Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17) ), Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (Numbers 28:9-15)

I can see without glasses! 

OK, close-up stuff is blurry without reading glasses.  But driving is wonderful, and I can see the trees’ individual leaves, and I can see where I am when I wake up.  This, friends, is due to the miracle of cataract surgery, replacing cloudy lenses with artificial implants.  The cataracts had developed over a few years, during the last of which, for about 4-5 months, I would see rainbows around bright lights, which was really cool (though dangerous while I drove).  My new status is a big deal which I’m still getting used to, having worn glasses since 1961.  Being very, very near-sighted was part of my identity.  When I got safety glasses at work, the optician told me I was one of maybe the 5 most near-sighted people on site (I think there were about 3,000 at the time).

It was weird after the operation on the first (right) eye –  the left eye image was yellowish and small, the right, bright and bigger.  There actually appears to be about a 20% increase with the implants.  The old high-power lenses had shrunk the image while sharpening it.  When I looked at Ben & Jerry’s pints, I thought they’d come out with a new size.  

Yes, this is actually connected to this week’s Torah portion.  “Re’eh” means “See!” or “Look!” 

We read (Deut. 11:26-28): “See (“re’eh”), this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey (“tishme’u”) the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.”  Very straightforward.  We’ll get to a slew of specific blessings and, especially, curses later into the book. For now, this is a statement of fact (or high probability) that they can expect obeying to lead to a better outcome than straying.  Also, “re’eh” is singular, while “tishme’u” is plural, contrasting individual understanding with the action of the entire community (see also commentaries in A Daily Taste of Torah, Kleinmann Edition, Rabbi Y. A. Weiss ed., vol. 12, pp. 66-67).

At this point in Deuteronomy, we start dealing with legal details, which are meant to impose order and a degree of centralization on practices.  One big task will be to rid Canaan of all traces of idolatrous practice.  Part of this means to be on guard against being lured into such practice by false prophets, even if they are their own close relatives,  They are given permission to eat meat (first time they can eat meat not from a sacrifice), but with restrictions.  Only certain animals are kosher (fit) and they cannot eat the blood, which led to kosher slaughtering practices intended to maximize bloodletting and minimize pain.  They must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk, “lo t’vashel g’di bachalev imo.”  Those five Hebrew words have led to thousands of pages of commentaries (so far) on separating dairy and meat foods.

Appropriately for their initiation as an agricultural people, the Israelites (re)learn laws concerning the sabbatical year, remission of debts (see also Leviticus 25:1-7) and tithing.  Hebrew slaves must be freed in the seventh year of service and not sent out empty-handed; a slave who wants to stay is to have his ear nailed to the door.  We always read that section (14:22-15:18) on Shemini Atzeret, and when the 8th day of Passover and 2nd day of Shavuot fall on Shabbat; the rest of Re’eh, 15:19-16:17, is always read on those three days, since it concerns the festival celebrations.

This weekend is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the start of the last month before Rosh Hashanah.  During Elul, in preparation for the High Holy Days, the shofar will be blown daily, except on Shabbat.  We read Numbers 28:9-15 (sacrifices, surprise) from a second scroll. There are various customs concerning the haftarah, since we’re in the midst of the seven Haftarot of Consolation.  My congregation reads the Shabbat Rosh Chodesh haftarah, the last chapter of Isaiah, 66:1-24.  

Rosh Chodesh Elul is also our wedding anniversary, according to the Hebrew calendar (It’s August 14 in the secular calendar).  Happy 41st, sweetie!

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,


tph reading glasses


CBS April 25, 2010, 8:33 AM Susan Spencer of “48 Hours”

Decisions, Decisions… (excerpts)

Remember the old joke about the psychiatrist who asks his patient if he has trouble making decisions? And the patient says, “Well, doctor, yes and no.”

We’ve all been there. Eggs or pancakes? Golf or church? The front page or the crossword puzzle? Even on Sunday mornings . . . decisions, decisions, decisions!

Science writer Jonah Lehrer sees every one of those choices as a tug of war, an exhausting battle between our gut feelings and our reasoned thoughts.

“For a long time people have said that the best way to make a decision is to be rational,” Lehrer said. “And yet, in recent years, scientists have discovered that the rational brain can only take in a few bits of information at any given moment. So, you start giving it too much information and it starts to short-circuit and sputter.”

“Our emotional brain is actually much better at taking in lots and lots of information,” he said. “Summarizing lots of data very efficiently, and saying, ‘Here’s a feeling. Don’t worry about all the details. We’ve already taken those details into account.'”

We process emotions in the front part of the brain, and damage to those frontal lobes can spell disaster for decisions.

Take the strange case of a brilliant former business exec known only as Elliot.

Surgery for a brain tumor left his intellect intact. Doctors were thrilled . . . until they realized what the surgery had not spared . . .

“He lost the ability to experience emotions,” said Lehrer. “Now, you’d think that this would make Elliot the best decision maker possible, right? ‘Cause he’d be perfectly rational.

“It turned out, though, that Elliot became pathologically indecisive,” Lehrer said. “He would spend all day trying to figure out where to eat lunch, or which pen to sign his name with. I think the larger point here is about just how essential our emotions are in the decision making process.”

 “[But there] are feelings you just happen to have at the time you’re making a judgment or a decision, but they really should not be an input to your decision,” [psychologist Jennifer] Lerner said. “Happiness and anger are remarkably similar; they both make you under-perceive risk.  They both make you take more risks. And they both are associated with this sense of certainty and control.”

Which can be downright dangerous.


Is it Kosher?

The Shapiros were sitting at the Shabbos table for Friday night dinner.

“Are worms kosher?” little Moishie asked his mother.

“No they aren’t,” answered his mother. “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” said Moishie, “there was a big one in your salad, but it’s gone now.”


Five sets of teeth

When he arrived in New York the customs official was perplexed as to why anybody would have 5 sets of gold teeth. So Moisha explained. “We Orthodox Jews have two separate sets of dishes for meat products and dairy products but I am so kosher and religious I also have separate sets of teeth.” The customs official shook his head and said, “Well that accounts for two sets of teeth. What about the other three?” Moisha then said “Vell us very religious Orthodox Jews use separate dishes for Passover, but I am so religious I have separate teeth, one for meat and one for dairy food. The customs official slapped his head and then said, “You must be a very religious man with separate teeth for food and dairy products and likewise for Passover. That accounts for four sets of teeth. What about the fifth set?” “Vell to tell you the truth, once in a while I like a ham sandwich.”


Vegan and Vegetarian Jokes

Q: Why did the tofu cross the road?
A: To prove he wasn’t chicken.

Q: What do you call a fascist vegan?
A: Lactose intolerant. 

Q: What does a vegan zombie eat?


tph vegan witches


Quotes about Free Will

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will. Jawaharlal Nehru

Free will is an illusion. People always choose the perceived path of greatest pleasure. Scott Adams

The Creator, in taking infinite pains to shroud with mystery His presence in every atom of creation, could have had but one motive – a sensitive desire that men seek Him only through free will. Paramahansa Yogananda

As far as I can see, it’s not important that we have free will, just as long as we have the illusion of free will to stop us going mad. Alan Moore

We must believe in free will, we have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer


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