B’Haalotekha (Numbers 8:1 – 12:16) Jun 06/10/11 4:06 PM

The Israelites are almost ready march into the wilderness.  First, a few loose ends are taken care of. A gold, seven-branched, menorah is made, as are two silver trumpets for summoning the people.  The status of the Levites is formalized, as is their work life (25 to 50 years old). Also, those Israelites who hadn’t been allowed to eat the Passover sacrifice because of ritual impurity get another chance at a second Passover (Pesach sheni) a month later.  The order of march is reviewed.  Jethro thinks his son-in-law Moses has everything under control, so he returns to Midian.  And the Israelites set out for Canaan with much fanfare.

But the text abruptly recounts that they start complaining.  The Lord is angry at this and sets fire to the outskirts of the camp.  The people cry to Moses, he prays to the Lord, and the fire dies down.  This is the first of many times (no, I haven’t counted them) we’ll see this pattern: the people do something bad, the Lord strikes them with some plague or fire or whatever, Moses prays on their behalf, the Lord relents.  We aren’t told the reason for the first complaints, but the next ones are mainly about the food.  Not the classic “it’s awful and the portions are too small,” but the lack of variety  in general (Yes, I know there are stories about manna tasting like whatever you want, like the schmoos in Li’l Abner.) and the lack of meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic in particular.  Even Moses complains of the burden, so the Lord has grants 70 elders  the gift of ecstatic prophesy.  Then the Lord gives the people are meat in the form of a huge flock of quail, “until it comes out of (their) nostrils and becomes loathsome to (them)” (11:20); and they get sick (food poisoning?), and some die.  Everyone is tense and miserable.  Even Miriam and Aaron act up, slandering their younger brother Moses and gossiping about his marriage.   Miriam is punished with tzora’at (the skin affliction mistranslated as “leprosy,” translated as “scales” in the JPS version) but Aaron isn’t,. The rabbis say this may have been because Miriam was the instigator; given their personalities, that’s not an unreasonable assumption.  The Lord chews out Miriam and Aaron, Moses prays “Oh God, pray heal her!” (12:13).   After a week’s banishment from the camp, while the people wait, she is healed.

The Israelites are not an easy people to lead.  But consider their situation.  It’s a little over a year since they left Egypt.  They are no longer occupied with building the Tabernacle.  The Exodus and the Revelation at Mt. Sinai happened months ago.  They are still having difficulty with the idea of an all-powerful, invisible deity.  And they have no idea specifically where they are going, nor how long it will take them to get there (like children who whine “Are we there yet?” 5 minutes after the car has left home).  The text indicates that it is the “riffraff,” the non-Israelites who took advantage of the chaos to leave Egypt with the Israelites, whose craving triggers the complaints about the food (11:4-6).   The Israelites, unsettled and frightened, have to vent by complaining about something, and they fixate on their food because it’s visible and concrete.  Was the food really that good in Egypt? Probably not.  Do the Israelites want to be slaves once more?  Again, probably not, though there is some comfort in escaping from freedom (see Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm, 1941).   The past always looks rosier than the hard reality of the present and usually rosier than it really was.  That was a theme of several “Twilight Zone” episodes, like “Walking Distance” (1959) about a man who tries to escape back to his childhood, and “The Trouble with Templeton” (1960) about an aging actor who revisits his youth and lost love and friends.  In “A Stop at Willoughby,” (1959, Rod Serling’s purported favorite of the show’s first season) the hero is nostalgic for a past that isn’t even his, a small town in summer, 1888.  The nostalgia of the Israelites is an attempt to divert themselves from an uncomfortable, frightening present.   And the situation is not about to get much better.

Shabbat shalom,

Are We There Yet?

The little old lady seated herself right behind the bus driver. Every ten minutes or so she’d pipe up, “Have we reached Oriskany Falls yet, sonny?”

“No, lady, not yet. I’ll let you know,” he replied, time after time.

The hours passed, the old woman kept asking for Oriskany Falls, and finally the little town came into view. Sighing with relief, the driver slammed on the breaks, pulled over and called out, “This is where you get out, lady.”

“Is this Oriskany Falls?”

“YES!” he bellowed. “Get out!”

“Oh, I’m going all the way to Albany, sonny,” she explained sweetly. “It’s just that my daughter told me that when we got this far, I should take my blood pressure pill.”


A young Rabbi gets onto a streetcar and sits down next to an old man. The Rabbi pulls out his papers to work on this weaks sermon. Just as he is about to begin the old man says, “Oy am I thoisty! Thoisty thoisty thoisty!” The rabbi tries to ignore the old man. “Vat I Vouldn’t give for a cup of Vater? Thoiiiiiiiiiistyyyyyyyyyy!” “So Thoisty I am! A man lost in the desert vouldn’t be this Thoisty. I vouldn’t wish a Thoist like this on my worst enemy!” The Rabbi realizes that this man is going to continue to kvetch until he gets something to drink, so he gets up goes to the end of the car and fills a cup of water from the dispenser. Just as he is heading back he decides to get a second cup of water. With water in each hand the Rabbi walks back to his seat and demands, “Drink this! The old man drinks…”gluck gluck gluck gluck” “Drink this one too!” Just as the Rabbi sits down to continue his work, the old man says, “Boy, was I thoisty! Thoisty, thoisty, thoisty…”


Nostalgia. Do You Remember…?

IGP results marked below: Y= I actually remember it. H= I’ve heard of it

1.        Blackjack chewing gum Y
2.        Wax Coke-shaped candy with colored sugar water Y
3.        Candy cigarettes Y
4.        Coffee shops or diners with tableside juke boxes Y (we still have that here in Wilmington)
5.        Party lines Y
6.        Newsreels before the movie H
7.        P.F. Flyers Y
8.        Butch wax
9.        Telephone numbers with a word prefix (COlonial – 6933) Y (ours was GRanite 2-3245)
10.Pea Shooters H
11.Howdy Doody Y
12.45 RPM records Y
13.S&H Green Stamps Y (and putting them in the booklets)
14.Hi-Fi’s Y
15.Metal ice trays with a lever Y
16.Mimeograph paper Y
17.Carbon copies Y
18.Blue flashbulbs Y
19.Packards H
20.Roller skate keys Y
21.Cork popguns Y
22.Drive-ins Y
23.Studebakers H
24.Wash tub wringers Y
25.Hop Scotch  Y
26.Ring Around the Rosie  Y
27.Hot potato Y
28.London Bridge Y
29.Red Rover, Red Rover Y
30.Red light, Green light
31.Mother May I ? H
32.Playing dodge ball and kick ball until the streetlights came on H
33.Jump rope Y (I never got the hang of double dutch, though)
34.You’re IT!! Y
35.Kick the Can H
36.Duck, duck, GOOSE!!! H
37.Getting an ice cream from the Good Humor Man Y (or similar brand)
38.Cereal boxes with prizes at the bottom Y
39.Cracker Jacks with the same thing  Y
40.Parents stood on the porch and whistled or yelled for you to come home H
41.No air conditioning Y
42.Hula Hoops  Y
43.Fat Albert, Tom & Jerry, Pink Panther, Road Runner, Richochet Rabbit, Heckle & Jeckle  Y
44.Schoolhouse Rock H
45.Saturday movies for 12 cents with HopAlong Cassidy
46.Watching Sunday morning oldies (Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello, Tarzan, Shirley Temple OR WONDERAMA!!) Y (not necessarily Sunday morning)
47.Being sent to the principal’s office was nothing compared to what awaited you when you got home H (I was such a good little girl…)
48.A quarter seemed like a fair allowance Y (I got 15 cents)
49.Kool-Aid was the drink of the summer Y
50.Any parent could discipline any kid, or feed him, or use him to carry in the groceries…and nobody, not even the kid, thought anything thing of it H
51.Almost everyone’s mother was at home when the kids got there H
52.A 13″ black and white television in your room meant you were RICH
53.Rainy days at school meant playing “Hangman” or “Heads Up 7-UP” in the classroom
54.”Work” meant doing the dishes or taking out the garbage
55.”Race issues” meant arguing about who could run the fastest
56.Money issues were handled by the kid who was the banker in “monopoly”
57.Being old meant anyone over 20
58.I double-dog-dare you H
59.Decisions were made by going “eeny-meeny-miney-mo” Y
60.Catching fireflies for the whole evening and not getting tired of it Y (rather, trying to catch them)
61.Homemade ice cream from a hand cranked ice cream maker Y
62.Water balloons were the ultimate weapon Y

And If You’re Really Old

63.Horses delivering milk
64.Tipping over the outhouse on Halloween
65.Kids missing a lot of school because of rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, pneumonia, mastoiditis (draining ears), polio and a host of other diseases before we had antibiotics Y
66.Extra, Extra! Read all about it!  (like in 1939 when WWII started)
67.CCC, PWA, WPA and a bunch of other Federal programs
68.Fireside chats form FDR
69.Tractors with huge iron lugs that would tear up farm roads
70.The steam train coming to town and the race to see if you could beat it, while trying to avoid the black cinders from the smoke that would fall on your Sunday School white shirt
71.The local Civil War vets
72.Memorial Day parades with the WWI veterans marching in their puttees
73.Outdoor silent movies
74.Black face minstrel shows

     If you remembered 0-20 = You’re still young
If you remembered 21-40 = You are getting older
If you remembered 41-60 = Don’t tell your age
If you remembered 61-74 = You’re older than dirt!


Slanderous Statement

A woman was being questioned in a court trial involving slander.

“Please repeat the slanderous statements you heard, exactly as you heard them,” instructed the lawyer.

The witness hesitated. “But they are unfit for any respectable person to hear,” she protested.

“Then,” said the attorney, “just whisper them to the judge.”

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