Nitzavim-Vayelekh (Deut. 29:9-31:30)

The other day, on my way to work, I saw a family getting ready to meet an approaching school bus at the entrance of my development, probably grandmother, mother, little girl (maybe 6?) in a pretty dress and littler boy (maybe 4?).  The bus came and the little girl boarded.  Her brother tried to follow her but was held back and contented himself with waving good-bye.  As the three turned away from the departing bus, I called out to the mother, “Excuse me – is it her first day?”  The mother smiled and said yes, and I offered my congratulations.

In this week’s double (but still very short) portion, the Israelites are like little kids about to start school, a brand new phase of their lives that they’ve been looking forward to excitedly.  It’s like becoming a big kid instead of a baby.  [I remember how excited I was to go to morning kindergarten instead of afternoon, because big kids went to school in the morning.]  Moses is anxiously trying to teach them the right way to behave so that they will prosper, i.e., get high grades from the Lord.  He reminds them he is 120 years old and will be leaving them soon, and he writes down the Law.  He senses, and the Lord confirms, that the  Israelites will screw up inevitably (31:29), but the door will always be open to them for atonement and forgiveness.  For that reason, it’s most appropriate that we read these verses at this time of year.  The introspective penitential season began a few eeks ago with the 1st of Elul and ramps up tomorrow night with Selichot services, leading to Rosh Hashanah next week and Yom Kippur after that.  And the Haftarah is the seventh and last Haftarah of Consolation, Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9, full of exultation and triumph and promises that Zion and Jerusalem will not be desolate any more.

Nitzavim-Vayelekh is almost a distillation (Cliff’s Notes version?) of Deuteronomy.  I identified five “key learnings” (corporate jargon, sorry, but it’s either that or patentese. Friday afternoon my mind starts dissolving away…) last year.  Briefly:  (1) Everyone in the community enters into the covenant, not just adult men, even resident non-Israelites. (2) Consequently, everyone must learn the laws, not just the priests. (3) Living according to the laws will yield good things, disobeying bad, but you can be forgiven. (4) One must choose to obey the laws and thereby choose life.  In Deut. 30:19 we read, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, that you may live, you and your seed….” (5) Choosing to obey must be done wholeheartedly, not blindly or automatically or out of fear, but out of love.  And remember, according to Biblical scholars, “love” is action, not an emotion, meaning fidelity. loyalty, and faithful obedience; the heart is the seat of wisdom, rationality, and intellect; and “soul” usually refers to the physical self, not an incorporeal anima.  

What with writing and selecting jokes for over 50 of these weeklies a year, I’m sure I must have offended at least a few of you.  I did not intend to do so, and I sincerely ask your forgiveness.

Shabbat shalom,

Student Proverbs
A FIRST GRADE TEACHER collected old, well known proverbs. She gave each child in her class the first half of a proverb, and had them come up with the rest.

As you shall make your bed so shall you……….mess it up.
Better be safe than………………….punch a 5th grader.
Strike while the …………………………bug is close.
It’s always darkest before…………daylight savings time.
You can lead a horse to water but…………………
Don’t bite the hand that……………………looks dirty.
A miss is as good as a……………………………..Mr.
You can’t teach an old dog new…………………….math.
If you lie down with the dogs, you’ll….stink in the morning.
The pen is mightier than the………………………pigs.
An idle mind is…………………..the best way to relax.
Where there’s smoke, there’s………………….pollution.
Happy the bride who……………….gets all the presents.
A penny saved is……………………………..not much.
Two’s company, three’s…………………..the musketeers.
Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and…………………… have to blow your nose.
Children should be seen and not………spanked or grounded.
When the blind leadeth the blind………get out of the way.
Sent out in 2003: Now available at

Kindergarten and the Boots
Sometimes even sweet kindergarten teachers reach the end of their rope:

 Did you hear about the teacher who was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his boots? He asked for help and she could see why. With her pulling and him pushing, the boots still didn’t want to go on.

 When the second boot was on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost whimpered when the little boy said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.” She looked and sure enough, they were.

 It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on.  She  managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back  on — this time on the right feet. He then announced, “These aren’t my boots.”

 She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream,”Why didn’t you say so?” like she wanted to.  Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off. He then said, “They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear them.”

 She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry. She mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. She said, “Now, where are your mittens?”  He said, “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots…”

Her trial starts next month.

More School Jokes

A teacher was sitting at her desk grading papers, when her first grade class came back from lunch. Alice informed the teacher, “Paul has to go to the principal’s office.”
“I wonder why,” the teacher mused.
“Because he’s a following person,” Alice replied.
“A what?” the teacher asked.
“It came over the loudspeaker: ‘The following persons are to go to the office’.”


A wise schoolteacher sends this note to all parents on the first day of school: “If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I’ll promise not to believe everything they say happens at home!


    Tommy had reached school age. His mother managed with a blast of propaganda to make him enthusiastic about the idea. She bought him lots of new clothes, told him of the new friends he’d meet and so on. Came the first day, he eagerly went off and came back home with a lot of glowing reports about school.
   Next morning when she woke him up, he asked “What for ?” She told him it was time to get ready for school.
   “What, again ?” he asked.

 Sent out in 2003, now available at


“William,” said the Sunday school teacher, “can you tell me what we must do before we can expect forgiveness of sin?”
“Yes, ma’am,” replied the boy. “We’ve got to sin.”


 “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.

 Catherine Ponder quotes

 “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.

 Oscar Wilde quotes

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.

 Emo Philips quotes



Wife : Do you want dinner?
Husband:Sure, what are my choices?
Wife :Yes and no.


Choosing heaven or hell

While walking down the street one day a politician is tragically hit by a truck and dies.

His soul arrives in Heaven and is met by St Peter at the entrance.

“Welcome to Heaven,” says St Peter. “Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we’re not sure what to do with you.”

“No problem, just let me in,” says the man.

“Well, I’d like to but I have orders from higher up. What we’ll do is have you spend one day in Hell and one in Heaven.

“Then you can choose were to spend eternity.”

“Really, I’ve made up my mind. I want to be in Heaven,” says the politician.

“I’m sorry but we have our rules.” And with that, St Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to Hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a club and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him. Everyone is very happy and in evening dress.

They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while ruling the people. They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.

Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that, before he realises it, it is time to go.

Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises. The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on Heaven where St Peter is waiting for him.

“Now its time to visit Heaven.”

So, 24 hours pass with the head of state joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realises it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.

“Well then, you’ve spent a day in Hell and another in Heaven. Now choose your eternity.”

The politician reflects for a minute, then answers: “Well, I would never have said it before, I mean Heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in Hell.”

So St Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to Hell.

Now the doors of the elevator open and he’s in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags. The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder.

“I don’t understand,” stammers the politician.

“Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and club, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now all there is a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?”

The devil looks at him, smiles and says, “Yesterday we were campaigning. Today you voted.”




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