B’Haalotekha (Numbers 8:1 – 12:16)

[for the AOL’ers, since my email kept bouncing back]
In this week’s portion, a few final tasks are performed before the Israelites set forth on their march. A seven-branched, gold candelabrum is fashioned, as are two silver trumpets for summoning the people. The status of the Levites is formalized. For those unable to eat the Passover sacrifice because of ritual uncleanliness, a second Passover a month later is established. The order of march is reviewed. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, thinks all’s well enough for him to go back to Midian, so he does. And the Israelites triumphantly set out for Canaan.

And what happens next?

Kvetching! Whining! Complaints! A really cranky people. The Lord, also not in a good mood, sets fire to the outskirts of the camp in response. The people whine about the food they miss, especially meat. When Moses complains of the burden placed on him, the Lord has him gather 70 elders to receive the gift of ecstatic prophesy. Then the people are fed meat, a flock of quail, “until it comes out of (their) nostrils and becomes loathsome to (them)” (11:20); they are struck with a plague, and some die. The miserable mood continues. Miriam and Aaron diss their younger brother Moses and gossip that he married a Cushite woman (whether this refers to Zipporah or a different wife is unclear), probably because of a combination of the pervasive bad mood and sibling rivalry, a sense that they are not getting their proper due. In any case, it’s still slander. Miriam is punished with tzora’at (the skin affliction mistranslated as “leprosy,” translated as “scales” in the JPS version) but Aaron isn’t, possibly because Miriam was the instigator (or so the rabbis say). Moses prays simpl, “Oh God, pray heal her!” (12:13) and, after a week’s banishment from the camp, while the people wait, she is healed.

I have some sympathy for the fretful Israelites. After all the excitement and effort of building the Tabernacle, ordaining the priests, dedicating the Levites, and getting their (literal) marching orders, life has become dull and, day-to-day, uncertain. They are in the wilderness, emotionally as well as physically. They become nostalgic for an Egypt that probably didn’t exist, the way some folks today long for their vision of the 1950’s, or the way middle-agers tell their teens and young adults “this is the best time of your life.” Part of their nostalgia centers on food that they no longer have: meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic, i.e., flesh, fiber, and flavor. Foods I get nostalgic for are generally connected with a particular time or situation, like my grandmother’s Friday night pies (my sisters say the lemon meringue was the best they’ve ever had, but I couldn’t appreciate it because I didn’t like the feel of the meringue in my mouth), my Sunday lunch fried liverwurst sandwiches (with lettuce and tomato, on white toast), the coconut pineapple cake for my birthday, and strawberry shortcake for my siblings’ birthdays. Sometimes food that’s incidental is what I remember most strongly about books and movies (food and deaths) – the three-layer slice of cake in “Pollyanna,” the potatoes baked in the ground in The Secret Garden, the penny candies in All of a Kind Family. But the memories of Egypt are not linked to anything specific; they just, bluntly, reveal a physical yen for food with more to it than manna. Nothing spiritual at all. Note that food is on the lowest rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ( http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds.htm ), which must be satisfied before one can even consider striving for higher rungs, like a sense of accomplishment and self-actualization. More on that next time.

Shabbat shalom,

Little Elizabeth and her mother were having luncheon together, and the mother, who always tried to impress facts upon her young daughter, said: “These little sardines, Elizabeth, are sometimes eaten by the larger fish.”
Elizabeth gazed at the sardines in wonder, and then asked:
“But, mother, how do the large fish get the cans open?”
Honda delivering garlic to Boehner after ‘milkshake’ joke
By Michael O’Brien – 10/02/09 10:34 AM ET
Rep. Mike Honda’s (D-Calif.) will be delivering House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) some of his district’s most famous products Friday in response to some rhetoric yesterday from the GOP leader.

After Boehner compared healthcare reform’s popularity to a “garlic milkshake,” Honda will take some garlic from a town in his district to the top House Republican.

“I’m still trying to find the first American to talk to who is in favor of the public option,” Boehner specifically said yesterday. “This is about as unpopular as a garlic milkshake.”

Honda will deliver garlic from Gilroy, Calif. to the minority leader’s office this morning at 11:00 a.m., and with it, a limerick about the public option. Gilroy, according to Honda’s office, is the “garlic capital” of the United States.*

“Thanks. We like garlic,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said of the impending delivery. “The point the Leader made yesterday was simply that garlic milkshakes aren’t popular, like the Democrats’ government takeover of health care.”
*Here’s a site from Gilroy, CA for heavy duty garlic eaters: http://www.garlicfestival.com/garlicfun.php IGP
What is the most damaging food?
A dietician was once addressing a large audience in Chicago. “The material we put into our stomachs is enough to have killed most of us sitting here, years ago. Red meat is awful. Vegetables can be disastrous, and none of us realizes the germs in our drinking water. But there is one thing that is the most dangerous of all and we all of us eat it. Can anyone here tell me what lethal product I’m referring to? You, sir, in the first row, please give us your idea.” The man lowered his head and said, “Wedding cake.”
Airline complaint
“Yes, Sir?”
“I want to complain about this airline. Every time I fly, I get the same seat, I can’t see the in-flight movie and there are no window blinds, so I can’t sleep.”
“Captain, shut up and land the plane.”
A Jewish man in a hospital tells the doctor he wants to be transferred to a different hospital.
The doctor says “What’s wrong? Is it the food?”
“No, the food is fine. I can’t kvetch.”
“Is it the room?”
“No, the room is fine. I can’t kvetch.”
“Is it the staff?”
“No, everyone on the staff is fine. I can’t kvetch.”
“Then why do you want to be transferred?”
“I can’t kvetch!”
Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson. You find the present tense and the past perfect.
Nostalgia [excerpts]
“Hey Dad,” one of my kids asked the other day, “What was your favorite fast food when you were growing up?”
“We didn’t have fast food when I was growing up,” I informed him. “All the food was slow.”
“C’mon, seriously. Where did you eat?”
“It was a place called ‘at home,’ ” I explained. “Grandma cooked every day and when Grandpa got home from work, we sat down together at the dining room table, and if I didn’t like what she put on my plate I was allowed to sit there until I did like it.”
By this time, the kid was laughing so hard I was afraid he was going to suffer serious internal damage, so I didn’t tell him the part about how I had to have permission to leave the table. But here are some other things I would have told him about my childhood if I figured his system could have handled it.
We didn’t have a television in our house until I was 11, but my grandparents had one before that. It was, of course, black and white, but they bought a piece of colored plastic to cover the screen. The top third was blue, like the sky, and the bottom third was green, like grass. The middle third was red. It was perfect for programs that had scenes of fire trucks riding across someone’s lawn on a sunny day.
Pizzas were not delivered to our home. But milk was.
Movie stars kissed with their mouths shut. At least, they did in the movies. Touching someone else’s tongue with yours was called French kissing and they didn’t do that in movies. I don’t know what they did in French movies. French movies were dirty and we weren’t allowed to see them.
Steam irons didn’t exist yet. Instead Mom used to sprinkle water on the clothes with an old Royal Crown Cola bottle which had a cork with holes in it for the cap.
Gas was only $0.25 per gallon, and you got real service when you filled the tank. Head lights dimmer switches were on the floor, and radial tires were new.
All just memories now.
How much do you remember?
Joke’s on kin who sued comic [for slander]
AP Posted: 4:26 AM, May 5, 2010
A standup comedian sued over mother-in-law jokes got the last laugh when a federal judge threw out the case.
Sunda Croonquist, whose shtick for years has been to describe her life as a half-black, half-Swedish woman who marries into a Jewish family, got slapped with a suit two years ago by her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, claiming they were held up to public ridicule.
In a ruling issued Friday, New Jersey federal Judge Mary L. Cooper concluded that the examples they cited — including one in which Croonquist says her sister-in-law’s voice sounds like a cat in heat — fell under the category of protected speech.
Many of the jokes, Cooper said, were clearly statements of opinion and not fact and therefore protected by the First Amendment.
The cat-in-heat joke, the judge said, quoting from a previous court decision, was “colorful, figurative rhetoric that reasonable minds would not take to be factual.”
The suit was filed in New Jersey because Croonquist’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Neil and Shelley Edelman, live there. Croonquist lives in Beverly Hills and her mother-in-law, Ruth Zafrin, lives in Brooklyn.

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