B’Haalotekha (Numbers 8:1 – 12:16)

I am transitioning into summer mode. All this means is I have fewer time commitments and it’s hotter outside. But I am having difficulty focusing nonetheless. I do have a few new thoughts regarding this week’s Torah portion, but I’ll start with a précis from 2010:

“In this week’s portion, a few final tasks are performed before the Israelites set forth on their march. A seven-branched, gold candelabrum is fashioned, as are two silver trumpets for summoning the people. The status of the Levites is formalized. For those unable to eat the Passover sacrifice because of ritual uncleanliness, a second Passover a month later is established. The order of march is reviewed. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, thinks all’s well enough for him to go back to Midian, so he does. And the Israelites triumphantly set out for Canaan.

“And what happens next?

“Kvetching! Whining! Complaints! A really cranky people. The Lord, also not in a good mood, sets fire to the outskirts of the camp in response. The people whine about the food they miss, especially meat. When Moses complains of the burden placed on him, the Lord has him gather 70 elders to receive the gift of ecstatic prophesy. Then the people are fed meat, a flock of quail, “until it comes out of (their) nostrils and becomes loathsome to (them)” (11:20); they are struck with a plague, and some die. The miserable mood continues. Miriam and Aaron diss their younger brother Moses and gossip that he married a Cushite woman (whether this refers to Zipporah or a different wife is unclear), probably because of a combination of the pervasive bad mood and sibling rivalry, a sense that they are not getting their proper due. In any case, it’s still slander. Miriam is punished with tzora’at (the skin affliction mistranslated as “leprosy,” translated as “scales” in the JPS version) but Aaron isn’t, possibly because Miriam was the instigator (or so the rabbis say). Moses prays simply, “Oh God, pray heal her!” (12:13) and, after a week’s banishment from the camp, while the people wait, she is healed.”

The Israelites are told they are to march or stay put according to the motion of a cloud. This sounded very passive and kind of random to me until I read a lovely interpretation by R’ Chaim Shmulevitz in A Daily Dose of Torah (J. Weiss ed., vol. 9, p. 135), that this is analogous to a mother carrying her infant hither and yon; while she knows she is doing various chores and errands, what her baby is aware of simply being safe in his mother’s arms. So too, Israel was in the Lord’s arms while it was still in its national infancy.

Unfortunately, the Children of Israel act a little too much like children. Hot, tired and cranky. But it’s more than that. Two years ago I wrote: “They are in the wilderness, emotionally as well as physically.  They become nostalgic for an Egypt that probably didn’t exist…  Part of their nostalgia centers on food that they no longer have: meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic, i.e., flesh, fiber, and flavor.” Last year, I wrote: “The nostalgia of the Israelites is an attempt to divert themselves from an uncomfortable, frightening present.” This year, I think there’s a deeper psychological mechanism at play. They have lost their emotional mooring. It’s like being in the middle of a pool you’re trying to swim across for the first time and the water is deep and the walls are far away (I’m not a strong swimmer). Or you’re on a ship in the middle of the ocean where land can’t be seen, and you can’t go back but you doubt your ability to get to your destination. You feel you have nothing to hold onto. There is no firm ground. There is only change and a journey to something totally unknown. And that’s after a lifetime as a slave, with well-defined, if harsh, boundaries. Naturally, they experience constant anxiety and even panic. They haven’t developed the degree of faith in the Lord that would allow them to accept their journey and just go with the flow. We’ll see in the next few weeks how that leads to disaster.

Shabbat shalom,




Word definition: boomerangst

boomerangst n
1. a morbid feeling of anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity that one is unaccountably about get whacked in the side of the head by a bent or angular throwing club typically flat on one side and rounded on the other so that it soars or curves in flight;
2. a fully justified feeling of anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity about the future of Social Security common to members of the generation born in the United States during the years immediately after the second world war



Leeks, onions and other meats

[excerpts] Monday, 13 July 2009

Proof that Asia is a different planet: what vegetarians cannot eat

A LEEK IS A LARGE green and white vegetable which looks like a spring onion designed by Texans. …

Leeks are newsworthy because new laws in Taiwan mean they can no longer be served to vegetarians. Offenders can be fined up to US$6,000.

In Asia, people have a much broader definition of meat than Westerners

In Thailand, many vegetarians don’t eat onions.


In Gujarat, veggies avoid beetroot.

In parts of South India, “no meat” means no carrots, tomatoes, pumpkins or radishes.

Buddhists in parts of China and Malaysia refuse to eat dishes containing chopped up pieces of poor little garlic cloves.

Brahmins in South India will not eat eggplant, Vaishnavas will not eat potatoes, and Jains would never harm an innocent mushroom….
There are exceptions. Sri Lankans pay lip service to these rules but in private will viciously dismember onions without a qualm.

And Hong Kongers eat everything, often forgetting to ask important questions such as “is it edible?” or “is it dead yet?”
There are solid scientific reasons why many folk in Asia classify vegetables as meat. Indian writings say pungent vegetables such as leeks “spring from the blood of slain demons”. (So that’s why I’ve never managed to grow them in my window box. I was using seeds.

Because of this, vegetables are said to change the personality. Leeks… are associated with excessive passion that can lead to violence and sin.
I am going to eat [a] leek tonight and see if I do more than my usual amount of violence and sin. I may even garnish it with a red chilli. Be very afraid.

Note: some of these assertions were disputed by various Asians in the Comments section.



Quail Pointing Mule

A car drives up to a farmer’s house, a man gets out, knocks on the door, and the farmer opens it.

“A friend told me you have a mule that points quail”, said the stranger, “is that true”??

“Sure is”, said the farmer, “would you like to see him work?”

The stranger said, “Sure”. Soon they were walking through a field, when the mule suddenly stopped and struck a beautiful point. The farmer walks ahead of the mule and scares up a big covey of quail. This goes on a half dozen more times…the mule points…the farmer scares up the covey.

Finally, the stranger says, “That’s enough, I’ve got to have that mule”.

“He ain’t for sale”, said the farmer.

I’ll give you $50,000.00 for him”, said the stranger. Well, the farmer couldn’t refuse such a big offer, so he sold him.

The next night, the farmer’s phone rang…it was the stranger. “What the hell’s wrong with this damned mule you sold me?”, he screamed.”all he’s done all day is stand belly deep in my pond”!!

“Well”, said the farmer, “I guess I should’a told you… he’d rather fish than hunt.”



Constantly complaining about the temperature

A customer was bothering the waiter in a restaurant. First, he asked that the air conditioning be turned up because he was too hot, then he asked it be turned down cause he was too cold, and so on for about half an hour.Surprisingly, the waiter was very patient, he walked back and forth and never once got angry. So finally, a second customer asked him why he didn’t throw out the pest.” Oh, I really don’t care or mind,” said the waiter with a smile. “We don’t even have an air conditioner.”



Complaining Husband

He didn’t like the casserole
And he didn’t like my cake.
My biscuits were too hard…
Not like his mother used to make.

I didn’t perk the coffee right
He didn’t like the stew,
I didn’t mend his socks
The way his mother used to do.

I pondered for an answer
As I was looking for a clue.
Then I turned around and smacked him…
Like his Mother used to do.



Cranky Rabbit

Q: What do you call spending the afternoon with a cranky rabbit?
A: A bad hare day.



How To Stop Church Gossip

Mildred, the church gossip, and self-appointed monitor of the church’s morals, kept sticking her nose into other people’s business.

Several members did not approve of her extra- curricular activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence.

She made a mistake, however, when she accused Frank, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his old pickup parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon.

She emphatically told Frank (and several others) that every one seeing it there would know what he was doing!

Frank, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away.

He didn’t explain, defend, or deny. He said nothing..

Later that evening, Frank quietly parked his pickup in front of Mildred’s house …. walked home …. and left it there all night.

(You gotta love Frank!)

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