Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), Shabbat Chazon, Tisha B’Av

A new book.  Or is it?  Is it just a review, the Reader’s Digest or Cliffs Notes version of the preceding four?

Deuteronomy is definitely different from the other books.  Many laws appear in it and not earlier in the Torah.  Modern Biblical scholars generally date its writing to the 7th century BCE with King Josiah’s religious revival and centralization of worship, though others place it earlier.  If you are interested, go to and .

The name “Deuteronomy” comes from the Greek, Deuteronomion, literally “second law.”  The Hebrew name, which is also the name given to this week’s portion, is Devarim, דברים, “words.”  Moses, clearly no longer the tongue-tied shepherd of the burning bush, gives a month-long valedictory address.  Nachmanides divides the book into three main parts:  1) historical recap, starting in Chapter 1; 2) the laws, in Chapter 4; and 3) blessings, curses, and Moses’ song, Chapter 26 to the end.  Rabbi Jeffrey Tigay sees it as five retrospective discourses and poems (1:6-4:43, 4:44-28:69, 29-30, 32, 33), plus two narratives (Ch. 31, 34).

This week: history.  Actually, it’s more of a mise en scène, setting the stage.  Note that Moses is speaking to a mixture of Israelites born in the desert and those who were children 40 years earlier in Egypt, many of whom can still remember it.  He describes how they were organized and left Sinai (Horeb) and then goes straight to the incident of the spies, the reason for their years in the wilderness.  He then hurries to the near present, their military victories and the land given to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh.

I have noted before how much I enjoy and appreciate words.  This political summer, I am more aware of their power, especially when what seems to be an innocent statement may or may not be code for something decidedly less savory.  The Economist reported that analysis of unique phrases in 135 years of speeches in the Congressional Record indicates that partisanship in Congress is higher now than at any time since Reconstruction.  If you listened to a 1-minute speech in 1990, you had a 55% chance of identifying the speaker’s party.  By 2008, that had risen to 83% (M. Gentzkow, J. Shapiro, and M. Taddy, cited in The Economist, August 6, 2016, p. 20).

This Sabbath is Shabbat Chazon (“vision,” i.e., Isaiah’s), on which we read the third of the three Haftarot of Rebuke, Isaiah 1:1-27.  It is usually chanted largely using the melody used for the book of Lamentations (Eichah, אֵיכָה in Hebrew).  We chant Lamentations and other mournful poetry (kinnot) in observance of Tisha B’Av (9th of Av, observed this year on the 10th since the 9th is Shabbat).  This is a fast day commemorating various disasters that have befallen the Jewish people over the millennia, primarily the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Second Temple in 70 CE.  But next week is Shabbat Nachamu (Comfort), the first of the seven Haftarot of Consolation.  Seven of consolation versus three of rebuke – not a bad ratio.

Shabbat shalom,


10 Almost-Extinct Words You Should Start Using Right Away

Whenever the dictionary gets updated, some words face the chopping block. If you would be sad to see “skedaddle” skedaddle from our language, then add it (and the rest of these little-used words) back to your everyday vocabulary—before they’re gone forever.


Definition: To embroil, confuse, or entangle. Usage: Mom’s plants dangled, I got embrangled, and now I have two sprained ankles.

Definition: A shrewd, selfish person, especially a politician. Usage: This November, American voters might elect a snollygoster to the White House.

Definition: Chubby or squat. Usage: Despite my new year’s health resolutions, holiday leftovers kept me fubsy well into March.

Definition: waste matter; scum. Usage: Sanitation workers were understandably cross when my medieval role-play group started dumping their recrement directly into the street.

Definition: A whirring sound, as of the wings of birds in flight. Usage: We heard a mightyskirr overhead when the pigeons left their roost, followed by a plop, followed by an expletive.

Definition: Resembling or assuming the form of a shrub. Usage: A few weeks without a haircut and my poodle looks positively frutescent.

Definition: The condition of being a woman; femininity. Usage: Frank was banned from the sorority due to his remarkable lack of muliebrity.

Definition: Rural; rustic. Usage: My grandfather had a very agrestic upbringing; his schoolteacher was a horse.

Definition: To shed; cast off. Usage: It becomes harder to exuviate a bad reputation after you’ve exuviated your pants in public.

Definition: To leave a place suddenly. Usage: “Portland is so over,” the hipster bemoaned. “Let’s skedaddle to Seattle.”

From the Washington Post Style Invitational
Published: February 28, 2013

For its 20th anniversary, a sampling from several of its neologism contests

Among the myriad humor genres the Invitational has indulged in, it is probably best known for neologism contests, in which you make up a new term, usually by altering one or more existing words, and give it a zingy definition.

Spell a word backward:

Skrod: Fish that are always swimming upstream. (Tom Witte, Montgomery Village, 2004)

Nword: Something that gets you in really deep trouble. (Russell Beland, Springfield, 2004)

Words ending in -ion:

Errudition: Comical misuse of big words. “Madam, your dress looks positively superfluous on you tonight,” he said with amazing errudition. (Tom Witte, 2006)

Percycution: Giving your child a name he will hate for the rest of his life. (Marty McCullen, Gettysburg, Pa., 2006)

Words containing a block of three consecutive letters of the alphabet:

Coughin: A small enclosure designed especially for smokers. (John Glenn, Tyler, Tex., 2010)

Three consecutive letters backward:

Flingpong: Having your own affair to get even with a cheating spouse. (Tom Witte, 2010)


30 Untranslatable Words From Other Languages Illustrated By Anjana Iyer (selections – not the 6 I included here last year) When something is “lost in translation,” it could have been due to a simple mistake or due to the fact that one language was not quite able to capture the essence of a word’s meaning in another language. This conflict is the idea behind New Zealand-based designer Anjana Iyer’s “Found in Translation” series of images, which try to explain the meaning behind words in other languages that have no direct equivalent in English.  

2. Komorebi (Japanese)  The sort of
dappled light effect that happens when  sunlight shines in through trees

tph devarim komorebi

4. Pochemuchka (Russian)  A person
 who asks too many questions

tph devarim pochemuchka

7. Backpfeifengesicht (German)
A face badly in need of a fist

tph devarim backpfeifengesicht

8. Aware (Japanese)  The bittersweetness
of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty
tph devarim aware


10. Shlimazl (Yiddish) 
A chronically unlucky person
tph devarim shlimazl

12. Waldeinsamkeit (German)
The feeling of being alone in the woods
tph devarim waldeinsamkeit


Lamentation Quotes

If it were possible to cure evils by lamentation and to raise the dead with tears, then gold would be a less valuable thing than weeping. Sophocles

Jerusalem is a festival and a lamentation. Its song is a sigh across the ages, a delicate, robust, mournful psalm at the great junction of spiritual cultures. David K. Shipler

This day I ceased to plead. I was no longer capable of lamentation.  On the contrary.  I felt very strong.  I was the accuser, God the accused.  Elie Wiesel

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