Bemidbar (1:1 – 4:20), Shavuot

[Note: “Bemidbar” is the first key word in the portion, “in the wilderness of” (i.e., Sinai).  “Bamidbar” means “in the wilderness”.  I have seen both used to refer to this book of the Torah and this week’s portion. ]

I have been trying to count to 10 a lot lately, but too often get stuck at 8.  I am not demented – I can still count backwards by sevens from 100.  I am referring to the number of Jewish men or Jewish adults (depending which synagogue I’m at) required for a minyan that is in turn required to say kaddish.  I find myself counting and re-counting, thinking maybe a missed someone (hiding under the bench?).  This morning, Rosh Chodesh Sivan (new month, longer service), we did eventually get a minyan, and I enjoyed counting all the way to 10 men.

This week, we begin reading the book called “Numbers” in English.  Appropriately, the portion is filled with numbers and counting.  Thirteen months have passed since the exodus from Egypt.  A census is taken, in every tribe except Levi, of all men able to bear arms.  The tribes are arranged in four three-tribe divisions, each division encamped on a side of the Tent of Meeting.  The divisions, in order of march, include 186400, 151450,108100, and 157600 potential soldiers respectively.  The portion concludes with the beginning of the census of the Levite houses (males 1 month and up) and their duties.  The Levites serve in lieu of the firstborn of the other tribes.

Shavuot begins Tuesday night.  Michael Carasik calls it the orphan among Jewish holidays; it is the forgotten festival.” ( ).  But it is a major holiday (yes, really), though only two days long (one for Reform), celebrating the harvest of the first fruits and the Revelation at Sinai.  The Torah readings are Exodus 19:1-20:23 (giving of the Ten Commandments) on the first day, Deut. 15:19 – 16:17 (holidays) on the second, and Numbers 28:26-31 (sacrifices) on both.  Some customs include all-night study sessions, decorating with flowers, reading the book of Ruth, Confirmation, and eating only dairy.  Why dairy?  Rabbi Ismar Schorsch identifies this as a self-imposed restriction to enable us to focus on the Torah (  Several possible reasons are presented at ; I like No. 3, based on gematria: chalav (milk) has the numerical value 40 (see the connection with Sinai?)

Here are some more links to material about this “forgotten festival”:

I haven’t forgotten Mother’s Day is on Sunday.  How could I?  In recent years, I’d go to my mother’s house in Merion, bringing a deli lunch (she loved corned beef) and flowers.  My daughter generally takes me out to tea, usually on a different day.  And of course my husband makes a special dinner.  This year, I’m not bringing deli to Merion, my daughter is vacationing in Australia, my son is happily ensconced in med school in St. Louis, and my husband’s culinary efforts will have to be restrained because of an injured knee.  But that’s OK.  And special thanks go to each of the two of you who sent me the essay, “To Mom, With Love (A Reprise)” by Rabbi Cheryl Peretz (

Shabbat shalom, Chag sameach, and Happy Mother’s Day,


Jewish Mothers, in Just Six Words (abridged)
By Larry Smith
Published May 08, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.

With Mother’s Day around the corner, we asked you to share your take on the wonderful, complex, loving and occasionally crazy-making entity called the Jewish mom — in exactly six words. Why so few?

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged in a bar bet to write an entire novel in just six words. As the story goes, Papa wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Ultimately, the six-word constraint asks us to define both who we are at our core and what matters most. It’s clear from the hundreds of you who responded that we often need only one word: Mom.

Here is a sample (IGP):

 You met a boy? Jewish, right?
— Olivia Bercow, 21, Miami Beach, about Julie Russin Bercow

Welcome home. Want something to eat?
— Naomi Adland, 27, Brooklyn, about Gale Adland

You want I should worry yet?
— Rachel Gorman, 33, Morrisville, Pa., about Louis Astern

From 2006:

Southern Hospitality (submitted by: Harry Leichter)

A Jewish man passing through Texas for a few days on business checked into a rooming house in the Texas heartland. Not wanting to look too conspicuous, he dressed himself in western attire and went to the only saloon in town. He was surrounded by men in cowboy clothes, wearing six-shooters and looking very gruff. He ordered a beer. While sipping his beer and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, the biggest, burliest, toughest looking hulk of a man walks in and proclaims, “Ah hears there is a Jew in here!”
The Jewish man cringes and says nothing.

“Ah knows you’re in here and you’d better speak up,” says the Texan.

The Jewish man knows that sooner or later he would have to face up to him and accept the consequences of being Jewish, especially in a remote place as this.

He stands up proudly and says,” I AM A JEW!”

The Texan stares at him angrily, “Now what the heck are you hiding for? Come with me, ah need you for a minyan.”



It has come to our attention recently that many of you have been turning in timesheets that specify large amounts of “Miscellaneous Unproductive Time” (Code 5309). However, we need to know exactly what you are doing during your unproductive time.

Attached below is a sheet specifying a tentative extended job code list based on our observations of employee activities.

The list will allow you to specify with a fair amount of precision what you are doing during your unproductive time. Please begin using this job-code list immediately and let us know about any difficulties you encounter.

Thank you,
Attached: Extended Job-Code List  (selected)

Code Description

5316 Useless Meeting
5317 Obstructing Communications at Meeting
5318 Trying to Sound Knowledgeable While in Meeting
5320 Waiting for Lunch
5321 Waiting for End of Day
5322 Vicious Verbal Attacks Directed at Coworker
5323 Vicious Verbal Attacks Directed at Coworker While Coworker is Not Present
5393 Covering for Incompetence of Coworker Friend
5400 Trying to Explain Concept to Coworker Who is Not Interested in Learning
5401 Trying to Explain Concept to Coworker Who is Stupid
5402 Trying to Explain Concept to Coworker Who Hates You
5481 Buying Snack
5482 Eating Snack
5502 Waiting for Something to Happen
5600 Complaining About Lousy Job
5601 Complaining About Low Pay
5602 Complaining About Long Hours
5603 Complaining About Coworker (See Codes #5322 & #5323)
5604 Complaining About Boss
5605 Complaining About Personal Problems
5640 Miscellaneous Unproductive Complaining
6104 Taking It Easy While Digesting Food
6201 Stealing Company Goods
6203 Using Company Phone to Make Long-Distance Personal Calls
6204 Using Company Phone to Make Long-Distance Personal Calls to Sell Stolen Company Goods
6205 Hiding from Boss
6210 Feeling Sorry For Yourself
6211 Updating Resume
6221 Pretending to Work While Boss Is Watching
6222 Pretending to Enjoy Your Job
6223 Pretending You Like Coworker
6224 Pretending You Like Important People When in Reality They are Jerks
6238 Miscellaneous Unproductive Fantasizing
6601 Running your own Business on Company Time (See Code #6603)
6611 Staring Into Space
6612 Staring At Computer Screen
6615 Transcendental Meditation
7281 Extended Visit to the Bathroom (at least 10 minutes)
7419 Talking With Miscellaneous Paid Professional on Phone
7425 Talking With Mistress/Boy-Toy on Phone
7931 Asking Coworker to Aid You in an Illicit Activity
8000 Recreational Drug Use
8001 Non-recreational Drug Use
8100 Reading e-mail
8102 Laughing while reading e-mail

Two Times Two

Several scientists were all posed the following question: “What is 2 * 2?”

The engineer whips out his slide rule (so it’s old) and shuffles it back and forth, and finally announces “3.99”.

The physicist consults his technical references, sets up the problem on his computer, and announces “it lies between 3.98 and 4.02”.

The mathematician cogitates for a while, then announces: “I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you, an answer exists!”

Philosopher smiles: “But what do you mean by 2 * 2?”

Logician replies: “Please define 2 * 2 more precisely.”

The sociologist: “I don’t know, but it was nice talking about it”.

Behavioral Ecologist: “A polygamous mating system”.

Medical Student: “4” All others looking astonished: “How did you know??” Medical Student: I memorized it.”


Numbers Only

The census taker rang the doorbell and was greeted by an attractive blonde woman. He explained he was from the Census Bureau and wanted to know how many were in the family.

“Let’s see now,” she said, twirling a strand of her hair, “there’s me, my husband, and our children Beth, Steven, Aaron, Janice, Caroline, Will… ”

“I’m not interested in names,” the census taker interrupted, “numbers will be sufficient.”

“Oh, we don’t use numbers,” she replied. “We haven’t run out of names yet!”


Lame Shavuot Jokes To Keep You Occupied at 2AM (selected)
by shavout and about Posted: 06-04-2008(Viewed 3243 times)

Here are a few really bad jokes from the clan to help keep you awake and amused throughout your Shavout night of ‘learning’. Enjoy!

Who is the #1 Movie star on Shavuos?
Blintz Eastwood

Why did the Yeshiva Boy ask about Sex on Shavout?
Accidentally read the ‘Book of Dr. Ruth’

What sports team is always favored to win on Shavuos?
The 49ers

What type of hotel room did Moshe request to God on Mount Sinai?
A Room with a ShaVIEWot

What breakfast cereal is most popular on Shavuos?
Honey Bunches of ShavuOATS.

What’s the name of the restaurant that Ruth and Naomi founded?

Why is Moshe considered the most flagrant lawbreaker in the Torah?
Because he broke all 10 commandments at once.

Where did the Jews eat after they got the 10 commandments?
The Golden Calfeteria

What did the rabbi respond when the congregant complained about a second day of shavuos?
“It’s just an udder day”

A morah (teacher) was discussing getting the Ten Commandments with her 6 year old talmidim (students). After explaining the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother,” she asked “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without missing a beat one little boy answered, “Thou shall not kill.”

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