Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32), Shabbat Rosh Hodesh (Num. 28:9-15)

I bet you thought you’d get away with a normal Shabbat this week – no second scroll, no extra psalms – since the holidays are over (we’ll take down the sukkah on Sunday, really).  Ha!  This Shabbat is also Rosh Hodesh (guttural “h” for which I sometimes use “ch” or just don’t bother) Cheshvan, the first day of the month of Cheshvan, so we have a second scroll reading (sacrifices, of course) and several extra psalms.  BTW, regarding Cheshvan and Marcheshvan, see last year’s comments.

However, we are indeed back in the normal annual cycle of Torah readings.  This week: Noah (guttural “h,” etc.).  Contents:  The Lord is fed up with human corruption and decides to start over via a flood.  One at least half-way decent man, Noah, is chosen to build an ark to save his family and the animals (pairs for eventual breeding, additional sets for sacrifices).   After the flood, the Lord makes a covenant with Noah, promises never to destroy all people and animals – at least with a flood – and uses a rainbow as a sign of the agreement. Noah then discovers wine and gets drunk, not a hopeful indicator of improved human behavior.  Eventually, humans have the effrontery to try to build a tower to heaven, a task thwarted by the divine imposition of speaking in different languages, so the Tower of Babel is not built.  Finally, we read a list of Noah’s descendants, including Abram, whose story gets underway next week.

What people generally recall of this story is first, the ark, and then, the ark per se not being especially interesting, the animals.  This portion signals a change in the human/animal relationship.  As I noted last year, where Adam was commanded to live in harmony with the animals, he and they being vegetarians, Noah is told the animals will now fear humans, who can now eat them.  I was not much of an animal person as a child, my pets confined to an occasional short-lived goldfish.  However, once we had two kids (children, not goats), that changed to the extent that at one point we had two cats, two gerbils, two goldfish, and, briefly, one hermit crab.  Now we have one cat (she doesn’t do well with other cats).

Human/animal interactions are complicated.  Is the human really the master?  How much do we train our pets, and how much do they train us?  To what extent do we, or can we, or should we, try to make a pet over in our own image? This is a particularly thorny question in the wild.  I recently saw a series on PBS called “My Wild Affair,” whose episodes, described below, illustrated the intricate interactions between humans and wild baby animals, at least three of which had been orphaned and would have died without the human intervention.  As usual, my remarks are in brackets and italics.

About The Elephant Who Found a Mom [See also ]

The story of Aisha, the baby elephant orphan, and Daphne Sheldrick, the woman who became her human foster parent [in Kenya]. Their intense bond reaches a crisis point when Daphne leaves Aisha with a babysitter for a few days [a week] to attend her daughter’s wedding [in Nairobi]. Aisha believes she has lost Daphne for good and refuses to eat, leading to her death [at 6 months of age, hours after Daphne’s return, her head in Daphne’s lap]. Heartbroken, Daphne uses the lessons learned from Aisha’s short life [e.g., make sure an orphan bonds strongly with a whole family] to help her save more than 150 orphans over the next 40 years.

About The Ape Who Went to College 

This episode features Chantek, the orangutan raised as a human child on an American university campus during the 70s and 80s.  Taught to speak in sign language, he is now living among his own kind at Zoo Atlanta, although he describes himself as an “orangutan person.” [After Chantek reached his adult size and was so clever he could not be constrained on the college campus, he spent 11 years confined to a bare 9’ by 11’ cell before placement at Zoo Atlanta.  On arriving at the zoo, he disdainfully referred to the other orangutans as “red dogs.”]

About The Rhino Who Joined the Family 

Rescued from flooding caused by the damming of the Zambezi River, Rupert, an orphaned black rhinoceros, was brought up in the suburban family home of wildlife vet Dr. John Condy.  Rupert captured the hearts of the vet’s four young children before his eventual release into the wild.  Fifty years later, the children are searching for clues to their childhood friend’s fate.

About The Seal Who Came Home 

The true story of Andre, a two-day-old wild harbor seal who, in 1961, was rescued from certain death by Harry Goodridge, an arborist from Rockport, Maine. Over the next 25 years, Andre and Harry established a friendship that brought Andre into the world of humans without Andre’s ever having to sacrifice his wildness. The human world gave Andre shelter during the harsh New England winter, but staying wild at heart meant Andre had the know-how to make the 200-mile swim home to Rockport. This interspecies friendship weathered every kind of challenge, including, at the end, Andre’s blindness.


Each of these stories affected me strongly.  Aisha’s death from grief was heartbreaking, especially since her human family had planned properly how they would return her to the wild when she was old enough.   Rupert died because his human family did not know how to return him to the wild and did so too abruptly when he became too grown to be a pet.  Chantak’s story made me especially angry.  The researchers blithely treated him like a human child (including junk food) and neglected to recognize the problems he might cause when fully grown (up to 300 lb, 8 ft. arm span) or plan what to do with him.  He became a misfit, caught between humans and apes, reminding me of the protagonist in Eugene O’Neill’s play, “The Hairy Ape.”  Only in the case of Andre the seal were the human and the animal in tune with each other.  Andre enjoyed his time with humans, but was allowed to retain his wildness.  Not surprisingly, he lived a happy, full lifetime and died peacefully in the wild, on the way back to Rockport.

Shabbat shalom,



tph noah 5775


tph little arkGod Phones Noah to Order a New Ark

Expecting bad weather?  OK, same specs as last time? says Noah

Nope, this time I want 20 decks.

20! That’s huge. OK, kitted out for the animals as usual?

No, this time it’s for fish.

FISH! OK, you’re the boss. I’ll get the whole selection, cod, haddock, skate. .

No, just carp.

Just the one type? Carp.

Yep, that’s right carp.

OK, says Noah, but can I just ask why?

I just fancied a multi-story carp ark!


tph mice-wine


tph Congress Tower of Babel


Quotes about Pets

Time spent with cats is never wasted. Sigmund Freud

He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.  Immanuel Kant
Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.  Robert A. Heinlein

I’ve got a new invention. It’s a revolving bowl for tired goldfish.  Lefty Gomez


Cat Diary …

DAY 752 – My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape, and the mild satisfaction I get from ruining the occasional piece of furniture. Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant.

DAY 761 – Today my attempt to kill my captors by weaving around their feet while they were walking almost succeeded, must try this at the top of the stairs. In an attempt to disgust and repulse these vile oppressors, I once again induced myself to vomit on their favorite chair…must try this on their bed.

DAY 762 – Slept all day so that I could annoy my captors with sleep depriving, incessant pleas for food at ungodly hours of the night.

DAY 765 – Decapitated a mouse and brought them the headless body, in attempt to make them aware of what I am capable of, and to try to strike fear into their hearts. They only cooed and condescended about what a good little cat I was…Hmmm. Not working according to plan ……

DAY 768 – I am finally aware of how sadistic they are. For no good reason I was chosen for the water torture. This time however it included a burning foamy chemical called “shampoo.” What sick minds could invent such a liquid. My only consolation is the piece of thumb still stuck between my teeth.

DAY 771 – There was some sort of gathering of their accomplices. I was placed in solitary throughout the event. However, I could hear the noise and smell the foul odor of the glass tubes they call “beer.” More importantly I overheard that my confinement was due to MY power of “allergies.” Must learn what this is and how to use it to my advantage….

DAY 774 – I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and maybe snitches. The dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously a half-wit. The Bird, on the other hand, has got to be an informant. He has mastered their frightful tongue (something akin to mole speak) and speaks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my every move. Due to his current placement in the metal room his safety is assured. But I can wait, it is only a matter of time.


Difference between a cat and a dog

Dog:  These people feed me, shelter me and love me … they must be God
Cat:  These people feed me, shelter me and love me… I must be God


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