Anyone who has spoken with me today has noticed a certain incoherence in the exchange, probably more than usual, exacerbated by lack of sleep and an end of the week realization that it is indeed the end of the week. So, while I gathered new jokes and quotes for Ki Tavo, since I really like what I wrote last year and the year before, I am going to give you an amalgam of both. I would apologize, except it’s still worth reading.
We about half way through the month of Elul, a time for introspection and self-examination (cheshbon ha-nefesh, a personal accounting). We are reminded of the approach of Rosh Hashanah by the blowing of the shofar every weekday. This week’s Torah reading, which demands that the Israelites accept the covenant and agree to serve the Lord with all their heart and soul, provides a nice parallel to the season. [Biblical scholars would translate “heart” as more encompassing mental processes, rationality, wisdom, etc., while “soul” is the physical being, breath, etc. There’s a lot more in Joel M. Hoffman’s Lost in Mistranslation, excerpted in the Fall, 2010 issue of Reform Judaism, passed along by Stanley (Thanks, Stanley).]
The Israelites, approaching the end of their journey, are given specific scripts to recite when bringing their first fruits for sacrifice and after donating tithes, scripts that explicitly thank and recognize the Lord as the source of their bounty, like that “My father was a wandering Aramean…” passage you probably recognize from the Passover seder. Like the donations themselves, this recitation is meant to foster humility. Moses is increasingly intense as he emphasizes the duties of the Israelites once they (not he) enter the Promised Land. Once they cross the Jordan, the Israelites are going to become a nation, “as He promised you, His treasured people” (26:18). Then the people are going to write the Law on large, plastered rocks (Biblical billboards) and build an altar of unhewn stones nearby for offering sacrifices. My brother David provided some enlightenment concerning the writing on the stones a few years ago (abridged):
“Ever since St. Jerome, there has almost complete unanimity identifying Deuteronomy, or some large portion of it with the book found in the temple during Josiah’s reign and the basis for his religious reforms. If so, it could indeed have written on large stones, probably as a substitute for actual inscription. Writing on a whitewashed surface would have been a lot quicker than carving. In that area, it was common for rulers to inscribe large amounts of text describing their achievements in stone, often multilinqually. The greatest of these was the Bisutun inscription of Darius, written in Old Persian, Assyrian, and Elamite with cuneiform script. The whole text, transcribed into Latin letters, comes to fifty printed octavo pages. It is cut into a steep rock face, several hundred feet high. Its deciphering was one of the great achievements of 19th century scholarship.”
What follows are instructions for a powerfully dramatic ritual (drama is always a great way to make a solid impression), an antiphonal proclamation of blessings and curses by the Levites, with the tribes aligned, one half on Mount Gerizim facing the other half on Mount Ebal, responding “Amen” to each curse, but not the blessings (hmmm). Then we read the Tochachah (warning). [Remember the minor Tochachah (Leviticus 26:3-46)? This is the major one.] Blessings will accrue if the Israelites faithfully, genuinely obey the commandments, and curses will befall them if they don’t. The blessings are pretty general; people already know what “the good life” is, so details are unnecessary. The curses are read rapidly in an undertone by the Torah reader. The first set of curses states who will be cursed, the second set, how. The “how” is terrifying and graphic, striking the core of every listener in their specificity. and the people must say “Amen” to these as well. Even more terrifying that the external, physical threats are the internal ones, e.g., in 28:65-66, “…you shall find no peace, nor shall your foot find a place to rest. The Lord will give you there an anguished heart and eyes that pine and a despondent spirit. 66 The life you face shall be precarious; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival.” Another translation of v. 66, more exact and even more terrifying, is outright insanity: “And your life will hang before you, and you will be frightened night and day, and you will not believe in your life.” What a nightmare. (See R. Avi Weinstein’s comments, “The Worst Curse Is To Lose All Control” at http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Weekly_Torah_Portion/kitavo_hillel2000.shtml .) Moses’ despair for their future is evident (29:3). In spite of all they have witnessed and experienced, “Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a mind to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.“ But he assures them that, if they join with the Lord in this covenant, they will succeed.
The haftarah, the sixth one of consolation, Isaiah 60:1-22, is full of images of light and hope and an end to mourning, and is indeed consoling to the reader who is shell-shocked after the Torah reading.
A Dramatic Joke [abridged]
When my drama professor was in his early twenties, he landed a role in his first Shakespearean play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Rehearsals began to get out of hand. People were forgetting their blocking, dropping lines. It was starting to get sloppy.
About two and a half weeks into rehearsal, the director arrived, cheerful as usual. He showed several of the cast members a watch, one that had been given to him by his father, a great actor. The watch had not worked for years, but he had finally found an expert watchmaker to restore it and it was running again. And the director was anxious to use it today to see how long the show was running.
Well, the actors were still unfocused and low on energy. The director just watched. Then suddenly, in the middle of Act Three, he yelled: “Stop! Stop! Stop! Why can’t you people get these scenes right? I try to be nice. I try to be encouraging! But you still won’t listen. What do I have to do?!” And then, in a sudden fit of rage, he threw his father’s watch on the floor and smashed it with his foot. He left the theater, leaving the shattered pocket watch on the floor.
The cast was stunned. In fact, they were scared. By the next day, the cast was running like clockwork. And the director returned to his gentle ways and never brought up the incident again.
Except one day, after the show opened, a couple of the cast members checked the director’s schedule to count how many matinees they would be doing. They saw that the director had written a note for March 12th, the day of his tumultuous outburst, in small penciled letters: P. W.
That’s right, PW = “pocket watch.” The director had planned the outburst all along, in fact he had scheduled the exact day he would smash the watch with his foot, and he had purchased a cheap, imitation pocket watch to destroy, just as he done during every show that he had ever directed.
The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
On the other hand, the French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
Conclusion: Eat and drink what you like. It’s speaking English that kills you.
A family was having some people to dinner.
At the table, the mother turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Dear, would you like to say the blessing?”
“I wouldn’t know what to say, ” replied the little girl, shyly.
“Just say what you hear Mommy say, sweetie, ” the woman said.
Her daughter took a deep breath, bowed her head, and solemnly said, “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner!?!” ,
——————-“Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner!?!”
A Selection of Curses
from Nahum Stutchkoff’s Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language [selected]
A meshugener zol men oyshraybn, un im araynshraybn.
They should free a madman, and lock him up.
A hiltsener tsung zol er bakumn.
He should grow a wooden tongue.
Gut zol oyf im onshikn fin di tsen makes di beste.
God should visit upon him the best of the Ten Plagues.
A kleyn kind zol nokh im heysn.
A young child should be named after him. [referring to the Ashkenazi custom of naming a child after someone dead]
Got zol im bentshn mit dray mentshn: eyner zol im haltn, der tsveyter zol im shpaltn un der driter zol im ba’haltn.
God should bless him with three people: one should grab him, the second should stab him and the third should hide him.
Hindert hayzer zol er hobn, in yeder hoyz a hindert tsimern, in yeder tsimer tsvonsik betn un kadukhes zol im varfn fin eyn bet in der tsveyter.
A hundred houses shall he have, in every house a hundred rooms and in every room twenty beds, and a delirious fever should drive him from bed to bed.
Es zol dir dunern in boykh, vestu meyen az s’iz a homon klaper.
Your stomach will rumble so badly, you’ll think it was a Purim noisemaker.
BILLBOARD MESSAGES F R O M G O D
Some years ago,a Fort Lauderdale, Florida advertising agency launched a billboard campaign (including the inside and outside of buses) that included 17 different messages from God. (I think I saw some at the intersection of Broom and Concord in Wilmington. IGP)Here is a selection:
3. “What Part of “Thou Shalt Not…” Didn’t You Understand?” – God
4. “We Need To Talk” – God
5. “Keep Using My Name in Vain And I’ll Make Rush Hour Longer” – God
9. “Have You Read My #1 Best Seller? There Will Be A Test.” – God
10. “Loved The Wedding, Invite Me To The Marriage” – God
11. “That “Love Thy Neighbor” Thing, I Meant It.” – God
14. “You Think It’s Hot Here?” – God
Signs You Probably Have Never Seen (selected)
Sign in a veterinarian’s waiting room: “Be back in 5 minutes. Sit! Stay!!”
At a towing company: “We don’t charge an arm and a leg. We want tows.”
In a restaurant window: “Eat now, pay waiter.”
Sign on a retail store door in Stevens Point, WI: “PUSH. If it doesn’t open, PULL. If it still doesn’t open, WE ARE CLOSED.”
Sign in a dentist’s office: “Patient parking only. All others will be painfully extracted.”
Outside a country shop: “We buy junk and sell antiques.”
In the vestry of a New England church: “Will the last person to leave please see that the perpetual light is
On a plumber’s truck: “We repair what your husband fixed.”
Seen on a billboard along a highway: “Caution: Objects in the mirror may have flunked driver’s education.”
“Hope, like the gleaming taper’s light, adorns and cheers our way; and still, as darker grows the night, emits a brighter ray.”
~Oliver Goldsmith quotes (Irish born BritishEssayist, Poet, Novelist and Dramatist. 1730–1774)
“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words, and never stops at all.”
~Emily Dickinson quotes (AmericanPoet who has been called the New England mystic, 1830–1886)
From the scientist lightbulb joke links at http://jcdverha.home.xs4all.nl/scijokes/lightbulb.html
Q: How many general relativists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two. One holds the bulb, while the other rotates the universe.
Q: How many quantum mechanicians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: They can’t. If they know where the socket is, they cannot locate the new bulb.
Q: How many astronomers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, astronomers prefer the dark.
Q: How many particle physicists are necessary to change a light bulb?
A: Two hundred: 136 to smash it up and 64 to analyse the tiny pieces.
Q: How many MIT students does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: five –one to design a nuclear-powered one that never needs changing, one to figure out how to power the rest of Boston using that nuked lightbulb, two to install it. [that adds up to four! Can’t MIT students add?! IGP]
Q: How many physicists* does it take to change a light bulb?
A: If the light bulb is a perfect sphere, one. The solution for a light bulb of arbitrary shape is left as an exercise to the reader.
* (for ‘physicists’ read any physical scientists)
Q: How many company biotechnologists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Four; one to write the proposal, one to design the bulb-changer, one to design the bulb-fetcher, and one to design the bulb.
Q: How many freelance biotechnologists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One; he designs the bulb to crawl up the wall, unscrew the old one and screw itself in.
Q: How many evolutionists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Only one, but it takes eight million years.