Ki Tetse (Deut. 21:10 – 25:19)

        Maimonides counted 72 mitzvot (“commandments,” laws)  in Ki Tetse, which could be fodder for at least 72 sermons or Torah Portion Humor musings for this portion and, for the verses 25:17-19, on both remembering and wiping out Amalek, Shabbat Zachor right before Purim.  [That reminds me of the 1960 movie, “Pollyanna,” starring Hayley Mills, in which Reverend Ford, played by Karl Malden, found 826 “glad texts” in his Bible, enough for over 16 years of sermons in place of fire-and-brimstone.  I didn’t remember “826” off the top of my head; it’s at .  But I digress.]  The laws are intended to “sweep out” evil from the community.  Among the dozens of issues: taking a captive war bride, partiality regarding two wives and their sons, the (very) rebellious son, treatment of an executed criminal’s corpse, returning lost items (and taking care of them in the meantime), crossdressing, safety, mixed species, tzitzit, virginity, divorce, rape, adultery, ethical business practices (weights and measures, fair employee treatment, loan interest, etc.), runaway slaves, the levirate duty, vows, etc., etc. (BTW, 22:6-7 is the one about the mother bird that drove Elisha over the edge in Steinberg’s As A Driven Leaf).  

        Two verses in particular struck me this year.  In verse 24:19 we read about the forgotten sheaf: “When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf (Heb. omer) in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow — in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings.” You may remember about leaving the corners of a field for the poor (Lev. 23:22), or Ruth’s following Boaz’s harvesters to pick up fallen grain.  But what’s the purpose for a command based on forgetfulness?  According to Sefer Ha-Chinuch (popular 13th C. ref. on mitzvot), it’s less for the benefit of the poor than for the owner.  It encourages a certain generosity of spirit.  Instead of compulsively going back to pick up the forgotten sheaf (“I already left some for the poor.  That sheaf’s MINE!”), you obey a command that says in essence, “Relax. You can leave it. This is an opportunity to give a little bit more and make someone a little bit happier.”  

        The other verse: 24:16 “Parents (avot, fathers) shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime (b’chet’o, for his own sin).”  While there are several interesting takes on the rationale for this text addressed in Nehama Leibowtiz’s Studies in Devarim (Deuteronomy), it’s perfectly OK to accept the text’s plain meaning, that it is simply to prevent such barbarity.  This verse caught my eye this year because I recently saw a 2007 Nova program on epigenetics; the transcript is at , and related information is at ,  x , , and .  Now, the last formal biology course I took was in 1966-67 (in kindergarten, of course, I was a child prodigy), so I had never heard of epigenetics.  The program gave several examples where knowing what gene someone inherits creates more puzzles: The same missing section of DNA causes Angelman syndrome if inherited from the mother, Prader-Willi syndrome if inherited from the father.  One woman develops cancer and her identical twin does not.  Not only genes are inherited, but something (the “epigenome”) that controls whether and how particular genes are turned off or on.  And epigenomes can change in response to experience (being nurtured, smoking, diet, etc.).   More to the point concerning this week’s portion, beyond the raw material of a person’s genome, what that person experiences or does can be transmitted in an unobvious way to children or even skip to grandchildren decades later.  Smoking causes DNA damage but also “leads to progressive accumulation of epigenetic damage.” ( ).  A Swedish study showed that, if a grandfather had plenty of food in late childhood, his grandson was four times more likely to die from a diabetes-related illness, while those who suffered famine at that age had longer-lived paternal grandsons.  If a grandmother was exposed in utero to a famine (i.e., her mother suffered from it while pregnant), her son’s daughters (the famine victim’s great-granddaughters) died on average far earlier than expected.  So, a person could in a sense “be put to death” (i.e., have a shorter life) because of the “crime” (experience, actions) of the ancestor. A fascinating topic.  Enough to make me want to learn some modern biology.

Shabbat shalom,
—————— Grandparents and grandchildren

Seen on a T-Shirt:
If I Had Known Being a Grandparent Was So Much Fun,
               I Would Have Done It First

I didn’t know if my granddaughter has learned her colors yet, so I decided to test her.  I would point out something and ask her what color it was.  She would tell me and always she was correct.  But it was fun for me, so I continued.  At last she headed for the door, saying sagely, “Grandma, I think you should try to figure out some of these yourself.”

All About Grandparents By Grandchildren

She was in the bathroom, putting on her makeup, under the watchful eyes of her young granddaughter, as she’d done many times before.
After she applied her lipstick and started to leave, the little one said, ‘But Gramma, you forgot to kiss the toilet paper good-bye!’
I will probably never put lipstick on again without thinking about kissing the toilet paper good bye…

My young grandson called the other day to wish me Happy Birthday. He asked me how old I was, and I told him, ’62.’ My grandson was quiet for a moment, and then he asked, ‘Did you start at 1?’

The Lost & Found Wallet

A poor Jew finds a wallet with seven hundred dollars. At his shul he reads a notice stating that a wealthy Jew has lost his wallet and is offering a fifty dollar reward to anyone who returns it. Quickly he locates the owner giving him the wallet.

The rich man counts the money and says, “I see you have already taken your reward.”

The poor man responds, “What are you talking about?”

The wealthy Jew continues, “This wallet had seven hundred and fifty dollars in it when I lost it.”

The two men begin arguing, and eventually they come before the community Rav.

Both men present their case. The poor man first, then the wealthy man who concludes by saying, “Rabbi, I trust you believe me.”

The rabbi says, “Of course.” The rich man smiles, and the poor man is devastated. Then the rabbi take the wallet out of the wealthy man’s hands and gives it to the poor man who found it.

“What are you doing?!” the rich man yells angrily.

The rabbi responds, “You are, of course, an honest man, and if you say that you’re missing wallet had seven hundred and fifty dollars in it, I’m sure it did. But if the man who found this wallet is a liar and a thief, he wouldn’t have returned it at all. Which means that this wallet must belong to somebody else. If that man steps forward, he’ll get the money. Otherwise, it stays with the man who found it.”

“What about my money?” the rich man asks.

“Well, we’ll just have to wait until somebody finds a wallet with seven hundred fifty dollars in it!”

A car salesman and a computer salesman

Q: What’s the difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman?
A: The car salesman knows when he’s lying to you.

Equation of earnings

Engineers and scientists will never make as much money as business executives. Now a rigorous mathematical proof has been developed that explains why this is true:

Postulate 1: Knowledge is Power.

Postulate 2: Time is Money.

As every engineer knows,

Work = Power * Time

Since Knowledge = Power, and Time = Money, we have:

Work = Knowledge * Money

Solving for Money, we get:

Money = Work / Knowledge

Thus, as Knowledge decreases, Money increases, regardless of how much Work is done.

Conclusion: The Less you Know, the More you Make.

Note: It has been speculated that the reason why Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard’s math program was because he stumbled upon this proof as an undergraduate, and dedicated the rest of his career to the pursuit of ignorance.

Tips for managers

1. Never give me work in the morning. Always wait until 4:00 pm and then bring it to me. The challenge of a deadline is refreshing.

2. If it’s really a “rush job”, run in and interrupt me every 10 minutes to inquire how it’s going. That helps. Or even better, hover behind me, advising me at every keystroke.

3. Always leave without telling anyone where you’re going. It gives me a chance to be creative when someone asks where you are.

4. Wait until my yearly review and THEN tell me what my goals SHOULD have been. Give me a mediocre performance rating
with a cost of living increase. I’m not here for the money anyway.

5. If you give me more than one job to do, don’t tell me which is the priority. I like being a psychic.

6. Do your best to keep me late. I adore this office and really have nowhere to go or anything to do. I have no life beyond work.

7. If a job I do pleases you, keep it a secret. If that gets out, it could mean a promotion.

8. If you don’t like my work, tell everyone. I like my name to be popular in conversations. I was born to be whipped.

9. If you have special instructions for a job, don’t write them down. In fact, save them until the job is almost done. No use confusing me with useful information.

10. Never introduce me to the people you’re with. I have no right to know anything. In the corporate food chain, I am plankton. When you refer to them later, my shrewd deductions will identify them.

11. Tell me all your little problems. No one else has any and it’s nice to know
someone is less fortunate. I especially like the story about having to pay so much taxes on the bonus check you received for being such a good manager.

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