Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11), Shabbat Nachamu

Well, last Saturday’s assignments went well, though larger print for Eichah would have been nice. But this evening, I seem to be having a brain freeze, which probably will take the next few days to thaw. So, I am taking the liberty of rerunning last year’s comments, which I thought summed things up pretty well. New jokes, though. (Happy Bar Mitzvah anniversary, Sam!)

In this week’s portion, Moses is trying to connect with the new generation of Israelites. His stories of the incomparable miracles of the Exodus and Mt. Sinai grab their attention. “(H)as anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another.” (4:32-34) Now he can appeal in turn to intellect and emotion as he tries to ready them for their new lives in the Promised Land. He is trying to teach them how and why they should obey the Law. How: scrupulously, not adding to or subtracting from it. Why: If they obey, it will go well with them, and if they don’t, it won’t. We usually think of that as a basic carrot/stick, reward/punishment approach, and verses 4:26-28, when Moses calls heaven and earth to witness that the people will be utterly wiped out if they act wickedly and carve idols, certainly support that. But Abarbanel (15th century commentator) instead sees this as preventive medicine. That is, the doctor tells the patient, if you do thus-and-so, you will avoid illness; if you don’t, you’ll get sick and have to be subjected to medical treatment (not a happy prospect in Abarbanel’s time). Just the facts.

Moses presents his own punishment (twice) as an object lesson and tells the people: I can’t go over, but you will, and if you search, if you follow the Law, you will find the Lord. He then starts his recap of the Law with the Ten Commandments, a bit different from the version in Exodus 20, for example, including references appropriate for settlers in Canaan (e.g., the stranger in your settlements should also observe the Sabbath, and you shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s field).

What comes next is probably the most well-known text in our liturgy, the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-6), which begins with “Shema Yisrael” (“Listen up. Israel!” “Pay attention!” “Yo!”) and continues with commands to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” and to teach the Law to the children down through the generations. My friend Stanley wrote me, “For the Bible, ‘love’ is action, not an emotion…’love’ means fidelity. loyalty, faithful obedience… ‘heart’ is the seat of the intellect while it is the ‘intestines’ which are the seat of the emotions. For Maimonides, this love arises from intellectual conviction, but one’s soul “is ever enraptured by it” (N. Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 66-67). A powerful melding of rationality and passion.

This Shabbat, the first following Tisha B’Av, is known as Shabbat Nachamu (Comfort), after the beginning of the haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26: “Nachamu, nachamu ami”, a command to the prophets to comfort the people. There were three Haftarot of Rebuke, but there are seven Haftarot of Consolation. You can hurt someone quickly, but healing takes time (cf. seven days of shivah See also , which I cited last year)

Shabbat shalom,




10. This is my room – and you’re all here! And I’m not gonna leave here ever, ever again because I love you all. There’s no place like home! (Wizard of Oz)

9. Look! Every time the bell rings a teacher smiles. (It’s A Wonderful Life)

8. Go – proclaim liberty throughout all the lands, and to all the inhabitants thereof. It’s SUMMER VACATION! (Ten Commandants)

7. I was to think of these days many times. Of Jem and Dill and Boo and Tom Robinson – and Atticus. Meanest kids I ever saw. And they would be back tomorrow. (To Kill A Mockingbird)

6. Either he’s dead or my watch has stopped. (A Day At The Races)

5. Stella! Steeeeelllaaa!!!!!!! SIT DOWN! (On The Waterfront)

4. What we’ve got here class is…. a failure to communicate. (Cool Hand Luke)

3. You’ve got to ask yourself one question, kid. I have the red pen. And to tell you truth in all the excitement I don’t remember if I have enough ink left to give you an F. You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do you punk? (Dirty Harry)

2. OK class… the report cards. They’rre heee-re. (Poltergeist)

1. OK class…. I’m your teacher for the year. Be afraid. Be VERY afraid. (The Fly)


Pay Attention to Biology Class  (abridged)

Just after dinner one night, my son came up to tell me there was “something wrong” with one of the two lizards he holds prisoner in his room.

“He’s just lying there looking sick,” he told me. One of the little lizards was indeed lying on his back, looking stressed.

“Oh, my gosh!” my wife exclaimed. “She’s having babies.”

“What?” my son demanded. “But their names are Bert and Ernie, Mom!”

We peered at the patient. After much struggling, what looked like a tiny foot would appear briefly, vanishing a scant second later.

“It’s breech,” my wife whispered, horrified.

Squeamishly, I reached in and grabbed the foot when it next appeared, giving it a gentle tug. It disappeared. I tried several more times with the same results.

“Let’s get Ernie to the vet,” I said grimly. We drove to the vet with my son holding the cage in his lap.

The vet took Ernie back to the examining room and peered at the little animal through a magnifying glass.

“What do you think, Doc, a C-section?” I suggested scientifically.

“Oh, very interesting,” he murmured.

“Mr. And Mrs. Cameron, may I speak to you privately for a moment?”

I gulped, nodding for my son to step outside.

“This lizard is not in labor. Ernie is a young male. And occasionally, as they come into maturity, like most male species, they …um… masturbate. Just the way he did, lying on his back.” He blushed, glancing at my wife.

We were silent, absorbing this. Then my wife started to giggle. And giggle. And then even laugh loudly.

Tears were now running down her face. “It’s just that I’m picturing you pulling on its its ….” She gasped for more air to bellow in laughter once more.

“That’s enough,” I warned. We thanked the vet and hurriedly bundled the lizard and our son back into the car. He was glad everything was going to be okay.

Moral of the story: Pay attention in biology class. Lizards lay eggs.


Preventive medicine belief

Mary:    My daughter believes in preventative medicine, doctor.
Doctor: Oh, really?
Mary:  Yes, she tries to prevent me from making her take it!


Comforting Quotes

Americans have an abiding belief in their ability to control reality by purely material means… airline insurance replaces the fear of death with the comforting prospect of cash.  Cecil Beaton

Baking cookies is comforting, and cookies are the sweetest little bit of comfort food. They are very bite-sized and personal.  Sandra Lee

I can say that even in the midst of my most cynical comic stripping: Opus shone through with a bit of heart, anchoring the ugly proceedings with a comforting pull of emotion. Berkeley Breathed

I find it almost comforting to count calories, because it makes me conscious of what I’m eating. But on Super Bowl Sunday, I thought, ‘Surrender to it. It’s nacho time.’ Then I ate nothing but Doritos all day.   Kristen Bell


The Ten Commandments of Love
I. I am thy Main Squeeze; thou shalt squeeze no others before me.
II. Thou shalt not take the name of thy Squeeze in vain, nor
badmouth me behind my back.
III. Remember our Anniversary, and keep it holy. Or else.
IV. Honor MY mother and father. THINE are too damn weird.
V. Thou shalt not kill my love by behaving tackily and making me
embarrassed to be seen with thee.
VI. Thou shalt not commit adultery, nor shalt thou even THINK about
it if thou knowest what’s good for thee.
VII. Thou shalt not steal from my purse/wallet while I am in thy
bathroom, nor use my credit cards, nor make long-distance calls
from my telephone.
VIII. Thou shalt not talk about our personal problems to our friends.
IX. Thou shalt not covet the higher market price of thy neighbor’s
X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s Squeeze, nor son or
daughter, nor stereo, nor BMW.

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