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

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu, after the beginning of the haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26: “Nachamu, nachamu ami”  (Comfort, comfort my people), a command to the prophets which also shows up in Handel’s Messiah.  It is the first of seven Haftarot of Consolation after Tisha B’Av, which, I hope you recall, was preceded by three Haftarot of Rebuke.  Rabbi Mychal B. Springer of the Jewish Theological Seminary comments, Each week, for seven weeks, we will receive another haftarah of consolation, until we reach Rosh Hashanah. The number seven conveys completeness, like the seven days of the week. Like the seven days of shiv’ah. Consolation cannot happen in one brief moment.  It is a process, a journey.” ( )

This week, we read more of what Moses says to the Israelites at the end of their journey.  There is a whole lot of meat in this portion.  Not much in the way of laws or action – OK, we have the Ten Commandments, slightly tweaked to be more appropriate for this generation of settlers (interestingly, as I learned from my friend Stanley, they are referred to as “Ten” neither here nor in the “official” version in Exodus 20, but in Exodus 34:28) – but mainly it’s Moses using trying to teach the Israelites why they should obey the laws they’ve been given.  He presents three general reasons.  First is the “wow” factor.  Moses emphasizes to this new generation how amazing were the miracles that most of them had not personally witnessed, like the Exodus, the Revelation at Sinai, and even forming a nation. “(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)  That’s impressive, but probably not enough.  What happens now will always be more real that what happened then, no matter how miraculous “then” was.  Second, if they obey, things will go well and if they don’t, they will be severely punished.  Yes, fear of punishment is a strong motivator (actually, fear is a strong motivator, period).  Moses presents his own punishment (twice) as an object lesson.  But how the Israelites choose to live their lives shouldn’t be only a simple matter of carrots and sticks. What it really comes down to is the third reason: love.  In the JTS translation of this portion, the word “love” appears four times, “heart” three times, and “soul” twice.  All three appear in the first paragraph of arguably the most famous part of our liturgy, the Shema (6:4-6).  While famous, the translation of this “prayer” (it’s not – it’s a set of commands) is not totally understood.   As my friend Stanley wrote me concerning the Shema (better, “Shema!” as in “Attention!” “Yo!”), “Often forgotten is the setting of Deuteronomy.  Which hat is Moses wearing here?  Judge, politician, ritualist?  I suggest militia commander, commander-in-chief – a factor overlooked due to Jewish sensibilities against  violence…Moses speaks to the assembled community as it stands nitzavim: which I would translate as ‘at attention’ or perhaps ‘parade rest.'” As for the rest, is it “The Lord, our God, the Lord is One” or “The Lord is our God. The Lord is One” or “The Lord is our God, only the Lord”? Maybe it was recited in a call-and-response format? (yes,that’s Stanley’s)  In any event, the main motivator, the main way to seek out the Lord, remains love.

I read once that child prodigies in music, math, and sports who flourish do so because (1) their activity was a normal part of family life, (2) they eventually had access to a master teacher, and (3) their first teacher may not have been very proficient but was lavish with love and encouragement.   I’ve been cooing over babies and toddlers a lot lately and it reminds me how much love little ones are normally surrounded with, like a soft, warm cloud, and how that gradually dissipates as they get older and the world grows progressively cooler, even though everyone still sings the importance of love and affection.  Maybe we should try to warm each other up a bit.  Something to thing about anyway.

Shabbat shalom,
Emotion © 2009 American Psychological Association
2009, Vol. 9, No. 4, 574–578 1528-3542/09/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0015951
Finding Comfort in a Joke: Consolatory Effects of Humor Through Cognitive Distraction
Madelijn Strick, Rob W. Holland, Rick B. van Baaren, and Ad van Knippenberg,  Radboud University

This study aimed to demonstrate that the cognitive demands involved in humor processing can attenuate negative emotions. A primary aspect of humor is that it poses cognitive demands needed for incongruency resolution. On the basis of findings that cognitive distraction prevents mood-congruent processing, the authors hypothesized that humorous stimuli attenuate negative emotions to a greater extent than do equally positive nonhumorous stimuli. To test this idea, [etc.]  Stimuli that posed greater cognitive demands were more effective in regulating negative emotions than less demanding stimuli. These findings fully support Van Dillen and Koole’s working memory model of distraction from negative mood and suggest that humor may attenuate negative emotions as a result of cognitive distraction.

A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs—
jolted by every pebble in the road.
—Henry Ward Beecher


Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.  ~Francis Bacon

Comfort quotesOther things may change us, but we start and end with family”  
   Anthony Brandt

Actually, this seems to be the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis – a good hot cup of coffee.
   Alexander King (Writer Jack Paar Show, 1899-1965)   Unless you’re English. Then it’s “a cuppa” tea – which is a nice segue to:

I am so fond of tea that I could write a whole dissertation on its virtues. It comforts and enlivens without the risks attendant on
spirituous liquors. Gentle herb! Let the florid grape yield to thee. Thy soft influence is a more safe inspirer of social joy.”

 James Boswell  (Scottish Biographer, 17401795)


Phobia List [selections that are vaguely pertinent this week]

Aibohphobia: A joke term for the fear of palindromes (you can figure it out!).
Allodoxaphobia: fear of opinions.
Bibliophobia: fear of books.
Cathisophobia: fear of sitting.
Cenophobia: fear of new things or ideas. This phobia is also listed as Centophobia.
Didaskaleinophobia: fear of going to school.
Dikephobia: fear of justice.
Gnosiophobia: fear of knowledge.
Hamartophobia: fear of sinning.
Hierophobia: fear of priests or sacred things.
Ideophobia: fear of ideas. Don’t confuse this with Idiophobia* which is the fear of idiots.
Mastigophobia: fear of punishment. Also known as poinephobia.
Malaxophobia: fear of love play. Also known as sarmassophobia. Don’t confuse that one with smartassophobia*, which some new teachers are afflicted with.
Ouranophobia: fear of heaven. Also spelled Uranophobia.
Scolionophobia: fear of school.
Sophophobia: fear of learning.

*made up by the list compiler.

At Attention

As a group of soldiers stood in formation at and Army Base, the Drill Sergeant said, “All right! All you idiots fall out.” As the rest of the squad wandered away, one soldier remained at attention. The Drill Instructor walked over until he was eye-to-eye with him, and then raised a single eyebrow. The soldier smiled and said, “Sure was a lot of ’em, huh, sir?”

Real Teachers
—cheer when they hear April 1 does not fall on a school day.
—clutch a pencil while thinking and make notes in the margins of books.
—can’t walk past a crowd of kids without straightening up the line.
—have disjointed necks from writing on boards without turning their backs.
—are written up in medical journals for size and elasticity of kidneys and bladders.
—have been timed gulping down a full lunch in 2 minutes, 18 seconds.
—can predict exactly which parents will show up at Open House.
—never teach the conjugations of lie and lay to eighth graders.
—know the shortest distance from their classroom to the office.
—are solely responsible for the destruction of the rain forest.
—have their best conferences in the parking lot.
—buy Excedrin and Advil in bulk.
—will eat anything that is put in the workroom/teacher’s lounge.
—know secretaries and custodians run the school.


Things You’ll Never Hear a Teacher Say:

“Our principal is sooooooooo smart. No wonder he’s in administration.”
“Thank goodness for these evaluations. They keep me focused.”
“I’d like to see Red Lobster offer a meal like this!”
“Here class, just put all your gym shoes in this box next to my desk.”
“I bet all the people in our administration really miss teaching!”
“Gosh, the bathroom smells so fresh and clean!”
“I’m so glad I gave my phone number to my students’ parents. It makes keeping in touch so much easier.”
“I can’t believe I get paid for this!”
“I think the discipline around here is just a LITTLE too strict!”
“It’s Friday already????”
“Those student teachers this semester really made my job a real joy.”
“I believe that athletics are not getting enough money.”
“We’d be able to educate our children if they let us teach through summer too.”
“Have you noticed that the teachers drive better cars than the students?”
“This in-service training has been fabulous.”
“It must be true; the superintendent said so!”


Ten Commandments

Pa and Ma made their annual trek to church for Easter services. As they were leaving the minister said, “Pa, I wish we’d see you here more than twice a year!”

Pa said, ” Ya, I know, but at least we keep the ten commandments.”

The minister said, “Well, that’s GREAT you keep the ten commandments.”

And Pa replied, ” Yeah, Ma keeps six of them and I keep the other four…”

Submitted by Bruce McMahon Children’s View of Love and Marriage [selected]

What Exactly Is Marriage?

“Marriage is when you get to keep your girl and don’t have to give her back to her parents”
-Eric, AGE 6

How Does a Person Decide Whom to marry?

“You flip a nickel, and heads means you stay with him and tails means you try the next one.”
-Kelly, AGE 9

Concerning the Proper Age to Get Married.

“Eighty-four Because at that age, you don’t have to work anymore, and you can spend all your time loving each other in your bedroom.”
-Carolyn, AGE 8

“Once I’m done with kindergarten, I’m going to find me a wife”
-Bert, AGE 5

How Did Your Mom and Dad Meet?

“They were at a dance party at a friend’s house. Then they went for a drive, but their car broke down…It was a good thing, because it gave them a chance to find out about their values.”
-Lottie, AGE 9

“My father was doing some strange chores for my mother. They won’t tell me what kind.”
-Jeremy, AGE 8

What Do Most People Do on a Date?

“On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.”
-Martin, AGE 10

When Is It Okay to Kiss Someone?

“You should never kiss a girl unless you have enough bucks to buy her a ring and her own VCR, ’cause she’ll want to have videos of the wedding.”
-Allan, AGE 10

The Great Debate: Is It Better to Be Single or Married?

“It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need somebody to clean up after them”
-Anita, AGE 9

“It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I’m just a kid. I don’t need that kind of trouble.”
-Will, AGE 7

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