Behar-Behukkotai (Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34)

Today did not start out well.  I go to services sort of daily (5-6/week) to say kaddish for my mother (if we get a minyan).  Friday services start at 7:30 am.  I woke up at 7:27 (yes, I’d set the alarm). ), Thinking I could still get there for kaddish at the end of the ca. ½ service, I threw on most of my clothes (no socks).  Then I couldn’t find my wallet.  I finally unearthed it from beneath the kitchen table papers.  Then I couldn’t unlock my car door with the key fob, though it beeped.  When I did get the door open, it was too late for services, so I thought I’d take care of a Trader Joe’s run and go to services this evening.  Once I got onto Foulk Road, a warning light appeared.  The trunk was open.  That’s why the door hadn’t opened when I beeped; I’d opened the trunk instead. So  I turned into the Acme parking lot, closed it, and decided to unwind at the bakery at the end of the lot with coffee, a scone, and my newspaper puzzles, but I didn’t have the paper with me, so I took a scone to good and went to TJ’s, where I got my minichallahs and went home.  There were a couple of additional mini-mishaps that would take longer to explain than they merit.   I managed to chill with my scone, coffee, and two days’ worth of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.  Onward…

With this week’s double portion, Behar-Behukkotai, we finish reading the book of Leviticus and its laws and sacrifices; next week, we get back to the main narrative.  Behar (Lev. 25:1-26:2) and Behukkotai (Lev. 26:3-27:34) continue to focus on how the Israelites should behave once they get to the Promised Land, emphasizing that all these laws were communicated to Moses by the Lord on Mt. Sinai. Behar deals with the sabbatical year, the seventh in a cycle of seven, in which the land itself gets to rest; the jubilee year, the fiftieth in a cycle of fifty, after the seventh sabbatical year.  The jubilee year acts like a reset button; land holdings revert to their original owners, in such a way that people don’t
starve and the economy doesn’t collapse and loans don’t dry up in the year or two beforehand.  The rest of Behar deals with how to help a kinsman in financial straits and a prohibition against idolatry and order to observe the Sabbath and venerate the sanctuary.  More on this later.

In Behukkotai, we read how good behavior (i.e., obeying the commandments) will lead to rewards (peace, fertility, etc.)and disobedience will cause a lot of bad things as a direct consequence. For instance, if you continually refuse to let the land rest every seven years, the nation will be conquered and dispersed, so the now-desolate land will finally get its denied years of rest. The section describing all the potential horrors is referred to as the minor Tochachah (warning/rebuke – we’ll get to the major Tochachah in the summer). But there is always a chance to repent and make things right again. The rest of the portion deals with technicalities concerning pledges, assessments, and tithes.

Why is a detailed chapter on financial matters and indigent kinsmen a lead-in to verses concerning idolatry and the Sabbath and to a chapter on rewards and punishments?  Rashi explains this in terms of a process of sin.  I found this to be an especially insightful interpretation, and it is explored by
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb at .

“Thus, chapter 25 begins with the laws of the sabbatical year, alluding to a person who, in the interest of monetary gain, ignores those laws and does commerce with the fruits of that year.  As punishment for this, his commercial plans are frustrated, and he must sell his merchandise to raise cash.  If he then persists in his sins, he finds himself forced to sell off his fields, and then, still failing to repent, will become so desperate that he has to sell his very home.  This process continues to spiral downward if he does not change his ways, and he finds himself so strapped financially that he must borrow money under usurious terms.”

Eventually, still refusing to repent, he is forced to sell himself as a slave, first to a Jew, then to an idolater, whence the admonitions in 26:1-2 and the details of the consequences of good and bad behavior that follow..  As Rabbi Weinreb summarizes,

“Sin is a process. Egregious sins have a history and are long preceded by minor, even trivial, infractions. That’s the bad news.

“The good news is that repentance is also a process. When one commits to change his ways, he need not be discouraged by the enormity of the task ahead. He need merely proceed, step by small step, in the right direction.”

Shabbat shalom,

Light bulbs…

How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb?

It depends – “How large is your budget?”

  • We don’t know. They never seem to get past the feasibility study
  • Three. One to change the bulb, one to document the process and one to coach him on how to conform to the process
  • Four. One to change the bulb and three to contemplate how Tom Peters would have done it
  • Six. One to change the bulb and five to tell him how much better they could have done it

Thanks to James, Dubai.


A Mathematician (M) and an Engineer (E) attend a lecture by a Physicist. The topic concerns Kulza-Klein theories involving physical processes that occur in spaces with dimensions of 9, 12 and even higher. The M is sitting, clearly enjoying the lecture, while the E is frowning and looking generally confused and puzzled. By the end the E has a terrible headache. At the end, the M comments about the wonderful lecture.
E: “How do you understand this stuff?”
M: “I just visualize the process”
E: “How can you POSSIBLY visualize something that occurs in 9-dimensional space?”
M: “Easy, first visualize it in N-dimensional space, then let N go to 9”



April 1st: Digital Sabbatical Day 04.01.2013 (abridged)

As the first day of April has largely become a day of nothing online but jokes, fake press releases, preposterous rumors (or, at least, more preposterous than they are normally), and the infinite re-sharing-blogging-tweeting-plussing of such, I think it is high time that those who reject such foolishness and need to get real work done take this day back.

I say we make this first of April, and every first of April to come, the day where we take a digital sabbatical We use this day to take a break. Perhaps get an honest day’s work in. \ If you are at work, perhaps this is a good day to clean your office. If at home, take the kids out to a museum. Perhaps this is the day to put on your favorite road songs, get in the car, pick a direction, and drive for a few hours and see where you end up. Because that place, no matter where it is, will be better than just about anything else you will see online today.


Anti-Sabbatical:  A job taken with the sole intention of staying only for a
limited period of time (often one year). The intention is to raise
enough funds to partake in another, more personally meaningful
activity such as watercolor sketching in Crete or designing computer
knit sweaters in Hong Kong. Employers are rarely informed of
— Douglas Coupland, Generation X


Yiddish Curses for the New Millennium [abridged]

tph curses onion  head

He should grow like an onion with his head in the ground.

by Marnie Winston-Macauley

While Anglo-Saxon curses often deal with body parts, Catholic curses go for blasphemy, and the Middle and Far East do their version of “Yo Mama,” insulting ancestors, the Yiddish curse has a baroque splendour in its intricate ability to prophesize. The most spectacular lull the “victim” with a positive opening, which then turns into a juicy, literate, malediction that no mere obscene word could possibly convey. According to the Proverb: “A curse is not a telegram: it doesn’t arrive so fast.” Like Jewish caviar, the Jewish curse must be savored.

But alas, as with far too much of our glorious heritage, JYAs (Jewish Young Adults) have lost the art. So for you, my dear readers, I’m presenting the best Jewish Curses: old and new. May you use them in good health, mein kind, and with noble purpose!

Favorite Old Yiddish Curses (selected)

May you be a person of leisure, take a daily nap – and may the lice in your shirt marry the bedbugs in your mattress and may their offspring set up residence in your underwear.

May you enjoy a good time with plenty of good Vodka – and may your blood turn to whiskey, so that 100 bedbugs get drunk on it and dance the mazurka in your belly button.

May you be so enamored of good food that you turn into a blintz, and may your enemy turn into a cat, and may he eat you up and choke on you, so we can be rid of you both.

NEW Yiddish Curses For JYA’S in the New Millennium (selected)

May your mother get you a fun new app that allows her to reach you more easily, and may you learn it also has a tracking device and “just knows” what you’re up to, then repeats in her voice: “You’re breaking my heart!”

May the men in your family be blessed with luxurious hair that remains thick and curly well into their eighties, and may you be the only one to inherent great-zayde Yossel’s recessive gene for male pattern baldness which kicks in the day after your Bar Mitzvah!

May you be a hard-working Jewish writer, and may you be studious, conscientious, and passionate in your work, and may you have wonderful readers who appreciate your humor, your research, and your dedication – and may every ethnic humor book publisher say, “too Jewish!”

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