Balak (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9)

What on earth?

We’ve just read that the Israelites are finally across the Jordan from the Promised Land.  Now we get a story full of slapstick, including a talking donkey, with no Israelites taking an active part until the last 9 verses (and those aren’t pretty).

The story: Balak, king of Moab, has heard about the recent military victories of the Israelites, who are now on his doorstep.  Afraid of these unknown foes, he seeks supernatural help from Bil’am (in English, Balaam, which may be closer to the ancient pronunciation), a sorcerer/diviner/sort-of-prophet, to curse the Israelites.  [I have posted my 2006 d’var Torah on Bil’am, if you’re interested.]  Bil’am actually does have occasional contact with the Lord but apparently just uses this gift for personal gain (c.f. Zoltan Karpathy in Shaw’s Pygmalion and then My Fair Lady.) He joins Balak’s emissaries, angering the Lord. An angel with a fiery sword is sent to block his way but only his old donkey can see it.  After he beats her for stalling (some sorcerer, he can’t even convince his donkey to move), she talks, which doesn’t seem at all strange to Bil’am, and he sees the angel, who warns him to say only what the Lord tells him to.

Bil’am, having warned Balak that he can say only what the Lord tells him to, sees the Israelite camp and blesses them. Balak, puzzled and angry, tries to change Bil’am’s perspective, literally, by moving him around, but Bil’am blesses them a second time and a third. The third blessing includes words that have become part of our daily liturgy: “Mah tovu ohalekha Ya’akov, mishk’notekha Yisrael,” “How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!” (24:5). Bil’am does prophesy (24:15-23) concerning the eventual fates of Israel, Moab, and several other peoples, and then leaves.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks opens his current d’var Torah [Not Reckoned Among the Nations (Balak 5779)] with an old joke:

The year is 1933. Two Jews are sitting in a Viennese coffee house, reading the news. One is reading the local Jewish paper, the other the notoriously antisemitic publication Der Stürmer. “How can you possibly read that revolting rubbish?” says the first. The second smiles. “What does your paper say? Let me tell you: ‘The Jews are assimilating.’ ‘The Jews are arguing.’ ‘The Jews are disappearing.’ Now let me tell you what my paper says: ‘The Jews control the banks.’ ‘The Jews control the media.’ ‘The Jews control Austria.’ ‘The Jews control the world.’ My friend, if you want good news about the Jews, always read the antisemites.”

If you look at the Torah as the story of a nation, it is striking how flawed the characters are, how much they are scolded and how little praised.  Perhaps, to be trustworthy, praise had to come from outside, in this case from Bil’am, someone certainly not biased in their favor. As  stated in Proverbs (27:2),  “Let the mouth of another praise you, not yours, the lips of a stranger, not your own.”

Bil’am’s own delusions of grandeur are briefly damped by his experience with Balak.  Through him, God has shown the Moabites and Midianites that Israel is blessed.  Rabbi Sacks writes [What Makes God Laugh (Balak 5776)], “God had a different message for Bilam himself, and it was very blunt. If you think you can control God, then, says God, I will show you that I can turn a donkey into a prophet and a prophet into a donkey. Your animal will see angels to which you yourself are blind.”

The last nine verses of this week’s portion bring us back to the Israelite camp.  Bil’am, according to the usual interpretation, gets back at the Israelites using seduction, not curses.  The local women seduce Israelite men and draw them in to worship their god, Ba’al Peor.  The Lord tells Moses to impale all the ringleaders.  Meanwhile, one high-ranking couple starts fornicating right in front of the Tent of Meeting. Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson takes it upon himself to spear them in the act, thereby limiting the victims of the Lord’s inevitable plague to a mere 24,000.   We’ll consider this apparent act of vigilantism next time.

Shabbat shalom,


tph bilam and his donkey


Perspective Jokes

  • While walking the dog tonight I heard new ideas and perspectives coming from the forest…
    Then I realized it was enlightening bugs.
  • Life is all about perspective
    The sinking of the Titanic was a miracle to the lobsters in the ship’s kitchen.
  • You have to put it in perspective.
    Otherwise you have perspecve.
  • Let go.. New perspective..
    If you love someone, let them go.
    If they come back,
    nobody wanted them.
  • As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the world can be seen through a million perspectives.  Mine and 999,999 wrong ones.·
  • When I’m stressed I like to draw a line of trees, getting smaller as they reach the horizon.  It really puts things in perspective.


Bad News…

Debbie visited a psychic of some local repute. In a dark and gloomy room, gazing at the tarot cards laid out before her, the tarot reader delivered the bad news:

“There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just be blunt – prepare yourself to be a widow. Your husband will die a violent and horrible death this year.”

Visibly shaken, Jennifer stared at the woman’s lined face, then at the single flickering candle, then down at her hands. She took a few deep breaths to compose herself.

She simply had to know. She met the tarot reader’s gaze, steadied her voice, and asked:

“Will I get away with it?”


“I almost had a psychic girlfriend but she left me before we met.” – Steven Wright


Quotes about Delusions of Grandeur

Maybe science is just magic with delusions of lack of grandeur.  Peter David

What is man? He’s just a collection of chemicals with delusions of grandeur.  Ayn Rand

I don’t have any delusions of grandeur. I just want to make music that doesn’t make me bored. El-P (Jaime Meline)

Delusions of grandeur make me feel a lot better about myself.Jane Wagner

I know when I’m bad, I know when I’m good, and I know when I’m everything in between. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur or delusions of failure. In terms of my work, I’ve got a pretty cold honest eye.   Bebe Neuwirth


(4 of) 20 Renegade Vigilantes Who Were a Chaotic Force for Good

1 Was at a market in Mozambique with a guide. Guide asks stall seller if he has any “really fresh” pangolin (illegal as hell and endangered). Seller shows him a box with two live ones.  Guide turns to me and yells “run,” punches the seller, grabs the box, and books it across the market toward where we had parked. He released the critters later that day. It was an interesting trip. geopolit

3  When I was still in my medical training in Westwood, I often saw a middle-aged gentleman putting coins into expired meters.  The one time I saw a meter maid try to approach him and he ran off giggling.  A few months later I saw him at a stop sign in a Maserati.  Basically the definition of chaotic good. needs_more_zoidberg

7  A Brazilian drug dealer kidnapped medical staff to force them to vaccinate a community for yellow fever.  About137Ninjas

9  In my country, potholes are notorious for going unchecked.  A facebook group sprung up called “Adopt a pothole” and it started as just posting pics of potholes and tagging the government agency in charge (the government is responsible for damages to cars caused by potholes that they are aware of so they tagged them as proof).  But they still weren’t getting filled.  And that’s when it got wild.  People started planting palm trees inside the potholes and posting those pictures.  I can only assume it was effective.  Because I saw a pic of one near my neighborhood, went and saw it to confirm and within a few days it had been filled.  gagWas2Hateful


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Chukkat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1)

87 verses of water, purity, and death, ending on a decided upbeat.

From 2013: At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites are about two years into their 40-year trek.  At the end of the portion, it’s 38 years later, and they’re encamped on the eastern bank of the Jordan, getting ready to invade.  Chapter 19 deals with the red heifer and, according to Rashi, Chapter 20 onward takes place in the 40th year.  Except for a travelogue in Parashat Mase’ei (Numbers 33:1 – 36:13), the Torah is essentially silent on the intervening years.  These are lost years that need not have been lost, had the slave generation had faith in the feasibility of conquering Canaan.

Ah yes, the red heifer.  A physically perfect and perfectly red-haired young cow is slaughtered outside the camp and burned to ashes along with cedar wood, hyssop, and “tola’at shani”  (red bug or worm)    “Tola’at shani” has been identified as a scale-like insect that lived  on tamarisk and oak trees and was an ancient source of red dye (see, e.g., and ).  Anyhow, the ashes are stored outside the camp and, as needed, are mixed with water and sprinkled on a person as part of the purification ritual after contact with a corpse.  The priest who prepares the purifying ashes himself becomes impure.

A lot happens in the 40th year.  Miriam dies.  [Miriam reminds me of Judi Dench in “Shakespeare in Love,” for which she won an Oscar: each makes only a few brief appearances, but with great impact.].  The people kvetch about food (at least it’s about pomegranates and figs this time, not garlic and leeks).  Moses strikes the rock and he and Aaron are barred from the Promised Land.  [note from 2015: Way back, shortly after the Exodus, Moses was told to get water by striking a rock (Ex. 17:6).  Now, he’s told to speak to the rock to produce water, which is a decidedly more impressive miracle, clearly divine.  But he strikes the rock and his comments could lead the people to infer that he and Aaron were the ones responsible, rather than the Lord.  That’s when Moses and Aaron are forbidden entry into the Promised Land.  Maybe Moses was tired, cranky, in mourning for Miriam.  Some have suggested that this was a ruse cooked up between Moses and the Lord to provide an excuse for him to turn over the leadership.  I doubt that, given how he complains about his fate several times in the text.] Aaron dies.  The people complain about manna.  There’s a plague of seraphic serpents, halted by a metallic serpent fashioned by Moses.  There are some military victories to hearten the Israelites and scare everybody else.

The most prevalent image, however, is not serpents or kvetching or ashes, but water.  In an essay, “Appreciating Water in the Desert,” (thanks, Stanley!) at (dead link, now at, Al Tanenbaum points out that there are 32 mentions of water in this 87-verse portion.  Water runs (sorry) throughout, in the red heifer ritual, (implicitly) the death of Miriam (with the loss of Miriam’s Well), the people’s crying for water (twice), the water from the struck rock, the refusal of the Edomites to let the Israelites pass through even though Moses promises they won’t drink their water, the trek by the Re(e)d Sea, the Israelite’s singing in appreciation of the new well the Lord has supplied for them, and, of course, their encampment on the eastern bank of the Jordan River.  This not only underscores the importance of water in a dry region, but explicitly links water to purification, life, song, and a viable future.

Shabbat shalom,


I just stumbled upon this blog.  For really short divrei Torah:

The Torah In Haiku: Chukat

BY ED NICKOW , 6/13/2013

Death of Miriam
Led the people to complain
“We have no water”

But when Aaron died
The people mourned, thirty days
No complaints mentioned

Ed Nickow is a teacher and member of the Board of Trustees at Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL. He blogs at The Torah in Haiku.


tph complain manna water


From 2015 [selections]

Dihydrogen Monoxide – The Truth


Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year.

What are the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide?

Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there.  Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage.  For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.

Dihydrogen Monoxide Facts

  • is also known as hydric acid [also known as water (-; IGP], and is the major component of acid rain.
  • contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
  • accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
  • may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.

Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:

  • as an industrial solvent and coolant.
  • in nuclear power plants.
  • as a fire retardant.
  • in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
  • as an additive in certain junk-foodsand other food products.

Stop the horror – Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide

Companies dump waste DHMO into rivers and the ocean, and nothing can be done to stop them because this practice is still legal.



Act NOW to prevent further contamination. Find out more about this dangerous chemical. What you don’t know CAN hurt you and others throughout the world.

Copyright © 1997-2001 by


Red hair genes directly inherited from the world’s first Redheads 70,000 years ago (excerpts)

by Lee Rimmer for Ancestry – Genealogy & DNA

ScotlandsDNA believes that everyone who carries one of 3 variants of the red-hair gene is a direct descendant of the first redhead ever to have it – two variants originating in West Asia around 70,000 years ago, and a younger variant originating in Europe around 30,000 years ago.

In recorded history, the ancient Greeks and Romans described Celtic and Germanic people as redheads and the distribution of red hair in Europe today matches the ancient Celtic and Germanic worlds. The map of red heads in northern and western Europe also correlates with the frequency of Y-chromosomal haplogroup R1b, thought to be linked to the origins of red hair.

The origins of haplogroup R1b are complex, but it likely had a West Asian origin and migrated into Western Europe with the spread of agriculture.

tph redhead dna

(I)n the R1b-dominated lineage of European royalty,  Richard the LionheartHenry VIII and Elizabeth I were all redheads.  The ancient Briton Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, was described by Cassius Dio as “tall and terrifying in appearance… a great mass of red hair… over her shoulders.”  Probably the best known red-head in Britain today is also of royal, and R1b, stock – Prince Harry. While serving with the British Army in Afghanistan, he was known by his comrades – due to his hair colour and his status as a high profile target – as ‘the Ginger Bullet Magnet‘.


tph cow herbivore


And the award for the “best known tourist guide in written history” goes to Moses:
Awarded for leading thousands of people over deserts for over 40 years, while listening to “Are we there yet?”

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Korach (Numbers 16:1 – 18:32)

Happy Independence Day!

Today, there was also a magnitude 6.4 earthquake in southern California, just in time for this week’s Torah portion, Korach, in which (spoiler alert) the earth opens up and swallows Korach and his co-conspirators.  The confluence of July 4th and Parashat Korach prompts serious pondering: When is a rebellion legitimate?  When does a strong leader become a demagogue? Is democracy always the best philosophy of government; and when it is, does its fragility doom it?

Where we left off:  The Israelites of the slave generation have been sentenced to wander 40 years in the wilderness (38+ to go) and die there, never to enter the Promised Land. This sparks rebellion against Moses and Aaron by a coalition of Levites, Reubenites led by Dathan and Abiram, and 250 other acknowledged Israelite leaders.  Korach, a Levite, is their leader.  All are jealous of the political and priestly authority wielded by Moses and Aaron, but they cloak these feelings in what appear to be calls, on behalf of the people, for democracy: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the LORD’s congregation?” (16:3).

Moses proposes a test. The rebels will (try to) offer incense. If the Lord accepts it, then they are the holy ones.  The Lord again offers to destroy the whole people and Moses and Aaron again talk the Lord out of it.  At the test, 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).  Immediately, the earth opens up, swallowing Korach and his people, except for the 250 offering incense, who are consumed by divine fire.

The people, of course, blame Moses and Aaron for the deaths.  Again, the Lord seems intent on destroying the people.  14,700 die of a plague before Aaron stops it. His authority is re-established with the help of his staff, which sprouts, blossoms, and produces almonds.  The rest of the portion concerns tithes and perks for the Kohanim and Levites.

And now, back to our serious pondering on rebellion legitimacy, demagogues, and the fragility of democracy.

Korach et al.’s rebellion is illegitimate, no matter how much it is cloaked in pseudo-populist cant.  Why? The proclamation of the people’s holiness is twisted into a rejection of the authority of Moses and Aaron.  But the people had been told they could become holy, not that they already were. Since the authority of Moses and Aaron came from the Lord, it was legitimate by definition, and rejecting it meant rejecting the Lord’s authority.  Our own 1776 Declaration of Independence included an explicit rejection of the English King’s authority and sound reasons for that rejection.  Our rebellion’s legitimacy may have been questioned then, but we won.

Is Korach just a charismatic leader or a demagogue?  He leads the rebellion and wants to take the place of Aaron or Moses or both.  Let’s look at James Fenimore Cooper’s “rules of a true demagogue” (presented before, but they bear repeating. Cited by Michael Signer in Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies (Macmillan. 2009. pp. 32–41)):

  1. They present themselves as being of the common people, not the elites.
  2. They depend on a powerful, visceral connection with the people.
  3. They manipulate this connection for their own benefit and ambition.
  4. They threaten or even break established rules of conduct, institutions, even law. They do that either internally (threatening tyranny, subverting an inherently corrupt system of law) or externally by attacking other nations or groups.  In either case, they are intrinsically violent.

So Korach hasn’t yet developed into a full-blown demagogue, but he is certainly a demagogue wannabe.

The Israelites can’t jump from slavery to democracy.  But the colonists in 1776 had experience with local self-government, and the English were far away and largely uninterested. Our experiment with democracy was thus not unreasonable.  But we often forget how fragile democracy is.  It requires much effort, education, and participation.  In stressful times, it is tempting to let someone else take over, especially one who claims to be the only one who can fix it.  Then we’re in trouble. “The cycle begins with a demagogue, ambition, and charisma.  …Soon enough, the people give him the government itself.  The democracy rapidly becomes a tyranny.”  In time, the tyrant is overthrown, and democracy is re-established and lasts until the next demagogue emerges.  (Signer, op cit.)   At least, that’s how it’s been.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Shabbat shalom,


Oh no you didn’t! 30 acts of rebellion that will make your day (selections)

THEY’RE life’s little rebellions – like jaywalking or taking the lift during a fire drill. Here are 30 small acts of defiance that will make your day. Kate Midena [I am not necessarily endorsing any of these. IGP]

3. Not paying for parking when you know you’ll only be ten minutes

4. Not wearing your seat belt to drive to the corner store

13. Gunning it through an orange traffic light

14. Strategically forgetting to bring your wallet to work drinks

17. Eating a grape or two before you pay for them at the checkout

20. Sneaking alcohol into the cinema/football/races

22. Jaywalking in front of police cars to see if they would ever bother to stop and fine you

26. Hiding the only item of clothing left in your size at a store on the off chance you’ll want to come back and buy it

30. Hiding books written by people you hate on low shelves in bookstores


tph 11-23-16-bar-joke with caption


Quotes about Authority

Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, treating people with respect. Stephen Covey

Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases. John Adams

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei

Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us? William O. Douglas

He makes a great mistake… who supposes that authority is firmer or better established when it is founded by force than that which is welded by affection. Terence

Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people. Thomas Jefferson


tph dilbert authority


Earthquake Jokes

A college professor was very worried about his recent study on earthquakes.
It turns out his findings were on shaky ground.

The safest place to be during an earthquake would be in a stationary store.

I blame Mother Earth for all earthquakes.
It’s always her fault.

What do you call an earthquake during a production of Hamlet?
A Shakesperience


tph july 4


More 4th of July Humor

Nicholas took his four-year-old son, Bryan, to several baseball games where “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung before the start of each game. Later, Nicholas and Bryan attended St Bartholomew’s church on the Sunday before Independence Day.  The congregation sang The Star-Spangled Banner, and after everyone sat down, Bryan suddenly yelled out at the top of his voice, ‘Play ball.’

English Humour – Message from Her Majesty The Queen (excerpt)

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy). Your new Prime Minister will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.


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Shelach (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41)

Very tall Canaanites + very low self-esteem = Disaster

(I have cobbled together comments I like from 2013-2016)

This portion begins ambiguously.  The Lord says, “Send for yourself men to scout…”  Rashi interprets “for yourself” as a disclaimer (Hey, I’m not ordering this, it’s on your head).  In Deuteronomy, Moses says the people asked for this.  In any event, it seems to be a move taken by Moses to reassure a nervous people, in public, using their own leaders.  Moses did not appreciate the risk and far-reaching effects of sending such a mission when he didn’t have to, the risk of “no.” [I am reminded, naturally, of the crisis precipitated in 2016 in the United Kingdom, implications summarized by one newscast as “You Brexit, you bought it.”]

With great fanfare, Moses sends 12 men, one respected leader per landed tribe, to spy out the land of Canaan.  Their assignment is just fact-finding: (13:18-20): “18…Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? 19 Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? 20 Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land.”  They come back after 40 days with some giant fruit (remember that iconic picture of two men carrying one bunch of grapes on a pole?), and 10 say, yes, it’s flowing with milk and honey, but we cannot conquer it; we felt like grasshoppers next to the giants that inhabit the land.  Caleb and Joshua say conquering it will be a piece of cake with the Lord on their side.  The people panic and wail.  Literally on the edge of the Promised Land, they actually consider appointing a new leader and going back to Egypt and slavery.

That is the last straw. Moses prevents utter destruction, but the Lord’s punishment is swift and final: Those aged 20+ who came out of Egypt will wander a total of 40 years in the wilderness, 1 year per day of the spies’ trip, until all of them except Caleb and Joshua die off, or, as the Lord more colorfully puts it, “your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness.”  The 10 faithless spies are killed by a plague.  Then a group tries to conquer the Land anyway, but without the Lord on their side, they are beaten back.

But what really was the sin that lead to such a punishment?  According to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, it wasn’t simply a loss of already-shaky faith.  They don’t doubt the goodness of the land, nor do they speak against the Lord.  The key lies in 13:33: (W)e looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”  As Rabbi Riskin put it, “Tragedy erupts not so much when others take a sudden dislike to us, but when we dislike ourselves and become paralyzed and passive as a result. The sin of the scouts is not in the terrible report they bring, but in their vision of themselves, a perception which becomes contagious, and which ends up as a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. As James Baldwin said so aptly, he could forgive America for enslaving black people, but he could never forgive America for making the blacks feel that they were worthless, that they deserved to be slaves. And that’s precisely what Egypt did to the Hebrews!”

The portion ends with a return to law-giving, maybe as an attempt to restore calm: more on sacrifices for when (not if) Israelites eventually capture the Promised Land, the penalty for violating the Sabbath (stoning), and the commandment to put fringes (tzitzit) on the corners of garments as a reminder of the Lord and the Law (sort of like a string around your finger).  These verses, 15:37-41, form the last paragraph of the Shema in our liturgy. 

In the haftarah, Joshua 2:1-24, Joshua applies a more successful strategy, quietly sending out just two resourceful spies to infiltrate Jericho and obtain militarily useful information.  The conditions have changed. 38+ years before, only a few Israelites were psychologically ready and had the self-confidence to enter the Promised Land.  This new generation has no doubts.

Shabbat shalom,


tph NSA


During the Cold War, three spies were captured by the Soviets — one Englishman, one American, and one Italian.

The guards grab the Englishman, tie him up, and torture him unmercifully for an hour. Finally, he breaks and reveals all he knows.

The guards then grab the American, tie him up, and torture him unmercifully for two hours. Finally, he breaks and reveal all he knows.

Then the guards grab the Italian. They tie him up and torture him unmercifully for an hour… two hours… three hours. They torture him all night, but the Italian won’t say a word. Finally, the exhausted guards give him and let him go.

Wow,” the other two say, “how did you manage not to say anything?”

“How could I?” the Italian says, “my hands were tied!”



tph selfesteem Calvin


Grasshopper Jokes

A grasshopper walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey we have a drink named after you.” The surprised grasshopper says, “You have a drink named Shaun?” 

Religious Cowboy The devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a grasshopper walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the grasshopper’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!” “Not really,” said the grasshopper. “Your name is written inside the cover.” 

Movies A man in a movie theater notices what looks like a grasshopper sitting next to him. “Are you a grasshopper?” asked the man, surprised. “Yes.” “What are you doing at the movies?” The grasshopper replied, “Well, I liked the book.” 

Oldie but goodie

Bush and Moses

George Bush was traveling through an airport just recently when he saw a man that looked just like Moses.  He had longer, white hair, had a shepherd’s staff, he was wearing a cloak and holding onto two stone tablets.  George goes up to him and says, “Pardon me, but are you Moses?”  The man doesn’t even acknowledge him.  He doesn’t look and him or say anything.

Again, George says, “Excuse me – you look just like Moses – are you?”  The man still does not respond in any way.  

By now, George is starting to get irritated… he’s not getting any answers!  About this time a secret service agent approaches and asks if there is a problem.  George tells him – “I’ve asked this guy if he is Moses two times and he hasn’t even responded to me!”  The secret service agent looks at Moses and asks “So, are you Moses?  Why won’t you talk to us?”

Moses finally looks at the secret service guy and says, “The last time I talked to a bush I spent 40 years wandering in the desert.”


Quotes about Self-Esteem

Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth. Anthony Carmona

Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. Sam Walton

To me, self-esteem is not self-love. It is self-acknowledgment, as in recognizing and accepting who you are. Amity Gaige

The thing that drives me crazy is when comics say, ‘I have low self-esteem.’ No you don’t. You’re standing on stage asking people to pay. You don’t play an instrument. You want people to pay to hear what’s in your mind. You don’t have low self-esteem. You might have other problems. Colin Quinn


From Jewish Jokes: A Clever Kosher Compilation: A Clever Kosher Compilation (2005) by David Minkoff

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

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B’Haalotekha (Numbers 8:1 – 12:16)

In this portion, there is a big mood shift, from the excitement of the final pre-march tasks to the continuous kvetching you’d expect of cranky four-year-olds.

Aaron finishes setting up the divinely designed, 7-branched gold menorah.  The Levites are ritually purified (sprinkling with water, full body shave, laundry) and are publicly, formally designated for the Lord’s service, in place of the first-born Israelites.  Next, in order to accommodate those who could not eat the Passover sacrifice because of ritual impurity, a second Passover (Pesach Sheni) is instituted a month after the first.  Then, two silver trumpets are made for summoning the people.  As we read earlier, a cloud is to cover the Tabernacle by day and fire by night, their movement indicating when the people should decamp.  Now the tribes are ready to move forward, and they do so with ceremony: Verses 10:35-36, set apart by two inverted letters nun, i.e., ׆, are to be proclaimed whenever the Ark to sets out and we still sing those verses today in our own Torah services.  And Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, goes home.

Those are the last positive experiences we’ll see for a while.

There is a basic pattern we’ll see over and over again: The people misbehave, the Lord strikes, Moses prays, the Lord relents.  Usually, the people also repent or run to Moses somewhere in that sequence.  At the start of Chapter 11, for example, the people complain, bitterly (about what, isn’t in the text), and the Lord strikes them with fire.  The people cry to Moses, Moses prays to the Lord, and the fire dies. 

Then they complain about the food.  They’re tired of manna. They miss the “real” food of Egypt (fish, meat, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic), which comes dangerously close to being nostalgic for Egypt itself.  But it’s not just the food. Like tired, cranky children, they’re just plain unhappy, and giving them Egyptian goodies really won’t help. Rabban Gamaliel understood this: “You will never satisfy them…If you give them beef, they will say they asked for mutton.  If you will give them mutton, they will say they asked for beef, for fish, for grasshoppers” (according to Rashi, in Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, pp. 110-111). 

In response to their whining, the Lord sends them quail for “a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils” (11:20) followed by a plague, probably food poisoning. 

Even Moses is fed up at this point: “I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me If You would deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg You, and let me see no more of my wretchedness!” (11:14-15).  So, the Lord gives the gift of prophesy to 70 elders to help him bear the load. 

To top it all off, Miriam and Aaron start grumbling that they aren’t getting their due as prophets along with their brother Moses and gossip slanderously with regard to his “Cushite” wife (Zipporah? A second wife?).  Miriam is punished by being stricken with tzara’at, the skin disease that is not leprosy and is considered a punishment for slander.

Are any of us surprised that the Israelites complain?  They are in the wilderness, literally and emotionally.  Not much more than a year ago, they were slaves in Egypt, and they retain that mindset.  How can they focus on an idea, the idea of being a free people in a Promised Land?  

Shabbat shalom,


Medical Lightbulb Jokes

Q: How long does a nurse take to change a lightbulb?
A: It takes just 30 seconds to change the lightbulb but 45 minutes to document it.;

Q: how long does it take a house officer to change a lightbulb?
A: it depends how long it takes him to find a nurse.

Q: How many senior consultants does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Just one, he holds up the bulb and waits for the world to revolve around him.

Q: How many doctors does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Three. One to order a replacement bulb, one to watch the nurse do it, and one to bill it all to Medicare.

Q: How many surgeons does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. They would wait for a suitable donor and do a filament transplant.

Q: How many orthopedic surgeons does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Why don’t you just let us take out the socket? You aren’t using it anyway, and it will only cause you trouble later.


tph green eggs and ham


tph nostalgia


Quotes: Never Satisfied

Jealousy is never satisfied with anything short of an omniscience that would detect the subtlest fold of the heart. George Eliot

Man is the only animal whose desires increase as they are fed; the only animal that is never satisfied. Henry George 

I immediately doubt things if I become satisfied with them. Being satisfied by something is a real danger for me. I hope I never lose that. That would be death. Jamie Wyeth

The intellectual power is never at rest; it is never satisfied with any comprehended truth, but ever proceeds on and on towards that truth which is not comprehended. So also the will, which follows the apprehension; we see that it is never satisfied with anything finite. Giordano Bruno

No matter how correct a mathematical theorem may appear to be, one ought never to be satisfied that there was not something imperfect about it until it also gives the impression of being beautiful. George Boole

A Russian Jew wanted to immigrate to Israel. 
The local commissar calls him in for questioning and asks: 

Q. Haven’t we allowed you the right to worship in your Synagogue? 
A. Can’t complain. 

Q. Haven’t we let you live in peace with your fellow Jews? 
A. Can’t complain. 

Q. Haven’t we allowed you to travel freely within and beyond the village? 
A. Can’t complain. 

Q. Haven’t we allowed you to teach your children Torah? 
A. Can’t complain. 

Q. Haven’t we let you practice your profession? 
A. Can’t complain. 

Q. Then why do you want to go to Israel? 
A. “There, I can complain!”


Gossip Jokes

Why was the well-done steak a terrible gossip? It wasn’t juicy enough!

A boss told his secretaries to stop gossiping and get back to work. To which one replied “We’re not gossiping we’re networking.”

Rumors are worse than being robbed, because gossips steal another person’s dignity.

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Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

Still transitioning into full summer mode.  My only scheduled activity is Read Aloud DelawareNo classes, rehearsals, or lessons, but somehow there’s always something else to work on, like Torah and haftarah readings, the Book of Ruth, never-ending decluttering…

From 2017: Naso is the longest single Torah portion of the year, 176 verses.  However, that’s partly because it includes a detailed description of the gifts presented by each of the twelve tribes upon the dedication of the Tabernacle, and they’re identical, so that’s a lot of repetition.  Only the names of the tribe and leader vary. According to Nachmanides, this serves to hammer home that the tribes are innately equal before the Lord and also is a way to honor each leader individually, by name (see A Daily Dose of Torah, Y. A. Weiss, ed., Vol. 9, p. 105). 

But before we get to those, there are several situations and laws that do not really seem related.  However, everything not only ties together but logically follows from what came before.

First, we still have to complete the census of the Levites.  This one includes only the men aged 30 to 50 this time; since their work includes disassembling and carrying the Tabernacle when the Israelites were on the move, they retire from that duty at 50. 

Now that we’ve finished talking about the camp, we are reminded that ritually unclean people belong outside it and the offerings required for their ritual purification, which leads to some text about the guilt offering, which is brought for what is referred to as “a trespass against,” or “breaking faith with,” the Lord.

Since the same phrasing is used for a wife suspected of adultery, what comes next is the (in)famous), sotah ritual, a trial by ordeal brought by a jealous and suspicious husband. This involves having her drink “bitter waters” and uncovering her hair. 

“Hair” reminds us of cutting, or not cutting it, so next are the laws
concerning nazirites, including abstain from haircuts, beard shaving, intoxicants and grapes, and not coming into contact with a corpse. Becoming a nazirite was a way to attain a higher spiritual state.  This was intended to be temporary, say, 30 days.  Famous lifelong nazirites include Samuel, who bore it well, and Samson, born in this week’s haftarah (Judges 13:2-25), who didn’t. 

But there was ambivalence about this sort of spiritually inspired asceticism, so what’s next but a reminder of who are caretakers of the Israelites’ spiritual welfare, namely, the priestly benediction (6:24-26).  Finally, since we’ve being reading about holiness and dedication to the Lord, the last chapter in the portion includes the presentation of tribal gifts that I described above.

The priestly benediction is the most familiar part of this Torah portion.  It is part of our liturgy and, at certain times, (customs vary worldwide) is pronounced by the Kohanim in the congregation.  That brings me to “An Unbelievably Love-ly Vort” (vort =short insight) from Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s weekly, passed along to me by Arlene (thanks!).  The Kohanim recite a blessing before the priestly benediction, which includes “who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless His nation Israel, with love.”  Giving the blessing with love is a firm requirement. The Italian scholar Rav Moshe Dovid Valle [1697-1777]: wrote, “…and the Torah, by writing ‘amor lahem’ ( אָמ֖וֹר לָהֶֽם , literally ‘say to them’) implies with great focus and with complete love.  And there is a hint in the pasuk [verse] that it must be said with love.”  What is the hint?  “For the word amor in the language of other nations means ‘love.’”  Whether or not there is etymological evidence linking the Hebrew אָמ֖וֹר to the Latin amor, it’s a useful insight, since one can extrapolate it to include every time the Lord issues a command, “…amor lahem” that command is inherently filled with love.

Shabbat shalom,

Jokes about Jealousy
Jealous husband
Jealous husband: “My wife where are you?”
Wife: “At home love.”
Husband: “Are you sure?”
Wife: “Yes”
Husband: “Turn on the blender.”
Wife: (turns blender on) reeereeeereeee
Husband: “Ok my love goodbye.”
Another day, Jealous husband: “My wife where are you?”
Wife: “At home love.”
Husband: “Are you sure?”
Wife: “Yes”
Husband: “Turn on the blender.”
Wife: (turns blender on) reeereeeereeee
Husband: “Ok my love goodbye.”
The next day, the husband decides to go home without notice, finds his son alone and asks him “Son, where is your mother?”
Son: “I don’t know, she went out with the blender…..”

My wife gets jealous when I go grocery shopping
There’s always a cashier checking me out.

My wife asked me how I was going to feel when our son started dating…
Apparently jealous was not the right answer.

Bought some extra sensitive toothpaste the other day…
It got really jealous when I used a different toothpaste this morning

I caught my wife cheating with my best friend.
She was upset that I was always beating her, and he was jealous of how much money and property I had.
I was so angry when I caught them that I flipped the game board over and left them to pick up all the pieces.


Top Ten Nazir Pet Peeves    by weekly bang staff Posted: 06-07-2009

  1. Everyone confusing you for Matisyahu [popular American Hasidic Jewish reggae musician].
    9.   Singles Wine Tasting events

    8.   Annoying “Hey There Delilah” song always on radio
    7.   Only one at the Seder not trashed after cup 3
    6.   HR keeps making subtle comments about long man-braids not being appropriate for the office
    5.     People always asking if you have any weed, Phish tickets or weed
    4.  “Nazir, not Navi [prophet], I don’t know your future, damn it”
    3.    ‘Before-vow’ binge-drinking photos always popping up on Facebook
    2.    Bald alcoholic coroners
    1.    Samsonite briefcase gag gifts


tph samson hair



Place names that say looooooong hair (with input from my special Medusa and MrHaroldG2000):

  • Hairvard Squhair in Combridge, Masshairchusetts and UK
  • O’Hair International Hairport in Chicago, IL
  • US States (partial list): Hairizona, Delawhair, New Hampshair, Mane, Cannotgetitcut,
  • Canadian Provinces: Maneitoba, Albhairta, the Mhairitimes
  • World Cities: Lisbun, Manetreal, Vancouvhair,
  • Languages: Vietmanese, Manedhairin Chinese

A woman worked in the garden wearing her ankle length tresses down. After a while, she noticed rabbits nibbling the ends of her beautiful locks. Did she have a bad hair day or a bad hare day?

What is Rapunzel’s favorite department store? Macy’s in New York City because it is located in ‘Hair-old’ Square in ‘Mane-hattan’.

Then there was the man who was arrested for stepping over the floor dragging part of Rapunzel’s hair. He was arrested for tress-passing!!



tph Spock_Vulcan_salute

THE NEW NOVEL King of Shards by Matthew Kressel draws on centuries of Judaic myth about creatures like golems, dybbuks, and demons. In the course of his research, Kressel discovered that much of modern science fiction has Jewish roots. For example, when actor Leonard Nimoy invented the Vulcan salute, he was inspired by a two-handed gesture he’d seen at a Jewish ceremony.

“He suggested the one-handed priestly blessing,” Kressel says in Episode 172 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And that entered into pop culture history.”


Quotes about Equality of Groups

Do we believe that there is equal economic opportunity out there in the real world, right now, for each and every one of these groups? If we believed in the tooth fairy, if we believed in the Easter Bunny, we might well believe that. William Weld

I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt: I do not believe that any racial, ethnic or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experiences. Sonia Sotomayor

America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal. Kenneth Frazier (Merck & Co. CEO. I recently learned we were contemporaries at the same junior high. IGP)


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Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20), Shavuot

This weekend:  a new book and a lesser-known major holiday

The book is called Numbers in English, Bamidbar (in the wilderness) or Bemidbar (in [the] wilderness of…i.e., Sinai) in Hebrew.  While Bamidbar suits the book as a whole, Numbers actually better fits this week’s portion, which is indeed full of numbers and counting, as the Lord calls for a census.

It’s only 13 months since the Exodus and we just had a census, that half-shekel head tax. Why do we need another?  The head tax was simply for upkeep of the Tabernacle. This is a census of men aged 20+, able to bear arms. Remember, the Israelites think their conquest of the Promised Land will begin in a matter of months. But counting was a serious activity in the ancient world.  When you count, you are singling out individuals, thereby making them vulnerable (e.g., to the evil eye). As I wrote last year, “Numbers can lead us toward a truth.  But numbers do not equal truth…Using numbers as a substitute for truth is dangerous.  You end up aiming for the number, not for the reality.”

Once counted, the tribes are assigned positions around the Tabernacle, three tribes on each side.  This also determines 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.  In 2017, I finally looked up some commentaries concerning the tribes’ placement. It’s basically a combination of military strategy, family birth order and mother’s rank, and future potential of the tribe (e.g., even though Judah was only the 4th son, he is the de facto leader and that tribe goes first).

The Levites are special.  They supported Moses and the Lord after the Golden Calf incident, and now they will be dedicated to the service of the Lord in place of the first-born Israelites.  In the wilderness, they take care of the Tabernacle and are camped around it.  Each clan (Gershon, Kohath, Merari) is assigned specific chores for its maintenance, set up, disassembly, and portage.   They are counted separately, from the age of one month up.  At this point, there are more first-born Israelites than Levites, so 5 shekels is to be collected to redeem each “excess” first-born Israelite.  This is where we get the pidyon haben ritual, the re-enacted redemption of a month-old, Israelite, first-born son.

These censuses each serve a defined, clear purpose.  That is not necessarily always the case.  There is a lot of controversy about whether citizenship should be included in the 2020 U.S. census questionnaire.  I’ve often seen such data on old census forms in my genealogical research, so I thought I’d look into the history.  The census exists to apportion Representatives and the Constitution (Article 1, Section 2) does not limit the counting to citizens.  Then I looked at the questions for each census, 1790 through 2010. The 1790 census asked for the number of free white males, free white females, other free persons, and slaves.  Later, all sorts of other questions were included that went beyond a simple count. A citizenship question was included (sometimes only for some of those questioned) 4 times in the 180o’s, 9 in the 1900’s, and in 2000.  The issue is not history but the motivation of those who want it reinstated and anticipated consequences. Urban Institute researchers Diana Elliott and Robert Santos found “political discourse about immigration and the citizenship question has created a potential chill among some groups in the country, including those who are Hispanic/Latinx-identified and immigrants.”  A citizenship question is likely to discourage immigrants from answering, leading to a depressed, inaccurate count.

The Book of Ruth tells of another immigrant, Ruth, who is lovingly supported by her adopted community because she’s been so good to her mother-in-law, Naomi.  We read (actually, chant) this book on Shavuot, which starts Saturday night.  The story occurs at the time of the wheat harvest and Ruth’s acceptance of the Torah nicely echoes the Israelites’ acceptance of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, which we celebrate on this holiday.

Although it’s only two days long (one for Reform), Shavuot is indeed a major holiday.  Here is your crib sheet of the readings:

 First DaySecond Day (Orthodox, Conservative)
TorahExodus 19:1-20:23, Ten Commandments. Numbers 28:26-31, sacrifices.Deut. 15:19-16:17, holidays. Numbers 28:26-31, sacrifices.
HaftarahEzekiel 1:1-28, 3:12, Chariot visions.Habakkuk 2:20-3:19, prayer for mercy in exile.  Yetziv Pitgam mystical song of praise, may be inserted.
Other textAkdamut, 11th c. poemBook of Ruth, celebrating conversion, spring harvest time

Shavuot is a harvest festival, like Sukkot and Pesach.   Michael Carasik has called it the orphan among Jewish holidays; it is the forgotten festival.” The celebration of “matan Torah” (the giving of the Law) as a focus on Shavuot is found nowhere in the Torah.   Even the date of Shavuot is not clear; compare the ambiguity of Deut. 16:9-10 with the ambiguity of Lev. 23:15-16.  Eventually, the 6th of Sivan was agreed upon, 7 weeks (whence the name, “Shavuot” meaning weeks) after the second day of Pesach.   Some customs include all-night study sessions, decorating with flowers, Confirmation (mainly Reform), chanting Akdamut, a long, 11th century liturgical poem , and eating only dairy.  My synagogue usually serves cheesecake at the night-time study session and ice cream after services the next day.  My husband plans to make Horn & Hardart’s macaroni and cheese, which I’m looking forward to.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,


An accountant is having a hard time sleeping and goes to see his doctor. “Doctor, I just can’t get to sleep at night.” The Doctor replied, “Have you tried counting sheep?” The accountant stated, “That’s the problem – I make a mistake and then spend three hours trying to find it.”





I don’t know if this is where I had ice cream when we were in Kotor, Montenegro last fall, but this is how it was swirled. The display was as enjoyable as the taste.



A Questionable Conversion

submitted by: Bernie

A Jewish immigrant arrives by ship to New York City from Europe. The immigration inspector at Ellis Island asks him his first and last name, age, and national origin. Because of all the suffering he went through in his native land, when inspector asks him what religion he belongs to, the Jew is very uncomfortable and hesitates before answering.

Finally, he lifts his head, on top of which is his peasant hat and he responds with questionable pride, “I am Christian!”

To that, the immigration inspector answers him with a question, “Christian Ashkenazi or Christian Sephardi?”




Quotes about Counting

It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything. Joseph Stalin

Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds. Regina Brett

If you can actually count your money, then you’re not a rich man. J. Paul Getty

If you want an accounting of your worth, count your friends. Mary Browne

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