Va’yera (Gen. 18:1-22:24)

This week has been particularly discombobulating for me.  I underestimated how much time I would need to finish (sort of) some patent work, purge files (paper and electronic), chat with everyone who’s been dropping by to wish me well,  and pack up my office.  Then Sandy the Superstorm took out 2 days unexpectedly. Still, we were very lucky and didn’t even lose power;  it was also heartening to get a couple of mass emails offering hospitality.  But today, my last day, which will also includes an afternoon reception and a morning meeting concerning transitioning my dockets, looked to be wild.  (I’m still clearing out the office.) Then there’s the disorientation connected with retirement itself.  It’s a little like the time I was pregnant with my first child (no routine ultrasounds back then – we referred to him/her as “E.T.” after we saw the movie).  There were the obvious physical changes, and I could feel – even see – her moving, but the idea of being a mother with a baby still seemed unreal. 

Which brings me to this week’s Torah portion.  [Yes, the preceding  paragraph actually ties in to the portion.]

Abraham is visited by 3 men who are, unbeknownst to him, angels.  He hurries to provide for them (OK, he hurries to tell Sarah to provide for them), demonstrating the virtue of gracious hospitality.  The three confirm to Abraham (aged 99) that he and Sarah (aged 90) will have a son.  Sarah, overhearing, is of course dubious.  Then the Lord decides to use the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a teachable moment.  Abraham bargains with the Lord to save Sodom, believing there have to be at least 10 good people there.  But there aren’t, which the Lord already knew.  Abraham’ nephew Lot lives in Sodom, so two angels visit him and we see Sodomite hospitality: the townspeople demand Lot hand over his guests and Lot admirably refuses, then not so admirably offer to hand over his two young daughters instead. The angels convince Lot to flee with his family, but only he and two daughters survive the ensuing firestorm.  Then the girls seduce him and become the ancestresses of the Moabites and Ammonites. [Have any of those folks who recommend the Bible as a guide for family life actually read it?].  Then Abraham again passes Sarah off as his sister (she may have actually been his half-sister – see 20:12), this time to Abimelech and we finally get back to the main story thread, parts of which we read on Rosh Hashanah.  

Sarah has a son whose name is Isaac, which comes from the Hebrew for  “laugh” (my friend Stanley suggested this was like calling him “Chuckles”), but it’s not clear whether she thinks people are laughing with her or at her.  Isaac is circumcised at 8 days and plays alongside Ishmael.  Hagar and Sarah are still not getting along and Sarah, claiming Ishmael is a bad influence (some commentators say a really bad influence), demands Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away.  When they are dying of thirst in the wilderness, the two are saved, Hagar being told that Ishmael will face a great nation.  

After another digression about wells, we come to the most disturbing story of this week’s portion: the binding (akedah) of Isaac.  In Hebrew school, this is presented as a parable demonstrating that the Lord does not want child sacrifice and the source of the ram’s horn as a shofar.  But there are still many disturbing questions: Why did Abraham obey with no argument when he was ask to kill the son he’d been promised for decades? Was this an act of faith, or a game of chicken? This incident is considered Abraham’s final test. Did he actually pass it?  After all, the Lord never speaks to him afterwards, so maybe his lack of protest was his failure.  Lots to ponder here.

The portion ends with the introduction of Rebecca, Abraham’s great-niece, who will become Isaac’s wife in next week’s portion.


Shabbat shalom,



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This Is Sodom – New “Israeli Monty Python” Film Coming To New York


Last June we profiled Eretz Nehederet, the Israeli Saturday Night Live.  Now they’ve really outdone themselves, bringing to the big screen a lavish satire that is being compared to Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

It’s called Zohi Sdom in Hebrew, This is Sodom in English.  Actually, there is no English soundtrack, but English subtitles have now been added so English-speaking audiences can join in the fun.

The film was a blockbuster when it opened in Israel last year, with 100,000 tickets sold in the first four days.  It’s a spoof set in the city of Sodom.  The cast, performers from Eretz Nehederet, portray the original Sin City with its gambling, orgy-obsessed culture complete with shopkeepers hawking non-kosher food, including a goat in its mother’s milk, DVDs to be watched on Yom Kippur, and pushing elders out of their wheelchairs.

If you remember the story of Abraham and Lot from Beresheet (Genesis), you’ll recognize all the familiar players, with some unorthodox changes.  God is portrayed as a salesman trying to push Judaism on Abraham, and the angels sent to destroy Sodom are motorcycle cops. [No, I haven’t seen it.  Yet. IGP]


Is Your House Disheveled? [abridged, from 2010] 
Suggestions for when you have guests…

Dirt: Layers of dirty film on windows and screens provide a helpful filter against harmful and aging rays from the sun. Call it an SPF factor of 15 and leave it alone.

Pet Hair: Explain the mound of pet hair brushed up against the doorways by claiming you are collecting it there to use for stuffing hand-sewn play animals for underprivileged children. (Also keeps out cold drafts in winter).

Guests: If unexpected company is coming, pile everything unsightly into one room and close the door. As you show your guests through your tidy home, rattle the door knob vigorously, fake a growl and say, “I’d love you to see our den, but Fluffy hates to be disturbed and the shots are SO expensive.”

Dusting: If dusting is REALLY out of control, simply place a showy urn on the coffee table and insist that “This is where Grandma wanted us to scatter her ashes.”

Another favorite, from Erma Bombeck, I think: Always keep several get well cards on the mantle so if unexpected guests arrive, you can say you’ve been sick and unable to clean. You figure if you can live in it, they can surely stand it for a 30 minute visit!

Thanks, Anita in L.A. 

Older parents (from 2010)

There was once a couple in their seventies who, nevertheless, had a baby. Of course the newspaper sent out a reporter to take and picture and write a story about this unusual event, but when he arrived the couple told him that he would have to wait until the baby woke up before taking the picture. 

Meanwhile the local radio station sent out a crew to get a story of the baby and his elderly parents. They, too, were told that they would have to wait until the baby woke up before they could see the baby. 

The news of this miraculous event had, meanwhile, spread far and wide, and CNN news sent a crew to get a story and take pictures of the baby and his parents. This crew, also, was told that they would have to wait for the baby to wake up before they could take pictures. 

Then one of the group asked why they would have to wait; surely they could see and take pictures of the baby even if he were asleep. 

“Well,” the parents said, “you will have to wait until the baby wakes up and cries, because … 
we have forgotten where we put him.”


An elderly woman went into the doctor’s office. When the doctor asked why she was there, she replied, “I’d like to have some birth control pills.” Taken aback, the doctor thought for a minute and then said, “Excuse me, Mrs. Smith, but your’re 75 years old. What possible use could you have for birth control pills?” The woman responded, “They help me sleep better.” The doctor thought some more and continued, “How in the world do birth control pills help you to sleep?” The woman said, “I put them in my granddaughter’s orange juice and I sleep better at night.”


REDNECK FAMILY TREE (I heard this as a song some years ago)

Many, many years ago when I was twenty three, I got married to a widow who was pretty as could be,
This widow had a daughter Who had hair of red. My father fell in love with her, And soon the two were wed.
This made my dad my son-in-law And changed my very life. My daughter was my mother, For she was my father’s wife.
To complicate the matters worse, Although it brought me joy, I soon became the father Of a bouncing baby boy.
My little baby then became A brother-in-law to dad. And so became my uncle, Though it made me very sad.
For if he was my uncle, Then that also made him brother To the widow’s grown-up daughter Who, of course was my step-mother.
Father’s wife then had a son, Who kept them on the run. And he became my grandson, For he was my daughter’s son.
My wife is now my mother’s mom. And it surely makes me blue. Because, although she is my wife, She is my grandma too.
If my wife is my grandmother, Then I am her grandchild. And every time I think of it, It simply drives me wild.
For now I have become The strangest case you ever saw. As the husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa! 



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