Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

Do Pinchas and our current president have any characteristics in common, such as  operating outside regular channels and being chosen by God?  

This idea came up last week at services and was relayed to me by my husband (I was ill – better now).  My reaction then: Nonsense!  After some pondering, my reaction: Nonsense!!  Pinchas takes a public stand against sexual immorality and saves his people from the plague.  He is part of the established order and has the experience and training to carry out his duties correctly. He still supports obedience to the established law; even in his single, desperate act, he is not trying to get rid of due process.  His act of zealotry is singular and selfless, and, for this, God designates him to be the progenitor of a hereditary priesthood.  He is not acting to gain personal power and glory.  I see no commonality at all with the actions nor motivation of the current president.

The story of Pinchas is only 18 verses long, neatly broken into 9 verses read last week, the actual incident, and 9 this week, the explicit divine approval and the names of the fornicating couple: Zimri, a leader of the tribe of Shimon) and Cozbi, a princess of Midian.  Splitting the story has the effect of diminishing it a bit.  Similarly, when the Lord grants Pinchas a “covenant of peace,” in the Torah scroll the word for peace, shalom, in 25:12 is typically written with a broken letter vav:   

tph broken vav

signaling that “peace that results from violence, even required violence, is defective.”  Still, one can regard this peace as something, an inner pace, that will help Pinchas contain his zeal. The rabbis were ambivalent about vigilantism and zealotry, condoning such actions as singular events by singular people.  The haftarah  assigned to this portion is I Kings 18:46-19:21, in which the prophet Elijah, alone in a cave, finds encouragement and inner peace in a still, small voice.  It’s a perfect match for the Pinchas story; in fact, in midrash Elijah is identified with Pinchas.  Yet that haftarah is rarely read, only when Pinchas is read before the 17th of Tammuz, which last occurred in 2014 and happens next in 2035.  Yes, this enables us to get all 3 Haftarot of Rebuke read before Tisha B’Av (more below), but it’s also another indication of the rabbis’ discomfort with zealotry, however justified.

The rest of the incidents in this portion are pretty much in a tying-up-loose-ends mode as the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan.  There is a new census, mainly concerning potential soldiers for a war against Midian.  Interestingly, while there is a 0.3% drop overall, there are big variations among the tribes, from – 63% for Shimon (Zimri’s tribe, hmmm) to +64% for Menasheh.  The land is apportioned among families, and the five daughters of Zelophehad, who had died without a son, petition Moses to inherit their father’s portion.  Moses asks the Lord, who agrees, and the lines of inheritance are clarified. Moses is told that he will soon die and formally presents Joshua to the people as his successor.  We conclude with all those little portions about sacrifices that we add on Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, each day of Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret.

This past Sunday was a minor fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, which initiates a 3-week period culminating in the 9th of Av, during which we mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem.  For the next few months, we will read 10 special haftarot, 3 Haftarot of Rebuke (warning, admonition) before the 9th of Av and then  7 Haftarot of Consolation.  To get them all in on time, we start this week with the first Haftarah of Rebuke, Jeremiah 1:1-2:3, in which Jeremiah resists his call as vigorously as Moses did. 

Shabbat shalom,


Revealed: Self-styled ‘grammar vigilante’ corrects badly punctuated shop signs in dead of night

Harry Yorke, online education editor

3 APRIL 2017 • 9:39PM

A self-styled ‘grammar vigilante’ has revealed that he has spent years changing offending shop signs in the dead of night.

Wielding an ‘apostrophiser’ – a broom handle laden with two sponges and a number of stickers – the man has corrected tens of missing and misplaced apostrophes on shop banners across Bristol over the past 13 years.

The pedant, who is yet to reveal his identity, claims his efforts are needed to bring an end to the improper use of English. But critics suggest he should start with his own name – as apostrophes are strictly a matter of punctuation rather than grammar.

While (some are) more than happy for the grammarian to point out mistakes, many are less receptive.  Jason Singh, 42, who owns the tailors Tux & Tails, claims that he potentially faces paying thousands of pounds for his sign to be corrected.

The issue, the omission of an apostrophe in “Gentlemens”, has been corrected with what appears to be two blobs of paint, or stickers.

“I did take it lightly at first, but now I’m a little angry to be honest,” he said. “We think it’s paint, and this is vinyl, so if we have to replace it you’re looking at a few thousand pounds.”

However, the vigilante has defended the legality of his work, telling reporters that some of the mistakes he redresses are “just wrong” and that “it’s more of a crime to have apostrophes wrong in the first place”.

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said the force was unaware of any complaints being lodged.


Elementary School Math

Mrs. Agren, a 5th grade math teacher, posed the following problem to one of her classes:

“A wealthy man dies and leaves ten million dollars. One-fifth is to go to his wife, one-fifth is to go to his son, one-sixth to his butler, and the rest to charity.

Now, what does each get?”

After a very long silence in the classroom, Little Mikey raised his hand. The teacher called on Little Mikey for his answer.

With complete sincerity in his voice, Little Mikey answered, “A lawyer!”


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Barbecue Quotes

Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start. Anthony Bourdain

Being so closely related to the South, barbecue was part of segregation and helped defeat it. Bobby Seale

I can trace every romance of my life back to a meal. My memories are enhanced by the tender morsels had at tables across from lovers, on blankets with friends who’d eventually become more, in banquets, barbecues, and breakfasts. Stephanie Klein

My first outdoor cooking memories are full of erratic British summers, Dad swearing at a barbecue that he couldn’t put together, and eventually eating charred sausages, feeling brilliant. Jamie Oliver

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