Rosh Hashanah, Ha’azinu (Deut. 32:1-32:52), Shabbat Shuvah

Wednesday night is the start of Rosh Hashanah, signaling the beginning of the year 5778 (and Year Nineteen of Torah Portion Humor!  WOOHOO!!!) and of the Ten Days of Penitence that culminate with Yom Kippur.  You’re supposed to ask forgiveness for specific misdeeds, not offer a blanket apology.  However, while I’m sure I must have ticked off some of you this past year, whether by this weekly (via my own comments, what I’ve chosen to include, errors, and/or rerunning too much from other years’ missives) or otherwise, you’ve been too polite to tell me. So, I am forced to use a blanket statement.  I ask each of you for your forgiveness for anything I have said, done, or written that hurt or offended you, whether unwittingly or (hope not) deliberately.
Here are the readings for the next few days:

  • First day Rosh Hashanah (Thursday) Torah readings: Genesis 21:1-34 and Numbers 29:1-6 (the obligatory verses about the obligatory sacrifices).  Haftarah: I Samuel 1:1-2:10.
  • Second day Rosh Hashanah (Friday) Torah readings: Genesis 22:1-24 and Numbers 29:1-6 (same sacrifices).  Haftarah: Jeremiah 31:2-20.
  • Shabbat Shuvah (Saturday) Torah reading: Ha’azinu, Deut. 32:1-52.  Haftarah: Hosea 14:2-10, Joel 2:11-27, Micah 7:18-20 (your shul may differ).

Rosh Hashanah is solemn, not a boisterous New Year, like January 1.  There’s very little about it in the Torah, just some holiday on the 1st of the 7th month (as Tishrei was at the time) on which sacrifices are offered and the shofar is blown.  Rosh Hashanah later became known as the day the world was created.  It is also called Yom HaDin (Day of Judgement), Yom HaZikaron (Day of Remembrance), and Yom Teruah (Day of Blowing the Shofar).  The shofar is blown many times throughout services, except on Shabbat.  Prayers and piyyutim (liturgical poems) are added that focus on these themes, especially asking for divine mercy and forgiveness.  The Musaf service in particular includes these themes in three sets of 10 biblical verses, dealing with the Lord’s kingship (Malchuyot), remembrance (of us – Zichronot), and the shofar (Shofarot). 

You’d expect the Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah to be similarly solemn and oriented toward repentance.  Or maybe Creation.  And the obligatory sacrifices.  And you’d be partly correct.  The sacrifices are there. If you consider birth analogous to Creation, that’s there too.  Nothing grand or awesome, but the ordinary, intimate miracles of family and motherhood.  The main Torah reading for the two days is one continuous selection, Genesis 21:1-22:24, dealing with the announcement that Sarah will give birth at 90 (at which she naturally laughs incredulously), through Isaac’s birth and circumcision, the banishment of Hagar and her son Ishmael, and finally, Isaac’s near-sacrifice on Mount Moriah. The haftarah for the first day tells of another long-delayed birth, that of Samuel to Hannah.  The most-remembered image in the second day’s haftarah is that of Rachel weeping for her children as they trudge into exile. 

This is a Jewish holiday, so there’s lots of food.  There’s also food in the Tashlich ceremony on Rosh Hashanah afternoon (not Shabbat), in which bread crumbs are tossed into flowing water as a symbolic casting away of sins.  Traditional foods are round and sweet, like round challah (I like mine with raisins) and apple dipped in honey.  Pomegranates have come back into vogue.  They’re round, but tart.  But they are symbols of fruitfulness, and there’s a Rosh Hashanah saying, “May we be full of merits like the pomegranate (is full of seeds).” My husband is making the holiday dinners.  I will contribute what has become a tradition, rice kugel with nuts and raisins. I still miss my grandmother’s kreplach, even though I suppose it weren’t supposed to be chewy.

The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah (return), after the first word of the multiprophet haftarah, and also a play on Teshuvah, repentance, its primary theme.  In olden times, it was one of only two Sabbaths on which the rabbi was expected to give a sermon.  This year, the Torah portion read on Shabbat Shuvah happens to be Ha’azinu.  It includes the song/poem Moses was commanded to write at the end of last week’s portion.   This is 43 verses long (but they’re short). It describes the often-stormy relationship between God and the Israelites, who are called perverse, vile, unwise, fat and kicking, lacking discernment, contemptuous, venomous, and several additional, similar adjectives. The consequent divine retribution will be harsh (fire, demons, famine, war, dispersion, and so on) but “God will forgive us our sins and repay our enemies for His name’s sake” (Nachmanides, as cited by Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, p. 327).  The Israelites just need to learn, teach, and live by the Torah. Now it is time for Moses to see the Promised Land from Mount Nebo before he dies.

I wish all of you and your families a good and sweet 5778.
L’shanah tovah um’tukah and an early Shabbat shalom,

How A Mother Would Handle “BBC Dad’s” Tricky Situation
6 months ago byRūta Grašytė

Remember when Robert Kelly was interrupted by his children during a BBC interview? People still can’t get over how hilarious that was, and now New Zealand’s Jono and Ben comedy show has created a parody of the interview, imagining how a mom would’ve handled the situation.
Starring Kate Wordsworth, the video shows her answering question about South Korea, just like Robert Kelly, when suddenly her child walks in. Not only does Wordsworth put her daughter on her lap, but she also feeds her milk, hands her other child a toy while he walks in, cleans a toilet, removes chicken from the oven, and defuses a bomb – all while answering questions about South Korea! Now that’s what we call multitasking. (See the 1 min 9 sec video at the above website)
——————- (sent out in 2006 and 2013)

Top 10 ways you know your shul got a LAME Shofar Blower 

(Note: The three patterns of shofar blasts are called tekiah, sh’varim, and teruah, the big final blast being tekiah gedolah. IGP)

10. Instead of Tekiah, he keeps ordering Tequila.
9. His shofar is attached to a Casio keyboard and can make over 150 bird calling sounds.
8. You overhear him say, “Shofar – Sure, anyone else need a ride to the airport?”  [That’s the closest I’ll get to the old chauffeur/job benefits joke. IGP.]
7. After each blow someone says Gezuntheit.
6. His former job was being “the guy who couldn’t blow out the match” in the asthma commercials.
5. Won’t stop with the Austin Powers “Do I make You HORNy?” line
4. Brings in live ram and asks if anyone has a pocket knife
3. Gets pissed when his Karaoke machine accidentally starts playing “Love Shack” instead of Tekiah Gedolah
2. At Kiddush uses Shofar as Beer Funnel
1. He’s playing a Kazoo [I remember making a pseudo-double reed instrument out of a drinking straw as a child and blowing tekiah, etc. on that. Not enough volume. IGP].


tph shofar rabbi-bubbles

In the Service

After services on Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Cohen was, as usual, standing near the synagogue exit shaking hands with congregants as they left. But then he noticed a member who rarely attended services leaving, so Rabbi Cohen grabbed his hand, pulled him aside and said, “David, I think you need to join the Army of God!”
“But I’m already in God’s army, Rabbi,” protested David.
“So how come I don’t see you in shul except on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?”
David leaned in and whispered, “I’m in the secret service.”

tph sarah water broke

tph ram's lawyer


(Two of) Five Poems with Fantastic Wordplay

  1. How many prepositions is it possible to fit into a single line of a poem? These verses by Morris Bishop suggest that the answer is at least seven:

I lately lost a preposition.
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.
And angrily I cried, “Perdition!”
Up from out of in under there.

Correctness is my vade mecum,
And dangling phrases I abhor,
But yet I wondered, “What should he come
Up from out of in under there for?”

  1. Generally, when a word has a prefix, like the in– in independent, you
    can remove the prefix and still have a perfectly normal word left over, like 
    dependent. But that’s not always the case, as this poem by David McCord

I know a little man both ept and ert.
An intro-? extro-? No, he’s just a vert.
Sheveled and couth and kempt, pecunious, ane,
His image trudes upon the ceptive brain.

When life turns sipid and the mind is traught,
The spirit soars as I would sist it ought.
Chalantly then, like any gainly goof,
My digent self is sertive, choate, loof.



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