We are coming to the end of the year 5773 as the Israelites come to the end of their 40-year journey. The first part of this double portion, Nitzavim (Deut. 29:9-30:20), appropriately contains 40 verses, which in Hebrew numerology (gematria) corresponds to “his heart” (lamed-vet-vet-vav = 30+2+2+6=40), symbolizing God’s heartfelt love for Israel (p. 1093, Stone edition of the Chumash). Vayeilekh (Deut. 31:1-30) is even shorter, only 30 verses. There doesn’t seem to be a gematria (gematrial?) note in Stone regarding 30, but 30+40=70, which corresponds to a mnemonic for “My Lord is God‘, which R’ David Feinstein links to the theme of repentance in the double portion (ibid., p. 1099).
Nitzavim is a succinct exhortation of the Israelites, concerning the need for absolutely everyone, both then and in the future, to accept the covenant. Consequently, they will need to study the law so they can follow it and teach their children to follow it. And Moses encourages them that it’s not too difficult to understand (at least, Moses didn’t find it so, but, of course, he’s Moses), and that it’s very accessible, both physically and figuratively. And if they deliberately turn away from the Lord, they will be punished and dispersed. If they repent, they will be gathered in once more. Moses dramatically describes this as a life and death choice, and he urges them to choose life. But it is their choice.
I doubt many people realize how extraordinary it is that the people were not only allowed, but encouraged, to study the Torah and thoroughly learn it, as. And this was all the people, not just a select group. The earliest synagogues, which existed outside Judea (e.g., in Egypt) at least two centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple, were largely dedicated to services that included reading from the Torah, a selection from the Prophets, and study. And once the Oral Law was written down around 200 C.E., you could study that yourself too, without having to hear it spoken by a rabbi [Isaiah M. Gafni, Professor, Hebrew University, in a Teaching Company audio course, “Beginnings of Judaism” (2008)]. In contrast, in medieval and Renaissance Europe, access to the Bible was carefully controlled by the Church. Unsanctioned teaching or, heaven forbid, translating it into a language people could actually understand (like English) was punishable by death, typically by burning at the stake.
In Vayeilekh, some loose ends are tied up. Joshua is formally presented to the people as their next leader. The Law is written down and given into the care of the Levites, and it will be entirely read in public every seven years. Then the Lord tells Moses that he will die shortly. Afterwards, the people will stray and the Lord will then smite them, etc. But, in addition to the Law in their possession, Moses will have written a song that will be an additional witness to what they have promised, which might rein them in. We’ll read that next week.
The haftarah is the last Haftarah of Consolation, Isaiah 61:10-63:9. The culmination of a seven-week dialogue, its tone is ecstatic at the expectation of redemption, symbolized as a wedding between Israel and the Lord. Tomorrow night, Selichot services are held at which prayers asking for forgiveness (selichot) are chanted. And Rosh Hashanah begins next Wednesday night, ushering in the 10 Days of Awe. If I have inadvertently offended any of you, in writing (e.g., here), or orally, especially by losing my temper, I ask for your forgiveness.
A Good Choice
There was a typo on a test I was taking. Instead of “(D) none of the above,” it said “(D) one of the above.” So I circled it.
A Nickel or a Dime
There’s a little fellow named Junior who hangs out at the local grocery store. The manager doesn’t know what Junior’s problem is, but the boys like to tease him. The boys say he is two bricks short of a load, or couple fries short of a happy meal.
To prove it, sometimes the boys offer Junior his choice between a nickel and a dime. He always takes the nickel, they say, because it’s bigger.
One day after Junior grabbed the nickel, the store manager got him off to one side and said, “Junior, those boys are making fun of you. They think you don’t know the dime is worth more than the nickel. Are you grabbing the nickel because it’s bigger, or what?”
Junior said, “No sir, you see if I took the dime, they’d quit doing it!”
40 Years in the Desert – The Real Story
Teachers and Pupils
The child comes home from his first day at school.
Mother asks, “What did you learn today?”
The kid replies, “Not enough. I have to go back tomorrow.”
A teacher was having trouble teaching arithmetic to one little boy.
So she said, “if you reached in your right pocket and found a nickel, and you reached in your left pocket and found another one, what would you have?”
“Somebody else’s pants.”
Teacher: How do you spell “dog”?
Pupil: d, o, g, enter.
Questions you hope your pupils won’t ask you (selected)
Why is abbreviated such a long word?
Why does monosyllabic have five syllables?
Why is a carrot more orange than an orange?
Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?
Why are they called apartments, when they’re all stuck together?
Why is it when you transport something by car, it’s called a shipment, but when you transport something by ship, it’s called cargo?
If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?
If 7-11 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, why are there locks on the doors?
Have you ever imagined a world with no hypothetical situations?
What do you plant to grow a seedless watermelon?
When sign makers go on strike, is anything written on their signs?
Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?
Is there another word for synonym?
Is it possible to be totally partial?