Bemidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20), Shavuot

This week, we start reading the book of Bemidbar (“in the desert of”  Sinai).  After a whole book with a lot of laws and exhortations, we will find a lot more action over the next two months.  We’ll be covering about 39 years, from 13 months after the Exodus to about a month before the Israelites enter the Promised Land.  This book is called “Numbers” in English, and this portion has a lot of them.  A census is taken of the men aged 20 and up who are able to bear arms, tribe by tribe, clans within the tribe, individually by name.  Why?  Didn’t we have a headcount not long ago via the half-shekel head tax?  Counting then was mainly to get money to support the Tabernacle.  Nachmanides gives three possible reasons for this counting:  to impress upon the people how they have increased numerically from the 70 souls who went down to Egypt, to stress how important each individual is, and to prepare for war.  At this point, remember, the Israelites think the end of their journey is only months away, not decades.  The Levites, exempt from military service because of their Tabernacle duties, are counted separately, from 1 month up; by their service, they are to take the place of the Israelite firstborn males who would otherwise be dedicated for this.  Since the number of these firstborn Israelites is 273 more than available Levites, 5 shekels each is donated to the priests to redeem them. Yes, this is where we get the pidyon haben ceremony for firstborn non-Kohen, non-Levi month-old sons.  The Levites stand guard around the Tabernacle.  The rest of the tribes are neatly organized into four divisions of three tribes each.  The divisions form a square, one division to a side, around the Tent of Meeting. This was how they were encamped, and this was how they marched.  (I wonder if they were able to stay that well-organized?)

Numbers are slippery. They seem so inarguable and concrete. 2+2=4.  Yet we’ve attached mystical symbolism to them, like the symbolism if seven I wrote about here a couple weeks ago. In our modern culture, we use numbers all the time as scores and ratings, merging quantity and quality, as if exceeding profit objective, or patent filing objective, by X% actually means something more than the bare number.  We do this because it is simple and requires no thought.  My boss, having (sort of) accepted that numerical filing quotas drive bad behavior, is trying to come up with some alternative “metric”. It will still be some sort of number, though I hope with more basis.

Tomorrow night, the holiday of Shavuot  begins, celebrated for two days by Orthodox and Conservative Jews and one by Reform.  Shavuot means “weeks,” and it’s been 7 weeks since we started counting the omer on the second night of Pesach.  Shavuot, Pesach, and Sukkot are three harvest festivals and are given similar weight in the Torah, for example, in the first scroll reading for the second day of Shavuot, Deut. 15:19 – 16:17. But since Shavuot is much shorter and doesn’t have any big, colorful custom associated with it, like a sukkah or a seder, it ‘s overshadowed.  Shavuot is associated with the giving of the Ten Commandments, so we read that portion (Exodus 19:1-20:23) on the first day.  On each day, the second scroll reading is Numbers 28:26-31 (sacrifices, of course).T he first day Haftarah is the really cool one from Ezekiel 1:1-28; 3:12, and on the second day, we read a song by Habakkuk (3:1-19 or 2:20-3:19). It is also customary to decorate with flowers, eat dairy (blintzes, cheesecake, ice cream, mmm) and hold all-night (or at least late-night) study sessions.  See “Sleepless on Shavuot” by Moshe Sokolow,  at  (thanks, Stanley) , on a conceivable relationship between the availability of coffee and the popularity of these all-nighters.  It is also customary to read the book of Ruth, set at the time of the barley harvest, about the young Moabite woman, great-grandmother of King David  who became a model of both conversion and daughterly love.

Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom,
Math Jokes
π to i: Get real!
i to π: Get rational!

Teacher: “Who can tell me what 7 times 6 is?”
Student: “It’s 42!”
Teacher: “Very good! – And who can tell me what 6 times 7 is?”
Same student: “It’s 24!”

Trigonometry for farmers: swine and coswine…

“The number you have dialed is imaginary. Please, rotate your phone by 90 degrees and try again…”

Census Taker

An elderly man was sitting on his porch, when a young man walked up with a pad and pencil in his hand.
“What are you selling young man,” he asked.
“I’m not selling anything,” the young man said. I’m a census taker.”
“A what?” the elder man asked.
“A census taker. We are trying to find out how many people are in the United States.”
“Well,” the man answered. “You’re wasting your time with me, I have no idea.”
A man from the Census Bureau went to a trailer house that was located up in the hills. When a lady opened the door, he asked her, “How many people are living here?”
The lady says, “There’s me, and Pa, Bobby-Jo, Maggie-Sue, Darryl-Rae…”
The man interrupted her, saying, “I don’t need names, just the numbers.”
She replied, “Numbers? We haven’t run out of names yet!”


Quotes on Organizing

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”
A. A. Milne quotes (English Humorist, creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, 1882-1956)

“The trouble with organizing a thing is that pretty soon folks get to paying more attention to the organization than to what they’re organized for.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder quotes (American Author of children’s fiction based on her own youth in the American Midwest. 1867-1957)

“Thought is the organizing factor in man, intersected between the causal primary instincts and the resulting actions.”
Albert Einstein quotes (German born American Physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity. Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.1879-1955)

The Ten Commandments as told by your Boss at Work
by zeth Posted: 01-02-2008(Viewed 95754 times)

1. I am the Boss, your Superior, who hired you from the land of unemployment, out of the house of your college dorm/parents basement.
2. Do not have any other mentors/senior management/wingmen other than me.
3. You shall not make for yourself an idol in your cube unless it is a geeky cubicle toy from your 80’s childhood
4. Do not name-drop at networking events in vein, unless it may help you score.
5. Honor your higher-ups
6. Remember the seventh day and make it a quiet workday when no one else is in the office. Responding to emails at 2am on your blackberry is holy!
5. Thou shalt not kill IT helpdesk guy who put you on hold.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery by doing freelance work on the side or even worse, putting thy Boss on mute during a conference call and talking about me.
8. Thou shalt not steal office supplies
9. Thou shalt not testify falsely against thy co-worker unless to cover thy ass (CTA) in an email trail
10. Thou shalt not covet another’s job, office space, or bonus check.
(Some of the)Top 50 Worst Reasons To Pull an All-Nighter
by Jeremy “Shaggy” Toeman (

2.   Need to figure out which way is east. Wait for sunrise.
5.   Cramming for a test you have the following week.
6.   Waiting for friend to call back with answer to “How do you keep an idiot up all night?”
8.   Attempting to discover how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
11. John Wayne-a-thon on channel 2.
18. Driving to every 7-11 (or Circle K) in town, just to check that they are being faithful to their “Open 24 Hours” policies.
19. Trying to figure out just why Wil Wheaton is a star.
29. Pulling out each strand in a Koosh ball. Reassemble the koosh ball. Repeat. Juggle on occasion.
30. Pretending it is really 12 hours later than it is. (i.e. Going to classes, eating lunch, waiting for the soaps to come on…)
36. Wanting to see cool times on your clock like 1:23, 6:66, 4:56, etc… (If you actually look for some of these times, you may end up waiting more than all night…)
37. Pulling all your hair out so you can organize it by color, length, thickness, straightness. Continue doing so until they haul you off to the loony bin.
38. Learning sanskrit, serbo-croatian, ancient french, klingon, or any other language you probably won’t have much call for.
39. Anything that has to do with Star Trek. (ESPECIALLY watching Star Trek 5 or 1 really… or that Deep Space show….)
42. You HAVE a life, yet you spend it reading lists like this.
Special Cheesecake
One of my co-workers decided it was time to shed some excess weight. She took her new diet so seriously that she even changed her driving route to avoid her favorite bakery. One morning, however, she arrived at work carrying a gigantic cheesecake. We all scolded her, but her smile remained cherubic.
“This is a very special cheesecake,” she explained. “I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window was a host of goodies. I felt this was no accident, so I prayed, ‘Lord, if you want me to have one of those delicious cheesecakes, let me have a parking spot directly in front of the bakery’, and sure enough,” she continued, “the ninth time around the block, there it was!”

I really am not fond of “Seinfeld” but I was intrigued by these script excerpts about Jerry’s dentist Tim who has just converted to Judaism.
Converting for the Jokes?!

% Jerry enters confessional, sits down on kneeler. Father Curtis opens sliding door.
Father: That’s a kneeler.
Jerry: Oh. (Adjusts accordingly)
Father: Tell me your sins, my son.
Jerry: Well I should tell you that I’m Jewish.
Father: That’s no sin.
Jerry: Oh good. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.
Father: And this offends you as a Jewish person.
Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian. And it’ll interest you that he’s also telling Catholic jokes.
Father: Well.
Jerry: And they’re old jokes. I mean, the Pope and Raquel Welch in a lifeboat.
Father: I haven’t heard that one.
Jerry: Oh, I’m sure you have. They’re out on the ocean and, yada yada yada, and she says, “Those aren’t buoys.” (Father starts laughing) Father…
Father: One second… Well, if it would make you feel better I could speak to Dr. Whatley. I have to go back and have a wisdom teeth removed.
Jerry: You know the difference between a dentist and a sadist don’t you?
Father: Um…
Jerry: Newer magazines.

% At the dentist, Tim is working on Jerry.
Jerry: (In pain) Oh, are you about done?
Tim: I’m just getting warmed up. Because I’m just a sadist with newer magazines.
Jerry: Huh?
Tim: Father Curtis told me about your little joke.
Jerry: What about all your Jewish jokes?
Tim: I’m Jewish, you’re not a dentist. You have no idea what my people have been through.
Jerry: The Jews?
Tim: No, the dentists. You know, we have the highest suicide rate of any profession?
Jerry: Is that why it’s so hard to get an appointment?

% In Jerry’s apartment.
Jerry: So you won’t believe what happened with Whatley today. It got back to me that I made this little dentist joke and he got all offended. Those people can be so touchy.
Kramer: Those people, listen to yourself.
Jerry: What?
Kramer: You think that dentists are so different from me and you? They came to this country just like everybody else, in search of a dream.
Jerry: Kramer, he’s just a dentist.
Kramer: Yeah, and you’re an anti-dentite.
Jerry: I am not an anti-dentite!
Kramer: You’re a rabid anti-dentite! Oh, it starts with a few jokes and some slurs. “Hey, denty!” Next thing you know you’re saying they should have their own schools.
Jerry: They do have their own schools!
Kramer: Yeah!

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