Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), Shabbat Shirah, Tu B’Shvat

I love singing.  But what I like best is not simply singing per se, though I do sing in the shower, enjoy chanting liturgical texts, and have dabbled in karaoke.  It’s singing in a chorus. Since I’m an alto, my part is often buried deep in the music, sometimes the 3rd or 4th out of eight lines.  But it adds color and dimensionality and allows me to become part of the music in a way that doesn’t happen when I am singing alone.  The physical and psychological benefits of choral singing are well-known (see, e.g., The Surprising Health Benefits of Singing in a Choir, Singing in a choir could be ‘the new exercise’—here’s the surprising science behind why), and it’s no surprise that it accompanies emotion-laden events, like being saved from a pursuing Egyptian army by a miraculous splitting of the sea. (How’s that for a segue?)  Yes, this is the Torah portion in which the Israelites escape once and for all from Egypt.  Pharaoh, realizing he has let a large and valuable labor force go, sends out a large army, which catches up with them at the Red (really, Reed) Sea.

The Israelites, trapped between the sea and the Egyptians, turn on Moses, saying sarcastically, “There weren’t graves in Egypt, you had to bring us out to die here in the wilderness?”  In one interpretation, which I cited here 5 years ago (A Daily Dose of Torah, Kleinman Edition, Rabbi Y. A. Weiss general editor, vol. 4, p. 168), Moses has four groups of Israelites to deal with.  One group intends to drown themselves rather than be re-captured.  Another wants to fight.  A third group wants to surrender.  The fourth hopes to be saved by confusing the Egyptians with noise and wild screams.  In Ex. 14:12-14, Moses has a specific response for each group (red = first group, blue = second group, pink = third group, green = fourth group):


Amid the chaos, Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Judah, according to the rabbis, is the first to obey Moses’ order to go into the sea. The Lord tells Moses how to split the sea with his staff.  Moses splits the sea.  The Israelites cross through on dry-ish land.  Then the waters rush back and cover the Egyptians and their chariots.  Suitably awed, the Israelites join Moses in singing a song of triumph, Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea, or simply, the Shir (Song), 15:1-18.  Miriam and the women join in song, with timbrels and dancing.

Thus, this Sabbath is known as Shabbat Shirah, Sabbath of Song.  The haftarah, Judges 4.4-5.31 (Sephardim: 5:1-31), also contains a song of military triumph, Deborah’s song on the defeat of Sisera.  [BTW, there are several other references to women singing in public in the Bible, such as 1 Chronicles 35:25, Nehemiah 7:67, and Ezra 2:65. Other information on “kol isha,” a woman’s voice, in Jewish law rare available on request.]

Now the Israelites must deal with their new reality.  They need drinkable water and food.  Moses turns bitter waters sweet by throwing a plant in, more fresh water is found in springs, and Moses strikes a rock when still more water is needed. For food, quail is flown in, and they are given manna.  In learning about manna, the Israelites also learn (again) about the holiness of the Sabbath.  All this would be okay were it not for the way the Israelites whine and complain when they make their requests. Then their rear guard is attacked by Amalek, who becomes a permanent symbol for evil (wait until Purim).

On Monday, we will celebrate Tu B’shvat, literally the 15th of Shevat, which is the New Year of the Trees, on which it is customary to plant trees in Israel and eat species of tree fruits and nuts that are grown there (especially the “seven species” given in Deuteronomy 8:8: date, pomegranate, olive (oil), wheat, barley, fig, grape).  Lately, it has also become a sort of Jewish Earth Day with environmental emphasis.  A recently revived custom is the Tu B’shvat seder, introduced by Kabbalists in the 16th century in Safed. And a shout-out to my daughter Roz, whose birthday according to the Hebrew calendar is 14 Shevat, the day before.

Shabbat shalom


tph moses' first try


Woman with Rare Condition Couldn’t Hear Male Voices (excerpts)

By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | January 11, 2019 02:27pm ET

A woman in China suddenly developed an unusual condition that made her unable to hear male voices. And while that might seem enviable to some, the hearing loss could carry serious medical repercussions.

The woman, Chen, visited a hospital after waking up one morning and being unable to hear her boyfriend’s voice, Newsweek reported yesterday (Jan. 10). Chen also told doctors that the night before, she experienced ringing in her ears followed by vomiting.

At the hospital, Chen was treated by Dr. Lin Xiaoqing — a woman — who noted that while Chen was able to hear Xiaoqing’s voice, she couldn’t hear the voice of a nearby male patient “at all,” according to Newsweek. Xiaoqing diagnosed Chen with reverse-slope hearing loss, a rare type of low-frequency hearing loss that likely impaired her ability to hear deep male voices.

The good news is that when RSHL is detected quickly, chances are good that the hearing loss can be reversed, Kraskin said.


Moses Must Go: A Vision For the Future (Humor Break)  (excerpt)
Renew America ^ | 10/17/2004 | Adam Graham

The following scroll was found in the Sinai desert and claims to be an op-ed written by Dathan, a Hebrew opponent of Moses…

…When the Pharaoh finally relented and let us go, we found Moses wasn’t prepared to deal with several million people going through the wilderness. We ran out of food and Moses announced that bread would rain down from Heaven. I’m very concerned about the long-term effects of “manna” on people. There have been no scientific studies proving its safety and shouldn’t we be suspicious of anything that goes bad overnight?

We then ran out of water and Moses hit a rock and water came out, but let me ask you a question? How many rocks with millions of gallons of water in them are there in the wilderness? How long until the poor planning of Moses leads to a disaster?

This isn’t to say Moses hasn’t had his moments. I admired his leadership at the Red Sea and had I known that in a matter of several hours, we’d cross over to the other side and the Egyptians wouldn’t drown, I wouldn’t have suggested stoning him at the time….

I’m Dathan and I approve this message.


tph new year trees


A Fun Guide to the SATB Choir (excerpts)

In any chorus, there are four voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Sometimes these are divided into first and second within each part, prompting endless jokes about first and second basses. … Each voice part sings in a different range, and each one has a very different personality.

THE SOPRANOS are the ones who sing the highest, and because of this they think they rule the world. … When they reach the high notes, they hold them for at least half again as long as the composer and/or conductor requires, and then complain that …the composer and conductor are sadists. Sopranos have varied attitudes toward the other sections of the chorus, though they consider all of them inferior. Altos are to sopranos rather like second violins to first violins – nice to harmonize with, but not really necessary…

THE ALTOS are the salt of the earth …. Altos …would wear jeans to concerts if they were allowed to… While the sopranos are screeching away on a high A, they … sing elaborate passages full of sharps and flats and tricks of rhythm, and nobody is noticing because the sopranos are singing too loud (and the basses usually are too)… They like the basses, and enjoy singing duets with them – …it’s the only time the altos can really be heard…

THE TENORS are spoiled. … There are never enough of them, and choir directors would rather sell their souls than let a halfway decent tenor quit, while they’re always ready to unload a few altos at half price… The conductor is always telling them to sing louder… No conductor … has ever asked for less tenor in a forte passage… It is a little-known fact that tenors move their eyebrows more than anyone else while singing.

THE BASSES sing the lowest of anybody. … They are stolid, dependable people, and have more facial hair than anybody else. The basses feel perpetually unappreciated…They compensate for this by singing as loudly as they can get away with – most basses are tuba players at heart. …When a bass makes a mistake, the other three parts will cover him, and … sometime, somehow, he will end up at the root of the chord.


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Bo (Exodus 10:1 – 13:16)

Locusts, darkness, the slaying of the firstborn, the first Passover, THE Exodus, and then – tefillin?

It is difficult for us city dwellers to appreciate the havoc a plague of locusts (yes, “plague” is the term for a group of locusts) can cause.  And this isn’t limited to ancient times.  There was a notable one in 2013 in Egypt and then Israel; and just this week, one invaded Mecca in Saudi Arabia.  To see what a locust swarm looks like, just watch the movie of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. The filmmakers simply waited until they had news of a suitable swarm in China and used that.  For the ancient Egyptians in our Torah portion, the locusts of the eighth plague simply devoured everything that hadn’t been destroyed by the hail. 

The ninth plague: Darkness.  Often when we get to this one, I’m already depressed because it’s a cold, darkish midwinter day, or I’m contemplating that which was left undone or not done well enough during the previous year, or I’m overanalyzing something, or some combination of the above.  Then I can really get into the ninth plague and riff on existential angst and Barbara Tuchman’s account of 14th century despair and how depression is symptomized not just sadness but a by paralyzing lack of hope.  But today, while cold, is sunny, and I’m singing in two groups for the next several weeks, and Robert Mueller’s report should be out in the near future, so I’m in a pretty decent mood and will just give you a few rabbinic interpretations of the ninth plague.  

Of course, there are possible natural explanations for the plague of darkness – a major sandstorm, a solar eclipse. But this is not a normal darkness. The phrase “V’yamesh hoshekh” (Ch. 10:21) can be translated as “a darkness that can be touched” (JPS) or “the darkness will become darker” (ArtScroll series).  According to Ramban (Nachmanides), this describes a darkness that cannot be removed with a lamp or candles. Rashi interprets the phrase as denoting three characteristics: the darkness will be so thick it’s tangible, it will become darker than the night, and it will persist.  Further, it will physically paralyze the Egyptians.  Earlier rabbis interpret the darkness as resembling the primordial darkness of the chaos before creation or, alternatively, a taste of hell (Midrash, Exodus Rabbah).  

While the Egyptians are so devastated by the ninth plague, the Israelites have physical and spiritual light in their homes as they prepare for the first Passover.  They learn how to observe not just this one, with blood daubed on the doorposts and roasted lamb, but all those to come, and, critically, how to teach this to the children in every generation. [By the way, with regard to the paschal lamb, my friend Stanley has pointed out (thanks, Stanley) that this ‘paschal lamb,’ i.e., the Passover offering in Exodus 12, is a thanksgiving offering.   In Christian theology, Jesus himself is a “paschal lamb” or Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) that is sacrificed to atone for humanity’s sins. The motivation for the two types of sacrifices is thus quite different.]  The blood on the doorposts is not incidental, though one would not expect the Angel of Death to need so primitive a mark to identify the Israelites, who were all clustered in Goshen anyway.  The blood can be interpreted as a symbol of birth, as the people move from the comfort of their home through a portal to be born as a nation (see Rabbi Michael Hattin, “The ‘Blood Service’ of the Paschal Sacrifice,” or, more briefly, last year’s TPH on Parashat Bo).

The tenth plague strikes in the middle of the night, killing all the firstborn in Egypt. As the Lord had already told Moses would happen (3:20-22), Pharaoh now tells the Israelites to leave Egypt and they are “given” silver, gold, and clothes by the Egyptians (12:35-6). In their rush, the Israelites don’t wait for their bread dough to rise (whence matzah).  Finally, they actually Egypt. 

And what happens next? The Israelites are given laws concerning the annual Passover observance, the dedication of the firstborn, tefillin (13:16, “a sign upon your hand and frontlets between your eyes”). The first two are obviously linked to recent their recent experiences, but still, is this really the time to get into legal details? But, as I wrote in 2013, “(w)hat really matters is that the Hebrews are being asked to perform, to act, to do.  The focus on the detailed actions will facilitate their divorce from the idolatrous ways of Egypt (Shemot Rabbah, 16, 2); in particular, the animal sacrifices involve sacrificing that which is sacred to Egypt (Rambam).  They, we, are forced to stop and think when performing these acts, which will increase our awareness of the workings of the Lord (Ramban).  Religious training in Judaism is not meant to flow from reason to action; on the contrary, character is cultivated by repeated actions (Rambam) (… Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot).  As we will read in a few weeks, the order is “Na’aseh v’nishma” we will (first) do and (then) listen.

Shabbat shalom,


tph plague-ground


Locusts Everywhere, Including on Your Dinner Table [excerpted]

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 (This swarm occurred about 3 weeks before Passover.)

Locusts…they’re everywhere in Egypt, heading for Israel, and they’re all over the media. Swarms of 30 million of the little critters munched their way through Egypt last week and some have already invaded parts of Israel. While farmers are concerned about the damage that the insects can inflict, some lovers of exotic foods are eagerly awaiting their arrival on their dinner plates….
Last week, writing in The Media Line, Linda Gradstein reported:

This week’s invasion of locusts offers adventurous home cooks an opportunity to try something new for dinner this week – locusts.

“You can sauté them like shrimp with garlic, baby cherry tomatoes, lemon and saffron,” Moshe Basson, owner and chef of the Eucalyptus restaurant in Jerusalem, which specializes in Biblical foods, told The Media Line. “You can make them like french fries, or you can poach them like lobster, roll them in egg yolk, chickpea flour and spices and them deep fry them.”

About seven insects constitute a main course, Basson says. They are high in protein and low in calories. Basson himself says that in the past few days he has gotten a good supply of the insects from friends who have gone down to southern Israel to bring him back bags full.

“In the evening just before sunset when the temperature drops the locusts find a place and go to sleep on trees and bushes everywhere—you have just to pick them,” Basson said. “In the morning when the weather warms up they will start to eat and within an hour they can turn a field from green to brown by eating all of it.”


tph maxine locusts


(Also sent out in 2015, 2010 and 2006.  I guess that means I’ll send it out again in 2023 or 2024? We shall see…)

The Dark Sucker Theory (abridged)

For years, it has been believed that electric bulbs emit light, but recent information has proved otherwise. Electric bulbs don’t emit light; they suck dark. Thus, we call these bulbs Dark Suckers.
The Dark Sucker Theory and the existence of dark suckers prove that dark has mass, is heavier than light, and is faster than light.

First, the basis of the Dark Sucker Theory is that electric bulbs suck dark. For example, take the Dark Sucker in the room you are in. There is much less dark right next to it than there is elsewhere. Dark Suckers don’t last forever. Once they are full of dark, they can no longer suck. This is proven by the dark spot on a full Dark Sucker.

A candle is a primitive Dark Sucker. A new candle has a white wick. You can see that after the first use, the wick turns black, representing all the dark that has been sucked into it.

Dark has mass. When dark goes into a Dark Sucker, friction from the mass generates heat. Thus, it is not wise to touch an operating Dark Sucker. Candles present a special problem as the mass must travel into a solid wick instead of through clear glass. This generates a great amount of heat and therefore it’s not wise to touch an operating candle.

Also, dark is heavier than light. If you were to swim just below the surface of the lake, you would see a lot of light. When you get really deep, you would be in total darkness. This is because the heavier dark sinks to the bottom of the lake and the lighter light floats at the top. That is why it is called light.

Finally, dark is faster than light. If you were to stand in a lit room in front of a closed, dark closet, and slowly opened the closet door, you would see the light slowly enter the closet. But since dark is so fast, you would not be able to see the dark leave the closet.

Next time you see an electric bulb, remember that it is really a Dark Sucker.


Need tefillin? There’s an app for that. [excerpts]

Cnaan Liphshiz | JTA   Jul 13, 2018  The post Need tefillin? There’s an app for that. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

AMSTERDAM— You can call a taxi, order a hamburger, rent a film and buy a book with a few clicks of a smartphone.

So why shouldn’t it be as easy to score a set of tefillin?

That, at least, was the question that led to the launch last month of Wrapp — an app its creator calls “the Uber of the tefillin world.”

It connects those who have tefillin — leather straps attached to a set of two small boxes containing scripture on parchment — with Jews who need them for morning prayers or other rituals. And it’s free.

The brainchild of a 39-year-old Brooklyn businessman, Wrapp hit app stores last month. It already has signed up more than 4,500 providers in the United States, Israel, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Providers offer their tefillin to those … within a radius of 20 miles.

The app’s creator, a follower of the Chabad Hasidic movement named Shimon … on a trip to Israel … met an old friend from the States who had made arrangements to borrow another person’s tefillin in Israel.“…That’s when the idea came to me…” 

Worshippers use the straps to bind the small boxes to their forehead and bicep— a literal interpretation of the biblical injunction to bind God’s word “as a sign upon the hands and between the eyes.”

…Although the app is also intended for observant Jews who forgot or lost their tefillin, Shimon said the typical user would be someone who had an impulse or inspiration to don a set.  Users tend to be people “who want to connect to God…Someone might reach out when they’re depressed, another when they’ve just signed a huge successful deal. Others on their mother’s yahrzeit,” he added. “It’s different for every person.”

Those in need of a set can indicate their window of availability — a half hour, an hour or two hours. Providers within a range are pinged with the request. The first provider who accepts can then schedule a session at the requester’s location or propose a different location.

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Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

This week, representatives of a minority group officially confront the leader of the country, an arrogant, ignorant, stubborn man. He believes he is all-powerful, the but his own close advisors soon begin deserting him.

I refer of course to the confrontations Moses and Aaron have with Pharaoh in this week’s Torah portion.  The first meeting was just a warm-up.  This week, God leads with a more majestic introduction than just “I will be that which I will be,” revealing what we refer to as the “ineffable name,” denoted by the letters YHVH, and promising to rescue the Israelites from slavery and bring them to the Promised Land, per the covenant with their ancestors.  However, having been let down once, the people are now going to be a lot harder to convince.

Moses and Aaron get more preparation (Effective Presentations 102) and are once more told the game plan: They will ask Pharaoh to let the people go into the wilderness for a three-day festival for the Lord, he will refuse with a hardened heart, the Lord will send impressive signs and wonders, and after that, Pharaoh will send the people out of Egypt.

Pharaoh is not impressed the Aaron’s staff-turned-serpent swallows up his magicians’ staffs-turned-serpents.  Nor is he really impressed by the plagues of blood and frogs, since his magicians easily replicate them.  When it comes to the third plague, lice, the magicians are stymied and tell Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” (8:14-15) But Pharaoh’s heart stiffens, and he won’t let the Hebrews go.  In rapid succession, four more plagues follow: swarms of insects, livestock disease, boils, and hail.  Next week, we’ll read about the last 3 plagues: locusts, darkness, and the slaying of the firstborn.

Sometimes Pharaoh hardens his heart himself and sometimes the Lord hardens his heart. How does the Lord’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart fit into the whole game plan?  Isn’t that rigging the result? One explanation by Moses Maimonides (12th c. Spain, Egypt): “The same as a person sins of his own prompting, so is his ability to repent. But it may sometimes happen that man’s offence is so grave that is penalized by not being granted the opportunity to turn from his wickedness… To this end, Scripture states: ‘I shall harden Pharaoh’s heart.’ He sinned, first of his own free will…until he forfeited the opportunity to repent. … We may conclude therefore that it was not God who forced Pharaoh to do evil to Israel…all of them sinned of their own promptings, forfeiting their right to repentance.”  (Moses Maimonides, “The Eight Chapters, Introduction to Pirkei Avot,” cited in “Retribution, Deterrence, or More? The Meaning of the Plagues” by Mark Greenspan, Rabbinical Assembly).

The 10 plagues have elicited a lot of commentary over the millennia.  Can they be explained as natural phenomena, the miracle lying in their timing?  Maybe.  N. J. Ehrenkranz and D. A. Sampson, in , “Origin of the Old Testament Plagues: Explications and Implications,” Yale J Biol Med. 2008 March; 81(1): 31–42, attribute them to “unseasonable and progressive climate warming along the eastern Mediterranean coast”.  Another idea is that the plagues occurred over decades, and group memory collapsed them into one cataclysmic sequence.

Why are the plagues imposed at all? Reference to “knowing” (e.g., “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord”) occurs 10 times between 7:5 and 14:18 (Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot, pp. 170-171).  Isaac Abravanel (15th c. Spain) identifies three groups of 3 plagues, each representing one aspect of the Lord that the Egyptians need to acknowledge: (1) the Lord exists, shown by the first 3 plagues; (2) the Lord punishes and rewards, plagues 4, 5, and 6; and (3) the Lord can change the nature of things at will, plagues 7, 8, 9 (Leibowitz, op cit., pp. 172-173).  Further, the skeptical Hebrews need to see these concrete demonstrations of divine power at least as much as the Egyptians do.

However, the plagues are necessary but not enough. We are told in 7:4-5, “When Pharaoh does not heed you, I will lay My hand upon Egypt and deliver My ranks, My people the Israelites, from the land of Egypt with extraordinary chastisements. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt and bring out the Israelites from their midst.”

So, the “extraordinary chastisements” followed by the delivery of the people will show the Egyptians who is the Lord.

Shabbat shalom,


Overheard at Our Hospital
 I’m here to draw some blood.

Patient: But I just received blood yesterday.

Phlebotomist: You didn’t think you’d get to keep it, did you?

—Rebecca Shafer, Springfield, Missouri


Top Ten Signs YOU Are A Frog
You get mad when you don’t find a fly in your soup
You buy out the supply of wart removal cream in your drugstore constantly
French chefs are eyeing your legs and appear to be following you
Bug lamps appear to you as a curse
On applications, you list ‘Pond’ as your home address
Kermit is your idol
You get mad whenever Miss Piggy makes a pass at Kermit
Have seen the movie ‘The Fly’ at least ten times
You live in fear that someday you will wind up in a child’s aquarium
France is the evil empire to you

tph lice letter


Why tiny flying bugs were all over Philly last night (excerpts)

Danya Henninger  Sep. 12, 2017, 8:30 a.m.

Swarms of tiny flying insects descended on Philadelphia Monday night, clustering in barely visible clouds that caught many by surprise. Bug clusters were reported all over the city, from South Philly to Center City to Fishtown to the Northeast.

The situation during prime evening hours, around 6 to 9 p.m., was so bad that people — and the Philadelphia Police — were making jokes about “end times” and “our new insect overlords.”

So what’s the deal? Well, it’s not the apocalypse.

The winged buggers that showed up last night were likely flying ants, per Michelle Niedermeier, environmental health program coordinator at Penn State’s Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management Program, which is based in Philly.

During their mating season, these critters emerge from their larval state in synchrony to make it easier to find mates, meaning thousands of males and queens are released into the air at the same time for what’s known as the “nuptial flight,” said Dr. John Cambridge, the entomologist who runs the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion in Holmesburg.

It turns out there’s even a name for this phenomenon happening at this time of year — “Labor Day ants.” It’s been documented in areas around North America, and last night’s swarm reached as far north as Connecticut.

But if it’s a regular thing, why are we noticing it in Philly more this year (and especially Monday night)?  Basically, because nature doesn’t follow a regular marching pattern. “All organisms go through continuous boom-bust population cycles,” Cambridge explained.

So what can we do if the flying ants come for us? Pretty much nothing (no flamethrowers, please, per the Philly Health Department).

However, Cambridge offers this tip: Raise your hand.

“If you do find yourself in a swarm of midges or gnats,” he said, “a trick is to raise your hand above your head because the insects will often orient towards the highest point on your body — better your fist than your face!”


tph cow mood disorder


Cure for Boils (from the Pottermore Wiki, for Harry Potter fans) (excerpts)


Horned Slugs

Porcupine Quills

Snake Fangs

Making the potion

Part one

Add 6 Snake Fangs to your mortar.

Crush them into a fine powder using your mortar.

Add 4 measures of the crushed fangs to your cauldron.

Heat the mixture to 250 for 10 seconds.

Wave your wand.

Leave to Brew

Part two

Add 4 Horned Slugs to your cauldron.

Add 2 Porcupine Quills to your cauldron.

Stir 5 times, clockwise.

Wave your wand to complete the potion.

Brew times

Pewter Cauldron: 1 minute 30 seconds

Brass Cauldron: 1 minute 20 seconds

Copper Cauldron: 1 minute


tph snowman with hailstones

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Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

I’m taking a week off from thinking.  So, these comments are from January 2013, except for additions in italics.

A new year, a new book, and a familiar yet still-exciting story to curl up with on these cold, dark winter mornings.  This week’s portion takes us all the way from a reminder of the names of the brothers who went down to Egypt, through the Hebrews’ entrapment in slavery, to that bricks without straw episode (which always reminds me of those productivity-increase initiatives at work which are NOW ONLY A MEMORY HAHAHAHA!!!  But I digress…). 

In between, Pharaoh tries different schemes to weaken the Hebrews, including ordering the deaths of newborn sons.  Moses is born, hidden, found, and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Primed to fight injustice, Moses kills an abusive taskmaster and flees to Midian, where he meets and rescues the daughters of Jethro (at a well, of course) and marries one (Zipporah). 

After several quiet decades as a shepherd, Moses is shown the burning bush that is not consumed and is given his assignment to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, which he accepts only after he runs out of excuses.  On the way to Egypt, Zipporah saves Moses’ life by circumcising their son, which Moses hadn’t (why is not stated).

When he and big brother Aaron meet with the elders and then head off to Pharaoh, everything looks great.  Then, despite their impressive dog-and-pony (here, snakes and staffs – Biblical PowerPoint) show, Aaron and Moses are exposed to two themes which will recur with depressing frequency: (1) Pharaoh will not simply let the Hebrews go because he’s told their god wants him to and (2) the Hebrews kvetch whenever there’s a setback.  But, at the end (6:1), the Lord provides a reassuring message along the lines of, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

An oft-noted feature of this portion is the major role played by women.  The midwives, Shifrah and Puah (in some commentaries identified as Moses’ mother Jocheved and sister Miriam), save newborn Hebrew boys.  Jocheved saves Moses by hiding him and then placing him in that basket by the river, hopeful he will be rescued.  Pharaoh’s daughter does so [another act of defiance], and Miriam arranges for Jocheved to be his wet nurse.  Rabbinic midrash also has Miriam indirectly responsible for Moses’ birth, by convincing her parents to resume relations, after they had separated lest they have a baby boy who would be killed under the edict. 

Is all this a sign of the innate moral superiority of the women, Hebrew and Egyptian, with the men being abject cowards?  Rather, a key element is the relative invisibility and powerlessness of women.  They are never perceived as a threat, leaving them freer to operate and to act in accord with morality.  Sometimes it can help not to be taken seriously by the powers that be.

Shabbat shalom,



(2013) The world of birth is one of survival at its most basic and grubby.  I’ve been enjoying a series on PBS, “Call the Midwife,” which is based on the memoirs of a nurse midwife in London’s East End slums in the 1950’s. [They’re up to the ‘60’s now.] The midwives and doctors respect each other and understand who steps in when.  Respecting a title instead of skill can bring disaster. For example, it is now thought that Jane Seymour’s death nine days postpartum may have been due to infection caused by incomplete removal of the placenta, probably because Henry VIII was so anxious to have his son (Edward VI) born safely that he insisted on using physicians instead of experienced midwives.  IGP


(excerpt – the full article contains data!)


‘My god, September is terrible!’ one midwife told The Independent

Rachel Hosie  @rachel_hosie  Friday 8 September 2017 10:09 

If you’ve noticed a lot of pregnant women around of late or seem to have a lot of birthday parties in your diary over the next few weeks, you’re probably not alone.

September 26 is the day most babies are born, because what happened nine months earlier? Christmas.

And now a midwife is speaking out to ask people to stop having sex over Christmas. 

33-year-old midwife Mhairi Maharry from London jokingly tweeted:

“How is it only the 5th of September. I can’t take 25 more days of this. If you know or love a midwife, PLEASE STOP SHAGGING AT CHRISTMAS.”

She’s not alone either – one trainee midwife told The Independent that September is notorious for being manic.

And midwife Bethan Jones added: “My god, September is terrible! I’m in the midst of the busiest row of shifts I’ve had in a long time. 

 “Everyone decides this is the year they’ll have a baby, so they start trying right away and end up having a baby nine months later,” she explained to The Independent.

You might think mid November – nine months after Valentine’s Day – would be a busy time in labour wards, but it’s nothing on September.

Thanks to the whole of December being a time for parties, drinking and general frivolity, September is the busiest month of the year for midwives.

And after Maharry’s Twitter appeal, both expectant mothers and mothers of September babies apologised for any extra work they’d given midwives.

Interestingly, December 25 and 26 are actually the days when the fewest babies are born.


tph moses burning bush


Dilbert on PowerPoint Presentations

tph dilbert powerpt


19 #Resistance Quotes For International Women’s Day (selections)

By Samantha Darby  Mar 7 2017

“It’s not a woman’s job to get smaller and smaller until she disappears so the world can be more comfortable.” — Glennon Doyle Melton

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

“I don’t want to be remembered as the girl who was shot. I want to be remembered as the girl who stood up.” — Malala Yousafzai

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” — Marie Curie

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically . . . no, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” — Rosa Parks


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Vayekhi (Genesis 47:28 – 50:26)

I recently saw the movie Green Book, which I enjoyed and recommend.  Based on a true story, it concerns the relationship between a black pianist with highly refined tastes and the Bronx bouncer he hires as a driver/protector for a concert tour through the Midwest and South in 1962.  I was struck by the pianist’s intense loneliness.  He exists at the interface of the “normal” black and white communities, rooted in neither.  

Which brings us to Joseph’s relationships in this week’s Torah portion, the last in the book of Genesis. 

17 years have passed. Jacob’s family in Goshen, has prospered. Now 147, Jacob, prepares to die.  He makes Joseph swear that the burial will be in the family plot, in the Cave of Machpelah in Canaan.  He blesses Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh, younger (Ephraim) before elder, and formally adopts them, making his beloved Rachel ancestress of three tribes instead of two.  Finally, he gives personal comments to each of his sons.  and giving each of his sons some personalized last words (49:1-28).  These words are intended as prophesies of what will happen to each son’s descendants “in the end of days” and so are, in one sense, performance reviews.  As expected, Reuben, Levi and Shimon come off worst, Judah and Joseph best.  Jacob dies, and his embalmed remains are taken to Canaan by his sons, accompanied by an Egyptian entourage.  The children and livestock remain in Egypt.

Joseph’s older brothers fear that, now Jacob is dead, Joseph will finally retaliate against them for being sold all those years ago.  Joseph weeps in sorrow and frustration, recognizing that they have never believed in his forgiveness; indeed, they have never forgiven themselves.  Despite Joseph’s reassurance and care, the barrier between Joseph and his older brothers remains.

At 110, Joseph prepares for his own death.  He has spent 93 years in Egypt, 80 of them as Zaphenat-Paneah in Pharaoh’s innermost circle.  But he is still a Hebrew.  He must humbly ask Pharaoh’s permission to bury Jacob in Canaan, saying he’d sworn to, and leaving the children and flocks behind.  Yet he also remains apart from his family, at court while they prosper as shepherds in Goshen.  He may still be a Hebrew, but he is no longer a Canaanite shepherd.  At the interface of two adjacent worlds, he is an effective observer, liaison, and manager.  But he is also isolated from both, rooted firmly in neither.

Joseph makes his brothers swear to take his remains to Canaan for burial, but only at the proper time: (50:24-25) “God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. …When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.”  

So ends the book of Genesis, with foreshadowing that, for the Children of Israel to leave Egypt, God will have to bring them out. 

Shabbat shalom,


tph Performance Review comfort food



How do you rate?

Performance Factor Performance Degrees
Far Exceeds Job Requirements Exceeds Job Requirements Meets Job Requirements Needs Some Improvement Does Not Meet Minimum Job Requirements
QUALITY Leaps tall buildings with a single bound Must take a running start to leap over tall buildings Can leap over short buildings only Crashes into buildings when attempting to jump over them Cannot recognize buildings at all
TIMELINESS Is faster than a speeding bullet Is as fast as a speeding bullet Not quite as fast as a speeding bullet Would you believe a slow bullet? Wounds self with bullets when attempts to fire
INITIATIVE Is stronger than a locomotive Is stronger than a bull elephant Is stronger than a bull Shoots the bull Smells like a bull
ABILITY Walks on water consistently Walks on water in emergencies Washes with water Drinks water Passes water in emergencies
COMMUNICATION Talks with God Talks with the angels Talks to himself Argues with himself Loses those arguments

Submitted by Dr. Jay Pasachoff, Hale Observatories, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

Source: The Best of the Journal of Irreproducible Results, Edited by Dr. George H. Scherr © 1983 

The fight for inheritance


Starts at 60 Writers

Three sons go to their father on his deathbed. A father of three, a man of considerable wealth and creator of a veritable empire, lies on his deathbed in the final hours of his life. His sons, all vying to inherit his wealth, stand by his side, arguing over who should take the kingdom.

“I am the smartest,” says one.

“But I am the bravest,” replies another.

The youngest, last in line to inherit, says nothing and holds his father’s hand.

“Sons, sons! Stop this bickering. The inheritor or my vast wealth, of all my lands and riches, will be decided by a task.” said the dying man.

“Father,” cries the first son, “Whatever it is, I shall prove my worth! I will show you that your kingdom will be in safe hands with me! Name the task!”

The father breaths a laboured breath and then regards his first son. “My firstborn, you shall journey to the furthest, storm-tossed seas of the great West. There, you will search the unfathomable depths for the long-lost wreck of the HMS Gordimer. Deep within her bowels, there lies a treasure chest. Inside that chest is the incredibly rare Gem of Kings. Bring that, and you shall have my blessing.”

The son beams with pride while preparing his travels and leaves on his quest.

“What is my task, father?” asks the second son. “Tell me! For your kingdom, for your blessing, nothing is impossible!”

“My son,” he said, “you shall travel East. There, deep within the jungles, you will find the vicious and savage saber-toothed Bear. With just your hands, bring me its heart. Do this, and you shall have my blessing.”

The son packs his things and leaves for his tough journey.

“And me father?” asks the last son. “What is my task? What dangerous quest will you have me do?”

The father just looks at him. “My boy,” he says. “Can you, please, get me a glass of water.”

The son quizzes his father with a puzzled look.  The man sees his son’s face and says “I never did like your brothers much. I hope you like being rich.”


Deathbed Confession

The was a man who had four kids, all gorgeous, except for the youngest one, Craig, who was nothing short of gruesome. While on his deathbed, the husband asked his wife, “Marie, tell me one thing. And please be honest. Am I Craig’s father?” “Yes, honey,” replied his wife. “I promise you, Craig is 100 percent yours.” “I can die a happy man. Goodbye my love.” And the man peacefully passed away. Marie gave a big sigh and said quietly, “Thank heaven almighty he didn’t ask me about the other three.”


Quotes on Being in Two Worlds

It’s great to be able to have your feet in both worlds. I wouldn’t want to be just stuck in one or the other. David Morse

My school was 90 percent white, but 90 percent of the kids I played with were black. So I got the best of both worlds. I think that is where my comedy developed. Will Smith

My heroes in real life are definitely my mom for being true to herself, for having a foot in both worlds, for being so very polite – Canadian and also such a traditional Greek woman. I would sum it up this way: the life lesson she would say is be polite while you’re breaking the rules. Nia Vardalos

I think that black people, to a degree, need to have a certain level of dexterity. If we want to be at the highest level of whatever our field is, we have to be able to navigate both worlds. We all just know that you gotta be able to put that suit on and have a conversation with people that don’t look like you or your family. Mahershala Ali [who played the pianist in Green Book, BTW]

Maybe to feel like an Afghan I needed to be born and raised in the States, and maybe I needed to live in Afghanistan for nearly a decade to feel like an American. Both worlds shaped me, but neither one of them completely correspond to the picture I have of myself. Aman Mojadidi

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Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

When I went to grad school, I was not prepared for how cold it would be.  I don’t mean the weather. Yes, this was Boston, but I had a heavy wool coat and, after some months of neglect, very long hair (past my waist) that was like an extra sweater.  I mean an emotional coldness, not cruelty or meanness, but an inability to connect emotionally.  It was so cold in my department that, when a senior grad student died (of an illness, I think lymphoma), we only learned of it because someone moved into his desk.  And one did not indulge in casual hugs (greetings, farewells, comfort, reassurance, and the like), at least not when sober.  So, since my boyfriend was over a thousand miles away, I had no hugs for months at a time.  But I survived, we got married, and now I hug and am hugged a whole lot, enough to more than make up for that cold time so long ago.

Which brings us to this week’s Torah portion.

Judah pleads eloquently on behalf of Benjamin (and Jacob, who would be destroyed by grief were Benjamin lost to him) and offers himself as Joseph’s slave in place of his youngest brother.   Moved by Judah’s plea and the other brothers’ apparently sincere regret at how they’d treated him 22 years before, Joseph reveals his identity and immediately asks after his father.  He is very emotional, embracing and kissing his brothers. He tries to reassure them (Gen. 45:5-7):

“Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.  It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.”

The brothers return to Canaan, tell Jacob Joseph’s true fate, and the whole household comes down to Egypt to live in Goshen under Joseph’s and Pharaoh’s protection. Jacob is reassured by the Lord that they should go down to Egypt, for it is there that they will become a great nation. Egypt is saved from famine.  And they all live happily ever after…

At least they do in the Sunday School version.  As I wrote 6 years ago, “Reality is more complex:  Joseph’s older brothers don’t respond warmly to his revelation, unable to accept his genuine forgiveness.  Jacob wants to see Joseph but is uncertain about moving to Egypt and needs divine reassurance.  And, while the family is allowed to live peacefully in Goshen, they no doubt cause Joseph some embarrassment, as Egyptians have a low opinion of shepherds, and Jacob kvetches about his short (he’s 130), miserable life when he is introduced to Pharaoh.  Moreover, in Joseph’s business model, the Egyptians are saved from death, but in exchange, they become serfs of Pharaoh (though the 20% rate they pay isn’t bad in context), an ironic foreboding of the Hebrew slavery to come.”

Also ironically, despite his readiness to weep and to embrace his brothers, he doesn’t truly connect with them, except perhaps Benjamin, the only one who tearfully hugs and kisses him back.  They don’t apologize to him.  They don’t take his advice about their meeting with Pharaoh.  They don’t really believe he has truly forgiven them.

And what about Jacob?  He and Joseph love each other, but how does he feel about all those years when Joseph could have contacted him and didn’t? And has Jacob figured out that the 10 older sons were responsible for Joseph’s disappearance at 17?  Does Jacob weep at his reunion with Joseph?  [Some years ago, I gave a d’var Torah on this portion focusing on tears and family dynamics.  I have posted it here for reference.]

Joseph’s tears show that he feels strongly and that he understands the implications of a given emotional situation.  But despite his tears and his physical embrace of his brothers and father, a barrier remains, just as there remains a barrier between him as a Hebrew and the rest of Egypt.  Joseph is still exceptional, and he must deal with the emotional isolation that results from that.  We’ll see more of that next week, in the final installment of Joseph’s story.

Shabbat shalom,

Mistaken identity   Author: YourLifeChoices

Larry, a photographer for a newspaper, was scheduled to meet a plane on the runway to take him on a job.

“Hit it,” said Larry climbing into the first plane he saw on the runway.

The pilot took off and was soon in the air.

“OK,” said Larry, “fly low over the trees over there, I want to take a few pictures.”

“What do you mean?” asked the pilot.

Larry looked at the pilot and answered a little annoyed, “I need to take some pictures for the paper, so please…..”

There was a long pause, before the pilot asked in a shaky voice, “you mean you’re not my flying instructor?”


I really like both these drawings and the idea of “emotional jumper cables,” so even though I already shared this item on Facebook, I think it merits a re-appearance here.

Joseph’s emotional jumper cables don’t seem to make good contact, except with Benjamin, and maybe Jacob, to some extent.  IGP

tph emotional jumper cables


Family Reunion Jokes

  • “I’m here to talk about our family, but Mom always taught me that if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. Good Day.”
  • “We didn’t provide any alcohol at this family reunion. We were concerned people would start being honest with each other.”
  • “If you’re upset because you couldn’t bring a boyfriend or girlfriend, just remember: It’s in their best interest.”
  • “The only reason why I’m speaking right now is because Grandma bribed me with pie so I would say something nice.”
  • “Family reunions get a bad reputation. This is way better than jury duty!”
  • “You want to know what the best part is about an annual family reunion? You get a full year to recover.”
  • “You know what they say about annual family reunions. ‘Again?!??!’”
  • “Do you remember what happened at the last family reunion? Yeah, I’ve tried to block it out too.”
  • “You know, all of the women were really excited when I told them about the family reunion… Until I said, “bring your husband too.”
  • “How many crazy people does it take to throw a party?” (Begin counting people)
  • “Our family is like a fine cheese, we get funkier with age!”


tph family smile laugh


Quotes about Hugs

When I come home, my daughter will run to the door and give me a big hug, and everything that’s happened that day just melts away. Hugh Jackman

I have learned that there is more power in a good strong hug than in a thousand meaningful words. Ann Hood

Eating something fresh out of the oven is like a hug you can taste. Regina Brett

My only self-confidence and satisfaction comes from the people that I do meet; I have fondness for people. I mean, I like to hug. And I also like to be hugged. Teresa Heinz

Laughing together is as close as you can get to a hug without touching. Gina Barreca

The Gift of Kvetch (excerpts)

Nov 24, 2012
by Marnie Winston-Macauley

Kvetching is a necessary part of life! Here’s why… 

I would argue that we actually need to kvetch.  Here’s why.

Shmutz1 Removal: Face it. We’re all clogged with oy veys, “who needs this?” and “You’re all shmegegges2.” Should we attempt to hold in all that fury, it can lead to dire consequences. Kvetching is like a mental enema. It allows us to healthily vent, clean out, then start anew with no nasty rage hangovers – or grepsing3.

Creative Socializing or If You’re Kvetching and You Know it, Clap Your Hands: If we’re older than the mutant meatloaf in my freezer, we know that life is filled with a few big joys and a million daily oys. While We Jews are stoic when handling the Big Things such as rescuing people from a terrorist nation, it’s the little things that make our daily lives one big meshuggoss4, like our husband’s insistence he knows a secret short cut from New York to Miami – through Idaho. By letting out a robust “Oy Vey! Would you believe … !” in the hair salon, gym, or elevator, you’ll suddenly hear from strangers, “You too?! MINE dreams of going to outer space – as a pilot, yet! He can’t find the Tums if they’re behind the Q-Tips, but Venus he thinks he’ll find! And another thing …” See? In five minutes, we’ve made 10 BFFs, and given them the gift of the kvetch.

I’m OK, You’re Not A good kvetch can be cautionary!

We’ve Got a Right! Yes.

This being said, of course you can’t kvetch to all of the people all of the time! The expert kvetcher chooses her/his target and issues wisely. Timing is also crucial. We need to balance the kvetch so that it’s long enough to get results, yet short enough so they won’t run from you. Five minutes per kvetch is about right (unless you’re on the line with a telemarketer from India).

I also suggest kvetches be balanced with optimism and positive reinforcement. For example, say to your Irving: “See darling … ? You buttoned up and didn’t get pneumonia?! I’m so proud.”

Marnie Winston-Macaule


1 shmutz:  dirt

2 shmegegge: a contemptible person, an idiot

3 grepsing: belching

4 meshuggoss: craziness

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D’var Torah – Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

Delivered at Shabbat morning services at AKSE, January 3, 2004 by Irene G. Plotzker [reconstructed from notes]

In this week’s portion, Joseph reveals his identity, assures his brothers he forgives them, and the whole family is reunited in Egypt, where they live happily ever after…

Not really.  This portion is full of unsettling undercurrents.  First, we know that “going down to Egypt” will eventually mean enslavement, so that is in the back of our minds throughout.

And how genuine is that family reconciliation, really?  The brothers never liked Joseph, even as a boy.  They still feel guilty about how they treated him.  They almost certainly never told Jacob what really happened and probably never even discussed it among themselves.  Maybe, for all these years, it’s been like the elephant in the center of the room everyone tries in vain to ignore.  So one would expect their reaction to Joseph’s revelation to be quite mixed.

What about Joseph?  Yes, he certainly acts happy and forgiving.  But he also seems to have become quite comfortable living as an Egyptian.  He seems to have chosen to keep himself cut off from his family.  Consider, for example, when he names his firstborn Menasheh, saying, “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home” (Gen. 41:51).

And why didn’t Joseph ever send word to his father in Canaan that he was alive and well?  He’s been out of prison for nine years.  That question has troubled several commentators, who have come up with various ideas (Uriel Simon, “Joseph Heals the Breach in His Father’s House,” at, a few of which I will note here.  R. Yehuda Hehasid felt that Joseph realized that, if he sent word to his father, Jacob would realize that the brothers played a role in Joseph’s disappearance, and it would destroy the family.  Ramban was amazed that Joseph did not send word to Jacob, noting how much pain Jacob felt and Hebron’s nearness to Egypt.  He concluded that Joseph believed the future as laid out in his dreams needed to play itself out, and this (specifically, the family bowing down to him) could only happen in Egypt.  Similarly, but going a step further, the opinion of R. Isaac Abarbanel was that Joseph saw it was necessary for the events in God’s plan to play themselves out, that the brothers needed time to change and to prove they had changed, and this justified Jacob’s continuing pain.

Then, when they do come down, Joseph treats his brothers like country bumpkins, coaching them on what to say to Pharoah (to not avail – they ignore him).  And Jacob didn’t even want to go down to Egypt and went only because he wanted to see Joseph one last time and because God assured him that it was the right thing to do.

To gain more insight into the dynamics of this situation, I’d like to focus on one element: tears.  Who cries, when, and why.

To be able to weep indicates you can both feel and express deep emotions.  Esau weeps when he’s tricked out of his blessing.  Jacob weeps with joy when he meets Rachel.

In our story, Joseph weeps several times.  Notice that he does not weep when he is thrown into the pit, when he is sold as a slave, when he is thrown into prison, or when he’s forgotten there.  He tends to weep at times of emotion-laden insight.

For example, he first cries when he first sees his brothers in Egypt (Gen. 42:24) and hears them expressing regret for their actions  toward him 22 years earlier.  He’s overwhelmed, not at seeing them, but at hearing that they might actually have repented.

Next, he cries when he reveals his identity (Gen. 45:1-2) and when he kisses each of them.  But only Benjamin, his only full brother, cries as well.  The other brothers do not.  They are emotionally stuck and cannot fully accept Joseph’s assurances that he has indeed forgiven them and that what they did was part of God’s plan.  And so, they cannot weep.

When Joseph meets Jacob, the Hebrew is not clear as to which one of them weeps.  (what follows is based on Binyamin Salant, “Yosef’s Libels, Emotions and Passions” at  To Ramban, it is clear: “It is well known who is crying – the aged father who discovers, after years of despair and mourning, that his son is alive.”  He then goes on to buttress his argument by analyzing the literary structure of the text and comparing it to similar examples in the Bible.  Rashi, on the other hand, agrees with a midrash that Joseph wept and Jacob did not, because he was reciting the Shema.  I agree with the commentary of R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, who wrote, “Yosef wept.  Yaacov did not weep.  Yosef could still weep.  Yaakov was finished with weeping, because he had wept enough in his life…Since he had missed Yosef, Yaakov had not ceased from weeping, his whole life of feelings had been spent in grief over Yosef…Yosef…had had no time to give himself up so much to the pain of separation…Now when he fell round his father’s neck again, he felt all the more what the separation had really meant to him, and lived once again through the past twenty years.  Yaakov had already become Israel.  Yosef still wept.”

When Jacob dies (we’ll read about that next week) and the brothers fear Joseph’s benevolence will end, Joseph weeps again, frustrated and saddened at their lack of faith, even after 17 years of his caring for them.  He realizes that, while he has been able to forgive them, they still have not been able to forgive themselves.  They still cannot weep.

I’d like to conclude with some excerpts from an advice column on the topic of reconciliations that I found on the web, “Dear Avigal,” written by Mindy Davids and Jeffrey Marx (


Dear Avigal:

Five years ago, my partner and I disbanded our business. We had worked side by side for a decade. Our families even vacationed together. Then, in a dispute over bonuses, one word led to another, and we split up. After five years of not seeing him, not speaking to him, I felt bad. Then I remembered the story of Joseph and his brothers. Despite being sold into slavery by his siblings, Joseph forgave them completely…I decided that if Joseph could do it, I could too!

I called my former partner. We had dinner together, we shmoozed about the past, we talked honestly about our falling out. Since then, we talk on the phone at least once a month. But I just learned that his daughter is being married in a month’s time, and he didn’t even invite me!

So much for making peace!

Hurt and Confused.


Dear Hurt and Confused:

The bum! What ingratitude, after you went out of your way to make peace! My advice is to find yourself a better friend.



Dear Avigal:

Did you ever stop to consider that not all reconciliations have fairy-tale endings? It’s true that my brother Joseph hugged and kissed us in the throne room and brought us down to Egypt, but did you ever consider where we ended up living? While we were stuck with the sheep in Goshen, my brother continued living in the palace! (Gen. 47:11) We had to send word to him when our father was on his deathbed, that’s how seldom he came to visit. (Gen. 48:1)

Believe me, after our father died, my brothers and I feared that now Joseph was going to exact his revenge. That’s why we concocted the story that on his deathbed, Jacob had asked Joseph to forgive us. (Gen. 50:15-17) We weren’t close to Joseph when we sold him, why should a few tears and a hug-especially after so many years had passed-suddenly make us one happy family? Tell Hurt and Confused to grow up!

Reuben, son of Jacob


Dear Avigal:

Reconciliation is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Believe me, I know. I did a terrible thing to my brother many years ago involving our father’s inheritance. We didn’t see each other for years. I couldn’t sleep, I kept wrestling with my conscience. Finally, I sent him a note and we arranged to meet. When we saw each other, he fell on my neck and we wept like babies. He invited me to his home to spend time with his wife and kids. I accepted, but at the last minute I decided not to go. (Gen. 33:12-17) What more could I say to him? We were never close growing up; our values were completely different. Tell Hurt and Confused not to get his hopes up too high!

Jacob, son of Isaac


Dear Avigal:

I can’t believe your readers’ responses to Hurt and Confused! Theirs is a most depressing way of looking at the world and our role in making it a better place. How am I ever going to announce the coming of the messianic age with such attitudes?! … We must believe that we can make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others by embracing darchei shalom, the paths of peace.



Reconciliations are inherently difficult because someone has been hurt.  But it is incumbent upon us to try anyway, and to travel those paths of peace.

Shabbat shalom.

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