Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47)

Thank you all for your expressions of condolence regarding my mother.  I expect stories about her to appear in these missives more than usual for a while.  She really liked the jokes I dug up.  To ease back into weekly writing, I include today my comments from April 9, 2010:

“When we last left Aaron and his sons, they had just been ordained and were spending a week standing guard the Tabernacle.  Now they are ready for their first sacrificial offerings, a calf and ram, followed offerings of the people for expiation, after which Aaron will bless the people and, assuming all is done properly, the Lord will appear.  All is done flawlessly and there is indeed a theophany.  Then disaster strikes. Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu ad lib, taking their own fire pans and offering up their own incense.  Whether they were intoxicated spiritually (one opinion) or physically (another opinion, bolstered by the subsequent verses (10:8-11) on the need for priestly sobriety when offering sacrifices), they vanish, consumed by fire, the same phrase used in v. 24 in connection with divine acceptance of offerings.  [The haftarah, the story of the journey  of the Ark to David’s Jerusalem (II) Samuel 6:1 – 7:17 (Sephardim end with 6:19),  includes a similarly troubling moment when the oxen pulling the cart in which the Ark rests stumble and a man name Uzzah touches the Ark to prevent it from falling  instantly dies.] While Aaron is stunned into silence, Moses instructs him not to show any outward signs of mourning (rituals, wailing, etc.); relatives will deal with the remains and the community would mourn, so as to prevent the Lord’s anger from causing a wider disaster.  And Aaron remains silent.  The last part of this week’s portion deals with kosher (fit, i.e., fit to eat) and unkosher animals.

“Some are troubled by Aaron’s silence.  Maybe it’s mainly shock. Maybe, after the initial shock, he recognizes he’d be best off obeying his brother’s instructions.   Maybe he thinks this is his punishment for his role in the golden calf incident.  Maybe he doesn’t express pain loudly; for instance, if I get hurt, say, bump into something, I tend to gasp rather than yell.  Being silent can also be healing in itself, for the person who is silent and the one listening to the silence. [That brings to mind John Cage’s famous piece,  4’33” , in which a pianist sits down at the piano and gets up 4 minutes and 33 seconds later, having not touched a single key.  See .]   It can be difficult to judge when to be silent and when to speak out.  I remember being taught that the action in French tragedy Phèdre by Racine largely hinges on people remaining silent when they should speak and speaking when they should remain silent.  I have often had difficulty discerning when to speak up and when not to My first few years at The Company, for example, I became known both for saying something accurate but impolitic at a group meeting [that adoption of a directive to work only on programs that would be adopted current business units would lead to ossification and (some other 5-cent word meaning stagnation)] and as the “mousey little girl down the hall.”  Yes, there is something to be said for being civil and for offering criticism (aka “identifying opportunities for improvement” or “suggesting upgrades” in corporate-speak) to someone in private.  But sometimes you’ve just got to point out to everyone, right then, that the emperor has no clothes and not let people continue to believe otherwise.”

Shabbat shalom,



Famous Death And Funeral Quotes

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.
Harriet Beecher Stowe

When you are born, you cry, and the world rejoices.
When you die, you rejoice, and the world cries.
Buddhist Saying

The people who pretend that dying is rather like strolling into the next room always leave me unconvinced. Death, like birth,
must be a tremendous event.
J. B. Priestley

Say not in grief he is no more – but live in thankfulness that he was
Hebrew Proverb


Oldie but goodie, last sent out in 2009. I wrote it in response to a suggestion that maybe Conservative Jewish synagogue board members should be required to keep at least somewhat kosher, at least in public. “Treif” (Hebrew,
“torn”) = unkosher. So, here are:

Levels of Treif When Eating Out

1. Mini-treif: baked goods whose ingredients are unknown to you.
2. Minor treif: grilled cheese sandwich, where the grill is also used for
3. Treif: hamburger made from unkosher ground beef.
4. Major treif: cheeseburger.
5. Super deluxe treif: bacon cheeseburger
6. Adding-insult-to-injury treif: bacon cheeseburger made with Glatt
kosher ground beef and Orthodox union supervised cheese.

I hope you have found this helpful…


How do you spell hechsher?

The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Saryn Hooks’ answer of hechsher was initially rejected by the judges of the 2006 National Spelling Bee held in Washington DC, U.S.A. After checking hechscher in a dictionary the judges decided that their answer was wrong and that Hooks’ answer was correct. They then invited her to return to the competition.  [I remember watching the bee when that happened. IGP]



I have included various made-up hechshers (seals of kashrut approval) here in the past, like “Corrals for cattle: to be supervised by the O.K.”  Here are some real ones that struck my fancy for one reason or another:

Local symbolism:

tph hechsher local symbols

tph hechsher maps, neattph hechsher 3

tph hechsher 4

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