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

        Today is Hoshanah Rabbah (literally “great salvation”).  Although we make a big deal about the Book of Life being sealed on Yom Kippur, you actually have a grace period until Hashanah Rabbah before it’s REALLY sealed. The Torah reading (sacrifices): Numbers 29:26-34.  Information on HR customs is at, e.g.,  http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/757453/jewish/Hoshannah-Rabbah.htm .

        Tomorrow is Shemini Atzeret [the Eighth Day of Assembly], on which we chant the Prayer for Rain.  It is already raining in Wilmington, but the prayer is for rain in Israel.  The Torah readings are Deut. 14:22 – 16:17 and Numbers 29:35 – 30:1.  The first (tithes, sabbatical year, harvest holiday observances) should be familiar by now since it’s read a few times a year for holidays and was read on Shabbat not that long ago.  The second picks up where the daily Sukkot readings (sacrifices) end today and is repeated as the third scroll reading the next day, Simchat Torah (unless you’re Reform or in Israel, in which case Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah [rejoicing in the Law] are observed on the same day).  Simchat Torah is fun – processions with all the shul’s Torah scrolls (“hakafot”), dancing, flags, treats (nowadays  candy apples. I got a Hershey chocolate almond bar and a plain apple as a kid), usually a bit of schnapps, and everyone (your shul may vary) can be called to the Torah for an aliyah.   Many people who enjoy Simchat Torah today are under the impression that it’s more important than Shemini Atzeret.  Not so.  Shemini Atzeret is a Biblically ordained holiday.  Originally, in Babylonia, Simchat Torah was the second day of Shemini Atzeret.  Simchat Torah as we know it developed over many centuries as a celebration of the ending and beginning of the annual Torah reading.  In fact, according to Lionel Moses’ essay in Etz Hayim, it was a floating holiday in Palestine until about the end of the 12th century.  While Babylonia adopted an annual Torah reading cycle, Palestine had a triennial cycle of shorter, unstandardized but still consecutive, portions that took anywhere from 3 to 3 1/2 years to complete.  

        In the evening on Simchat Torah, there’s a very short Torah reading, three aliyot from the last portion of the Torah, V’zot HaBracha. The next morning, we read from three scrolls: V’zot HaBracha (Deut. 33:1-34:12, the only portion never read on Shabbat, except in Israel – I don’t know about Reform), Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 (Creation), and Numbers 29:35 – 30:1(sacrifices, of course).
In V’zot HaBracha (“and this is the blessing”), Moses blesses the tribes, except for Shimon, which seems to have melted away, and then all of Israel.  He sees the Promised Land from Har Nebo and quietly dies, his grave unknown.  At this juncture, we go both forward and back to the beginning, reading the beginning of Genesis (“Bereshit”) from the second scroll and the beginning of Joshua for the haftarah, exactly where V’zot HaBracha leaves off. We also the maftir aliyah, with the sacrifices, from the third scroll.

        The portion called “Bereshit,” (Genesis 1:1-6:8), is read this Saturday.  It includes everything up to Noah (but the ark story is the following week): Creation, Adam and Eve, Eden, Cain and Abel, and all those extremely long-lived people.  Even though I’m often too zonked from holidays to go to services when Bereshit is read, it’s one of my favorite portions, with all the familiar and less-familiar stories.  I was hoping to send out a separate TPH just on Bereshit, but with all these holidays and Shabbat running together, I frankly lack the energy.  One would think holidays would be restful, since I’m not at work then, but fall is my busy time (patent filing quotas…) so there’s more work piled up to do before and after I’m off.  Maybe once I retire…

Wishing all of you a Chag sameach and an early Shabbat shalom,

Bad Reporter by Don Asmussen

Bad Reporter


(An oldie but goodie I particularly enjoy)

Adam, Eve, God and The Forbidden Fruit

Whenever your kids are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God’s omnipotence did not extend to God’s kids.

Consider for example, that after creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve.
The first thing He said was: “Don’t”.
“Don’t what?” Adam replied.
“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” God said.
“Forbidden fruit? We got forbidden fruit? Hey, Eve…we got forbidden fruit!”
“No way!”
“Yes way!”
“Don’t eat that fruit!” said God.
“Because I am your Father and I said so!” said God, wondering why He hadn’t stopped after making the elephants.

A few minutes later God saw His kids having an apple break and was angry.
“Didn’t I tell you not to eat the fruit?” the First Parent asked.
“Uh huh”, Adam replied.
“Then why did you?”
“I dunno” Eve answered.
“She started it!” Adam said.
“Did not!”
“Did too!”
Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus, the pattern was set and it has never changed.



Pray For Rain

One summer, a drought threatened the crop in a small town. On a hot and dry Sunday, the village parson told his congregation, “There isn’t anything that will save us except to pray for rain. Go home, pray, believe, and come back next Sunday ready to thank God for sending rain.”

The people did as they were told and returned to church the following Sunday. But as soon as the parson saw them, he was furious.

“We can’t worship today. You do not yet believe,” he said.

“But,” they protested, “we prayed, and we do believe.”

“Believe?” he responded. “Then where are your umbrellas?”



Top Ten Similarities Between the Presidential Inauguration & Simchas Torah

by baruch oybama Posted: 01-19-2009(Viewed 3332 times)

10. Feels like this season has been going on forever. It’s the end of a long road. Or is it the beginning?

9. There is mass parade in the streets with flags, families & usually some wackos

8. Everyone hopes the speech is inspiring; but PLEASE not too long

7.  Big Machers are paid back at the ceremony (ata hareaisa)

6. “Hail to the Chief” /”Or Zarua L’Tzadik” is sung when the leader is called  

5.  Most people are just happy it’s over.  

4. The President traditionally adds “so help me God” (ANA HASHEM HOSHEA NA)

3. There are lines that usually end with many L’chaims

2. The event brings out all the old ones from the ark/congress  

1. The affirmation is on the Bible



[Some of the]Top Biblical Personalities Found in Your Workplace

by Weekly Bang Staff Posted: 06-16-2008(Viewed 2509 times)

Adam – The first hire,  got in trouble for eating something from the office fridge that was forbidden. Been demoted to grunt work ever since.

Moses – Left his current less desirable situation and brought his staff with him. Had to split the place after they worked him like a slave

David – Somehow wins pitch over Goliath competitor and overnight becomes the reigning king of the office

Joshua – Completed the full corporate takeover of Canaan and expanded the office locations countrywide

Cain & Abel – Duo who always seem to being going to lunch/smoke breaks together, that is, until one had the other axed

Jonah – Swallowed by a whale of a project, hasn’t been seen in months



Actual Epitaphs Found
On Tombstones In Cemeteries

Tombstone in Round Rock,Texas [And one in Wilmington, DE! He belonged to my current synagogue. IGP]

“I told you I was sick!”

“Here lies my wife
Here let her lie
Now she has peace
And so do I!”

A widow wrote this epitaph in a Vermont Cemetery

“Sacred to the memory of my
Husband John Barnes
Who died January 3, 1803
His comely young widow, aged 23,
Has many qualifications of a good wife,
And yearns to be comforted.”

On a grave in East Dalhousie Cemetery,
Nova Scotia

“Here lies Ezekial Aikle
Age 102
The Good Die Young.”

Harry Edsel Smith of Albany, New York
Born 1903 – Died 1942
Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car
Was on the way down.  It was.”

The original story of this is that someone found this
on a tombstone buried deep in the grass.
Upon pushing the grass aside, he read:

“Pause, stranger, when you pass me by,
For as you are, so once was I.
As I am now, so will you be.
Then prepare unto death, and follow me.”

Pushing the grass aside a bit more, he found the following scratched
on the stone, done with a crude instrument:

“To follow you I’m not content
Until I know which way you went!”

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