Mattot (Numbers 30:2 – 32:42 )

[Remember – the jokes follow the commentary!]

It’s too darn hot outside, which has an enervating effect despite my being in an air-conditioned office.  We are also supposed to save energy today by keeping the lights off, if it’s safe to do so, and the dimness is evoking in me a primal “Nap time!” response.  Luckily, I am taking tomorrow off.

At the beginning of this week’s portion, we learn that vow of a woman can be annulled by her father or husband.  If they learn of it and do not object, that amounts to approving it. However, the vows of a woman who is a widow or divorcee are as binding as a man’s. I don’t know about an adult unmarried woman on her own with no father or brother, but this is probably addressed in the Mishnah (everything else seems to be).

We also read of a massacre of Midianites – men women, children, except female virgins – as punishment for the recent incident at Pe’or, an incident now explicitly attributed to the counsel of Balaam, 31:16; he’s also killed a few verses later.  However, in 25:1, we read that the Israelite men were whoring with Moabite women.  The only Midianite woman mentioned is Cozbi, daughter of a Midianite chieftain, though we can assume that if she did this, so did other Midianite women.  Also, one would have expected Moses to be somewhat sympathetic to a people among whom he had lived for decades and had married into.  So why does the Lord come down so hard on the Midianites, while the Moabites are essentially let off?  Rashi concludes that the Moabites had a legitimate concern that the Israelites were going to conquer them, while the Midianites were interfering in a quarrel that did not concern them, i.e., taking advantage of the situation for their own profit.

After this, the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh go to Moses and ask to remain on the east side of the Jordan, where the land was really good for their cattle to graze.  They probably didn’t know that Moses had been told his death would follow after the war against Midian, that he had forbidden to enter the Promised Land.  Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to appear to toss away something that was so precious to him and that he couldn’t have.  Nachmanides suggests that Moses suspects they’re just afraid of fighting the Canaanites, whence the stipulation that they still send troops to be on the front lines of the fighting to conquer the land.  Maybe he’s surprised that they agree to this.

This week we also read the first of the Haftarot of Rebuke (or Warning) preceding Tisha B’Av, Jeremiah 1:1-2:3. This is Jeremiah’s call to prophecy.  While he is known as a prophet of doom, he was a reluctant one, and his writings contain great beauty, like 2:2, which is used in the High Holy Days liturgy: “I remember for you the kindness of your youth, the love when you were a bride, how you followed me into the wilderness, into a land unsown.”

Try to stay cool this weekend.

Shabbat shalom,

Loyalty oath

Before she died, an elderly woman from the United States wanted to visit England, the home of her ancestors. She went to the Federal Office and asked for a passport.

“You must first take the loyalty oath,” the passport clerk said. “Raise your right hand, please.”

The senior citizen raised her right hand as the clerk asked, “Do you swear to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, domestic or foreign?”

The sweet old face paled and the voice trembled as she responded, “Well, I guess so, but… will I have help, or will I have to do it all by myself?”

The Australian Soldier

An Australian soldier transferred to British front lines in World War I.  On arrival at his post he meets the officer in command who says, ‘Tell me, did you come here to die?’  The Australian replied ‘No sir, I came here yester-die.’

Rancher John

Old ranch owner John farmed a small ranch in Montana.  The Montana Wage and Hour Department claimed he was not paying proper wages to his workers and sent an agent out to interview him.

‘I need a list of your employees and how much you pay them,’ demanded the agent.

‘Well,’ replied old John, ‘There’s my ranch hand who’s been with me for 3 years. I pay him $600 a week plus free room and board. The cook has been here for 18 months, and I pay her $500 a week plus free room and board. Then there’s the half-wit who works about 18 hours every day and does about 90% of all the work around here. He makes about $10 per week, pays his own room and board and I buy him a bottle of bourbon every Saturday night.’

‘That’s the guy I want to talk to, the half-wit,’ says the agent.

‘That would be me,’ replied old rancher John.


Settling a cow case

A big-city lawyer was representing the railroad in a lawsuit filed by an old rancher. The rancher’s prize bull was missing from the section through which the railroad passed. The rancher only wanted to be paid the fair value of the bull.

The case was scheduled to be tried before the justice of the peace in the back room of the general store.

The attorney for the railroad immediately cornered the rancher and tried to get him to settle out of court. The lawyer did his best selling job, and finally the rancher agreed to take half of what he was asking.

After the rancher had signed the release and took the check, the young lawyer couldn’t resist gloating a little over his success, telling the rancher, “You know, I hate to tell you this, old man, but I put one over on you in there. I couldn’t have won the case. The engineer was asleep and the fireman was in the caboose when the train went through your ranch that morning. I didn’t have one witness to put on the stand. I bluffed you!”

The old rancher replied, “Well, I’ll tell you, young feller, I was a little worried about winning that case myself, because that durned bull came home this morning.”


The wedding ceremony – A true story

Here’s what actually happened at my wedding ceremony! Enjoy… Lano, the Proprietor of Discount Invitations

My story begins after the Best Man, Groomsmen and I had arrived at the church. We were all standing around in the Vestry wondering how long it was going to take the girls to show up. I looked down, and to my horror, realized that I had slipped on my deck shoes before going out the door. Everyone had a good laugh at my expense and I dispatched my cousin Glenn (one of my groomsmen) back to my house to get my dress shoes. The girls arrived and were informed of the delay (at least it was MY fault now). We waited and waited and waited. It was only 4 minutes to our house but after 20 minutes still no Glenn. He finally arrived, screeching up to the church, delivering me my dress shoes. I slipped them on and everything was ready. We went in to the front of the church and waited for my beautiful bride to come down the aisle. Everything was going just great! We got to the part of the ceremony where Brenda and I were to kneel before the Minister. I helped her kneel, then knelt beside her, our backs to the crowd. As soon as I knelt down, I heard a few hushed whispers in the crowd. Then a few more, and a couple of snickers. I thought “Oh great, I split my pants!” I put the inappropriate noise behind me out of my head and concentrated on the task at hand, marrying the woman I loved! When we moved on to the registry signing, I nonchalantly checked the seam. It was fine, no gaping, underwear revealing, tear. Now I was really confused. There was still quite a buzz happening in the pews. It was only after the ceremony that I was clued in to what had happened, and the reason that Glenn had taken so long. It was because he had trouble finding a bottle of White Out. When I knelt down at the front of the church, there, in large white letters, on the bottom of my black soles, were the words “WHY” and “ME!” One word per shoe. I’ll get you Glenn!

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