Mase’ei (Numbers 33:1 – 36:13)

First, a word on the haftarot for the next few months.  Unlike most of the rest of the year, these are determined by the calendar, not the Torah portion.  The haftarah this week is Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4 . {That’s for Ashkenazim. Sephardim and Chabad Chassidim add 4:1-2 instead of 3:4.  Both want to end the haftarah on a positive note, a general rule for haftarot, even when the tone of the rest is negative.)  It’s the second one of the three Haftarot of Rebuke preceding Tisha B’Av . After those, there will be seven Haftarot of Consolation, then Shabbat Shuvah, the Yom Kippur, and then the intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot.  So the next time the haftarah will be related to the Torah portion is October 18.  Now on to the Torah portion.

Parashat Mase’ei  concludes the Book of Numbers.  It opens with a lengthy recitation of places where the Israelites had been in the previous 40 years.  Some of the places are recognizable; many are not.   Fourteen pairs of verses are chanted to the melody used for parts of the Song at the Sea.  Over the millennia, the commentators have come up with various explanations for the purpose of this travelogue.  For example, Rashi notes* that 42 journeys are listed, 14 of which were during the first year or so and 8 during the 40th year, leaving 20 journeys for the roughly 38 years.  This implies that, during the time of “wandering,” they were actually settled for roughly 2 years in each place, hardly a forced march.  Rashi concludes that this shows that the Israelites were being treated with love by the Lord, even during this time in the wilderness.  Sforno posits* that the list indicates the willingness of the people to follow where they were told, somewhat like that verse from Jeremiah we read last week (Jer. 2:2, “I remember…how thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.”).  Another one, which I like better, is that the travelogue is akin to a parent reminiscing with a child about all the places they’ve been, or giving the kid a capsule family history.

*source for Rashi and Sforno: A Daily Dose of Torah, vol. 11, pp. 68-9, Kleinman Edition, Rabbi Y. A. Weiss, ed.

Then the borders of the Promised Land are described, and the Israelites proceed with the individual apportionments in each tribe.  Six cities of refuge are also established, three on each side of the Jordan.  These are places where a person guilty of killing someone accidentally can flee to escape vengeance by the victim’s family.  Unless it’s one of those awful, divinely ordered wars to wipe out an area (Amalek, the Midianites…) which orders have to my knowledge not been given to Israel for a couple of millennia, Jewish law dictates that war be carried out in a civilized manner.  (Yes, that sounds like a contradiction in terms.) For example, Maimonides writes in his Mishneh Torah: “When a siege is placed around a city to conquer it, it should not be surrounded on all four sides, only on three. A place should be left for the inhabitants to flee and for all those who desire, to escape with their lives” (Melachim uMilchamot, Chapter 6, Halacha 7).  There must be a place to go.

The Book of Numbers concludes with a follow-up to the petition of Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad.  Now that they can inherit their father’s portion of land, what happens if/when they marry?  Would their land go with them to some other tribe(s)?  The matter is addressed by a recommendation that the daughters marry within their own tribe.  And they did, marrying their cousins.

At the start of Numbers, the Israelites, not long out of Egypt, were being organized into encampments and readied for war, but that generation proved not able to complete the task.  At the end of Numbers, the next generation has matured, and they are getting ready, not just to conquer the Promised Land, but to live in it, not only as a people, but as a nation.

Shabbat shalom,


tph travel agency


Travel Jokes…”He who laughs last didn’t get it” (From 2011)

There is an art in writing travel brochures, as well as a matching art in reading them.  Without wishing to suggest that the following translations always apply, you might find the following terms to be of wry amusement…

Brochure Term Translation
Old world charm No bath
Tropical Rainy
Majestic setting A long way from town
Options galore Nothing is included in the itinerary
Secluded hideaway Impossible to find or get to
Pre-registered rooms Already occupied
Explore on your own Pay for it yourself
Knowledgeable trip hosts They’ve flown before
No extra fees No extras
Nominal charge Outrageous charge
Standard Substandard
Deluxe Standard
Superior Two free shower caps
All the amenities One free shower cap
Plush Top and bottom sheets
Gentle breezes Gale-force winds
Light and airy No air conditioning
Picturesque Theme park nearby
Open bar Free ice cubes


Funny Australian Travel Agent Stories: (selected)

These questions were posted on an Australian Tourism website and the answers are the actual responses by the website’s official. Their travel agencies obviously have a sense of humour.

Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street when I visit Australia? (from USA)
A: Depends how much you’ve been drinking.

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (UK.)
A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney – can I follow the railroad tracks?  (Sweden)
A: Sure, it’s only three thousand miles, take lots of water.

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (USA)
A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle-shaped continent south of Europe.
Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not… oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross.

Q: Which direction is North in Australia? (USA)
A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get there and we’ll send the rest of the directions.

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (USA)
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is…oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races.

Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (France)
A: Only at Christmas.

Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)
A: Yes, but you’ll have to learn it first.


Family History Requests

Actual requests received by the Family History Department of the LDS Church.
These are extracts from REAL letters:

I would like to find out if I have any living relatives or dead relatives or ancestors in my family.

He and his daughter are listed as not being born.

My Grandfather died at the age of 3.

The wife of #22 could not be found. Somebody suggested that she might have been stillborn – what do you think?

We lost our Grandmother, will you please send us a copy?

A 14-year-old boy wrote: “I do not want you to do my research for me. Will you please send me all of the material on the Welch line, in the US, England and Scotland countries? I will do the research.”

Will you please send me the name of my first wife? I have forgotten her name.


The Humor of Melvin Durai


If you’ve taken little interest in your relatives, avoiding all those boring family get-togethers, here’s some news that may quickly change your attitude: Scientists have shown that it’s OK to procreate with your cousins.  This piece of good news is courtesy of the Journal of Genetic Counseling, which recently published a study indicating that children of cousin couples face only a slightly higher risk of major genetic disorders than average.

This is particularly good news to many people in my native country, India, where cousin marriages are nothing strange.  In some Indian communities, the parents of a man’s female cousin give him the right of first refusal (the right to say no before other men do).

Cousin marriage — still illegal in some U.S. states –offers a number of benefits. First and foremost, you get to keep the wealth within your family. In my case, the wealth consisted of three chickens and two goats.

Second, you don’t have to spend much money on the wedding, because, with common relatives, you’ll have fewer pests. I mean, guests.

Third, your children would have an easier time tracing their roots. Of course, they may complain about this. “Dad, how come my friend’s family tree has more branches than mine? Is it because you and Mom didn’t branch out?”

Fourth, you won’t have to dread meeting the in-laws, because you already know them as uncle and aunt. They will get along just dandy with your parents.

Of course, if you get a divorce, it could split your entire family. Even worse, your family may stay together and you’ll have to keep seeing your former spouse.

Now that’s frightening.

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