Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17)

With this week’s Torah portion, we get into the nitty-gritty legal section of Deuteronomy.  The Israelites are told again that they can be blessed if they behave right or cursed if they don’t.  Interestingly, the first word, “re’eh” (look), is singular and the rest of the verse is in the plural.  Think about that.  We also read laws concerning false prophets (don’t follow them) and kosher versus unkosher animals.  In the wilderness, the Israelites ate meat only from a sacrificial offerings.  The OK to eat meat more generally is a reluctant one, given in recognition of their basically carnivorous nature.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.  I’ve seen the movie many times (identifying with Scout when I was a child), and it was on again recently.  But I hadn’t read the book.  Then I saw a TV interview with an author who’s written a book on the book and its author, and I read an essay by Dick Thornburgh (yes, that Dick Thornburgh, the former Attorney General of the US and former PA governor), “What Would Atticus Finch Do?” in which he revealed his admiration for Scout’s father and asked “how Atticus Finch might respond to the issues of today’s practice.”  So I figured it was high time I’d read the book.  I just finished it and expect I’ll re-read it in the years to come, just as I watch the movie over and over again.

What does this have to do with the Torah portion?  Harper Lee’s reasons for writing her only book, her biographer/critic’s motivation, Thornburgh’s youthful adoption of Atticus as a role model, and mine of Scout as a kindred spirit all provide different contexts or angles from which to consider To Kill A Mockingbird.  Same book, different motivation.  Context similarly has much to do with how we view the same section of Re’eh at different times of the year.  We read roughly the last third of Re’eh four times a year: for the regular weekly reading, on Shemini Atzeret, on the eight day of Pesach, and on the second day of Shavuot, each in a different context.  On each of those holidays, we are particularly aware of the verses pertaining to that specific holiday.  In the context of the weekly reading, this is the third time these three harvest festivals have been discussed in proximity. The first time, in Leviticus 23, the Israelites are taught what the holiday is and how to observe it, mainly the non-sacrificial rituals, with only a little on the offerings.  Numbers 28-29 presents the details the animal offerings.  This week’s description has as its context the imminent entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land without Moses.  Thus, it is important for them to know not just what to do, but why: You were slaves in Egypt and now the Lord has blessed you (e.g., with successful harvests).  This last recitation also emphasizes observance as a community, which resonates with laws presented elsewhere in Re’eh having to do with the forgiveness of debts every seven years, caring for the needy, freeing one’s slaves (and what to do if a slave doesn’t want to be freed), and tithing to support the Levites.  What’s more, this time they are told that they will be happy, and not just on holidays. In the JPS translation, “happy” and “rejoice” occur a total of seven times in Re’eh – in different contexts, of course.

Shabbat shalom,

15 Best Homer Simpson Quotes. Ever. [selection]

6. Books are useless! I only ever read one book, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and it gave me absolutely no insight on how to kill mockingbirds! Sure it taught me not to judge a man by the color of his skin… but what good does that do me?  


Avoid context and specifics; generalize and keep repeating the generalization.
Jack Schwartz

Children learn and remember at least as much from the context of the classroom as from the content of the coursework.
Lawrence Kutner

Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.
Anthony Bourdain

Making it Kosher   (

A Rabbi was walking home from the Temple and saw one of his good friends, a pious and learned man who could usually beat the rabbi in religious arguments. The Rabbi started walking faster so that he could catch up to his friend when he was horrified to see his friend go into a non-Kosher Chinese restaurant.

Standing at the door, he observed his friend talking to a waiter and gesturing at a menu. A short time later, the waiter reappeared carrying a platter full of spare ribs, shrimp in lobster sauce, crab rangoon and other treif that the Rabbi could not bear to think about. As his friend picked up the chopsticks and began to eat this food, the Rabbi burst into the restaurant and reproached his friend, for he could take it no longer.

“Morris, what is this you are doing? I saw you come into this restaurant, order this filth and now you are eating it in violation of everything we are taught about the dietary laws and with an apparent enjoyment that does not befit your pious reputation!”

Morris replied, “Rabbi, did you see me enter this restaurant?”

(The Rabbi nods.)

“Did you see me order this meal?”

(Again, he nods.)

“Did you see the waiter bring me this food?”

(Again, he nods.)

“And did you see me eat it?”

(Again, he nods.)

“Then, Rabbi, I don’t see the problem here. The entire meal was done under Rabbinical supervision!”

———————— [Posted 4/6/08. From Chaya]

Here is a list of more arcane Hekhsher abbreviations: (for those of you who don’t remember):

Hekhsher=Rabbinic seal of approval on foods;
Hashgachah=Rabbinic supervision of food)

·        Danny K: Supervision of the Va’ad HaComedians

·        K sera sera: Hashgachah given by the more liberal branches of Judaism

·        I’m OK, you’re OK: Under the supervision of the Orthodox Psychiatric Association

·        KKK: Atlanta, GA-based. Hooded milk and ice cream under this supervision

·        Yud K Vav K: Under Divine supervision. Manna and Levyatan have been given this supervision .

·        KO: Hashgachah of the World Boxing Federation

·        KB: Hashgachah for certain toys

·        Mary K: Under strict supervision of Cosmetics Association

·        K Mart: Under dubious hashgachah — in order to create more business, these rabbis have discounted their normal fees.

·        KGB: Russian hashgachah — no longer reliable


The Butcher and the Dog

        A butcher is leaning on the counter toward the close of day when a dog with a basket in its jaws comes pushing through the door.
       “An’ wot’s this then?” he asked. The dog knocks the basket sharply into the butcher’s shins.
       “You dumb dog.” As he reaches down to smack the dog, he notices a note and a ten dollar bill in the basket. The scribble on the note asks for three pounds of his best mince [ground beef]. The butcher figures this is too easy. He goes to the window and reaches for the dried up stuff that’s been sitting out all day.
       The dog growls at him. The butcher turns around and, glaring at the pup, gets the best mince from the fridge. Weighing out about 2 1/2 pounds, he drops in on the scale with his thumb.
       “Hmmmmm, a bit shy. Who’ll know?”
       Again, the dog growls menacingly. “Alright, alright,” as he throws on a generous half pound. He wraps it out, drops it in the basket, and drops in change from a five. The dog threatens to chew him off at the ankles. Another five goes in the basket.
       The butcher is quite impressed and decides to follow the piddy pup home. The dog quickly enters a high-rise buildings, pushes the lift button, enters the lift, and then pushes the button for the 12th floor. The dog walks down the corridor and smartly bangs the basket on the door. The door opens, and the dog’s owner screams at the dog.
       “Hey, what are you doing? That’s a really smart dog you’ve got there,” comments the butcher.
       “He’s a stupid dog – that’s the third time this week he’s forgotten his key.
[I sent these two out in 2000]

“Judaism – Traditional Vs. Reform”                          
from How to Be an Extremely Reform Jew by David Bader

Traditional: Farm animal must be killed by ritual slaughterer using a sharply honed knife that must not have a single nick on its blade.
Reform:  Farm animal must be told that it has the right to an attorney.

Trad’l: Will not combine meat with milk.
Reform:  Will not combine meat with chocolate milk.

Trad’l:  One set of dishes for meat, another set for dairy.
Reform:  One set of dishes exclusively for cheeseburgers.
From “The Jewish Laws of Television,” by Eli D. Clark

V.  The Laws of Kashrus
           A.        One should not eat meat while dairy products are being advertised on television, lest one come to mix the two.  It is preferable to wait six hours before watching a dairy advertisement. …
           B.        After eating meat, a pregnant woman with a craving for ice cream may watch an advertisement for Haagen-Daaz, but only if the reception is fuzzy.
           C.        One should not eat dairy while meat products are being advertised on television, unless one has just brushed one’s teeth. An intervening toothpaste or mouthwash ad is also acceptable.

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