Ki Tissa (Ex. 30:11 – 34:35), Shabbat Parah (Numbers 19:1-22)

It is three days after Tuesday’s frozen slop storm.  It is still cold.  The white stuff is just starting to melt.  Yesterday, I spent about 40 minutes hacking about 4 inches of ice-on-snow off my windshield and rear window.  I am generally grumpy and tired and getting our tax numbers together for the accountant.  But 7 years ago, I put together some pretty good and not overly long comments on Ki Tissa and Shabbat Parah, so that’s what I’m sending you this week:

“For the past two weeks, the Torah portion has contained instructions concerned the Tabernacle, priests, and their accoutrements.  We continue that briefly this week (the half-shekel head tax section we read on Shabbat Shekalim, incense and anointing oil recipes, and the appointment of Bezalel and Oholiab as artists-in-residence) and in the next two weeks, we will read, again in great detail how these instructions were carried out.  Dr. Benjamin Sommer, professor of Bible at JTS, writes at  that modern scholars believe these detailed, parallel sections on the sanctuary and priests (kohanim) were written down by the kohanim ‘who put tremendous emphasis on the importance of the Tabernacle, which was the predecessor to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The sections of the Torah written by the kohanim repeatedly highlight the Tabernacle’s centrality’ literally (it was in the center of the camp) and figuratively: ‘In short, the mishkan is a sacred center, the capstone of the universe; and their God is constantly and reliably manifest.’ 

“Most of this week’s portion, however, is a narrative:  how the people panicked when Moses appeared to be a day late (they apparently weren’t clear on whether he was supposed to be gone 40 full days or return on the 40th day) and demanded something concrete from Aaron; how Aaron tried to stall for time by asking for their gold and made a golden calf (why a calf? probably both  young bull -> fertility rites and knowledge of Egyptian bull cults, see, e.g., ); and what happened when Moses came back.  After persuading the Lord to not destroy the Israelites just because they’d already broken at least the second commandment, Moses shows his own anger by smashing the tablets, grinding up the idol into dust and making the people drink water containing it.  Aaron tries lamely to explain what happened, how he just threw the gold in the fire and this calf jumped out.  At Moses’ order, the Levites slay many people, and many die of a plague.

“But the portion ends with Moses bringing a second set of tablets to the people, so there’s still hope.  According to Dr. Sommer, this whole section is from a different set of documents, not written down by the kohanim, and presenting an entirely different world view: ‘God did not dwell there but “popped in” on appropriate occasions to reveal Himself to Moses or other Israelites.  …it regards the divine as less predictable and not subject to manipulation by precise if demanding rituals. This point of view recognizes the reality, the unavoidability—even the value—of reversal, of chaos, and of that which is outside the boundary of the community. This viewpoint is much more skeptical of the idea of sacred space.’ 

“This is yet another special Sabbath, Shabbat Parah.  The second scroll Torah portion concerns the red heifer and ritual cleanliness, and the special Haftarah (Ezekiel 36:16-38) concerns spiritual cleanliness.  All of this is to help get us into the mood for Pesach, now that the first seder is less than four weeks away (AGH!!).”

Shabbat shalom, 


Good Humor: God’s Kids Say the Funniest Things: The Best Jokes and Cartoons Barbour Publishing (2011).

By Cal Samra, Rose Samra

Mass Ed

Fr. John Hissrich of Guardian Angels Catholic Parish in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was teaching a fifth-grade class about some of the things that are done at mass.  He told them that incense is sometimes used at the reading of the Gospel, and that they may see the altar server come out carrying incense.

One boy, with a rather squeamish look on his face, raised his hand and asked, “Father, are the insects alive?”


tph golden calf


Sunday News Journal, Wilmington, DE, 1/31/16, p. 2A

Jeffrey Gentry

I was late for work (on lame excuses) (excerpts)

Ever been late for work and had to give the reason?
Did you make something up or tell the truth?
Made it up: The person in front of me hit a dog and kept going.  I felt bad so I stopped and took care of the dog, found the owner and helped him take his pup to the vet.
Told the truth:  I was drinking my bloody Mary this morning and spilled it on my dress shirt.  So I had to change.  And fix another one.
(From an annual survey by Here are some of the real excuses given by employees:

  • My hair caught on fire from my blow dryer.
  • I was detained by Homeland Security.
  • A black bear entered my carport and decided to take a nap on the hood of my car.
  • My lizard had to have emergency surgery in the morning and died during surgery. I had to mourn while deciding whether to have the lizard disposed of by the vet or bring the lizard corpse with me to work.
  • All of my clothes were stolen.

This is what I (Jeff Gentry) came up with:

  • Wawa had any size coffee for a buck. So I stopped at all 22 of them between home and work. Then I had to go back home and use the bathroom.
  • Three snowflakes fell. Have you seen how people in Delaware drive when it’s snowing? I wasn’t about to go out in that until I was sure it stopped.

And the most cited reason for being late to work in Delaware:

  • I took I-95 this morning.


Guilt-tripping your way through parenting: learn from the masters

tph moses breaks the tablets


Sent out in 2009, now edited

Red-Headed Woman
I found a 1932 Jean Harlow movie “Red-Headed Woman” very enjoyable in part because the red-headed villainess (Jean Harlow) was named Lil and the wronged good girl, Irene.  My mother Lillian had red hair as a toddler, which her mother considered to be bad luck.  Anyhow, here’s a synopsis based on one at . Note that, while Bill returns to good girl Irene, Lil also lives happily ever after with both her sugar daddy and hunky chauffeur in France.

Jean Harlow in a pre-Hays code movie, in a red wig, portrays a beautiful young woman, Lil who seduces the boss’s son, Bill (Chester Morris) and ruins his marriage to Irene. But as Bill’s wife, Lil is snubbed by his well-to-do friends. She heads to New York and starts an immediate affair with Charlie, an old (literally) friend of the family and Albert, the family chauffeur (a young Charles Boyer), too. just for good measure. But Bill tells Charlie about the affair with Albert. Bill gets back with Irene. Lil accepts a payoff and leaves for France with Albert, where she finds herself an elderly French millionaire who hires Albert as chauffeur.  Happy endings for all.

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