Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25)

[I will be away next week, so you are getting this a week early.  The comments are from 2014, but the jokes are newly chosen.]

In this week’s portion, Eikev, Moses assures the Israelites that they can have a wonderful future, partly from the innate fertility and richness therein and partly by their own efforts.  They will eat and be satisfied.  But this is contingent upon their not forgetting that it is the Lord that has enabled their success.  No “self-made” men or women.  No claims of “I built that!” without acknowledging anyone’s help.  Basically, all they need to do is only to “revere the Lord your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the Lord’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good.” (10:12, 13).  (That shouldn’t be too difficult, right?)  Even more succinctly in 11:1, “Love, therefore, the Lord your God, and always keep His charge, His laws, His rules, and His commandments.”

Moses relates more of the story of their journey, how he had spent 40 days and nights on Horeb (Sinai) only to bring the two stone tablets back to a people who were worshiping a golden idol.  They were punished.  But Moses miraculously prevented the Lord from destroying them.  And there were ongoing miracles, like manna and water and clothes and shoes that didn’t wear out.  The 70 who went down to Egypt are now as numerous as the stars of heaven. 

Chapter 11 includes the second paragraph of the Shema (11:13-21) which again emphasizes that there will be consequences to the choices the Israelites will make in the years and generations to come.  Good behavior will overall lead to a good life.  Bad behavior will lead to disaster.  The Israelites will also have tangible reminders of proper behavior, tefillin (11:18) and mezuzot (11:20).  Rather than a simple carrot/stick proposition, the Israelites will need to learn that the behavior itself will inherently lead to the consequences.   

Shabbat shalom,



tph overdue library book



Parshas Eikev – On 1 Foot
The Fundamentals of Computer Programming:

IF (condition)
THEN (statements)
[Else if (condition X) Then
(statements X)]
(else statements)




You may remember the incident in January, 2010 where an Orthodox teenager on an airplane tried to pray with tefillin, thereby causing the plane to be diverted because they thought he was a terrorist.  Here are a couple of related items:

A. Watch this video – Philadelphia Police call Phylacteries “Olfactories”,  Daniel Seiradskipicked up on this and gave a very clear explanation with this gem of a photo

tph olefactories

B. Tefillin On Board

Top ten Jewish-related things that may actually pose a higher security threat on board an airplane (with apologies to David Letterman):

  1. Waving a Lulav (eye poker)
    9. Wrapping yourself in a Tallis (whip passengers with those fringes)
    8. My Grandmother’s Chicken Soup (scalding hot, but it’s liquid so it’s already banned)
    7. Wielding a Challah knife (obvious!)
    6. Purim Grogger (Metal corners make dangerously sharp weapon)
    5. Full Set of the Talmud (heavy enough to bring down an aircraft)
    4. Using Jewish Sarcasm (it’s deadly!)
    3. Giving a discourse on the history of the Jewish legal tradition (will put pilots to sleep)
    2. Matzoh Balls (deadly as thrown object)
    And the #1 Jewish thing more dangerous than wearing tefillin on a plane is… 
    1. Singing Shabbat song: “Bim Bom, Bim Bim Bim BOMB

(c) Rabbi Jason A. Miller



Self-Made Man Quotes

Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men. E. B. White

I don’t believe in that kind of American John Wayne individualism where people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Someone changed your diapers. And if that’s the case, you ain’t self-made. Michael Eric Dyson

A self-made man? Yes, and one who worships his creator. William Cowper

I am a self-made brat. Steve Wynn

My parents were self-made people, and they were a team. Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.


The Mezuzah

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Opening his front door, the Rabbi found himself face to face with the local priest. 
“Rabbi, may I have a few words with you?” asked the priest.

“Of course, Father,” replied the Rabbi somewhat nervously.

“Rabbi,” began the priest, “It must be evident to you that in this town we are plagued by thieves. Scarcely a day passes without one of my flock coming to me bemoaning the fact that his house has been broken into. On the other hand, I have noticed that thieves do not bother you Jews nearly as much.”

“Father, you are correct.”

“Yes, but why is that?” inquired the priest.

“Look at this little box here on the side of my door post,” said the Rabbi. “It’s called a mezuzah. We Jews believe that when we put a mezuzah on the entrances to our houses, the Holy One, may His Name be blessed, protects both us and our property.”

“In that case,” replied the priest, “I must have one!”

Not wishing to be the cause of an incipient pogrom, the Rabbi reluctantly handed over a mezuzah to the priest.

Some two weeks later the Rabbi was awakened by the sound of someone pounding violently on his door. Dressing himself hastily, he made his way down the stairs.

“Who’s there?” the Rabbi asked tremulously.

“Open the door! Open the door!” screamed a voice on the other side.

Leaving the door on the chain, the Rabbi racked the door wide enough to see the priest standing in front of him, his eyes wild with great distraught.

“What happened?” asked the terrified Rabbi. “Were you not protected from robbers?”

“I was! But these people were worse than robbers!” screamed the priest.

“Who?” asked the rabbi.

“The Fund Raisers!”



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Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11), Shabbat Nachamu

It’s August.  For me, this year, that means TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars,” with each day in August devoted to a single actor (today, Lon Chaney); going away on vacation; reviewing elementary Attic Greek and starting on Mendelsohn’s Elijah in preparation for my fall activities; and a major wedding anniversary.

It also means we are getting close to the end of the year by the Hebrew calendar.  Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) is over and Tu B’Av (15th of Av), a recently revived minor holiday also known as Chag HaAhava, festival of love (http://www.morim-madrichim.org/en/Event/1764/p0/tu-bav?firstreq=1 ), is in a few days (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/tubav.html).  After Av comes Elul, the last month of the year. 

And, since this is about the weekly Torah portion, it also means we’re in Deuteronomy, and Moses is trying to teach the Children of Israel, the generation of the desert, about their history and its miraculous nature:  “(H)as anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another.” (4:32-34)   They can have a great future in the Promised Land, if they obey the laws they have been given.  Moses himself is an object lesson, having been denied entrance into the Land because he disobeyed.  If they follow the laws, good things should follow as a natural consequence.  The keystone of their laws is the Ten Commandments.  Moses teaches them here (5:6-18), but they differ slightly from the ones in Exodus 20.  According to the Maharal of Prague, Moses is presenting the Commandments in a way the people could better absorb.  When we refer to “the Ten Commandments,” it’s the set in Exodus. 

But it’s not just a matter of carrots and sticks.  They should obey not simply out of fear, but also, even primarily, out of love.  This portion includes the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9), probably the most well-known part of our liturgy. It’s not a prayer, but a command to “Listen!  Pay attention!” (6:4) to the idea of the oneness of the Lord, followed immediately by a command to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and might.  In the JTS translation of this portion, the word “love” appears four times, “heart” three times, and “soul” twice.   “Biblical scholars would typically translate ‘heart’ here as the seat of the intellect and wisdom (the intestines are the seat of the emotions) and ‘soul’ as the physical being, or breath.  ‘Love’ is action, not an emotion (Thanks, Stanley).  It means fidelity, loyalty, faithful obedience.   “For Maimonides, this love arises from intellectual conviction, but one’s soul is “ever enraptured by it” (N. Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 66-67).  Thus, the Israelites are being commanded to approach their God with both rationality and passion. 

This Sabbath is called Shabbat Nachamu (“comfort,” plural imperative) after the first word in the haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26, in which the prophets are being told to comfort the people.  [BONUS QUESTION:  Which 7 verses in this haftarah occur in Handel’s Messiah?].  It’s the first of the seven Haftarot of Consolation following Tisha B’Av.

“We search for comfort in many ways – food to satisfy and evoke memories of happier times, drugs and alcohol to numb pain, stuffed animals to cuddle.  A baby learns to comfort itself by sucking a thumb or pacifier (though my kids were never really into that).  But the most efficacious comfort involves a sympathetic response from a real being – a real or virtual hug, another’s warm words, the snuggling of a pet or a child: “The baby slept, wrapped in a great fold of the cloak.  Feeling this little life, so unconscious and untroubled, snuggling into the hollow of her breast, Marie gradually regained her calm.” (The Royal Succession, Maurice Druon, 1958, p. 159).” (2015)  

And after seven weeks of Haftarot of Consolation, it will be time for Rosh Hashanah, a brand-new year.

Shabbat shalom,



Love, as perceived by some children 4 to 8 years-of-age (selections)

  • Tommy – age 6: “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”
  • Clare – age 6: “My mummy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.”
  • Elaine-age 5: “Love is when Mummy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.”
  • Mary Ann – age 4: “‘Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”
  • Lauren – age 4: “‘I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.”
  • Karen age 7: “When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.”
  • Jessica – age 8: “‘You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”
  • And the final one — Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”



 Class’s Attention

One of the highlights of the freshman biology class at New Mexico Highlands University was the monthly feeding of a caged rattlesnake kept in the laboratory. One time, the entire class gathered around the cage and, in complete silence, watched as the feeding took place.
“I’m jealous of the snake,” the instructor said. “I never get the class’s undivided attention like this.”
A student answered matter-of-factly, “You would if you could swallow a mouse.”


Hannah was spending the night with her grandparents. At bath time Hannah asked her grandmother if they were going to church the next morning. When Grandma said yes, Hannah turned up her nose and said, “I don’t like Sunday school.”
“But Hannah,” Grandma replied, “we should learn all we can about God.”
“I learned all about that when we lived in Illinois.”
“Well, I’ve been going to church all my life and I haven’t learned everything about God,” Grandma said.
“Maybe you weren’t paying attention.”

The Math Class

The math teacher saw that little Johnny wasn’t paying attention in class. She called on him and said, ‘Johnny! What are 2 and 4 and 28 and 44?
Little Johnny quickly replied, ‘NBC, FOX, ESPN and the Cartoon Network!’




Tom had won a toy at a raffle. He called his 5 kids together to ask
which one should have the present.
“Who is the most obedient?” he asked.
The children all stared back at him in silence.
Then he asked, “Who never talks back to mother?”
Again the kids appeared to be mystified by the question.
Then Tom asked, “Who does everything she says?”
With that question, the kids were finally able to come to a conclusion. The five small voices answered in unison, “Okay, dad, you get the toy.”




tph tencommandments-2Bipad



Quotes on Comfort

There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. Jane Austen

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. John F. Kennedy

Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always. Hippocrates

Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort. Humphry Davy


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Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), Shabbat Chazon, Tisha B’Av

 [Comments partly derived from 2009 TPH].

I love words.  I love their rhythm, their music, how they evolve, how they feel in my mouth.  I occasionally make a point of memorizing bits of text I find particularly vivid, from sources as disparate as Lord Kelvin and Sylvia Plath.   I love puns.  I love using unexpected verbal imagery to get a point across, like describing the structure of a plastic gas tank as resembling baklava, or invoking a reaction coordinate diagram to discuss romantic relationships.  A highlight of my early life was getting my very own library card as soon as I could print my name and using it to take 10 books out from two libraries weekly (15 from three on rare occasions).  So it’s not surprising that, even after so many years in the lab, I ended up in a language-oriented job in the library building. 

All of which is an introduction to this week’s Torah portion the first one of the final book of the Torah.  In The Book of Devarim and the Birth of Talmud Torah, Rabbi David Hoffman writes, “No form of the Hebrew root l-m-d (to learn, study, or teach) appears in any book of the Torah other than Devarim, where it appears seventeen times in thirty-four chapters. The experience of learning and teaching is central to the project of Devarim. This verb is used in connection to God teaching the Israelites, Moses teaching the nation and, perhaps most critically, the Israelites themselves teaching Torah… (Deut. 11:18–19).(F)or the Jew, learning is an active process that is primarily about making meaning…. to develop a personal, rich, and nurturing relationship with God.   Study is the means by which we make meaning in our own lives.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Tigay explains (Etz Hayyim, page 980) that Deuteronomy “consists of five retrospective discourses and poems that Moses addressed to Israel in Moab shortly before his death, plus two narratives about his final acts.”  For someone who used to be slow of speech, that’s a lot of talking.  He begins with a quick and selective recap of the wanderings from the time the earlier generation had left Sinai (=Horeb here).  His selection of topics is not obvious: the command to leave Sinai, his implementation of a hierarchy of magistrates, the incident with the 12 spies and its disastrous result, and then he pretty much skips to the most recent months and their military victories and the apportionment of the land.  It’s actually not a bad introduction, since the recent events are of greatest interest to this new generation.  More history can come later. 

We are currently in the midst of the Nine Days, a semi-mourning period that culminates in Tisha B’Av (literally, 9th of Av) which starts next Monday night.  Tisha B’Av commemorates several disasters, particularly the destruction of the First and Second Temples.  It is a black fast (mourning), unlike the white fast (solemn) of Yom Kippur.  One site with links to laws, customs, etc. is http://ohr.edu/yhiy.php/holidays/tisha_bav/ .  I recommend the article,  “Lest We Forget – What do we get from Tisha B’Av?” by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach.    The Sabbath directly preceding Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Chazon (Vision) after the vision of Isaiah, recounted in the haftarah, Isaiah 1:1-27.  The haftarah is traditionally chanted mostly using the mournful melody that will be used to chant the book of Lamentations (known in Hebrew as “Eichah,” literally, “How?!”) on Tisha B’Av.  

While the haftarot between the 17th of Tammuz and Rosh Hashanah are connected to the calendar rather than to the weekly Torah reading, there actually is a link between this haftarah and Devarim.  In Isaiah 1:21, we read “How is the faithful city become a harlot!” In Deut. 1:12, Moses says, How am I able to bear your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels?!” Traditionally, this verse is also chanted using the Eichah melody. And the Book of Lamentations itself begins, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!”  Each “How” is not a request for analysis, but an expression of mixed exasperation and mourning, mainly exasperation in Moses’ case.

What is most significant to me this year is the teaching that, while the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry among the Israelites, the Second was destroyed on account of “sinat chinam,” which means “baseless hatred,” among the Jews.  I am troubled by a startling amount of what I consider sinat chinam among world Jewry, factions ever more separated and incommunicative.  And, while not limited to Jews of course, polarization and division (lots of hatred, a lot baseless) may be destroying our country.  We need to sit down, take a deep breath, and focus on the task at hand, which is to chart a viable future from a difficult present. 

Shabbat shalom, 



From the weekly Washington Post Style Invitational FLORA & FAUXNA: THE NEOLOGISMS OF WEEK 1227

The neologism challenge for Week 1227 was to coin a new life form whose name — in the spirit of genetic diversity — had no two of the same letter. (selected submissions)

Dogirafe: The only canine that can fetch a Frisbee stuck in a tree. (Shani Alexander, Wanneroo, Australia, a First Offender)

Kremling: A Russian weasel noted for its tiny paws and orange fur. (David Peckarsky, Tucson)

E. moji:A bacterium manifesting itself in poop, soft-serve ice cream, and a face with stuck-out tongue and winking eye. (Dave Matuskey, Sacramento)

Beaglu: A dog that never leaves your side. Literally. (Jeff Shirley, Richmond, Va.)

Ost-rich: A bird that buried its head in the sand and found oil. (John O’Byrne, Dublin)

Pseudoryx: A troublesome species of antelope, also known as fake gnus. (Kevin Dopart)

Peach mint: Some in Congress would like to send this herb over to the White House. (James Colten, Washington, a First Offender)

Sycolephant: Large animal with a long, brown nose (Larry Gray, Union Bridge, Md.; Tom Witte)

Tydebola: A virus that sterilizes itself. (Neal Starkman, Seattle)

Muhel: A rabbi who stubbornly refuses to perform circumcisions. (Roy Ashley. Washington)



Fifteen Things You’ll Never Hear a Teacher Say

  1. “Our principal is soooooooooo smart. No wonder he’s in administration!”
  2. “Thank goodness for these evaluations. They keep me focused.”
  3. “I’d like to see Red Lobster offer a meal like this!”
  4. “I can’t BELIEVE I get paid for this!!!!”
  5. “Here class, just put all your gym shoes in this box next to my desk.”
  6. “I bet all the people in our administration really miss teaching!!”
  7. “Gosh, the bathroom smells so fresh and clean!”
  8. “It must be true; the superintendent said so!”
  9. “I think the discipline around here is just a LITTLE too strict!!”
  10. “It’s Friday already???????”
  11. I believe schools would run better if only a few more ex-coaches would go into administration.
  12. This in-service training has just been fabulous.
  13. I believe that athletics are not getting enough money.
  14. We’d be able educate our children if they would let us teach through June, too.
  15. Have you noticed that teachers drive better cars than the students?

From http://www.adprima.com



 22/08/2014 11:19 | Updated 20 May 2015

tph phrases kids don't understand



Quotes about Exasperation

5. “We mothers of grown-up daughters tend to view them with a mixture of love, exasperation, irritation and awe.”
Author: Anne Robinson

7. “Exhaustion andexasperationare frequently the handmaidens of legislative decision.”
Author: Barber Conable

14. “…he arrived late at the office, perceived that his doing so made no difference whatever to any one, and was filled with suddenexasperation at the elaborate futility of his life”
Author: Edith Wharton

15. “Father, in those moments of utter exasperation, help me to want You as much as I need You!”
Author: Evinda Lepins

18. “I go from exasperation to a state of collapse, then I recover and go from prostration to Fury, so that my average state is one of being annoyed.”
Author: Gustave Flaubert

24. “Well what are you looking at me for? If this is a democratic process, I’ve been outvoted,” he said in exasperation. “This is why democracy doesn’t work. The crazy people always outnumber the sane people.”
Author: Joseph R. Lallo


tph chalk board

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Mattot-Mase’ei (Numbers 30:2 – 36:13)

First, the answers to last week’s bonus questions:

  1. What verses in this (i.e., last week’s) haftarah from Jeremiah appear in the liturgy, and where do they appear? Jeremiah 2:2 has become part of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, one of the Zichronot (Remembrance) Verses in the Musaf service: “I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, your love as a bride–How you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.”
  2. The single verse of the Torah that is read most often in the annual Torah reading schedule (other than “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying”) occurs in this portion. What is it? Numbers 28:3. The reading for Rosh Chodesh, when it’s on a weekday, is 28:1-15, and 28:3 is read in both the 1st and 2nd aliyot (no, I don’t know why).  So, for example, 28:3 this year is read once for Pinchas and, if I counted correctly, 15×2=30 times for Rosh Chodesh (several months have 2 days for Rosh Chodesh).

This week, we finish the book of Numbers with a very long double-portion, 112+132=244 verses.  It’s made up of several chunks of middling interest, all aimed at readying the people for life in the Promised Land.  First, we read instructions regarding. A man simply makes a vow and fulfills it.  For a woman, it’s more complicated (isn’t it always more complicated?), since her father or husband may have different degrees of authority over her depending on her age, marital status, whether the vow was taken before or after she married, etc., etc.   

Next, the Israelites are commanded to carry out a war against the Midianites (Numbers 31:2) to avenge the incident of Baal Peor (Numbers 25:1-9). in a manner that today would be called ethnic cleansing.  Only young, virgin girls are not massacred.  A great deal of Midianite loot remains for the Israelites, even after the portions that are set aside for dedication to the Lord. 

The tribes of Reuben and Gad have a lot of livestock, likely some from the Midian war (Midrash, Or HaChaim).  Joined by Manasseh, they find the lands of Jazer and Gilead so suitable for ranching that they ask to stay there, instead of crossing into the Promised Land.  Moses answers in a temperate fashion, negotiating an agreement that, in exchange, they will be in the front lines of battles to take the Land.  But you can imagine what Moses was thinking.  He couldn’t even enter the Land, and these people are cavalierly rejecting settlement there?

That was Mattot.

In Ma’asei, which starts at 33:1, we are treated to the Israelites’ itinerary for the past 40 years.  14 pairs of verses are chanted to the melody used for the Song at the [Re(e)d] Sea, basically “they journeyed from A and encamped at B” without embellishment.  The borders of the land are then described and the leaders of the nation and tribes named.  The Levite cities are defined (remember, they don’t get a section of land), including open area, fields, and vineyards.  Speaking of cities, 6 cities of refuge, 3 on each side of the Jordan, are established to protect those who kill someone unintentionally, and laws concerning them are set.

The Book of Numbers ends with another wrinkle to the story of the daughters of Zelophehad.  Laws always beget more laws.  There is always an unforeseen consequence after a law is enacted.  The legal system must be responsive to new situations and to new understanding of existing situations.  Here, the men of Manasseh realize that the borders of the designated tribal lands will be scrambled if the daughters marry outside the tribe and take their inheritance with them.  The solution: the daughters of Zelophehad are to marry within their tribe, and so they duly marry their cousins. 

Next week, we begin Deuteronomy, Moses’ month-long valedictory to the Israelites.

Shabbat shalom,



tph prometheus-wedding-vows



[We will be going on vacation in a couple of weeks, and our plans were greatly influenced by a desire to avoid air travel.]
tph kangaroo



The Question

The Old Professor poses the following problem to one of his classes:

“A wealthy man dies and leaves ten million dollars. One-fifth is to go to his daughter, one-fifth is to go to his son, one-sixth to his brother, and the rest to his wife. Now, what does each get?”

After a very long silence in the classroom, Little Pauly raises his hand and says, “A lawyer?”



tph moses-lost-in-the-desert-year-40-recalculating-recalculating-recalculating-8665662



Quotes about Laws

I like the idea that we build up these walls or rules or laws to maintain our reality, and when they fall away, you’re left with a whole bunch of illusions. Smoke and mirrors. Sarah McLachlan

We shouldn’t have to be burdened with all the technicalities that come up from time to time with shrewd, smart lawyers interpreting what the laws or what the Constitution may or may not say. Dan Quayle

To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making. Otto von Bismarck

It ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any. Mae West



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Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

Not feeling adequately up to par today to think, so the comments are from 2013, lightly edited.  

We are basically in tying up loose ends mode.  The latest plague is stayed, the Israelites are saved, and Pinchas is explicitly rewarded for his violent actions with the hereditary priesthood.  I find it odd that this brief tale is split in two, half last week and half this.  Perhaps that’s related to the ambivalence with which the rabbis viewed Pinchas’s homicidal zealotry (not to mention how they felt about hereditary priesthood, at least by Mishnaic times).  Also in verse 25:12, about the pact of peace between the Lord and Pinchas, the letter vav in the word shalom (peace) is broken:

    tph broken-vav

The rabbis conclude that this was a singular instance, the zeal of Pinchas was purely in service of the Lord, and this isn’t the sort of action a run-of-the-mill, self-appointed vigilante should take. 

Another census is taken.  Male Israelites able to bear arms, 20 years+: 601,730 down 0.3%.  Levites, males, one month and up: 23,000, up 4.5%.  That’s not too bad, given all the plagues and calamities.  This is followed by foretastes of what’s to come.  The brother-less five daughters of Zelophehad protest that they should inherit their father’s assigned holding.  Moses checks with the Lord, who says they’re right, and the inheritance laws are thereby amended, but there will be more to their story.  Moses is then told to get ready to die, and Joshua is officially presented as the leader-designate.  The portion concludes with all the sacrifices for Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and holidays, all those little selections we read on Rosh Chodesh and from the second scroll on holidays, more preparation for observances in the Promised Land.  By the way, I think I was an adult before I realized that “sacrifices” were typically not totally burnt up, but eaten (mmm, BBQ); who gets to eat what is summarized on p. 1291 of the Stone edition of the Chumash.

This past Tuesday, the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day, marked the beginning of a somber three-week period that culminates in the black fast of Tisha B’Av (9th of Av).  Three “Haftarot of Rebuke” are chanted before Tisha B’Av and seven Haftarot of Consolation afterTo get all 3 Haftarot of Rebuke in, when Pinchas is read after 17 Tammuz, its assigned haftarah (I Kings 18:46-19:21) is replaced with the first of the 3, Jeremiah 1:1-2:3. 

BONUS QUESTIONS: 1. What verses in this haftarah from Jeremiah appear in the liturgy, and where do they appear?  2. The single verse of the Torah that is read most often in the annual Torah reading schedule (other than “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying”) occurs in this portion.  What is it?  Answers next week.  Remind me if I forget.

Shabbat shalom,



Twitter Vigilantes

The Self-Appointed Twitter Scolds [abridged]


JOHN CUSACK tweets with his iPhone and, much like the characters he plays, his style is fast and loose. “…Most of his followers ignore the gaffes. But a vocal minority abuse him about it nonstop, telling the star that as much as they liked “The Sure Thing,” his grammar and spelling sure stink.  “The vitriol was so intense that at first I didn’t think they were serious,” Mr. Cusack said. “Because, like, who would care?”

They do. A small but vocal subculture has emerged on Twitter of grammar and taste vigilantes who spend their time policing other people’s tweets.. They build their own algorithms to sniff out tweets with typos or flawed grammar, or written in ALLCAPS — and then send scolding notes to the offenders.  They see themselves as the guardians of an emerging behavior code: Twetiquette.

“With Twitter particularly, the feedback is so intense and so immediate, it does something very particular to your ego that even the blogs don’t,” said Xeni Jardin, a partner in the blog site Boing Boing and a usual suspect on Twitter. “That feedback rush is like pouring plant food on weeds.”

It’s hard to tell, but the number of Twitter accounts devoted to pointing out other people’s language foibles does seem to be growing. Among the more mentionable ones are CapsCop, Grammar FailGrammar HeroYour Or Youre, Word Police and Spelling Police, which for a time fixed Español malo.  A user called Twenglish Police monitors Australian tweets.

For his part, Mr. Cusack has been trying a new strategy, he explained by e-mail: first, he spells things wrong on purpose to get the critics riled up, and then “I blockthem executioer style now with no warning!!”


http://users.erols.com/blair1/dactyl/jokes/draft.htm  (true story!)  [dead link – sent out in 2001]

Parrot gets Draft Letter from Selective Service


WRIGHT TOWNSHIP, Pa. (AP) In its endless search for a few good men, Uncle Sam is ordering one Sam Garmize to register for the draft — or face prosecution.

But there’s something the military brass ought to know: Sam is a parrot.

“They probably wouldn’t want him because he only has four toes, green hair and no teeth,” said Sharon Garmize, owner of the blue crown mealy amazon parrot who received the letter from the Selective Service on Monday.

The Selective Service bases its mailings on lists of graduating high school seniors obtained from commercial vendors, spokesman Larry Waltman said. “Sometimes we get a dog. Sometimes we get a cat,” he said. “This time we got a parrot.”

Ms. Garmize suspects a friend or co-worker listed Sam and two dogs as members of the family on a survey several years back.   Since then, Visa has offered him a credit card with a $2,000 limit. A tuxedo shop has offered a nice deal just in time for the prom. A student foreign exchange program has asked him to study abroad.



Funny Census Entries From Readers
Posted by Diane
My favorite census entry exhibits the creativity enumerators used when families weren’t at home. I can’t help but wonder, what if this family had had 10 children? What if they’d been Irish or Italian? What would the enumerator have come up with instead? From the 1889 Washington Territorial census:

Name of Persons          Nativity
Dutchman, Mr.            Germany
——- , Mrs.                   “
——- , Little                  “
——- , Small                 “
——- , Smaller              “
——- , Smallest             “
Lisa Oberg
Shoreline, Wash.

Was her mother named Goose?
The funniest name I’ve come across in the census is a woman named Bo Peep, listed in the 1910 census of Harrison County, WV, with her husband Lee Maxwell. I did a little further research and sure enough, there she was in a West Virginia marriage index: Bo Peep K. Smith. Her husband was a farmer; I wonder if he raised sheep?
Maggie DeFazio
Pittsburgh, Pa. 



10 Unbelievable Inheritance Stories

4. The richest woman in Asia gave away her multi-billion-US-dollar fortune to a feng shui master in return for a promise of eternal life

Nina Wang, who died of cancer in 2007 at age 69, signed over her vast fortune to a previously unknown feng shui master Tony Chan as a promise for eternal life. Wang changed her will in 2006 in order to leave everything to the feng shui master, voiding a previous will written four years earlier that left the fortune to her family and to charity. With no children of her own, Wang wrote a new will in 2006, two years after her ovarian cancer was diagnosed, making 48-year-old Chan her sole beneficiary.

The question is, why would Chan ask Wang to put him in her will if he had ensured her she would live forever, or at least for a very long time? (Source)



tph succession plan Alice

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Balak (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9)

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

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

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

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

The whole thing feels force fit into the Torah.  This year, I wanted to see what anyone had said regarding what this text is doing here in a literary or historical sense.  I didn’t really find much in that vein (maybe next year), but there were a couple of interesting commentaries which have recently come out of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

In Fear, Truth and a Donkey, R’ Joel Alter writes, “What is this slapstick figure doing here in the Torah?  Two concerns drive our story, both of current, and timeless, relevance: The first is fear. The second, at root, is truth.”  The Moabites’ fear is clearly shown in 22:2-6, as is their hatred, in text that echoes Pharaoh and the Egyptians at the beginning of Exodus.  The Israelites are described here as being too numerous, acting like animals (22:4, “Now this horde will lick clean all that is about us as an ox licks up the grass of the field.”), and, worst of all, living right next door.  Truth is what Balak and Bil’am try to deny: “all that is real, all that is impervious to dissembling or spin, all that sheds the evasions of wishful thinking and stands firm in its truth, is from God.  What’s going on in the story of Balak and Bilam is a doomed attempt to change what is, and will remain, true.”

What R’ Jan Uhrbach writes in Dreaming of Being Balaam is probably the most imaginative take, if difficult to swallow: “But here’s another possibility: perhaps the story is instead a dream Moses dreams. One hint of this is that Balaam comes from Petor (Num. 22:5), a word used for dream interpretation (e.g., in the Joseph narrative). Indeed, both the narrative context and several details (too numerous to list here) strongly suggest this is dreamwork, incorporating and transforming elements of Moses’s experiences, anxieties, doubts, and fears… It is not a stretch to imagine Moses plagued with doubts about his legacy, his authenticity, and his character… One need not be a student of Freud to connect such doubts to a dream about a ‘heathen’ prophet, who

  • sees the Israelites only from afar, and whose name (Balaam) suggests belo am—“one without a people” (see BT Sanhedrin 105a);
  • is told by God to go forward and is then stymied by impassable roadblocks;
  • is revealed as a buffoon when he is bested by a talking donkey; and
  • repeatedly offers words which fail to “take.”

Or perhaps Moses identifies even more closely with the donkey,” 

[Yes, I remember that season of Dallas that was subsequently erased by declaring it to have been a dream.]

To conclude on a more conventional note, let’s look at Chancellor Arnold Eisen’s (Penn, 1973) take, A People Dwelling Apart. His focus is not on donkeys or curses, but on how Bil’am describes Israel in his first blessing as a people dwelling apart (or alone) (23:8-9).  This status, dwelling apart, has been a key issue throughout the history of the Jewish people.   To what degree do we stay apart?  Eisen writes:

“Of course Jews have suffered persecution and betrayal in the course of history—but we have also benefited and learned a great deal from traditions and peoples that are not Jewish, never more so than today. Judaism has always sought a balance between inward and outward focus; between the particular and the universal, attention to Jewish needs and attention to human needs. Sometimes Jews have to stand apart from the world. At other moments we need to be, and can be, an integral part of the world.

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

Shabbat shalom,



tph non-prophet

Joke Submitted by Garry Desmond [from 2011]

Talking centipede

A man goes into a pet shop and asks the shop keeper for a new pet.
“I don’t want a cat or a dog I want something different!” Specifies the man.
The shop keeper informs him that they have some talking centipedes for £50.
Happy with that the man buys his new pet and carefully takes it home in a match box. [This seems like a set up for a Monty Python sketch. IGP]

When he gets home he carefully opens the matchbox, looks down at the centipede and says:
“Hello Mr Centipede, do you fancy going down the pub for a drink?”
The centipede says nothing. Assuming it must be tired from the trip from the pet shop he thinks “I’ll give it half an hour then ask it again”.

30 mins later he again goes to the centipede and says “Hello Mr Centipede, do you fancy going down the pub for a drink?”
Again the centipede says nothing. The man thinks to himself “OK I will give it another 30 mins and if it doesn’t talk to me then I’m taking it back!”

30 mins later the man goes to the centipede and says “Hello Mr Centipede, do you fancy going down the pub for a drink?”
The centipede replied “I heard you the first blooming time! I’m putting my shoes on!”




How To Curse Someone

You will need the following items for this spell:

  • Black Poppet
  • Sewing needles
  • Air-tight jar
  • Name of person you want to curse Just first and last name needed and age too.
  • (Optionals)
  • Graveyard dirt or dust
  • Coffin nails
  • Rose thorns
  • Body fluids

Please cast this spell if they abused you in anyway, DO NOT CAST IF THE PERSON NEVER DID SOMETHING TO YOU
Make sure the person is not a Wiccan or anything like that or else the curse would go to you. (Instructions followed)

[and the site has a live chat feature]



tph Balaam's chicken



Quotes on Perspective

I just want people to take a step back, take a deep breath and actually look at something with a different perspective. But most people will never do that. Brian McKnight

Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable – a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. Brian Greene

Those who see the cosmic perspective as a depressing outlook, they really need to reassess how they think about the world. Because when I look up in the universe, I know I’m small but I’m also big. I’m big because I’m connected to the universe, and the universe is connected to me. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Part of the beauty of Judaism, and surely this is so for other faiths also, is that it gently restores control over time. Three times a day we stop what we are doing and turn to God in prayer. We recover perspective. We inhale a deep breath of eternity. Jonathan Sacks


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Chukkat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1)

Compared with the sturm und drang of the last few readings, this week’s portion is relatively subdued and is partly tying up loose ends. 

What follows below are mainly comments from 2013.  Two additional thoughts: 1.)  According to Rashi, everything in the Torah from Numbers, Chapter 20 onward happens in the 40th year.  However, the people who whine in 20:5 about the lack of produce and water seem like the slave generation, not those who have grown up in the wilderness: “Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!”  Maybe it’s several years earlier than the 40th year, when a reasonable number of ex-slaves still lived and regaled their young with stories about “real” food. 

2.)  I can get teary over strange little things.  That happened last year and this as I read about the figs, vines, and pomegranates.  I thought of children excitedly looking forward to something that they subsequently never received.  The ex-slaves would never see the figs, vine, or pomegranates growing in the Promised Land.  They didn’t even have the hope of a “maybe” or “someday” (cf. Chekov’s Three Sisters’ hoping to go to Moscow).  And even though they had caused their own doom, that made me incredibly sad.


“At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites about two years into their 40-year trek.  At the end of the portion, it’s 38 years later, and they’re encamped on the eastern bank of the Jordan, getting ready to invade.  Chapter 19 deals with the red heifer and, according to Rashi, Chapter 20 onward takes place in the 40th year.  Except for a travelogue in Parashat Mase’ei (Numbers 33:1 – 36:13), the Torah is essentially silent on the intervening years.  These are lost years that need not have been lost, had the slave generation had faith in the feasibility of conquering Canaan.
“Ah yes, the red heifer.  A physically perfect and perfectly red-haired young cow is slaughtered outside the camp and burned to ashes along with cedar wood, hyssop, and “tola’at shani” (red bug or worm). …The ashes are stored outside the camp and, as needed, are mixed with water and sprinkled on a person as part of the purification ritual after contact with a corpse.  The priest who prepares the purifying ashes himself becomes impure.

“A lot happens in the 40th year.  Miriam dies.  [Miriam reminds me of Judi Dench in ‘Shakespeare in Love,’ for which she won an Oscar: each makes only a few brief appearances, but with great impact.].  The people kvetch about food (at least it’s about pomegranates and figs this time, not garlic and leeks).  Moses strikes the rock and he and Aaron are barred from the Promised Land.  Aaron dies.  The people complain about manna.  There’s a plague of seraphic serpents, halted by a metallic serpent fashioned by Moses.  There are some military victories to hearten the Israelites and scare everybody else.

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

Shabbat shalom,



tph mr and mrs moses


Redhead jokes


A ginger (redheaded) man finds a magic lamp and when he rubs it a genie pops out. “Ah, hell,” says the genie, “What do you want?” The ginger says, “I want a huge mansion with a hundred rooms and twenty floors, all made of pure gold.” The genie looks at him and says, “don’t be an idiot, do you have any idea how much gold that would take? That’s impossible. Pick something else.” So the ginger says, “I want everyone to stop making fun of my hair colour.” The genie says, “So this mansion, you want suite bathrooms?”


Why didn’t Indians scalp redheads?
They knew better.

Red Heifer Found in West Virginia [a little abridged]

By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz February 10, 2017 , 11:05 am

tph west virginia red heifer


A retiree in West Virginia has discovered a red heifer, and by all appearances, the young and unique cow is suitable to clear the path for service in the Third Temple to begin.

Bill Shuff, a retired civil engineer, discovered the distinctive calf among a group of three his son had purchased. A young heifer without an identifying ear-tag caught Shuff’s eye because of its distinctive red coloring.

He did not know of any rabbis to consult, so Shuff contacted Breaking Israel News, sending images of the heifer.  The female calf, the product of a union between a female Red Angus and a Red Seminole male, was born last July. No patches of non-red color can be seen nor has she been bred. 

The red heifer was used in Temple times to purify Jews from impurity caused by contact with or coming in the vicinity of a dead body. During the years the two Temples stood in Jerusalem, only nine red heifers were used. According to Jewish tradition, the tenth red heifer will usher in the Messiah.

His son was planning on breeding the young heifer, but Huff has urged him to wait until the cow’s status can be ascertained by rabbinic authorities. Breeding the heifer would render it unfit for use in the purification ceremony.




You all know the chemical formula for water, H2O.
What is H2O2? Hydrogen peroxide, which is not very stable, but is highly reactive. What is H2O3? It doesn’t exist. The electronic structures around hydrogen and oxygen don’t allow this molecule to form and be stable.
So what is H2O4? Drinking, bathing, swimming, etc.



tph moses' canteen



Favorite Loose Ends Quotes

  1. “Sometimes transitional periods in life leave you feeling like a great big jumble of loose, split ends.”
    Author: Brandi L. Bates
  2. “If you lack the humility to go back and tie up the loose ends in your past, then be prepared to forever be haunted by her ghosts, all of whom will come into your present and your future— staining everything and everyone with their leftover emotional and mental garbage. Humility is the master key that can get you out of all your cages; why do you choose your ego and stay in your prisons?”
    Author: C. JoyBell C.
  3. “Today’s tangents will become tomorrow’s arcs, and unforeseen connections will tie up your loose ends in a way that will make you want to slap your head and holler at your accidental brilliance.”
    Author: Chris Baty
  4. “There is enough mystery in the facts as we know them, enough of conspiracy, coincidence, loose ends, dead ends, multiple interpretations. There is no need […] to invent the grand and masterful scheme, the plot that reaches flawlessly in a dozen directions. – Agent Branch (58)”
    Author: Don DeLillo
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