adams

Watch out for the joy-stealers: gossip, criticism, complaining, faultfinding, and a negative, judgmental attitude. Joyce Meyer

Complainers change their complaints, but they never reduce the amount of time spent in complaining. Mason Cooley
The Good Old Days
[I guess you can call this type of thing “anti-nostalgia.”  IGP 2009]
Date Received: Mon, 20 Oct 1997
This is from a Washington Post Report from Week 228, in which readers were asked to tell Gen-Xers how much harder they had it in the old days:

        Second Runner-Up:
In my day, we couldn’t afford shoes, so we went barefoot. In the winter we had to wrap our feet with barbed wire for traction. (Bill Flavin, Alexandria)

        First Runner-Up:
In my day we didn’t have MTV or in-line skates, or any of that stuff. No, it was 45s and regular old metal-wheeled roller skates, and the 45s always skipped, so to get them to play right you’d weigh the needle down with something like quarters, which we never had because our allowances were too small, so we’d use our skate keys instead and end up forgetting they were taped to the record player arm so that we couldn’t adjust our skates, which didn’t really matter because those crummy metal wheels would kill you if you hit a pebble anyway, and in those days roads had real pebbles on them, not like today. (Russell Beland, Springfield)

        And the winner of the velour bicentennial poster:
In my day, we didn’t have no rocks. We had to go down to the creek and wash our clothes by beating them with our heads. (Barry Blyveis, Columbia)

Honorable Mentions:  [selected]

  • In my day, we didn’t have dogs or cats. All I had was Silver Beauty, my beloved paper clip. (Jennifer Hart, Arlington)
  • In my day, attitudes were different. For example, women didn’t like sex. At least that is what they told me. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)
  • In my day, we didn’t have fancy health-food restaurants. Every day we ate lots of easily recognizable animal parts, along with potatoes drenched in melted fat from those animals. And we’re all as strong a AAGGKK-GAAK Urrgh. Thud.
    (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)
  • In my day, we didn’t have hand-held calculators. We had to do addition on our fingers. To subtract, we had to have some fingers amputated. (Jon Patrick Smith, Washington)
  • In my day, we didn’t get that disembodied, slightly ticked-off voice saying ‘Doors closing.’ We got on the train, the doors closed, and if your hand was sticking out it scraped along the tunnel all the damn way to the Silver Spring station and it was a bloody stump at the end. But the base fare was only a dollar. (Russell Beland, Springfield)
  • Kids today think the world revolves around them. In my day, the sun revolved around the world, and the world was perched on the back of a giant tortoise.
    (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)

Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company


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Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

Note: Since Shavuot is only one day in Israel, Naso was read last week there.
Comments are from 2018, with a 2020 addendum to my hair history.

Suspected adultery! Hair*! Samson!  All this and more this week!
*Scroll past the comments for my own hair history.

“More” is right.  At 176 verses, this is the longest single weekly Torah portion.  There appear to be several topics, but they hang together in a stream-of-consciousness manner. As I noted here 6 years ago,(2012) Umberto Cassuto (1883-1951) wrote that Biblical subject matter “was often linked by a process of thought and, in particular, word association, probably designed as an aid to memory.”  (Cassuto, Sefer Hakinus, 1947 lectures, p. 168, cited in N. Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, pp. 38-9)

  • First, we complete the Levite census and job descriptions. Since they had to take down and carry the Tabernacle and its accoutrements en route, they were retired from that at age 50, though I don’t know why their census here starts at 30, not 20.
  • Since we just read about the camp, that leads to a reminder to remove ritually unclean people from it.
  • Their ritual purification requirements lead to comments about the guilt offering required when one has done wrong “is breaking faith with” the Lord.
  • That phrase is also used for a wife suspected of adultery, i.e., breaking faith with her husband, so (of course) what comes next is the sotahritual for such suspected wives. This involves not just having her drink “bitter waters,” but also uncovering her hair.
  • So, of course, what follows are laws concerning nazirites, who vow not to cut one’s hair or beard, to abstain from intoxicants and grapes, and to refrain from contact with a corpse.
  • Since this practice was to enable a higher state of holiness, what do we read next but the well-known priestly benediction (6:24-26); note that the priests don’t bless the people themselves but are expressing a wish that the Lord will bestow blessings on them (6:27).
  • This naturally leads into the list of gifts brought to dedicate the
    just-completed Tabernacle, twelve identical offerings, from one tribe each
    day, each described in detail over and over and over, which takes up about half the reading, whence its length.

The sections on the sotah process and the nazirite generally evoke the most interest (curiosity, head-scratching, etc.). We have an entire tractate Sotah in the Mishnah , a tractate in the Babylonian Talmud and of course lots of commentaries with details that flesh out the description in Numbers. For example, in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Maimonides describes many such details: how the woman must be warned, what women are exempt, what if she confesses, what if she refuses to drink, what kind of ink is used to write the Holy Name to be dissolved from parchment into the bitter water, implications for subsequent divorce and marriage, etc.   The plethora of details, plus apparent rabbinic squeamishness at the need to write the name of God on parchment and then dissolve it away, strongly suggest that the rabbis wanted to use this as a threat to prevent a wife’s unfaithfulness but did not want her to actually go through with the ritual.  According to the Mishnah, the practice was halted in the 1st century C.E. by R. Yohanan ben Zakkai, ostensibly because adultery had become so common (Mishnah Sotah 9).

The nazir, as noted above, vowed to abstain from intoxicants, grapes, haircuts and shaving, and contact with a corpse, thereby consecrating himself (or herself) to the Lord.  The rabbis were ambivalent about the practice, noting that a sin offering was required at the end, and that our tradition teaches moderation not asceticism (Sources: , and Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, pp. 51-9.)  With the exception of Samuel and Samson, nazirut was for a limited period, usually at least 30 days (and if you broke the vow, even accidentally, you had to start the count over).   Samuel was consecrated as a small child by his mother when he was given into the care of Eli (1 Samuel 2:28). Samson’s birth is foretold in this week’s haftarah, Judges 13:2-25.  (Slight digression: my choral group, Delaware Choral Arts, put on a well-received performance of Handel’s oratorio, Samson, two weeks ago (May 12, 2018). It has little to do with the Biblical account, though, except for pulling down the Philistine temple at the end.)  He was to be a nazir from conception.  His life, even pre-Delilah, indicates he didn’t fully appreciate the spiritual aspects of his status.

Shabbat shalom,


My Hair History

Over the last several decades, I have gone from very short hair to hip-length and back again.  As a start-of-summer ritual, my mother would take me to get my bobbed hair cut even shorter.  I really wanted curly hair, and my mother assured me that, since the ends had started to perk up, cutting it shorter would make it curlier.  I fell for that one for years.

As I got older, I let my hair grow during the year but kept the summer pixie cut until high school.  There, I was a bit smug about my long, naturally straight hair that required no ironing.  I liked playing with it, too, ponytails, braids, whatever, even though it made me look about 12.  In college, I also loved playing with my boyfriend’s curls.

After a year of grad school, my hair was hip length, mainly out of neglect. It doubled as a sweater on cold days in New England.  I missed Rich and playing with his curls (we were about 1200 miles apart), especially at services when we sang Anim Zemirot with its reference to taltalim sh’chorot, black curls.

I then got my hair cut to shoulder length, where it pretty much stayed until after I had kids. My toddler son regarded my hair as his blankie, so once I collected the clippings at the hairdresser, hoping to glue them to a cardboard backing.  Didn’t work.

I gradually adopted a shorter style, since that made me look closer to my age and was easier to neglect.  When a haircut was noticeable, I indulged in one-liners:

You got a haircut!
No, I got all of them cut.

You cut your hair!
No, I paid someone else to cut it.

Did you get a haircut?
No, it shrank in the wash.

You got a haircut!
(astonished) I did?!!

And this doesn’t even begin to get into color issues…

2020 Addendum on color issues: 

When my mother was in her early 50’s, she showed me a portrait photo of herself and asked my opinion. I said it made her look tired. I did not mention her hair. Shortly after that, she had her hair dyed. Eventually, maybe 35-40 years later, she stopped. It was then a beautiful white.

When my hair started to turn, uh, silver, I didn’t mind at first. Silver temples and streaks against the dark brown looked really cool.  But by my mid-40’s, I saw a photograph of myself and I looked – tired. After a year of waffling, I finally started coloring my hair. Now, about 3 months after my last hairdresser appointment, there’s about 1 ¼” of silver next to my scalp, enough to see what it would look like if I just let it go. I’ve decided it’s not time and will try to wait until it is white, like my mother’s.

By the way, my mother’s maternal grandmother, Esther Dyna, had reddish brown hair that did not turn gray (No, she didn’t wear a wig. Her rabbi told her she didn’t need to; this was America.). Her daughter, my great-aunt Hattie, had dark hair into her 80’s, with just a few silver strands.  She was a very modern lady, so we all thought she dyed it, except for my grandmother (her older sister). Then Hattie was in the hospital for a few weeks, and it grew in black.  Unfortunately, that gene appears to have been lost from the family.


Parshas Nasso – On 1 Foot

12 Princes came to the Mishkan dedication party all bringing the same gifts.

Princes: “We all brought the same thing?!”

Torah: “Let me write this all down… Name please? Tribe? Gift? Next….”

Longest parsha ever.



tph samson hairoids


My friend asked me, “Why are you getting a divorce?” I responded, “My wife wasn’t home the entire night and in the morning she said she spent the night at her sister’s house.” He said, “So?” And I responded, “She’s lying. I spent the night at her sister’s house!”

A man is about to enter a meeting at work when he realizes that he forgot some important paperwork. He calls home so that his wife can retrieve them. The maid answers the phone and says that his wife is busy. He demands that the maid put his wife on the phone. The maid informs the man that his wife is in bed with the gardener. The man goes nuts, and offers the maid one million dollars to shoot them both. The maid agrees and he soon hears two gunshots. The maid returns to the phone and he asks her what happened. The maid says she shot his wife in bed and the gardener ran, so she shot him by the pool. The man says, “Pool??? Is this 555-4320???”

Peter sat at his dying wife’s bedside. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Pete darling,” she breathed, “I’ve a confession to make before I go… I… I’m the one who took the $10,000 from your safe. I spent it on a fling with your best friend, Alex. And it was I who forced your mistress to leave the city. And I am the one who reported your income tax evasion to the government.” “Don’t give it a second thought, sweetheart. Who do you think gave you the poison?” answered Peter.

tph penaltysacrifice_9


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Shavuot (Exod. 19:1-20:23, Num. 28:26-31, Deut. 14:22-16:17)

Shavuot (“weeks”) is one of the three harvest festivals, like Sukkot and Pesach, thus a major holiday. But it is often downplayed to the point of forgetfulness. It’s much shorter than its companion festivals, only 2 days long (1 for Reform and in Israel). Even its date is not clear in the Torah (see both Deut. 16:9-10 and Lev. 23:15-16). Furthermore, it doesn’t have strongly holiday specific customs, like the Seder and matzah eating of Pesach or the sukkah, lulav and etrog of Sukkot.  That became important once the Temple was destroyed and the people exiled. What was there left to celebrate on Shavuot? 

In response, the rabbis identified a connection between Shavuot and matan Torah (Revelation, the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai).  They derived the date of Revelation as the 6th of Sivan, coincident with the day after the completion of the counting of the omer, and fixed this date as Shavuot, thus forming the link. [Yet the Israelites don’t reach the wilderness of Sinai until the 3rd new moon after they left Egypt, which would be 2 ½ months, and at least 3 more days until Revelation, probably more, since they’d need time to encamp (Exodus 19:1, 10-11), significantly longer than 50 days. I’ll look into this next year.]

Shavuot has several names, based on its dual identity.  From the Torah, we get Festival of Weeks (Hebrew: חג השבועות‎, Chag HaShavuot, Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10); Festival of Reaping (חג הקציר, Chag HaKatzir, Exodus 23:16), and Day of the First Fruits (ום הבכורים, Yom HaBikkurim, Numbers 28:26).  In the festival prayers, we refer to it as “the season of the giving of the Torah” (זמן מתן תורתינו, z’man matan torateinu).

Of course, there are Torah readings. First day: Exodus 19:1-20:23, the Ten Commandments. Numbers 28:26-31, sacrifices (surprise…). Haftarah: Ezekiel 1:1-28, 3:12, the one with the psychedelic chariot vision.  Second day: Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, holidays (one of the 4 times a year this section is read) and Numbers 28:26-31 again.  Haftarah: Habakkuk 2:20-3:19, a prayer for mercy in exile.  Yetziv Pitgam a mystical song of praise, may be inserted here. Additional texts: First day, Akdamut, a long 11th c. poem. Second day, the Book of Ruth.

Why Ruth (which I love chanting, by the way, especially Chapter 1)?  It takes place at the time of the barley harvest.  Ruth’s acceptance of Naomi’s God parallels the giving of the Law at Sinai. She is the ancestor of Kind David, reputed to have died around Shavuot.  And it’s an old custom, going back to the Talmud.

Other customs include first-night all-night study sessions (tikkun leyl Shavuot) as a celebration of the Torah, decorating with flowers, Confirmation (mainly Reform), and eating only dairy, especially cheese. Blintzes are popular.  And I just came across a recipe I may try sometime, for a pudding made with rice flour, milk, honey, and toppings. It’s called Sutlage (Turkey and the Balkans) or Muhallabeya (North Africa.) Why dairy?  One suggestion is a symbolic reversion to newborn innocence in recognition of the acceptance of the Law.  Kabbalistically, the Hebrew word for milk, חלב, has the numerical value of  2+30+8=40, the number of days Moses spent on Mount Sinai getting the Law.  More mundanely, dairy is featured in spring harvest festivals because cheese is made then. In non-pandemic times, my synagogue usually serves cheesecake at a night-time study session and make-your-own ice cream sundaes after services the next day.  My husband plans to make spinach lasagna, which I am definitely looking forward to. And I’ll cut lots of roses from our garden and maybe chant the Book of Ruth.

Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom,


tph carpal tunnel


Cheesecake Jokes

  • Breaking News: Cheesecake Explosion in France
    Multiple reports coming in that there was nothing left but de brie.
  • While driving to work today, I saw a huge cheesecake…
    Around the next corner was a large trifle, followed by an apple turnover. There were no cars. It seemed to me the roads were strangely desserted.
  • You know what they say about New York Cheesecake?
    If you can bake it there, you can bake it anywhere.
  • Tips for inner peace
    Dr. Neil proclaimed the way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started.
    So I looked around my house to see things I started and hadn’t finished; and, before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Pinot Noir, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bottle of Baileys, a bottle of Kaluha, a packet of Penguins, the remainder of bottle of Xanax, Valium prescriptions, the rest of the Cheesecake, and a box of chocolates.
    You have no idea how good I feel.


tph all-dayers


The return of gleaning in the modern world (excerpts) Dec 22nd, 2018

At the salon in Paris in 1857, Jean-François Millet exhibited a painting called “Des glaneuses” (“Gleaners”). It caused a scandal. …Into a decorous world of silks and parasols it introduced rough women, plump in their homespun skirts, rumps in the air, grubbing for ears of grain dropped after the harvest. … Millet had seen the women differently. He found them dignified, doing their work in a sanctifying late-summer light, companions to his peasant “Angelus”. In this, as well as their humble roughness, he caught the essence of gleaning.

… Millet’s gleaners were engaged in a task reserved for paupers by the local commune; in the background, the regular harvest is being stacked up in abundance.

The right of the poor to glean had biblical provenance…in Leviticus 19:9-10 (and in)… Deuteronomy…. The Book of Ruth … tells the story of literature’s most famous gleaner, a pauper and an alien in Judah who so enchanted the landowner, Boaz, that he instructed his reapers actively to help her: “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not: And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them.” Ruth’s gentleness and humility did much to give gleaning, and the allowing of it, a colour of holiness.

Much of medieval Europe accepted a right to gleaning, but carefully. … A “guard sheaf” would be left in a field to protect it until the harvest was complete. When this was removed a bell signaled that gleaning could start. And when the bell rang in the evening, gleaning stopped. …These days there is no summoning bell. Instead, a perky alert comes by tweet or Facebook post: “Bracdrop [cabbage glean] at Wigden near Canterbury. Be there at 9…Over and sprout.” The Sussex Gleaning Network alone contains 900 names. …

Cutting waste is the gleaners’ first motivation, but poverty comes a close second: other people’s, rather than their own. … In America, the Society of St Andrew, the oldest and biggest gleaning operation, draws 40,000 gleaners mostly from churches, synagogues and other faiths (including Islam), making the biblical basis explicit. Both there and in Israel, most gleaning is run by faith groups….

The … philosophy—almost a theology—of gleaning remains the same. It completes and expands the harvest, so that the greatest possible number can share in it, especially the poor. … Each gleaner, as in a religious service, enters not only the experience of the group but also an individual world of gathering and quiet accumulating. Gleaning can become contemplative, almost mesmerising. In this attitude of humble seeking, the harvest can be of thoughts, images and understandings, as much as food…

This article appeared in the Christmas Specials section of the print edition under the headline “To the last grain”

Quotes About the Ten Commandments

  • When you hear people demanding that the Ten Commandments be displayed in courtrooms and schoolrooms, always be sure to ask which set. It works every time. Christopher Hitchens
  • Ten commandments yet seven deadly sins: conflict? Douglas Coupland
  • If Moses had gone to Harvard Law School and spent three years working on the Hill, he would have written the Ten Commandments with three exceptions and a saving clause. Charles Morgan
  • Accuse a person of breaking all Ten Commandments, and you’ve written the promo blurb for the dust cover of his tell-all memoir. J. O’Rourke
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Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20)

You may have noticed that my retirement activities, at least in plague-free times, have essentially nothing to do with my past employment as a research chemist and patent agent.  My classes at the local branch of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) tend to include history, music, art, and religion.  I read to preschoolers. I sing in choral groups. I chant occasionally at synagogue. I study Jewish texts. I love words and read a lot. The closest I come to anything technical is maintaining a spreadsheet for our local Hadassah chapter. 

So how did I come to major in chemistry? [Yes, this relates to the Torah portion.  Bear with me.] As I look back, I think it wasn’t simply that I found it interesting and challenging.  Nor was only it that in 1970 I no longer felt I had to be an elementary school teacher (worthwhile, familiar, “a good job for a woman”).  I wanted a stable career, not an unreasonable desire back then, with interesting, challenging work and good pay.  I also wanted to stay away from fields that were too subjective. [I remember my mother’s story of always getting C’s from one particular high school English teacher.  She finally handed in an essay her older brother had got an A on at Penn; it got a C.]  Even though I enjoyed history, literature, and the like, I wanted to feel I was being judged fairly and objectively and, in my naivete, thought that meant science, where results were quantitative and their worth obvious. [Excuse me while I laugh hysterically for a few moments.] Numbers don’t lie.

However, their meaning is not always obvious, especially when you’re talking about data. [In God we trust. All others bring data.] It’s important to know how you got the data, how reliable your method is, and, especially with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, your motives and values.  [See, e.g., Failing the Test — The Tragic Data Gap Undermining the U.S. Pandemic Response] Do you want to learn where the hot spots are geographically so they can be cordoned off?  Do you want to analyze your region’s death rate trajectory?  Do you want to identify what groups are most and least vulnerable?  Do you want your region to reopen so badly that you are willing to ignore hot spots or distort data to “show” that the death rate is dropping, even if it isn’t?  If you’re afraid of finding too many positives, are you unscrupulous enough to just limit the number of tests or prevent release of the results?  After all, if you don’t see it, it isn’t there.

Which, finally,  brings us to this week’s Torah portion. Bamidbar (literally, in the wilderness, i.e., of Sinai) is the name of both the portion and the new book. The book is called Numbers in English.  This portion has a lot of counting and numbers in it.   As I wrote here a few years ago, direct counting of people is generally frowned upon in Jewish law and even seems to evoke fear of the attracting the evil eye (Rashi, “the evil eye controls something which is counted”)The half-shekel head tax we read about in Exodus 30:11-16 enabled a census of men, aged 20 and up, via indirect counting, the purpose being individual expiation. The money went toward the Tabernacle service.

The Israelites are only about 13 months into their journey, so why is there another census?  This one is primarily to identify men 20+ to bear arms, since they are supposed to begin their conquest of the Promised Land in only a matter of months.  The potential soldiers are duly counted, a total of 603,550 men. The tribes are assigned positions where they will camp around the Tabernacle, three tribes on each side, in the order of march: first, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; second, Reuben, Shimon, and Gad; third, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin; and fourth, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali.  Total: 603,550.  The order comes from a consideration of military strategy, family birth order, mother’s rank, and future potential (e.g., even though Judah was only the 4th son, he is the de facto leader and that tribe goes first).

The Levites are counted separately, males aged 1 month and up, because their function is separate, namely, the Tabernacle’s maintenance, set up, disassembly, and portage.  The Levite clans are encamped adjacent to the Tabernacle on all sides. They serve in lieu of the first-born Israelites. Right now, however,  there happen to be more first-born Israelites than Levites, so the extra ones are “redeemed” for 5 shekels each. This is where we get the pidyon haben ritual, the re-enacted redemption of a month-old, Israelite, first-born son.

Still more counting: This coming week, we will complete the counting of the Omer and observe the least-noticed major holiday in the Jewish calendar, Shavuot.  More on that soon.

Shabbat shalom,


Please Don’t Answer This 2020 Census Survey (shortened)

By Nehemiah Markos and Jed Feiman  April 3, 2018

Hi, there! My name is James Crow, and I’ll be asking you some questions for the 2020 census.

First, I’m happy to report that it’s completely optional this year!

Yes, accurate census results are used to redraw congressional boundaries and school districts, as well as to allocate federal funds. But no, the Administration definitely isn’t intentionally loading the census with unnecessary questions and hurdles, with the aim of systematically undercounting the population!

I hope you don’t mind my knocking on your door at 4 a.m.  Page one of two hundred and ninety-one. Let’s begin.

What is your name?

What is your Christian name?

What is your phone number? We may call if we don’t understand one of your answers. Or just because.

How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2020?

Are you a citizen of the United States? This answer will be sent to every department of your state and local governments as well as to every neighborhood-watch member in your Zip Code.

Are you a good citizen of the United States?

What is your place of origin?

Like, where are your parents from?

Please describe your skin color, using only the words “white” or “suspect.”

What is your sex?

Also, what is your sex like?

What is your Klout Score? Remember, that’s the total number of impressions you’ve made across all social-media platforms, multiplied by your credit score, divided by your age, subtracted from your net worth.

What’s a secret you wouldn’t want anyone to know?

Now, translate your secret into Mandarin.

Between you and me, are you really a citizen?

Please describe your thoughts on that “Roseanne” revival from a few years back.

Snogdorf gorzle fleebus kriggins: always, sometimes, or never?

Describe a time when . . . you know what? We get it. You want to be counted. We all want to be counted.

On behalf of the United States Census Bureau, thank you for your participation. See you in 2030. Or maybe not.


Puns on Counting

*How does a farmer count his cows?
He uses a COWculater.

*I’ve failed in Maths more times than I can count.

*Tried to count to 1,000 in my car yesterday, but only got to 500 before I wrecked.
I hit the median.

*What do you call a hen that can count?
A mathamachicken.

*A Mexican magician stands up in front of an audience and says, “I’m going to disappear on the count of three.” Then he starts counting: “Uno, dos…” And then he disappears, without a tres.


Jokes about Testing

  •        Why is animal testing a bad idea?
    Because the animals get nervous and give all the wrong answers.
  •        Recently, monkeys escaped from an animal testing lab and broke into the adjacent chemistry lab. Some ingested potassium metal and exploded.
    There were Rhesus pieces everywhere.
  •        What did the scientist testing his invisibility potion say?
    Am I making myself clear?
  •        Not to worry. I was only testing the smoke detectors.
    On a totally unrelated subject. Supper is ready.


Quotes about Data

  • Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all. Charles Babbage
  • Whether or not I like a piece of data has very little bearing on whether or not I am likely to accept it. Jordan Peterson
  • Experts often possess more data than judgment. Colin Powell
  • I’ve seen how the issues that come across a president’s desk are always the hard ones – the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer. Michelle Obama
  • Any time scientists disagree, it’s because we have insufficient data. Then we can agree on what kind of data to get; we get the data; and the data solves the problem. Either I’m right, or you’re right, or we’re both wrong. And we move on. That kind of conflict resolution does not exist in politics or religion. Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Maybe stories are just data with a soul. Brene Brown



tph make the data up (2)

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Behar-Behukkotai (Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34)

This week, we finish Leviticus. Stop cheering.  There was a lot of good stuff there, and the Numbers narrative can be a real downer.

We start this double portion with the sabbatical (shmitta) and jubilee (yovel) years.  The land gets its own Sabbath, lying fallow one year out of seven, no planting or pruning. The sixth-year harvest will be extra-large to compensate (like the double portion of manna on Fridays in the desert), and you can eat what grows on its own. We will read in Deuteronomy about the remission of debts and freeing of Israelite slaves that also occurs in the shmitta year.

 After 7 times 7 = 49 years, the 50th is the jubilee year.  Land holdings are supposed to go back to their original owners.  Why? This is to remind the people that they are only inhabitants of the land; it belongs to the Lord.  Practically, this can get complicated if you sell some of your holdings and if there are debts involved.  If you have to work for someone to pay off debts, you can be redeemed by a relative, or yourself if you get the money, for whatever proportion is left until the jubilee year.  Otherwise, you and his family go free and return to your ancestral land in the jubilee year.

The jubilee year is thus a time for starting over, a reset or reboot.  As I wrote here two years ago, “Measures are prescribed to ensure people aren’t ruined by these observances. Here we find that verse on the Liberty Bell (Lev. 25:10), ‘Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.’   Michael Carasik wrote about the jubilee, “They say ‘cash is king,’ but Leviticus 25 denies it.  God is king, and both the land and its people belong to Him.  The … function of the jubilee is to apply the brakes and… start things over again from a position of radical equality.  ‘The jubilee is for you,’ the chapter insists in verse 10, explaining that (emphasis added) true freedom depends on reversing the distortions of a free-market economy.”  We could really use a reset of today’s distorted free market, where a pandemic causes people most in need to lose their livelihoods and, ironically, health insurance.

In the last portion in Leviticus, Behukkotai (26:3 – 27:34), the people are told that if they follow the Law: fertility, prosperity, peace, security and the ongoing support and presence of God in their midst.  That takes only 11 verses. This is followed by 29 verses of warnings as to what will happen if the Israelites disobey the Law – not just the occasional infraction, but an ongoing, increasing rejection of it.  This section, traditionally chanted in an undertone, is referred to as the minor Tochachah (admonition); just wait until we get to the major one in Deuteronomy. There are five very detailed, graphic series (Lev. 26:16-17, 18-20, 21-22, 23-26, and 27-43) of punishments of increasing severity, each series (nominally) sevenfold as bad as the one before, so that, if 1st=x, then the 5th is 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 =2401 times as bad as the first series.  However, at every stage, there is a chance to atone and halt the process.  This is like parents trying to discipline their children, not out of desire to punish or scare them for the sake of maintaining control, but to teach them  that there are specific consequences for their actions.  Good is likely from good. Punishment for disobedience is harsh and gets harsher; but changing behavior results in forgiveness.  

This section is followed by details regarding vows concerning offerings (think donations) for the maintenance of the Tabernacle (later, the Temple).  If you wanted to pledge, say, the monetary value of an animal or some item, the priest would evaluate how much it was worth. You could also pledge the value of a specific person. This was different from how much the person’s possessions were actually worth.  These valuations were standardized based on age and sex, the base value one  could fetch on the open market as a slave.  Not surprisingly, the highest valuation was 50 shekels for a 20-60-year-old man and the lowest, 3 shekels, was for a girl 1 month to 5 years old.

From Pesach to Rosh Hashanah, we also read Pirkei Avot, a small book of “sayings of the fathers” from the Mishnah.  It’s found in the back of many prayer books and is also online starting at  It contains pithy verses like Hillel’s “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (1:14), “Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot” (4:1).  I particularly liked 4:20 when I was among the youngest in the room: “Rabbi Yossei the son of Judah of Kfar HaBavli would say: One who learns Torah from youngsters, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats unripe grapes and drinks [unfermented] wine from the press. One who learns Torah from the old, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats ripened grapes and drinks aged wine.  Said Rabbi Meir: Look not at the vessel, but at what it contains. There are new vessels that are filled with old wine, and old vessels that do not even contain new wine.”

Shabbat shalom,

Money and Debt (dead link from 2011)
A couple of friends meet after a long time:
“I divorced my wife.” One says.
“Really? How did you do it?”
“We hired a lawyer who helped divide the assets and stuff.”
“What about the kids?”
“Well,…we’ve decided that whoever got more money would also take the kids.”
“That sounds fair. And who got them?
“The lawyer.”


tph danger warning-signs-7

Top Ten Pirchei Avos at Work
by seth Posted: 07-31-2008(Viewed 1901 times)

10. The work world stands on three “T” things: 1) timesheets 2) to-do lists 3) time-off

9. Say little and email a lot.  (actually, attorneys advise the opposite, or, better, “say little and email little”)

8. Do not work on the hopes of receiving a bonus. Let the fear of layoffs be upon you.

7. Let your office be a meeting room for the higher-ups. Sit in the back and drink their every word, then send out a conference report immediately after.

6. Make for yourself a boss, take your coworker to lunch, and judge everyone towards merit (but CYA).

5. Be like Human Resources, loving peace and pursuing peace, but watch out for sexual harassment.

4. How your boss takes credit: What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine.

3. Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place….unless it’s his annual review.

2. If not now, when?  Sorry, it’s 5-o’clock, will worry about it tomorrow.  

1.Who is a Wealthy Man?  Check Forbes.


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(Five of) The 50 Most Hilarious Tweets From Parents In 2018                                           By Taylor Pittman 

  • My inbox was full of “This is your VERY LAST chance!” sales right before Xmas, but now here we are many weeks later and they are like “Good news, one more chance!”
    Which is pretty much exactly how I discipline my kids. Faux Ma@Faux_Ma
  • Email from the PTA tells me if I don’t join, I “will not be allowed inside the school to assist with the children’s class parties” & it’s like whoa whoa whoa threaten me harder. Havisham@MissHavisham
  • I never realized how annoying I could be until I created a miniature version of myself and started arguing with it daily. Parentalgrit@ParentalGrit
  • *observing my daughter in preschool*
    Me: Ok, but how do you get her to just sit there and listen?
    Teacher: We practice patience and teach them to do the same.
    Me: Right, right. But, like, what bribes are you using? Lauren Mullen@DraggingFeeties    
  • Just overheard my 2-year-old exclaim “YAY I DID IT” from the other room. What I learn next will either be exhilarating or horrifying. mark@TheCatWhisprer


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Emor (Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23)

What day of the week is it? More on that later.

Among those who habitually attend synagogue services, especially those who read the weekly portion from the Torah scroll, parts of Emor bring about a sense of déjà vu.  That’s because some of it is read 3 additional times a year, on holidays.  My son’s Bar Mitzvah reading on the first day of Sukkot was from Emor, as was my first Torah reading on the second day of Pesach (at 17, not 13. Long story.). By the way, today is Pesach Sheni, a month after Pesach.  It’s biblical in origin and was intended to accommodate those who were unable to participate in the regular Pesach offering because of ritual impurity.

Speaking of ritual impurity, Emor starts out with instructions for the priests, more stringent for the High Priest. The priests are expected to maintain a higher level of ritual purity because of their service in the Tabernacle. Contact with a corpse causes ritual impurity, so there are limits on whom a priest should “contaminate” himself for when someone dies: only his wife, parents, children, and siblings (sister only if still at home, unmarried). A High Priest, not even these. A priest can marry only a widow or virgin, a High Priest only a virgin. Both priests and sacrifices must be free of certain physical defects. And the priests get to eat terumah, 1/60 of a crop set aside for them.

The ensuing text on Sabbath and holiday observances includes activities specific to those “appointed times” in addition to sacrifices, like eating matzah, bringing an Omer (a volume of roughly 43 average eggs) of grain from the first harvest during Pesach and counting for 7 weeks after that to the next major holiday; blowing the shofar on the 1st day of the 7th month, atoning on Yom Kippur, and living in booths.

Almost every month in the Hebrew calendar has a holiday (feast or fast).  In fact, Monday night begins the very post-biblical holiday of Lag B’Omer (Hebrew letters lamed+gimel=30+3=33rd day of counting the Omer). Its origins are fuzzy, based on stories of Rabbi Akiva and his plague-stricken students, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Bar Kochba revolt, and the Zohar. It’s traditionally associated with students and is currently celebrated with bonfires, barbeques, and parades, and activities frowned upon other times during the Omer period, like weddings, shaving, and (especially first) haircuts.

The rest of Emor concerns lighting the menorah, a continual lamp; the showbread; and an incident of blasphemy, leading to a discussion of capital crimes, such as blasphemy, and restitution in cases of assault, formulaically described in 24:20 as “fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”

So, what day of the week is it?

That was not a trick question, but it’s one that is increasing difficult to answer correctly.  As I write this, it’s Friday.  After I retired 7 years ago (YES!), I started finding it difficult to differentiate one weekday from another.  But in a short time, I had a schedule that allowed me to discern what day it was, at least after I’d been awake for a few minutes.  For example, if the day before, I’d had a music lesson and a choral rehearsal, today was Tuesday. Before COVID-19, my schedule included those activities on Monday, often a movie on Tuesday with a different choral rehearsal at night, 3 OLLI  classes (including Madrigal Singers) and Read Aloud Delaware on Wednesday, another OLLI class on Thursday. Friday and Sunday were open. Saturday I went to services, usually in Wilmington, occasionally in Wynnewood, PA, where I also went to Rabbi Cooper’s class on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, chanted Torah or haftarah and then visited my sister.

All of that stopped in March.

I am usually content to be home.  I have managed to add back some structure, like Rabbi Cooper’s class, now Zoomed on Thursdays.  We also Zoomed a seder for 7 people in 4 states over 3 time zones. I attend a monthly Zoomed Hadassah board meeting. There are various scheduled webinars.  I still have the occasional doctor’s appointment, now telemedicine. And my awareness of the Hebrew calendar, promoted both by our own observances and my writing these weeklies, has only been slightly damaged by not having physical services to go to.  Though it does take more effort to realize what day it is. (Friday)

But I chanted Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) at home during Pesach, not at a synagogue, and I expect to do the same with the Book of Ruth on Shavuot.  (I am not yet desperate enough to chant the weekly Torah and haftarah portions.) And choral singing has been shown to be alarmingly dangerous vis à vis COVID-19, so I despair of my rehearsals resuming at time soon.  I just have to practice alone and sing along with youtube performances.  It’s not at all the same.

But I’m in a really good situation, as an introverted retiree with a pension, without kids needing homeschooling, and with good health insurance.  My husband is the only one I can hug at the moment, but he’ll do.

Shabbat shalom,

Quotes About Being Structured

Just as the constant increase of entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy. Vaclav Havel

Ballet was so structured. I’d been craving something that could guide me. Misty Copeland

Our lives are structured by our memories of events. Event X happened just before the big Paris vacation. I was doing Y in the first summer after I learned to drive. Z happened the weekend after I landed my first job. We remember events by positioning them in time relative to other events. Joshua Foer

I love the simplicity of the Cube because it’s a very clear geometrical shape, and I love geometry because it’s the study of how the whole universe is structured. Erno Rubik


tph excalibur s'mores


Eye Exam Joke

I was performing a complete physical, including the visual acuity test. I placed the patient twenty feet from the chart and began, “Cover your right eye with your hand.” He read the 20/20 line perfectly. “Now your left.” Again, a flawless read. “Now both,” I requested. There was silence. He couldn’t even read the large E on the top line. I turned and discovered that he had done exactly what I had asked; he was standing there with both his were eyes covered. I was laughing too hard to finish the exam. (Dr. Matt Jenkins, Boston, MA)


46.You swear that the professor who called on you twice in a row is anti-Semitic, even though he is likely Jewish.

45.You are startled to discover that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists all have as hard a time keeping the Sabbath as you do.

43.You long for the days when all legal disputes were settled by a chest plate with glowing jewels.

30.You subconsciously find yourself parsing any discussion of international law for an anti-Israel bias.

29.You’re shocked to discover, albeit too late, your encyclopedic knowledge of Talmud has nothing to do with law school.

20.You consistently refer to a split among circuits as a makhlokes. (Hebrew for “dispute”)

19.You figure that your knowledge of two dead languages, ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, will help you pick up Latin.

15.You feel triumphant when you pass off a halakhic concept as a Latin term and no one challenges you.

9.You run a Westlaw search to see how many times the courts used the words “chutzpa (276),” “schmuck (1,610- although there is a landmark case where “Schmuck” is a named party),” “mitzvah (269),” “halacha
(17), “halakha (1),” and “yeshivish (0).”  Take points off if you use Westlaw for naughty words.

8.You have the need to analogize every legal concept you learn to something in halakha (Jewish law).


Did you hear the one about Vladimir Putin? Why a Russian comedian has fled the country

By Andrey Poznyakov  & Alice Tidey  •  last updated: 23/01/2020

A comedian says he was forced to leave Russia over jokes he made about Vladimir Putin and Christianity during a stand-up routine.

Aleksandr Dolgopolov, 25, will now monitor developments from abroad, his lawyer Leonid Solovyov has said.

… Dolgopolov had been forced to cancel one of his performances in Moscow’s “Big City” bar because an unknown man in civilian clothing appeared to be “persistently interested” about when the artist would arrive, his manager has said. Dolgopolov has since released … an official request sent to the venue from Moscow’s Ministry of Internal Affairs demanding to know more about a 2019 performance in which he joked that if Putin were to ask citizens to jump into lava, they would reply: “‘Oh my god, where do we find lava? There is no lava in our garden, what should we do, wise leader?”

Another of his political jokes went: “Our population has split into two camps. On the one hand, there are those who support Putin; on the other, there are those who can read, write, and reach logical conclusions.”

A local news website, Baza, also reported that complaints had been made regarding religious jokes Dolgopolov had made and that the comedian is now “suspected of insulting the feelings of believers”.  The law criminalising blasphemy came into force in 2013…following a protest by the feminist punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow’s main Orthodox Cathedral …If found guilty of such an offence, Dolgopolov could be fined up to 300,000 roubles (€4,000), sentenced to forced labour or to up to one year in prison.

Dolgopolov has defended his set on social media and decried the Russian judicial system…He also wrote on Twitter: “My wife was beaten by my father: the police are inactive. They threaten me: the police are inactive. My girlfriend is harassed by a maniac: the police are inactive. I tell jokes: FIND OUT ALL ABOUT THIS TERRORIST!”

Some prominent Russian comedians have rallied around him including Yuri Khovansky who argues that “… we must agree on one thing unanimously: you cannot pursue a comedian because of his jokes.”


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Acharei Mot – Kedoshim (Lev. 16:1 – 20:27)

(Comments from 2018, slightly edited. I found Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ comments, quoted at the end, particularly insightful.)

This week: Sex and holiness.

Acharei Mot (Lev. 16:1-18:30) is the first part of this double portion and means “after the death of,” referring to Aaron’s two oldest sons who after “they drew too close to the presence of the Lord” (16:1).”  Consequently, this section describes how the High Priest can enter and leave the Holy of Holies safely on Yom Kippur.  It also deals with that day’s ritual purification, sacrifices, sprinkling of blood, and driving a scapegoat into the wilderness to effect atonement for the whole people.  It also lists forbidden sexual relationships, mainly incest.  Most of Acharei Mot is read at morning and afternoon services on Yom Kippur.

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim contains the first part of what is known as the “Holiness Code,” Leviticus Chapters 17–26, Chapter 19 being its core. Kedoshim means “holy.” Where Acharei Mot describes atonement for past misdeeds, Kedoshim (Lev. 19:1-20:27) prescribes how to behave from now on and why (19:1): “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”  There follow many pages of prescriptions and proscriptions, some expected, like, take care of the needy, use honest weights and measures in business, pay your workers promptly, don’t gossip, don’t lie, don’t take advantage of people, love the stranger, love your neighbor, etc. – basically, be kind and fair.  Then there are others that seem like tribal customs with no or unclear reason, like not cross breeding, not rounding the corners of one’s beard, and not eating a tree’s fruit for its first three years.

What is meant here by “holiness” and why is it so linked to sexual relationships?  Rituals clearly make us distinct, but why so much emphasis on sexual restraint?  Is it because it is particularly difficult to adhere to?

 “Holiness” implies distinctness and boundaries.  Judaism is rife with such delineations, e.g., between order and chaos, light and darkness, sacred and every day, life and death, Jewish and not.  Holiness “involves correct definition, discrimination and order. Under this head all the rules of sexual morality exemplify the holy… rectitude and straight-dealing (are) holy, and contradiction and double-dealing as against holiness“ ( Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas, pp. 54-55). 

Concerning the necessity for rules of sexual morality, Maimonides, in the first section of Seder Kedoshim in Mishneh Torah cites 37 laws on forbidden sexual relationships and goes into minute detail: specific practices and anatomical descriptions, situations, voluntary versus involuntary actions, what punishments follow what practices – all in a dry, very clinical manner.  What about emotion? Trust? Love?

Among Biblical scholars, I am told (thanks, Stanley), that love is an action, not an emotion, encompassing fidelity and faithful obedience.  For Maimonides, according to Nechama Leibowitz (Studies in Devarim, pp. 66-67), such love comes from intellectual conviction, but the soul is “ever enraptured by it.” 

But, according to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, love is not enough.  Remember all those laws in Chapter 19?  Seemingly disparate, they have in common that they

“are all about order, limits, and boundaries.  They are telling us that reality has a certain underlying structure whose integrity must be honoured…
When that order is violated, eventually there is chaos. When that order is observed and preserved, we become co-creators of the sacred harmony and integrated diversity that the Torah calls ‘holy.’ Why then is it specifically in this chapter that the two great commands – love of the neighbour and the stranger – appear? The answer is profound and very far from obvious. Because this is where love belongs – in an ordered universe…(Chapter 19’s) combination of moral, political, economic and environmental laws is a supreme statement of a universe of (Divinely created) order of which we are the custodians. But the chapter is not just about order. It is about humanising that order through love – the love of neighbour and stranger.”

What we increasingly have today, in my view, is too much separation into emotionally charged camps.  That is a dangerous sort of order.  We need a whole lot more of humanizing of that order through love.

Shabbat shalom,


tph oooom holy man


Quotes about Boundaries

Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures. Edwin Louis Cole

Guilt can prevent us from setting the boundaries that would be in our best interests, and in other people’s best interests. Melody Beattie

Love crosses all boundaries. Khalid

Pleasure without God, without the sacred boundaries, will actually leave you emptier than before. And this is biblical truth, this is experiential truth. The loneliest people in the world are amongst the wealthiest and most famous who found no boundaries within which to live. That is a fact I’ve seen again and again. Ravi Zacharias

Every human being must have boundaries in order to have successful relationships or a successful performance in life. Henry Cloud

It’s Yom Kippur, and this goat wants your sins (abridged, sent out in 2016)

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN (2013)

(CNN) – Calling all Jews! Your confessional clock is ticking.

It’s time to fess up.

Blending ancient tradition with modern innovation, there’s a newish Jewish Web app to help you lighten the load of guilt and spill your bad deeds. It’s called eScapegoat, and the whimsical tool lets you type your confessions in a Twitter-friendly format and see others’ also.

Best of all, you can remain utterly anonymous.

“I claimed the soup was vegan. It wasn’t,” wrote one sinner.
“I yell at people from my car, even if they aren’t driving poorly,” shared another.
“I am hot with shame that my son only has a brown belt in his Kung Fu training,” said a third.

The force behind this endeavor is G-dcasta San Francisco nonprofit committed to making Jewish learning fun through animated videos, apps and more.

You, dear friends, can’t rely on some wandering, set-up-to-die goat to do your bidding  which is why you are commanded to make public confessions in synagogue during Yom Kippur.

But that doesn’t mean burdens can’t be laid on a virtual goat, too. Right?

The Web app was launched on August 9 during the first week of Elul, when Jews traditionally self-reflect, look back on their year, take stock of how they behaved and think about what they can do better.  By Thursday night, [August 15] nearly 5,000 confessions had been “laid on the goat,” Sarah Lefton, G-dcast’s executive director and producer reported. And nearly 21,000 “goaters,” or Web app visitors, had stopped by.

Lefton doesn’t want anyone thinking eScapegoat is a substitute for the real deal. “This Web app is in no way trying to replace public confession,” she said. “We designed it as a lighthearted warm-up for the Day of Atonement. But if people are getting something more profound out of it, that’s great.”


*I picked up a hitchhiker last night. He seemed surprised that I’d pick up a stranger. He asked, “Thanks but why would you pick me up? How would you know I’m not a serial killer?”.
I told him the chances of two serial killers in a car would be astronomical.

*Boy aged 4: Dad, I’ve decided to get married.
Dad: Wonderful; do you have a girl in mind?!
Boy: Yes… grandma! She said she loves me, I love her, too….and she’s the best cook & story teller in the whole world!
Dad: That’s nice, but we have a small problem there!
Boy: What problem?!
Dad: She happens to be my mother. How can you marry my mother!
Boy: Why not?! You married mine!

*The other day I asked my younger cousin if he’d rather get $1 for complimenting a stranger or $10 for insulting a stranger.
In that instant he looked me in the eye and called me a “Freak of nature”. I quickly reminded him that I’m not a stranger because we know each other. To which he replies, “There’s nobody stranger than you.”


tph framed



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