V’zot HaBracha (Deut. 33:1-34:12), Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

Hoo boy.

Yes, the sukkah is still standing, though the intermittent heavy rain makes it hard to enjoy.  

I am totally holiday-ed out, but there are two left, followed immediately by Bereishit.

Today, the 7th day of Sukkot, is known as Hoshanah Rabbah [the great hosanna].  It marks your last chance to atone before the Book of Life is really, really finalized for the year.  The holiday tomorrow is Shemini Atzeret [the Eighth Day of Assembly], on which we read the Prayer for Rain.  Tomorrow’s forecast around here indicates the prayer has been pre-emptively answered.  The Torah readings for Shemini Atzeret (Deut. 14:22 – 16:17 and Numbers 29:35 – 30:1) are just your usual holiday observances/sacrifices readings.  In fact, the second scroll reading is repeated the next day, on Simchat Torah [rejoicing in the Law].  In Reform congregations and in Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are observed on the same day, which I think is really overload, especially because the mood of Shemini Atzeret, with the Prayer for Rain and Yizkor (memorial) service, is rather solemn, while Simchat Torah services have processions with the Torah scrolls, singing, dancing, eating, and drinking.  Simchat Torah is generally family friendly except for the potential length of services (everybody gets called up to the Torah – some shorten things by calling groups up).  

Anyhow, while our other holidays have a spiritual focus, celebrate our history, and/or celebrate the harvest, Simchat Torah simply marks the ending and beginning of the Torah reading cycle.  It evolved over several centuries as the second day of Shemini Atzeret.  The name “Simchat Torah” seems to have appeared first in 11th century Spain and took a form more-or-less as it is today only in the late 16th century (source: http://kehillatisrael.net/chagim/sukkot/simchat_torah.html ).  The morning Torah readings are three: V’zot HaBracha (Deut. 33:1-34:12), Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 (Creation), and Numbers 29:35 – 30:1(sacrifices, what else).  In V’zot HaBracha (“and this is the blessing”), Moses conveys individual blessings to the tribes and then a blessing for all of Israel.  He climbs Har Nebo, is shown the Promised Land that he can’t enter, and dies.  The tender and special relationship between Moses and the Lord is highlighted in verses 33:1 (“Moses, the man of God”), 34:5 (“Moses the servant of the Lord”) and 34:10 (“Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses — whom the Lord singled out, face to face”).  The aliyah containing the final verses is a special honor, the honoree being called “Hatan Torah,” bridegroom of the Torah (or “Kallat Torah,” bride of the Torah, for a woman in an egalitarian shul).  Then it’s on to Genesis (Bereshit) from the second scroll, and the honoree is “Hatan (or “Kallat”) Bereishit.”  Finally, we get to the maftir aliyah, the sacrifices, read from a third scroll.  At this point, we read the haftarah, Joshua 1:1-18, which takes up exactly where Deuteronomy left off.  So we simultaneously go back (Genesis) and look forward (Joshua).

The whole portion called “Bereshit,” Genesis 1:1-6:8, is read this Saturday.  It includes creation, Adam and Eve, Eden, Cain and Abel, and all those multicentenarians, like Methuselah, up to Noah. I recently got an audio course by The Teaching Company on Genesis, taught by Professor Gary A. Rendsburg of Rutgers which includes literary, historical, theological, and archeological perspectives.  I will probably be referring to it over the next few months.  For example:  The idea that the Lord created the universe ex nihilo (from nothing) is a later theological idea.  A careful translation of 1:1-3 renders it not “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth,…” but rather, “When God began to create heaven and earth — 2 the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water — 3 God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”  What God is doing is not creating something out of nothing, but bringing order (wind, light, goodness) out of existing chaos (unformed, void, darkness, deep).  Prof.. Rendsburg notes that the text is chosen very carefully, using not the expected Hebrew words for sun, moon and sea, since those words are each associated with a pagan deity, but rather “the greater light,” “the lesser light” and seas (plural).  This is the first, cosmogenic, Creation story.  The second Creation story, in chapters 2 and 3, is anthropogenic, centering on the creation of humanity, the relationship between humans and God, and free will.   It’s going to be an interesting autumn.

Wishing all of you a hag sameach and shabbat shalom,

Blessings Sayings and Quotes

When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place.
C.S. Lewis

Power is no blessing in itself, except when it is used to protect the innocent.”
Jonathan Swift

Prayers go up and blessings come down.
Yiddish Proverb


Posted 1-19-98 by Penney Rahm

The Millionaire

At a church meeting a very wealthy man rose to tell the rest of those present about his Christian faith. “I’m a millionaire,” he said, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I remember that turning point in my faith. I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a church meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God’s work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give my whole dollar to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.”

He finished and there was an awed silence at his testimony as he moved toward his seat. As he sat down a little old lady sitting in the same pew leaned over and said to him: “I dare you to do it again.”


The Storm

One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small boy into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?” The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. “I can’t dear,” she said. “I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”
A long silence was broken at last by a shaken little voice saying, “The big sissy.”


The Bible, Through the Eyes of a Child [selections]

Here’s our version of the stories of the Bible if they were to be told by a child.


In the beginning, which was close to the start, there wasn’t anything except God, darkness and some gas. The Bible says, “The Lord, thy God, is one,” but I think He has to be much older than that.

Anyway, God made the world and then He said, “Give me some light,” and somebody gave it to Him. He split an atom and made Eve. Adam and Eve didn’t wear any clothes, but they weren’t embarrassed because God hadn’t invented mirrors, yet.

Adam and Eve sinned by eating one bad apple and they were driven out of the Garden of Eden. I’m not sure what God drove them in because He hadn’t invented cars, either.

Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, hated his brother as long as he was Abel. After a while, all of the first people died, except Methuselah, who lived to be, like, a million years old.


Moses was the next important man. [after Joseph. IGP] His real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel lights out of Egypt because of the bad Pharaoh. God sent ten plagues on the Egyptians. Some of the plagues were mice, frogs, bugs, lice and no cable.

Every day in the desert, God fed the Israel lights some manicotti. He gave them His “Top Ten” commandments. They were things like: don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t dance, don’t smoke, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff (whatever that means). He also told them to humor their fathers and mothers.


Moses’ best helper was Joshua. He was the first person to use spies. He fought the battle of Geritol. That’s when the fence fell down on the town.


A Story of Creation

In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.

Shortly thereafter God was in receipt of a notice to show cause why he shouldn’t be cited for failure to file an environmental impact statement. He was granted a temporary planning permit for the project, but was stymied by a Cease and Desist Order for the earthly part.

At the hearing, God was asked why he began his earthly project in the first place. He replied that he just liked to be creative.

Then God said, “Let there be light.”

Officials immediately demanded to know how the light would be made. Would it require strip mining? What about thermal pollution?

God explained that the light would come from a huge ball of fire, and provisional approval was granted with the proviso that no smoke would result.

The authorities demanded the issuance of a building permit, and (to conserve energy) required that the light be left off half the time. God agreed, saying he would call the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.” Officials replied that they were only interested in protecting the environment, not in semantics.

God said, “Let the earth bring forth green herb and such as many seed.”

The EPA agreed, so long as only native seed was used.

Then God said, “Let waters bring forth creeping creatures having life; and the fowl that may fly over the earth.”

Officials pointed out this would require approval from the Department of Game coordinated with the Heavenly Wildlife Federation and the Audubongelic Society.

Everything went along smoothly until God declared that he intended to complete the project in six days.

Officials informed God it would take at least 200 days to review his many waiver applications and environmental impact statements. After that there would have to be a public hearing, and then there would be a 10-12 month probationary period before….

At this point, God created Hell.


Adam and Eve

When Adam stayed out very late for a few nights, Eve became upset. “You´re running around with other women,” she told her mate.

“Eve, honey, you´re being unreasonable,” Adam responded. “You know you´re the only woman on earth.” The quarrel continued until Adam fell asleep, only to be awakened by a strange pain in his side. It was Eve poking him about the torso.

“What do you think you´re doing?” Adam demanded.

“Counting your ribs,” said Eve.

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