Ki Tetse (Deut. 21:10 – 25:19); 9/11 tenth anniversary

I wrote this less than a week after 9/11/2001, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah:

As I type this, I hear the “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Give Us Peace”) section from a recording of Schubert’s Mass in G.  Right now, it seems a vain hope.  

I can’t mourn yet.  It feels too much like the time between my father’s death and his funeral. The rabbis were wise in declaring the mourning period of shiva should start after the funeral.  Friday was too soon for a national day of mourning.  We need a list of names, of people, not of body parts.  All the flag waving and “America the Beautiful”s feel hollow.  

But this is the eve of a new year.   Tonight, we will eat apple and honey and other sweet things in the hope of having a good and sweet year.  I fear what is to come, as I’m sure you do.  I wish you all as good a year as we can make it, and the strength to deal with times that are more bitter than sweet.

When I think of 9/11, those horrific iconic images float before me, and I relive how disoriented I felt, as if the floor had suddenly dropped away.  It’s like tearing off a scab.  When I think of what has happened to us in the ensuing decade, I get depressed. There’s a very moving choral/orchestral piece by René Clausen called “Memorial” that was commissioned after 9/11 that I’m singing on Sunday (part of the “Wilmington Remembers” program, Mount Pleasant High School, 7 PM, free.  Doesn’t hurt to get a plug in.). Sometimes, by the end of rehearsal, I’m about to cry.

So let me step back and relate that to this week’s Torah portion.  As I noted last year, Ki Tetse has 72 mitzvot (“commandments,” laws) in it, according to Maimonides.  Maybe next year I’ll count them myself.  Among the dozens of issues: captive war brides, favoritism concerning two wives and their sons, the (exceptionally) rebellious son, burying an executed criminal’s corpse quickly, returning lost items (and taking care of them in the meantime), crossdressing, safety, mixed species, tzitzit [fringes on a 4-cornered garment like a tallit] , virginity, divorce, rape, adultery, ethical business practices (weights and measures, fair employee treatment, loan interest, etc.), runaway slaves, the levirate duty, vows (One thing I liked about Jon Huntsman in the recent GOP debate was his refusal, unlike his confreres on the stage, to make any pledges concerning taxes or the budget or anything other than those to his wife and country. He feels such pledges stifle political dialogue.), shooing away the mother bird from the nest before you take the eggs, leaving the forgotten sheaf for the poor, not putting parents to death for the sins of their children or children for their parents’, etc., etc.
These laws are meant to “sweep out” evil from the community, to create a society that is both orderly and compassionate.  And what makes terrorism so, well, terrifying?  In war, historically, there were certain rules of engagement, your enemy openly declared war on you, you knew who your enemy was and generally where they were, and you were expected to at least try to avoid killing innocent civilians.  There are no such moderating influences on terrorists whose principal goal is to destroy and to generate anguish, terror, and confusion.  Not only are they evil; they leave evil in their wake.  Would that we could sweep out this evil as readily as in Ki Tetse.

Shabbat shalom,

David Letterman Jokes About Terrorist Death Threat [abridged]

Airdate: 8/23/2011

David Letterman returned to the Late Show for the first time since he was targeted by a terrorist, and he started joking right away.

“Tonight, you people are more to me, honestly, more than an audience…You’re more like a human shield!” he quipped.

Letterman’s jokes about the deaths of Osama bin Laden and his successor prompted an enraged jihadist to post an Internet threat on Letterman’s life.
Authorities are taking the threat seriously.
True to form, Letterman made light of the whole thing.

The Top Ten List was “Top Ten Thoughts That Went Through My Mind After Hearing About the Threat,” which included, “Number ten: Someone wants to silence me? Get in line!” and “Number two: This seems like Leno’s handiwork!”

Lost and Found

— Karen Whedon

While rummaging through her attic, my friend Kathryn found an old shotgun. Unsure about how to dispose of it, she called her parents.
“Take it to the police station,” her mother suggested.
My friend was about to hang up when her mother added, “And Kathryn?”
“Yes, Mom?”
“Call first.”


No drinking vow, no smoking vow

What happens when Grandma makes her grandson swear to never take a drink

A Grandmother was talking to her young grandson, trying to explain the dangers of smoking. “Now Johnny,” she said, “you have to promise Grandma that, once you’re a grown man, you will never smoke, and never drink.”

“Never, Grandma?” asked little Johnny.

“Never, boy, not even once,” replied the grandmother.

With his eyes wide as saucers, Johnny asked “But won’t I get thirsty?”


The Government is going to put a special tax on tzitzit.  They are being classed as fringe benefits.

        Oy! the Ultimate Book of Jewish Jokes, page 108.


Little Birdies Want to Fly

There were 3 little birds and a mother bird.  The little birds’ names were: Peep, Squeak, and Suzie.  

One day Squeak went to her mother and said, “Momma, Momma! I want to learn how to fly!”
Mother bird said “OK, Squeak. I will teach you how to fly. Go jump off the end of that branch.”
So Squeak jumped off the end of the branch… Kerplunk! She was on the ground. “Momma! I can’t fly!”
“Oh well, try again tomorrow.”

The next day, Peep went to her mother and said, “Momma, Momma! I want to learn how to fly!”
Mother bird said, “OK, Peep. I will teach you how to fly. Go jump off that branch.”
So Peep went to the end of the branch jumped off and…Kerplunk! She was on the ground. “Momma! I can’t fly!”  
“Oh well, try again tomorrow.”

The next day Suzie went to her mother and said, “Momma, Momma! I want to learn how to fly!”  
Mother bird said “OK, Suzie. I will teach you how to fly. Go jump off that branch.”
So Suzie walked over to the end of the branch, looked around for a few minutes, and said,
“Momma, this isn’t going to work.”  
“Well, why not, Suzie?”  
“Because this branch is on the ground!”


Cancel Your Credit Card Before You Die

A lady died this past January, and Citibank billed her for February and March for their annual service charges on her credit card, and added late fees and interest on the monthly charge. The balance had been $0.00, now somewhere around $60.00. A family member placed a call to Citibank. Here is the exchange:

[comments are by the person who posted this online, not IGP]

Family Member:      I am calling to tell you she died in January.
Citibank:                 The account was never closed and the late fees and charges still apply
Family Member:       Maybe, you should turn it over to collections.
Citibank:                  Since it is two months past due, it already has been.
Family Member:       So, what will they do when they find out she is dead?
Citibank:                  Either report her account to frauds division or report her to the credit bureau, maybe both!
Family Member:       Do you think God will be mad at her? (I really liked this part!!!!)
Citibank:                  Excuse me?
Family Member:       Did you just get what I was telling you – the part about her being dead?’
Citibank:                   Sir, you’ll have to speak to my supervisor. (Duh!)
Supervisor gets on the phone:
Family Member:        I’m calling to tell you, she died in January.
Citibank :                  The account was never closed and late fees and charges still apply. (This must be a phrase taught by the bank!)
Family Member:        You mean you want to collect from her estate?’
Citibank: (Stammer) Are you her lawyer?
Family Member:         No, I’m her great nephew. (Lawyer info given)
Citibank:                    Could you fax us a certificate of death?’
Family Member:         Sure. (Fax number is given )
After they get the fax:
Citibank:                    Our system just isn’t setup for death. I don’t know what more I can do to help.
Family Member:         Well, if you figure it out, great! If not, you could just keep billing her. I don’t think she will care.
Citibank:                    Well, the late fees and charges do still apply. (What is wrong with these people?!?)
Family Member:         Would you like her new billing address?
Citibank:                    That might help.
Family Member:         Odessa Memorial Cemetery , Highway 129, Plot Number 69.
Citibank:                    Sir, that’s a cemetery!
Family Member:         What do you do with dead people on your planet???

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