Tzav (Lev. 6:1 – 8:36 ), Shabbat Zachor (Deut. 25:17-19 ), Purim

Interesting mix this weekend: ashes, offerings and ordinations; remembering a spineless enemy; a king refuses to kill another king and so loses his kingdom; and a nice Jewish girl becomes queen of Persia.

The weekly portion starts with instructions to the priests for removing the ashes that remain on the altar after burning a sacrifice.  For collecting the ashes, the priest wears priestly, though plain, clothing (after all, he’s at the altar) and then changes into his ordinary clothes to carry the ashes outside the camp, which is just taking the trash out.  We read details about the rituals of the burnt, meal, sin, guilt, well-being, and ordination offerings, particularly who eats what.  Most of the fat and all of the blood from the sacrifices are forbidden as food.

Then the priests are ordained. Moses dresses Aaron and his sons in their vestments and anoints them with sacred oil.  He offers the required animals (one bull, two rams), dotting each new priest’s right ear, right thumb, and right big toe with its blood.  As I’ve noted before, in verse 8:23, when Moses slaughters the second ram, the word for “slaughter” has the rare shalshelet cantillation sign above it (it looks like a vertical chain), which is a sign of hesitation.  Is Moses hesitant about turning the priestly responsibilities over to Aaron and sons because of a lack of confidence in them?  Does he have a sense of foreboding about what’s going to happen in next week’s reading, after the ordination ceremonies are completed?

This Shabbat is the second of the four Sabbaths preceding Pesach on which we read from a second scroll.  Shabbat Zachor (“remember”), which occurs on the Sabbath right before Purim, takes its name from the verses of the second scroll reading, a command to remember the evil coward Amalek, who attacked the weak rear guard of the Israelites in the wilderness.  That’s in Deut. 25:17 – 19.  In verse 19, we are also commanded to blot out the name of Amalek.  (I’ll look up how to do both next year.)  The special haftarah, I Samuel 15:1-34 (2-34 for Ashkenazim), which was my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah haftarah, dramatically describes how King Saul fails to obey the Lord’s command to totally wipe out the Amalekites, even keeping their king, Agag, alive.  As a result, Samuel tells Saul the Lord has taken his kingdom from him.  Then Samuel hacks Agag to pieces.

And what does that have to do with the holiday of Purim, which starts Saturday night?  Haman is traditionally considered to be a descendant of Agag, thus also of Amalek, with Mordechai as a descendant of Saul.  Also, “Amalek” is a stand-in for all those evil rulers (and their minions) who wreaked havoc on Jewish communities throughout the ages.  Thus, the observance of Purim, which is based on the Book of Esther (most likely a historical novella, rather than fact), provides an opportunity to celebrate how we were saved as a people, over and over and over again.  But, despite the customs of costumes and noisemakers and edible goodies, Esther is not a children’s story.  After all, the king chooses his new wife by trying out all the candidates, one a night, after they’d been trained for a year in the skills of courtesans.  Think “Gigi,” rather than “Cinderella.”

Shabbat shalom and Purim Sameach,


Ashes: Shirley Temple and Marsha Mae Jones

Speaking of ashes – Because Shirley Temple died recently, Turner Classic Movies showed several of her movies last Sunday in her memory.  There was also a clip of Marsha Mae Jones (1924-2007), who had co-starred with her in “Heidi” (as nice rich girl Klara, with Mary Nash as the nasty housekeeper) and then in ”The Little Princess” (as mean rich girl Lavinia, with Mary Nash as the nasty headmistress).  As the adult Marsha Mae recalled, the two girls had been very friendly during ”Heidi,” so she didn’t want to be Lavinia.  For her part, Shirley had no trouble adjusting.  After a scene in which Shirley (as Sara Crewe) dumped a whole coal scuttle full of ashes on Lavinia’s head, the moppet asked the director, “Can we do that again?”


The Newly Ordained Young Priest

The newly ordained young priest asked his monsignor a favor: Would the older and more experienced man audition the young man’s handling of confessions, and give him a candid critique? The monsignor agreed, and at the end of the day called the priest to give his verdict.
“Quite good, on the whole,” he said. “But I do have a suggestion. I’d have preferred to hear a few more ‘Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!’ and fewer ‘Oh, wows!'”



Arthur Black | February 22nd, 2013 (excerpt)

…Since I can’t trade it (his brain) in, I’ve decided to upgrade. I’ve enrolled myself in a Brain Gym.

Actually, what I’ve done is buy a book. It’s called … I forget – How to something Memory something something – point is, it has all these little tricks you can employ to remember stuff. Yesterday, for instance, I wanted to pick up five items at the supermarket. A snap. I just imagined five things that look like the numbers one to five. Number one was a candle – looks like the number 1, right? Number two, a swan, because 2 has a curved neck. Number three? Well, a nice bosom (3) works for me. Number four (4) kind of looks like a sailboat; number five (5) is a hook. Get the idea?

My shopping list consisted of a lemon, a box of detergent, a package of light bulbs, three dozen eggs and a watermelon. I simply visualized a candle sticking out of a lemon; a swan with a box of detergent under its wing; Madonna wearing a bra full of light bulbs; a sailboat made from an egg carton and a watermelon on a fish hook.
I tried it out yesterday. No written list – just my razor-sharp, re-configured brain.

Came home with a box of candles, a gooseneck lamp, a dozen watermelons, a CD of Like a Virgin and one Maidenform brassiere 36 DD.

I’d reread Chapter One if I could remember where I left the book.


The World Famous story of Purim (also sent out in 2001)

by Meish Goldish

The story of Purim is an international tale.   King Achashverosh was Finnish with his disobedient wife Vashti.
”You Congo now!” he ordered her. After she had Ghana way, the king’s messengers went Roman the land to find a new queen.  Iran around all over and India end, the beautiful Esther won the crown.

Meanwhile, Mordechai sat outside the palace, where the Chile Haman would Czech up on him daily.   “I Haiti you because you refuse to bow to me!” Haman scolded Mordechai.
“USA very stubborn man. You Jews are such Bahamas! If you keep this up, Denmark my words! I will have all your people killed!   Just Kuwait and see, you Turkey! ”

Mordechai went into mourning and tore his clothes–a custom known as Korea.
He urged Esther to plead with the king.
The Jews fasted for three days and grew very Hungary.
Esther approached the king and asked, ‘Kenya Belize come to a banquet I’ve prepared for you and Haman?”
At the feast, she invited her guests to a second banquet to eat Samoa.

The king asked, “Esther, why Jamaica big meal like this? Just tell me what you want. Up to half my United Kingdom will I give you.”

Esther replied, “Spain full for me to say this, but Haman is Russian to kill my people.”

Haman’s loud Wales could be heard as he carried Honduran this scene.
“Oman!”  Haman cried bitterly. “Iraq my brains in an effort to destroy the Jews.  But that sneaky Mordechai – Egypt me!”

Haman and his ten sons were hanged and went immediately to the Netherlands.
And to Sweden the deal, the Jews were allowed to Polish off the rest of their foes as well.
“You lost your enemies and Uganda friend,” the king smiled.   And that is why the Purim story Israeli a miracle. G-d decided to China light on His chosen people.

So now, let’s celebrate! Forget all your Syria’s business and just be   happy!  Serb up some wine and Taiwan on! Happy Purim!!!


Downton Rebbe (abridged)

Julian Fellowes Reveals Plan for Season 4: Bring on the Talmud

By Gail Lerner

Published February 22, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.

tph purim backward

The Backward is the Forward’s annual satirical Purim edition. Enjoy!

“We had no idea ‘Downton’ would take off as it did,” marvels Julian Fellowes, executive producer and creator of “Downton Abbey,” relaxing in a yellow damask armchair with a cup of PG Tips. His tony British soap, chronicling the lives and loves of a privileged British household at the turn of the century, has become an international sensation, inspiring “Downton” viewing parties, where rabid fans speak in plummy aphorisms, eat foods from the time period, and dress like their favorite characters.

Now fans will have a new character to dress up as: Rebbe Judah Heschel.

In the highly anticipated Season Four premiere — spoiler alert! — Lord Grantham realizes that, since the death of heir apparent, Cousin Matthew, the only way to preserve Downton is to rent out the drawing room to an itinerant band of yeshiva students and their obstreperous leader, Rebbe Judah Heschel. Tensions ensue! When Heschel insists on having both fleyshik and milkhik kitchens, Mrs. Patmore, the irascible cook, flies into a flustered rage. “I can ‘andle ‘im not lettin’ me use the ovens on Shabbos all right, but if I tell Lady Grantham I can’t be makin’ ‘er baby kid seethed in its mother’s milk no more, she’ll ‘ave me ‘ead!”

“Bringing a Rebbe to Downton just seemed right,” muses Fellowes, winding himself in a tasseled cashmere throw. “It was an opportunity to show a sympathetic Jewish character, at a time when anti-Semitism was still socially acceptable in England.” Producer Nigel Lord has nothing but praise for veteran character actor Edmond Carlyle, whose nuanced performance brings Heschel to life. “Carlyle,” Lord says with admiration, “brings you the authentic kvetching and shrugging the part requires, without any of the inconveniences involved in having an actual Jew on set”.

 “Downton Rebbe” premieres this Adar, Tuesdays at 8/9pm Shushan.

Gail Lerner is a mild-mannered writer in Los Angeles, who occasionally likes to get her Vashti on.


Top Ten Uses for Leftover, Stale Hamataschen

(from 2001, written by IGP, updated in 2002 as noted)

1. Disposable kippot (“yarmulkes”, for you old folks)

2. Scoop out the old filling and use as a cereal bowl

3. Earrings (mini-hamantaschen only)

4. Frisbees?  Need to check aerodynamics*

5. Template for drawing Jewish stars in Hebrew school classes

6. Model for geometry lessons on triangles

7. New game like Jenga (sp? the one where you fit wooden rods together to form a tower until a rod makes it fall)

8. Layer for bottom of bird or small rodent cages (need to crumble first)

9. Use in pot pies: scoop out filling, fill with chicken and vegetables, cover with broken pieces of a second hamantaschen, and bake.  For more interesting results, don’t bother to scoop out the original filling.

10. Use as teething ‘rings’ for babies.  Also for kids who’ve just had their braces tightened and have ‘tingly teeth.’

*Local rabbinical decision based on actual test data: Doesn’t work. Try badminton instead.


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