Shemini Atzeret, V’zot HaBracha (Deut. 33:1-34:12), Simchat Torah, Bereishit (Gen. 1:1-6: 8)

Today is Hoshana Rabbah, the 7th day of Sukkot, the very end of the penitential season (according to the Zohar, the decree sealed on Yom Kippur isn’t delivered until Hoshana Rabbah).  Unlike last year, I didn’t make it to synagogue to take part in the 7 processionals and beat the willows against the benches; I just can’t get up for 7 am services anymore.  Oh, our sukkah is still standing and intact.

We are reaching the end of the fall holiday season.  It seems to have gone more quickly this year for me.  Anyhow, tomorrow is Shemini Atzeret, followed the next day by Simchat Torah, except for Reform Jews and in Israel, where the two days are celebrated on one.  On Shemini Atzeret, we pray for rain to fall in Israel.  Since this is the start of the rainy season there, isn’t this sort of cheating, i.e., praying for something when you pretty much know you’re going to get it anyway?  What we are praying for more generally is that normality ensues, that the natural order of things remains just that.  The Torah reading is Deut. 14:22 – 16:17 (mainly holidays) and Numbers 29:35 – 30:1 (sacrifices for Shemini Atzeret).  The haftarah, I Kings 8:54-66 (most common) or I Kings 8:54-9:1 , is about the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.

Simchat Torah is a post-Biblical holiday whose observances pretty much developed from the late 11th to late 16th centuries.  We celebrate the conclusion of the annual Torah reading cycle, amidst processions with Torah scrolls, dancing -sometimes into the street- aliyot for all, kids waving paper flags, eating candy apples, and (some) drinking.  There’s a Torah reading at night, typically Deut. 33:1 -17, and there are three Torah readings in the morning.  The first is V’zot HaBracha (Deut. 33:1-34:12), in which Moses blesses the tribes and then passes away. All but the very end (a special aliyah) is read over and over again until everyone who wants an aliyah has one. The second scroll starts all over again, with Creation and the first Sabbath, (Gen. 1:1- 2:3, another special aliyah).  The third scroll reading was also read the day before, Numbers 29:35 – 30:1.  And then we look ahead, continuing the Israelites’ story with the haftarah, Joshua 1:1-18.

Now we take a deep breath and start the annual reading on Saturday with Bereishit (Gen. 1:1-6: 8), which takes us from a formless universe up to the pre-Flood life of Noah.  There is so much in this portion – two Creation stories, Adam and Eve and Eden, Cain and Abel, all those ultra-long-lived folks, etc. – that I wish we weren’t reading it all in only one Torah portion. This year, I’m looking at some intriguing notes of a course given by Ellen O’Brien in Baltimore, “Genesis, Creation and the Snake.” (thanks, Stanley).  Since the day is late and I am starting to Zone out, let me just cite some of her points to provoke discussion, or at least thought:

  • The text concerns not creating a universe out of nothing, but rather giving an existing entity order and function, as is the case in other Middle Eastern creation texts. Creation ex nihilo is a concept attributed to 2nd century C.E. Christian theologian Irenaeus (no relation).
  • The term “good and evil” is originally not a question of morality but anidiom whereby opposites are used to convey the idea of “everything”. The man and the woman remained childlike while in the Garden. Without the knowledge of good and evil. Good and Evil are not moral terms. Rather the terms reflect the fact that the man and the woman lacked a mature perception of reality.
  • The story of the Garden of Eden lays the groundwork for the subsequent pattern of Israel’s history, a pattern of a God of justice and mercy: the people break God’s law, receive punishment, repent and then God renews his covenant.
  • .” Adam and Eve are not cursed; the ground is cursed. There is no “original sin.”  The serpent is not Satan and did not have legs.  Eve is not punished for being a temptress. Adam and Eve are punished for disobedience, not for “sin.”  Sin is breaking a divine commandment.  Cain is the first one in the Bible to sin by murdering Abel.

Chag sameach and Shabbat Shalom,


Praying for Rain

One summer, a drought threatened the crop in a small town. On a hot and dry Sunday, the village parson told his congregation, “There isn’t anything that will save us except to pray for rain.  Go home, pray, believe, and come back next Sunday ready to thank God for sending rain.”

The people did as they were told and returned to church the following Sunday. But as soon as the parson saw them, he was furious.

“We can’t worship today. You do not yet believe,” he said.

“But,” they protested, “we prayed, and we do believe.”

“Believe?” he responded. “Then where are your umbrellas?”


Simchas Torah – DRINKING GAME (selections)

by seth Posted: 10-19-2008(Viewed 2285 times)

It’s that time again. The Ultimate Jewish day of celebration on the completion of reading the Torah! A day of alcohol, old and older friends, high expectations that will never be met, and the day you’ll begin your drinking career – Simchas Torah – Please follow these simple drinking rules and you should find yourself having the best simchas torah of your life: (if you can remember it) Party Hard! –

If you see someone you went to Camp with, drink 1 shot

If you see someone you dated, take 2 shots

If you see someone you went to college with, but can’t remember their names, 3 shots

If someone puts their kid on your shoulders 3 shots

If you see a Torah brought outdoors 2 shots

If you have a 10 minute conversation with someone and you don’t know their name 4 shots

If you see a Torah danced into the streets 3 shots

If you see your “Frum” friend not wearing a yarmulke 3 shots

If you see your ex-wife (or ex-husband) 5 shots

If you start singing Purim tunes, sober up

If you see a mob of chabadniks 1 shot per beard

If you hear the tune ‘Ki Mitzion Tezei Torah’ take 2 shots

If you make up a career every time you meet someone 2 shots

If you see a candied apple, 2 shots

If someone pokes you in the eye with a flag, 4 shots

If someone asks you if you got an aliyah yet? 2 shots

If you can lain (chant the Torah text for) your own aliyah, 3 shots

If you can’t read this top ten, and your lips are numb, sober up



A prominent young attorney died on his way to court, and found himself before the gates of Heaven. When he arrived, a chorus of angels appeared, singing in his honor. St. Peter himself came out to shake his hand. “Mr. Jones,” said St. Peter, “it is a great honor to have you here at last. You are the first being to break Methuselah’s record for longevity. You have lived 1028 years.”
“What are you talking about?” asked the attorney. “I’m 46.”
“46? But aren’t you Steven Jones? The lawyer from Brooklyn”
“Yes,” the attorney answered.
“Let me check the records,” said St Peter. He slapped his hand against his forehead. “Oh, how silly of us. Now I see the mistake! We accidentally calculated your age by adding up the hours you billed to your clients!”

God and Satan

In the beginning God covered the earth with broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach, with green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

Then using God’s bountiful gifts, Satan created Haagen Das Ice Cream and Magnums. And Satan said: ‘You want hot fudge with that?’ And Man said: ‘Yes!’ And Woman said: ‘I’ll have one too …with sprinkles.’ And lo they gained 10 pounds.

And God created the healthful yogurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair. And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat, and sugar from the cane, and combined them. And Woman went from size 2 to size 14.

So God said: ‘Try my fresh green garden salad.’ And Satan presented crumbled Blue Cheese dressing and garlic croutons on the side. And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

God then said: ‘I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them.’ And Satan brought forth deep-fried coconut king prawns, butter-dipped lobster chunks, and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man’s cholesterol went through the roof.

Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with potassium and good nutrition. Then Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy centre into chips and deep-fried them in animal fats adding copious quantities of salt. And Man put on more pounds.

God then brought forth running shoes so that his Children might lose those extra pounds. And Satan came forth with a cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering light and started wearing stretch jogging suits.

God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite. And Satan created McDonald’s and the .99 pence double cheeseburger. Then Satan said, ‘You want fries with that?’ And Man replied: ‘Yes! And super-size ’em!’ And Satan said: ‘It is good.’ And Man and Woman went into cardiac arrest.

God sighed…and created quadruple by-pass surgery.

And then…Satan chuckled

and created the National Health Service……………


Adam and Eve

Adam was returning home late one night at paradise after drinking with the dodo and the unicorn. Eve got angry and yelled at him, “YOU ARE SEEING ANOTHER WOMAN.”
Adam responded, “Don’t be silly, you are the only woman on earth,” and went to sleep.
Later that night Adam woke up. feeling a tickle in his chest and saw it was Eve.
“What the heck are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m counting your ribs,” she responded.

What did God say after creating Eve?
“Practice makes perfect.”

Adam to Eve: “I’ll wear the plants in this family!”


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