Toldot (Genesis 25:19 – 28:9)

Isaac, Rebecca, Esau, and Jacob: the prototypical dysfunctional family.  Sibling rivalry, blatant parental favoritism, a breakdown of communication between husband and wife, taking advantage of the infirmity of an old man.  And lots of scheming.

This portion should be Isaac’s, with stories of his own life and development.  But a lot of it seems to be a re-working of his father Abraham’s adventures: In this portion, Isaac seems to be re-living his father  life, including having a long-barren wife; passing his wife off as his sister to protect himself; settling a dispute over wells with Abimelech (probably a different person though, “Abimelech” being a title like “Pharaoh”); and eventually having two sons, the elder an outdoorsy hunter and the younger a quiet homebody whose mother recognizes him as the more deserving heir. 

Rebecca has no children for 20 years, followed by her sole, very difficult pregnancy with twins.  She receives a divine message: they are two nations, and the elder will serve the younger.  Isaac is apparently not told this by either God or Rebecca; or maybe he just doesn’t accept it.  In fact, in the text, Rebecca only speaks directly to Isaac to tell him she’s sending Jacob to Haran to find a nice monotheistic girl to marry (leaving out the minor detail that Esau has threatened to kill him). 

Even though Rebecca was God’s choice for Isaac’s wife, they are, or have become, a mismatch.  Isaac seems generally passive and meditative.  Rebecca is much younger, more adventurous, and ready to do whatever is needed to ensure the “right” son inherits.  And they never seem able to communicate effectively with each other.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin explains that the rift began when Rebecca first saw Isaac: “So awesome was the sight of Isaac transformed by prayer that she was literally knocked off her feet. Compared to the lying and cheating world of her father, Betuel, and her brother, Laban, Isaac projected a purity with which Rebecca had no previous experience.

“When Eliezer revealed the man’s identity, she took the veil and covered herself, not only as a sign of modesty, but as an expression of her unworthiness. From that moment on, the veil between them was never removed. She felt she could never speak to her husband as an equal. She never felt that she had the right to offer a dissenting opinion. But why was Isaac unable to bridge the gap?

“The harrowing experience of the Akedah left Isaac in a permanent state of shock. … After the Akedah the traumatized Isaac became silent, non-communicative, leading Elie Wiesel to call Isaac the first survivor.”

I wonder what would have ensued had Rebecca not been told “the elder will serve the younger”?  Would she still have favored Jacob as much?  Would she have tried to civilize Esau, to groom him to be the future head of the family?  Would there have been a little more respect among family members for each other?  We see clearly that Jacob doesn’t respect Esau, e.g., when he offers to give a famished Esau some lentil soup in exchange for his birthright (this isn’t the blessing but a formal designation as future head of the family, which came with priestly duties) and certainly when he pretends to be Esau to steal the blessing.  Esau doesn’t respect his birthright or Jacob.  Rebecca and Jacob, scheming to get Jacob Isaac’s blessing, respect neither Isaac nor norms of behavior to respect the aged and not take advantage of the (physically or figuratively) blind. 

Why does Isaac favor Esau?  Esau pays attention to him, even makes him venison stew. Perhaps Esau reminds him of Ishmael, in a good way.  Perhaps he sees in Esau traits that he admires but lacks, such as Esau’s outward focus, fearlessness and ability to take care of himself.  Perhaps he favors Esau because Esau needs his attention more than Jacob does.  In the end, as Nehama Leibowitz pointed out, the blessing intended for Esau (27:28-29) is concerned only with material wealth and power, while the blessing Jacob is finally given before he leaves home concerns the legacy of Abraham and the covenant with the Lord.  Perhaps Isaac understood more of what was going on than his family realized.

What about Rebecca?  Her behavior is consistent with her upbringing, as we’ll see in next week’s reading.  Her determination to see that Jacob unseats Esau is praised by many commentators as carrying out God’s plan.  Further, as Alan Dershowitz wrote in The Genesis of Justice, there was no settled legal system to call upon.  Life was dealt with by physical force or guile.  Esau used force.  Jacob and Rebecca used guile, guile being “the great leveler between the physically unequal.”  But justice is symmetrical. Rebecca is punished for tricking her blind husband and Esau in that she never sees Jacob again. 

Shabbat shalom,










The Twin Sisters (lightly edited for length)

A fellow and his wife were blessed with the birth of twins, two identical girls. These twins were born on the 4th of July, and the father, being patriotic, said to his wife, “We will name them Liberty and Justice, after the pledge of allegiance”.

His wife said, “Are you nuts? We are going to name them regular girl’s names like Mary or Jane.”

Well, compromise was reached. They would each name one of the girls. The man chose Liberty and the wife picked Elizabeth.

As the girls grew, they were so identical, they kept pulling tricks on people who couldn’t tell them apart.

Finally, when they were about 18, a young man took interest in them. He would take one out on a date, but he was never sure which one he was with. He decided he would marry one of them, but he wasn’t sure which.

He went to the girls’ father and explained his quandary. “I love your daughters and want to marry one of them, but I can’t tell them apart, so I will leave it up to you…

Give me Liberty or give me Beth.”

(Hey, I could have given you the one with the punchline, “when you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Amal.”)











(7 of) 17 Funny Quotes About Dysfunctional Families (That are So True)

August 16, 2014 by Krissy Brady

If your family’s been driving you… well, nuts, here are funny quotes about dysfunctional families to make you feel better. (Don’t mention it.)

Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts. -Unknown

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. -George Burns

I think a dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it. -Mary Karr

When I was ten, my family moved to Downer’s Grove, Illinois. When I was twelve, I found them. -Emo Phillips

Apparently, one in five people in the world are Chinese. And there are five people in my family, so it must be one of them. It’s either my mum or my dad. Or my older brother, Colin. Or my younger brother, Ho-Chan-Chu. But I think it’s Colin. -Tim Vine

To encourage my little kid to eat something, I’d sometimes say: “Just pretend it’s sand.” -Anonymous

Family love is messy, clinging, and of an annoying and repetitive pattern… like bad wallpaper. -Friedrich Nietzsche


Ridiculously Smart Simpsons Jokes You Haven’t Been Getting for the Last 20 Years

3. Paul McCartney’s Hidden Lentil Soup Recipe

Paul and Linda McCartney guest starred in the episode “Lisa the Vegetarian” in 1995. While visiting with Lisa, Paul mentions that if you play the song “Maybe I’m Amazed” backwards, you’ll hear a recipe for a delicious lentil soup. The song plays over the episode’s ending credits and true to their word, if you play it backwards, you will actually hear Paul read a recipe for lentil soup.

This version of the song was created specially for the show. For those interested:

·         One medium onion, chopped

·         Two tablespoons of vegetable oil

·         One clove of garlic, crushed

·         One cup of carrots, chopped

·         Two sticks of celery, chopped

·         Half a cup of lentils

·         One bay leaf


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Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Chayei Sarah (חַיֵּי שָׂרָה) means “life of Sarah.”  The Torah portion actually begins with Sarah’s death at the age of 127.  (Tradition has it that she died of shock, from either horror at the thought that Abraham would sacrifice their son or relief that he hadn’t.)  But when someone dies, we need to focus on, and celebrate, that person’s life.  Someone who has died should be remembered for the life led more than the circumstances of death.  This is especially true after the horrific murders last week of Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Feinberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54; husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69 in Pittsburgh and  Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67 in Kentucky.   Learning about each of them as individuals honors their memory and brings a small measure of comfort, even though the pain is still sharp.

When Sarah dies, Abraham wants not only to bury her but to provide a family plot in perpetuity.  This was not trivial.  As Nahum Sarna explains in Chapter X of Understanding Genesis (1966), Abraham was only a resident alien and so it was a big deal for him to be granted land ownership.  While the bargaining between Abraham and Ephron appears simply to be flowery Near Eastern oratory, it is actually a carefully crafted legal transaction.  It’s done in public at the city gate, the community meeting place; and the text contains specific legal terminology that is found in ancient Near Eastern court records of property transfers.  And so, Abraham buries Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah.

After a suitable mourning period, Abraham gets on with the business of tying up important loose ends before his own demise.  The most important of these is finding a wife for Isaac to continue to the family line.  Why doesn’t Isaac do this himself?  We are not told.  Abraham decides marriage to a Canaanite is out of the question, so he sends his trusted servant (unnamed, but assumed to be Eliezer) to Haran to find a nice monotheistic girl for Isaac, preferably from his own family. 

In Haran, at the well (where else?), Eliezer prays that Isaac’s bashert not only give him water but offer to water his camels as well, as much bigger job.  To us, this sounds like a typical fairy tale gambit – Cinderella’s foot must fit the slipper, Princess Aurora can only be awakened by her true love’s kiss, and so on.  A different take (Sarna, op. cit., p. 173) is that Eliezer is praying for guidance so that his choice would indeed reflect God’s will.  At any rate, Rebecca not only gives water to Eliezer and his camels but rushes to do so.  Furthermore, she is beautiful, a virgin, and she turns out to be the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor.  Jackpot!

However, when Eliezer meets Rebecca’s family, we get a few hints that something is not exactly as it should be.  Rebecca’s brother, Laban, seems to have an awful lot of authority, but there is evidence in ancient records of a system of fratriarchy, in which a brother has jurisdiction over his siblings, for example, concerning marriage.  Laban behaves correctly, yet he seems more motivated by the gold jewelry Rebecca now wears than by a sincere desire to be hospitable.  Rebecca is asked whether she wants to accept the offer and leave with this man of a few hours’ acquaintance, to go marry an unknown cousin far away and maybe never see her Haran family again.  Despite her family’s wish that she and Eliezer wait a while, she decides to leave immediately.  Is there some reason she’s so anxious to leave home?  Rebecca leaves Haran, with her family’s blessing, and meets Isaac in a field.  They marry. Isaac loves her.  We are never told that Rebecca loves Isaac.

Abraham takes a third consort, Keturah, by whom he has six sons, ancestors of various tribes.  At the age of 175, content with his life, Abraham dies.  He is buried alongside Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah by his sons Isaac and Ishmael.  Ishmael has twelve sons, progenitors of 12 tribes, and dies when he is 137.

Next week, we read how Isaac and Rebecca didn’t exactly live happily ever after.

Shabbat shalom,


tph match match


What a Deal!

The matchmaker was very anxious to conclude a chasseneh [marriage] between the son of his longtime friend and his own niece. It wasn’t just the fee involved, either. The old broker was certain they would make a happy and loving couple. But the young man would have none of the prospective bride, a recent widow.

“You call this a good match?” he rebuked the shadchan. “That woman is the mother of four children!”

“All right, so she’s the mother of four. By you this is bad? Take the word of an experienced man — it’s much better so!”

“What do you mean, better?”

“My boy, did you ever stop to think that if you married a maiden and decided to have four children, what kind of tsuris [troubles] you’d go through?”

“I don’t think that’s so much trouble.”

“Ha! The experienced man is talking! You never had to go through four pregnancies! And you live two flights up in the apartment house so you have to carry your wife up the stairs when you bring her back from the hospital. So what happens? I’ll tell you exactly what happens — you sprain your back and now you’re both convalescing. And if your wife doesn’t recuperate from the childbirth, what do you do? You send her to the Catskills for a rest, that’s what!

“Here you are, living in the city and she’s in the country. And who’ll look after the kinder[children] while you are working or maybe laid up in a sick­ bed, and she’s away? Will you do all the cooking and cleaning and washing of diapers? You call that a kind of life?

“On the other hand, I’m offering you a fine-looking widow with four ready-made children: no fuss, no bother, no expense — custom-tailored, just for you. My boy, anybody who doesn’t grab this proposition is out of his mind!”

[Now that’s a salesman!]


tph FTDesperate Housewives.0


Quotes on the Celebration of Life

Life is passion, celebration in the face of chaos, light in the face of darkness, hope in the face of despair, and joy, for the universe without life feels nothing, is nothing, and does nothing except slowly die. Rick Tumlinson

I was born and trained to communicate music, just as the sons were born and trained to hunt, and I was lucky to have grown up in Hungary, a country that lives and breathes music-that has a passionate belief in the power of music as a celebration of life. Georg Solti

My photographs are a celebration of life, fun and the beautiful. They are a world that doesn’t exist. A fantasy. Freedom is real. There are no rules. The life I wish I was living. Ryan McGinley

Let no one weep for me or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men. Quintus Ennius

(#5 of the)Top 5 Cemetery Jokes

Oct13 by gravetender06

#5. Two men were walking home after a Halloween party and decided to take a shortcut  through the cemetery just for laughs. Right in the middle of the cemetery they  were startled by a tap-tap-tapping noise coming from the misty shadows.  Trembling with fear, they found an old man with a hammer and chisel, chipping  away at one of the headstones.
“Holy Cow, mister”, one of them said after  catching his breath. “You scared us half to death… we thought you were a  ghost! What are you doing working here so late at night?”
“Those fools!”, the  old man grumbled. “They misspelled my name!”


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Vayeira (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24)

(From 2015) As so we continue the demonstrations of “family values” in Genesis.  This week, in Parashat Vayeira, we have instances of duplicity, pimping, seduction, incest, attempted second degree murder, the expulsion of a woman and her son into the wilderness with little enough in the way of provisions that they almost die of thirst, and the utter destruction of two cities full of people – not by a flood, though, but by a raining of “sulfurous fire from the Lord out of heaven” (19:24).  And Abraham just can’t seem to deal with having a wife and concubine (effectively, two wives) so he pretty much hides from them both.

OK, there are positive elements as well.  Abraham, though recovering from his circumcision, eagerly demonstrates hospitality toward his angelic visitors.  (Does anybody besides me think it’s weird that Abraham is directly told twice about the coming birth of a son, but Sarah just overhears an angel’s message?) Sarah gives birth to Isaac, whose name is related to “laughter,” perhaps Sarah’s disbelieving laugh at the prospect of having a baby at 90, let alone Abraham’s ability to father one; or perhaps embarrassment; or perhaps simply joy.  Hagar and Ishmael survive in the wilderness, and Hagar is promised that Ishmael will be the father of 12 tribes.  And Abraham doesn’t actually kill Isaac.

There are also incidents provoking mixed reactions.  The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is used to test Abraham’s compassion and willingness to stand up to the Lord and question.  But they are still destroyed.  Lot also demonstrates the principle of protecting guests, but by offering the mob his young daughters instead.  Lot and his family, except for his wife who is turned into a pillar of salt, survive.  But his daughters get him drunk, seduce him, and become pregnant.  Abraham and Sarah together lie to Abimelech about Sarah’s identity (20:2, 5, 12, 13, 16), then excuses that by revealing she is actually his half-sister, so they weren’t really lying.  But Abraham and Sarah are materially enriched by Abimelech upon leaving.  And there’s that whole mess between Sarah and Hagar concerning Ishmael’s behavior with Isaac (This has been identified by some commentators as pedophilic incestuous sodomy, by others as merely shooting arrows at Isaac.  Or Sarah may just have seen the two and wanted Ishmael out of the way to protect the much-younger Isaac’s rights).  But, not only is there a good ending for Hagar and her son, but the Lord speaks with her in a way the Lord never speaks with Sarah.

The main event in the portion is, of course, Akedat Yitzhak, the binding of Isaac.  Our modern reaction to Abraham’s following orders without protest is generally horror.  Or, if we look at it allegorically, or cynically, we think, “So?  Parents often sacrifice their children for their own (the parents’) ends.”  However, as Rabbi Leonard A. Sharzer, MD (Associate Director for Bioethics of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, JTS) writes in Ultimate Values and the Akedah Story, some Talmudic commentators felt Abraham didn’t go far enough, since he did not actually sacrifice Isaac (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 57b).  And medieval commentators were familiar with many examples of men who had slaughtered their families and themselves during the Crusades.  “For Jews in the rabbinic period and the Middle Ages, ‘their sufferings and sacrifices exceeded by far everything endured by the original Akedah’s father and son.’ (Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, 21) They were sympathetic mainly to Abraham’s being thwarted from demonstrating his devotion to God. “

Shabbat shalom,


[It’s that time again]

Top Ten World Series References in Parshat Vayera
by weekly bang staff Posted: 10-27-2007(Viewed 1263 times)

10.Avraham kicked dirt on The Ump, Hashem, arguing the call to destroy S’dome [Sodom]
9. Lot’s wife became the first pitcher’s mound
8. The Astrodome, Skydome can’t compare to S’dome 
7. Boston winning another series??  That’d make even Sarah laugh
6. Avraham and Avimelech cut a deal and call the place “Beer Sheva”, instantly making getting a beer in the 7th inning a mitzvah
5. Sarah kicks Hagar and Yishmael out together – a double play
4. Youkilis* = You Kill is(aac)??!
3. Avraham took off his shoes on the holy ground, exposing the Red Sox 
2. Avraham relieves starter Yishmael, bringing in Yitzchak for the save
1.Hashem brings in the goat** to close.

* Red Sox player Kevin Youkilis, first and third baseman
**actually, a ram


Quotes about Laughter

A day without laughter is a day wasted. Charlie Chaplin

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. Erma Bombeck

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

Laughter is the closest distance between two people. Victor Borge

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


Unwanted Guests

It was at a party and the host was getting worried because there were too many people and not enough refreshments. She was sure that not all of these people had been invited but didn’t know how to tell which ones were the crashers. Then her husband got an idea….
He turned to the crowd of guests and said, “Will those who are from the brides side of the family stand up please?” About twenty people stood. Then he asked ” Will those who are from the groom side of the family stand up as well?” about twenty-five people stood up. Then he smiled and said

“Will all those who stood please leave, this is a birthday party”.


tph little sodom


tph isaacthesacrafice_2_orig

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Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27)

Yes, we’re back.  Yes, we had a great time.  Yes, pictures of Venice, Montenegro, and Greece will be posted.  Also, though it’s been several days, my mind is still kind of foggy.

(2015 Comments) In grad school, I remember once, while I was walking somewhere but my mind was elsewhere, a person came up to me and kindly asked if I knew where I was going.  This has happened to me several times when I know my destination; I guess my face just looks lost if I am thinking and walking at the same time.  On this occasion, I was startled, because it sounded like an existential question: did I know where I was going in terms of my life, career, and so on?  I didn’t.  But I did know where I was walking.

Abram faces the opposite situation in this week’s Torah reading, Lech L’cha.  [2013: My friend Stanley says this command, “Lech l’cha” is best translated “Get going!”]  He does not know where he is going, physically.  But he knows he will be the source of a great nation through which all families of the earth will be blessed (12:1-4).  He is told by the Lord to uproot himself, at age 75, from Haran and go somewhere he’ll be shown.  We are not told why Abram is chosen, nor if this was the first time he communed with the Lord (rabbinic stories fill in the background).  Abram totally trusts the Lord, packs up his household, and he, Sarai, and nephew Lot take off.

But when they reach Canaan, famine forces them to move to Egypt temporarily.  Because Sarai is so beautiful, Abram is afraid he’ll be killed so she can be taken into Pharaoh’s household as a wife.  He thus asks Sarai to masquerade as his sister.  She does and is taken into Pharaoh’s household as a wife and Abram was treated well as her “brother.”  (By the way, the rabbis call this incident one of the 10 trials of Abra(ha)m!  It’s actually the first example of his problems with women.)  A plague of skin disease alerts Pharaoh something is amiss, the trickery is revealed, and Pharaoh throws out Abram et al.  

Abram’s family issues are just beginning.  He and Lot part company after they return to Canaan.  Lot, living in Sodom, is caught in the middle of a war involving 9 kings and has to be rescued by Abram.  Abram hears again from the Lord about his anticipated reward but is still childless.  Sarai gives him her Egyptian servant, Hagar, as a concubine, but Hagar’s pregnancy makes her act uppity, so Sarai drives her away. (Really, can’t you see Genesis, as least starting with Abram, as a TV soap opera?)  Hagar is advised to return by an angel she met at a well (where else…) because she will bear a son, Ishmael.  And so Ishmael is born when Abram is 86.

Thirteen years pass.  The Lord now makes a covenant with Abram.  His descendants are to accept the Lord as God and they will inherit Canaan.  As a sign of acceptance, the males are to be circumcised.  Also, Abram and Sarai are now Abraham (father of multitudes) and Sarah (princess) and they will have a son, Isaac.  Since they would be 100 and 90 respectively, Abraham’s reaction is laughter [2018 Yes, Abraham laughs. Verse 17:17]  There will be more laughter next week.

(2018) We’re going to see several name changes in Genesis, accompanied by a change or anticipated change in status.  I recall, when I was in my 20’s, that whether, or how, to change your name upon marriage was a particularly sensitive issue.  Then there are the changes others bestow, usually out of carelessness or ignorance. “Greenwald” sometimes became Greenwalt, Greenwall, or Greenwalk.  And after only a few years of marriage, I’d collected 22 misspellings of “Plotzker.”  My favorite was “Blutsger,” denoting our reservation at Cave à l’Atlantique, a Montreal restaurant.  Say that with a French accent.

Name variations are a big issue in Jewish genealogy research, one of my hobbies.  You might have a name in Yiddish approximated in Cyrillic characters and later written down in English as a government clerk heard it.  Also, Eastern European Jews weren’t required to take surnames until only about two centuries ago.  Then names were sometimes picked almost randomly, even within a nuclear family.  Greenwald was originally Grundwag, which I think had something to do with bricklaying, totally unrelated to family occupations.  Plotzker was at least a logical choice, my husband’s father’s family having come from Płock (pronounced “plotzk”) in Poland. 

Sometimes there are surprises.  We had always been told that Cousin Mendel had changed his name from Weill to Rosenberg to sound more American.  I recently learned that his family’s name in Białystok was actually, genuinely, already Rosenberg.  And another cute family story bites the dust.

Shabbat shalom, 

Most Outrageous Name Changes

by Stephanie Morrow, March 2009

  1. Changing a Name in the Other Direction

Although everyone on this list has changed their name to something a bit out of the ordinary, a Vietnam teen received the right to legally change his name from Mai Phat Sau Nghin Ruoi, which translates to “Fined Six Thousand and Five Hundred.” Named after the fine his father had to pay for having a fifth child, Fined Six Thousand and Five Hundred’s dad finally agreed to help him change his name to something more traditional after his son continued to be teased in school. Fined Six Thousand and Five Hundred’s new name is Mai Hoang Long, which translates to Golden Dragon.


tph home is where the heart is


Things I Have Learned from Watching Soap Operas [selected]

1. Everybody has a child that they gave up for adoption, or don’t know they have, who appears one day out of the blue as an adult.
4. “I want to be with you the rest of our lives,” means only for the next year.
6. Don’t get into cars. If you do, whatever you do, don’t take that seat belt off even for a second, since that is when the car crashes.
7. If you do, don’t get into arguments. The car crashes.
8. If you do, don’t drive during storms. The car crashes.
9. If you do, don’t be pregnant. The car crashes.
10. If you do, don’t go near cliffs. The car falls off.
12. Don’t ever believe that anybody is dead, even if you saw the body.
16. Serious conversations are always conducted in public where they can be interrupted, overheard and above all, misconstrued.

I’ve sent this out a couple times but couldn’t resist doing so again. IGP

She spent the first day packing her belongings into boxes, crates and suitcases.

On the second day, she had the movers come and collect her things.

On the third day, she sat down for the last time at their beautiful dining room table by candlelight, put on some soft background music and feasted on a pound of shrimp, a jar of caviar and a bottle of Chardonnay.

When she had finished, she went into each and every room and deposited a few half-eaten shrimp dipped in caviar, into the hollow of the curtain rods.

She then cleaned up the kitchen and left.

When the husband returned with his new girlfriend, all was bliss for the first few days.

Then slowly, the house began to smell. They tried everything…. cleaning, mopping and airing the place out.

Vents were checked for dead rodents and carpets were steamed.

Air Fresheners were hung everywhere.

Exterminators were brought in to set off gas canisters, during which they had to move out for a few days, and in the end even paid to replace the expensive wool carpeting.

Nothing worked.

People stopped coming over to visit.

Repairmen refused to work in the house.

The maid quit.

Finally, they could not take the stench any longer and decided to move.

A month later, even though they had cut their price in half, they could not find a buyer for their stinky house.

Word got out and eventually even the local realtors refused to return their calls.

Finally, they had to borrow a huge sum of money from the bank to purchase a new place.

The ex-wife called the man and asked how things were going.

He told her the saga of the rotting house. She listened politely and said that she missed her old home terribly, and would be willing to reduce her divorce settlement in exchange for getting the house back.

Knowing his ex-wife had no idea how bad the smell was, he agreed on a Price that was about 1/10th of what the house had been worth, but only if she were to sign the papers that very day.

She agreed and within the hour his lawyers delivered the paperwork.

A week later the man and his girlfriend stood smiling as they watched the moving company pack everything to take to their new home . .

Including the curtain rods.


Can Mohels Still Cut Up?

By TED MERWIN December 23, 2014, 12:00 am   [excerpts]

What’s a bris without comedy? Time was, the mohel did a stand-up routine throughout the ritual, slicing not just the foreskin but also the nerve-wracking tension that arises from an unusually public, but highly sensitive, procedure on such an essential part of the male anatomy.  Mohels kept everyone (metaphorically) in stitches.

Given the preponderance of Jews in entertainment, mohels have also been routinely featured in popular culture. A 1990 episode of “L.A. Law,” called “The Pay’s Lousy, But the Tips are Great,” included a lawsuit against an elderly mohel for “nicking” a child’s penis during the operation. [I remember that one. The mohel kept saying, “It was just a nick.” IGP]

And don’t get me started on mohel jokes.

So how come brises are so solemn nowadays?

Cantor Mark Kushner, a well-known Philadelphia mohel, told me that because so many brises are now performed by doctors, the ritual tends to be conducted in a more formal fashion. “The key to being a successful mohel,” according to Kushner, “is not to be a comedian but to touch people’s hearts and souls.”

Dr. Sanford Wohlstadter, an obstetrician and mohel in New Jersey, agrees. But his best efforts at making the ceremony more sober can be thwarted; the gags are so well known, he said, that instead of his telling them at the ceremony, the guests inevitably tell them to him!

But it’s never too late for comedy about circumcision. Even some Christian comedians have started to crack wise about the subject. Jim Gaffigan, who grew up Catholic, jokes in his stand-up routine about how Abraham explained his self-circumcision to his wife. “God told me to do it,” he tells her. “If God told you to sacrifice your first born son?” Sarah asks indignantly, “would you do that too?”

Ted Merwin teaches religion and Judaic studies at Dickinson College (Carlisle, Pa), where he also serves as Hillel director. He writes about theater for the paper.

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Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

2016 comments, with some 2015 included:

[Noah is pronounced with a guttural h in Hebrew]

Last year, I wrote:

“This is another of those Bible portions that get whitewashed to be made suitable for children.  Think about it.  All humans, including babies and children, and all animals are condemned to death by drowning.  And what about the rotting horrors left when the waters recede?  And after the flood, humanity doesn’t seem to have progressed a whole lot.  Noah plants a vineyard, discovers wine, gets drunk, passes out, and is humiliated (rabbinic interpretations range from voyeurism to incestuous sodomy to castration) by his son Ham.”

Why did Noah plant a vineyard, make wine, and get drunk?  I don’t know about you, but if I’d had to spend about a year confined to an ark with my family and Lord knows how many animals, knowing that all other humans and animals had been drowned, I’d want a good stiff drink afterwards.  And I don’t think I’d be willing to wait for grapes to grow and be fermented.  A desire for a “pick me up” is one of the reasons cited by Rabbi Zalmy Labkowsky in Why Noah Planted a Vineyard and Got Drunk.  Rabbi Labkowsky also presents a Chassidic teaching that Noah, by getting drunk and disrobing, was trying to recreate the innocent oblivion and oneness with the Lord experienced by Adam and Eve before sin. After sinning, the “transcendence was gone. What was left was a multitude of independent creatures lacking the guiding and uniting force they once took for granted.” I hadn’t heard this one before, but it’s in keeping with the view of the world experiencing another Creation after the Flood.  But alcohol-induced oblivion is not primevally innocent, Noah learns to his chagrin.

In the story of the Tower (Ziggurat) of Babel, humanity is indeed united into one entity. It’s apparently not an entity seeking oneness with the Lord, but equal power.  For an interesting take on this story as satire, see Satire in the Bible – The Ziggurat of Babel.]

I wrote last year (2015):

“Eventually, the “new” humanity decides to climb up to heaven by building a huge ziggurat.  How is this thwarted?  The Lord makes them speak different languages; no longer able to understand each other, they can no longer cooperate enough to complete such a mammoth enterprise.  This will be worth delving into more next year (i.e., 2016), prior to Election Day.”

Well, we certainly have been speaking different tongues in American English throughout this wretched campaign, not only not understanding each other but not really wanting to either. 

To a far greater degree than before, I shy away from political discussions with those who do not share my point of view.  That is not good.  But I believe that the vast majority of us are so entrenched and discourse is so uncivil that such “discussions” quickly degenerate into rude, angry name calling and ad hominem attacks, mirroring the ads and debates we’ve been bombarded with.  And so I’ve decided to keep my blood pressure down instead.  OTOH, I was almost in a state of shock as I listened to a recent debate between the candidates for U. S. Representative (Delaware gets just one).  The candidates were polite and respectful to each other.  The questions were appropriate and the candidates actually answered what they were asked.   A ray of hope for future discourse? 
Shabbat shalom,


Noah’s Ark (jpb)(smirk)     

And the Lord said unto Noah: “Where is the ark which I have commanded thee to build?”    

And Noah said unto the Lord: “Verily, I have had three carpenters off ill. The gopher wood supplier hath let me down — yea, even though the wood hath been on order for nigh upon twelve months.  What can I do, Lord?”    

And the Lord said unto Noah: “I want that ark finished after seven days and seven nights.”    

And Noah said: “It will be so.”    And it was not so. 

And the Lord said unto Noah: “What seemeth to be the trouble this time?”    

And Noah said unto the Lord: “Mine subcontractors hath gone bankrupt.  The pitch which thou commandest me to put on the outside of the ark hath not arrived.  Shem, my son who helpeth me, hath formed a rock group with his brothers Ham and Japeth.  Lord, I am undone.  Bring on the rains.”    

And the Lord grew very angry and said: “And what about the animals, the male and female of every sort that I ordered to come unto thee to keep their seed alive upon the face of the earth?”    

And Noah said: “They hath been delivered unto the wrong address but should arrive on Friday.”    

And the Lord said: “How about the unicorns and the fowls of the air by sevens?”

And Noah wrung his hands, saying: “Lord, unicorns are a discontinued line; thou canst not get them for love nor money.  And fowls of the air are sold only in half-dozen lots.  Lord, thou knowest how it is.”    

And the Lord in his wisdom spoke: “Noah, my son, what about the insurance, in case thou should run this ark aground atop Mt. Ararat?”     

And Noah was downcast, saying: “My independent insurance agent telleth me there doth exist a market crunch.  Companies liketh not writing insurance for an ark.  They fear it will be used for water skiing.  They doubt my wisdom as captain.  Only one company hath said it would insure this vessel and it would charge seventy times seven pieces of silver, with a 250-pound sacrificial lamb deductible.    

“Verily, the tribute is higher than heaven and yet we cannot get delivery of the policy for nigh upon three months, for the company hath changed to an abacus and the beads are stuck fast.”    

Having spoken thus, Noah wept.    

And the Lord went forth and did likewise.


tph noah cubit


tph babel


Wine humor

This woman was driving home in Northern Arizona, when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road.

She stopped the car and asked the woman if she’d like a ride. The woman thanked her and got in the car.

After a few minutes, the Navajo woman noticed a brown bag on the back seat and asked the driver what was in the bag.

The driver said, “It’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.”

The Navajo woman thought for a moment, then said, “Good trade.”


I drank so much wine last night that when I walked across the dance floor to get another glass, I won the dance competition.


The secret of enjoying a good bottle of wine:

  1. Open the bottle to allow it to breathe.
  2. If it doesn’t look like it’s breathing, give it mouth-to-mouth.


Every box of raisins is a tragic tale of grapes that could have been wine.


I can’t wait for the day when I can drink wine with my kids instead of because of them.


Foreign Language Quotes

I have a one-question language test that people who have lived abroad do better on than those who studied in a classroom. Try my test yourself: In a foreign language you’ve studied, how do you say ‘doorknob’? Nicholas Kristof

Parents should conduct their arguments in quiet, respectful tones, but in a foreign language. You’d be surprised what an inducement that is to the education of children. Judith Martin

I’ve had Republicans come to me and say, ‘Tell me how I should talk to young people!’ as if it’s some foreign language or something. Aaron Schock

I really like acting in French. It’s actually quite different for me, from acting in English. It’s fun acting in a foreign language. You’re liberated or freed from preconceptions. Kristin Scott Thomas

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Bereishit (Genesis 1:1 – 6:8)

This week’s Torah portion, Bereishit, consists of 146 verses and 1500 years’ worth of foundational stories: The Creation stories; the Garden of Eden; Cain, Abel, and fratricide; and the descendants of Adam down to Noah, who lived from 350 (Enoch, mysteriously taken by the Lord) to 969 years (Methuselah).  The portion ends with the world’s having become so corrupt that the Lord decides to kill almost all of the earth’s inhabitants and start over.  Lots of primal stories, tersely written and eternally resonant.  Paradise.  The role of humans vis à vis the other animals.  The status of women. The idea of being made “in the image of God.”

I’ve always regretted that the Torah reading schedule rushes through the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the pre-Abraham stuff, in only two portions, Bereishit and Noah (with a guttural h).  I was thus delighted to see that the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which I have patronized since retirement (ah, retirement!) was offering a course on those very 11 chapters, taught by Rabbi Michael Kramer. I signed up, so these comments will address what I’ve learned so far.  We’re still on Chapter 1.

So:  The very first word, bereishit, is controversial.  We usually are told it means “In the beginning, (God) created (bara),” but the Hebrew form of bereishit indicates it’s really “in the beginning of (something),” here, “in the beginning of God’s creating.”  More fluently, “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth…” is really more like “When God began to create heaven and earth —the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water —God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”  Why does this matter?  The two translations represent two quite different approaches to Creation. In one, God exists and then creates heaven and a chaotic earth out of nothing.  In the other, we come in after the start of the story. Chaos and water and darkness already exist. We catch God at the start of the creation of order from the pre-existing formless…stuff.

Of course, most societies have a creation story to provide context for their existence.  The Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, was probably written around 1120 BCE and not discovered until 1875 CE.  The sweet water sea Apsu mingles with the salt water sea Tiamat, and their mingling gives rise to generations of gods.  Apsu is killed and eventually, there is a great war between Tiamat and the god Marduk.  Marduk kills Tiamat and uses half her body to form the sky and half to form the earth.  Then he creates the calendar, the planets, stars, etc. and becomes the sun, master of all the other gods. Finally, he creates a being to serve the gods and look after the earth.  Even though I left a lot out, you can see how much wilder this story is than Genesis, even though the early Hebrews were also Mesopotamian.  There are some similarities.  Both start with earth as a desolate waste, followed by the creation of light, then sky separating earth and heaven, then dry land, next the sun, moon, and stars, and finally men and women.  Afterwards, God rests on the Sabbath in Genesis.  The Babylonian gods rest and celebrate.

But the differences are theologically more important.  There is one God in Genesis, and many in the Emuna Elish.  Creation occurs in the Emuna Elish through a war among gods and in Genesis by God’s spoken word.  Humanity is only created as a subordinate being to serve the gods and take care of the earth in the Emuna Elish.  In Genesis, humans also serve God and take care of the earth, but humanity is seen as the crowning achievement of Creation, with humans created in the image of God.

A very early Shabbat shalom,


tph rib


Through the eyes of a child:
The Children’s Bible in a Nutshell (excerpt)

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but
God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, ‘The Lord thy God is one,
but I think He must be a lot older than that. 

Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did. 

Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they
weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet. 

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven
from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who
lived to be like a million or something.

One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one
of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his
family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him,
but they said they would have to take a rain check.


tph cain and vegetables


tph methuselah last laugh


Quotes about the Creation of the Universe

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. Stephen Hawking

The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. Albert Einstein


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Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah

Did you know there’s a place on earth where it hasn’t rained for nearly 2 million years? It’s the Dry Valleys in Antarctica.  I’m really tired of rain, and I’m not even talking about Hurricane Florence, just this rainrainrain-teasingbitofsun-rainrain.  The sukkah is still standing, though:


I am also getting ready to go on a big vacation. The comments below are mainly from 2015, but the days of the week on which the holidays fell then do match 2018.

We’re heading down the home stretch, both of the holiday season and of the annual Torah reading.  We have four, count ‘em, four, (except three for Reform) consecutive special days.  On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the first Torah reading is Exodus 33:12 – 34:26, after the golden calf episode.  Moses gets to see the back of the Lord (contrast the growing intimacy between the Lord and Moses with the too often strained relationship between the Lord and the Israelites), after which he goes back up Sinai and carves two new tablets.  The Lord reaffirms the covenant and there’s a quick review of the observance the Shabbat and the festival holidays (34:18-26).  Because there are distinct readings for the various days of Chol HaMoed, the second scroll reading depends on what day [of Chol HaMoed] Shabbat Chol HaMoed is.  This year, it’s the 4th day [of Chol HaMoed, i.e., the 6th day of Sukkot] so we read Numbers 29:26 – 31 which includes the sacrifices for the 5th and 6th days of Sukkot.   The haftarah is Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16, an apocalyptic vision of the coming war of Gog and Magog. There is also a custom to chant the book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), attributed to Solomon in his old age, muttering that there is nothing new under the sun.  But it’s really too long for services.

From the start of the holiday, we’ve been chanting prayers called Hoshanot while processing with lulav and etrog (just prayers on Shabbat) around the synagogue.  The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabbah, the great Hoshana [“Save us!”] Hoshana Rabbah is your last chance for atoning before your fate is really, really [really] sealed for the year – the end of your grace period after Yom Kippur.  There’s a Torah reading, Numbers 29:26-34 [more sacrifices].There are seven processions, each with its own set of chanted verses, so it takes a while (I’ve done this just a couple of times).  Then willow branches are beaten against the floor five times (see also Afterwards, my synagogue has an odd custom of throwing the branches up on top of the ark; no one seems to know where this custom came from.

The next day is Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly.  Torah readings, both including [but not limited to] holiday observances, are Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17 and Numbers 29:35-30:1.  In the Midrash, it is written that Shemini Atzeret represents the intimacy between God and Israel, while Sukkot represents the relationship between God and humanity. Geshem, the prayer for rain (in Israel! Not North Carolina!) is chanted.  Note that we pray for rain at the start of Israel’s rainy season; that is, we want normal rain at the normal time.

Finally, it’s time for the post-Biblical holiday of Simchat Torah.  In Israel and Reform practice, it’s combined with Shemini Atzeret.  We celebrate the ending and beginning again of the annual Torah reading.  Lots of Torah reading, aliyot for everybody who wants one, hakafot (parading around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls), dancing, paper flags to wave, candy apples, drinking… It’s fun and kid-friendly.  Monday night, after the festivities, a short Torah portion will be read, usually three short aliyot from Deuteronomy 33.   Tuesday morning, we will read from three scrolls (no waiting).  We begin with the end of Deuteronomy, V’zot HaBracha (“And this is the blessing”), Deut. 33:1-34:12, in which Moses blesses the Israelites by tribe, sees  the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, and dies there.  Then, in a second scroll, we go back to the beginning, the story of creation, Genesis 1:1-2:3.  From the third scroll, we read about (what else) sacrifices; but since were no Simchat Torah sacrifices, we read about the Shemini Atzeret ones again, Num. 29:35-30:1.  The haftarah, Joshua 1:1-18, recounts the beginning of post-Moses Israel, picking up the story immediately after the end of the Torah.  So we end one Torah reading cycle, start over, and also continue the story.  Likewise, as we finish the fall holiday season, we are starting the year afresh and getting back to continue whatever we were doing before.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,


What Sukkot and the Day of the Dead Have in Common (excerpts)

Bringing together my Mexican and Jewish heritages.


The common thread between the two celebrations is that we recognize and remember ancestors and loved ones, welcoming them back into our lives. As we celebrate Sukkot, we invite ushpizin into our sukkah, spirits that represent values and qualities of Judaism’s greatest contributors like Abraham and Sarah or Moses and Miriam, but can also be the spirits of our own family and friends. As it is a joyful harvest holiday, it is common practice to decorate the sukkah with harvest foods and artwork. Similarly, for Day of the Dead, we invite our ancestors to visit our family.

For Day of the Dead, families construct and decorate altars, known as ofrendas, with specific foods, gifts, flowers and photos of loved ones who they are honoring. Each item on the altar symbolizes something different, and each family and community decorates their altars in a different way.

For both Sukkot and Day of the Dead, we set aside time to construct temporary beautiful spaces and ritualistically contemplate our connection to the past. Not only will I invite my family and friends who have died to the sukkah this year, but I will also invite meaningful and inspiring figures in Jewish and Latinx history. I would love to share my sukkah with Miriam and Deborah, who have inspired me since I was a young girl. I would also like to invite Anita Brenner, the Mexican-born, Jewish-American woman who introduced the world to artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. It would be meaningful to invite these moving Jewish women who evoke a sense of faith and power within me.


Nothing is new under the sun…

tph selfie


Origin of comedy – Holiday processions


Comedy, like tragedy, arose from the worship of Dionysus, and was developed into a branch of literature at Athens in the fifth century. Its development was somewhat later than that of tragedy and its vigorous life continued longer. Tragedy arose from the dithyramb, which was a regular and, in part at least, a serious form of worship. Comedy, on the other hand, had its origin in the unrestrained, boisterous, and sometimes licentious fun of the processions connected with the festivals of the god of wine. Whether the word comedy is derived from komos, festive procession, or from kome, village, is uncertain. In any case, comedy arose from the festive processions connected with the rustic worship of Dionysus. Among the Dorians such processions were popular, and those who took part in them improvised jokes and rude verses, probably at times impersonating their neighbors or others against whom the shafts of their wit were aimed. In the villages of the Megarid bacchic processions with impersonations, mimic dances, and jokes, probably of a political and satiric nature, were popular.


Rain Humor
Nothing personal against Seattlites – change it to any other place getting a lot of rain (like Buffalo. IGP).
A newcomer to Seattle arrives on a rainy day. She gets up the next day and it’s raining. It also rains the day after that, and the day after that. She goes out to lunch and sees a young kid and out of despair asks, “Hey, kid, does it ever stop raining around here?”
The kid says, “How should I know?
I’m only 6.”

“I can’t believe it, ” said the tourist. “I’ve been here an entire week and it’s done nothing but rain. When do you have summer here?”
“Well, that’s hard to say, ” replied the local. “Last year, it was on a Wednesday.”


What does daylight savings time mean in Seattle?
An extra hour of rain.
It rains only twice a year in Seattle.
August to April and May to July.


Quotes on Starting Over

Each project, I suffer like I’m starting over again in life. There’s a lot of healthy insecurity that fuels this stuff. Frank Gehry

As actors, you become an expert at starting over. Lupita Nyong’o

What’s so fascinating and frustrating and great about life is that you’re constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that. Billy Crystal

I can’t tell you how many times I get into a taxicab in New York or Los Angeles, and I’m talking to somebody who is a recent immigrant who was a doctor or lawyer or engineer or professor in the country they just came from. They’re starting over again in life, and I think the majority of people out there can relate to that. Andrew Zimmern


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