Vayeilekh (Deuteronomy 31:1-30), Shabbat Shuvah

 (From 2016) This Shabbat: Very short weekly Torah portion (30 verses), longish special haftarah (29 verses at my shul). 

We are in the midst of the Ten Days of Penitence leading to Yom Kippur. [Before I forget, there are some fasting tips at .  For me at least, the key ones are weaning off caffeine over several days, not overeating at dinner before the fast, and not eating greasy or spicy foods at that dinner.]  Although it’s not really intended to, the Torah portion dovetails nicely with the season’s themes of repentance and atonement. 

Moses describes himself as 120 years old that day, thus physically not strong enough to continue to lead the people.  [This sounds like a retirement announcement, though in this case “retirement” rapidly becomes death.]  But then he adds that this is because the Lord won’t let him cross the Jordan.  [Now it sounds like forced retirement.]  Concerned for the future of his flock, Moses tries to provide a smooth transition, assisted by the Lord’s direction. [I tried to do this in advance of my totally, totally, totally unforced retirement, with 3 months’ notice, but my replacement only came the day before I left.]  He brings Joshua before the people and publicly confirms that he is the leader who, with the Lord, will bring them into the Promised Land.  And what is the last instruction Moses gives the people?  Every sabbatical year, on the festival of Succot, all the people – men, women, children, resident foreigners – are to gather to hear the Law read to them so they can learn it. 

But what does the Lord say next?  After Moses dies, the people will screw up and worship idols.  Lest he thinks it’s all been for naught, he is reassured that they can atone and be forgiven if their atonement is genuine.  Moses is to write down a poem as a reminder of their past, punishments, and possibilities.  We’ll read that next week.

This Shabbat, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is Shabbat Shuvah, Sabbath of Return.  It is one of only two Sabbaths during the year on which, in olden times, the rabbi was expected to give a substantive sermon.  The haftarah begins with the word shuvah, which has the same root as teshuvah, repentance. There are various customs as to what is read; what is chanted in my synagogue is Hosea 14:2-10, Joel 2:11-27, Micah 7:18-20.  The theme is repentance, followed by forgiveness and redemption, readying us for Yom  Kippur.

We are taught that our atonement on Yom Kippur is really for sins between us and God.  Therefore, sins against people need to be addressed separately.  We’re not supposed to lean on blanket apologies but rather to deal with specific actions and specific people.  I’m afraid I have to make due with generalities here, since I don’t even know who some of you are.  So, for you who read this, if I have offended or hurt you in any way, through these missives or otherwise, I am truly sorry and will try to be more considerate. 

Shabbat shalom,


tph repentance app


Forgive and Forget?

Once upon a time in their marriage, Saul Rosenberg did something really stupid. Ethel Rosenberg chewed him out for it. He apologized, they made up.

However, from time to time, Ethel would mention what he had done.

“Honey,” Saul finally said one day, “why do you keep bringing that up? I thought your policy was ‘forgive and forget.'”

“It is,” Ethel said. “I just don’t want you to forget that I’ve forgiven and forgotten.”


Top Ten Signs You Are In For A Long Sermon (lightly edited for synagogues) by Pastor Tim

10. There’s a case of bottled water beside the pulpit in a cooler.

9. The pews have camper hookups.

8. You overhear the rabbi telling the sound man to have a few (dozen!) extra tapes on hand to record today’s sermon.

7. The rabbi has brought a snack to the pulpit.

6. The rabbi breaks for an intermission.

5. The bulletins have pizza delivery menus.

4. When the rabbi asks his assistant to bring in his notes, he rolls in a filing cabinet.

3. The choir loft is furnished with La-Z-Boys.

2. Instead of taking off his watch and laying it on the pulpit, the rabbi turns up a four-foot hour-glass.

And The Number One Sign You Are In For A Long Sermon

1. The rabbi says, “You’ll be out in time to watch the Super Bowl” but it’s only September!


tph fired


Succession Planning

A new manager spends a week at his new office with the manager he is replacing. On the last day, the departing manager tells him, “I have left three numbered envelopes in the desk drawer. Open an envelope if you encounter a crisis you can’t solve.”

Three months down the road there is major drama in the office and the manager feels very threatened by it all. He remembers the parting words of his predecessor and opens the first envelope. The message inside says, “Blame your predecessor!” He does this and gets off the hook.

About half a year later, the company is experiencing a dip in sales, combined with serious product problems. The manager quickly opens the second envelope. The message read, “Reorganize!” He starts to reorganize and the company quickly rebounds.

Three months later, at his next crisis, he opens the third envelope. The message inside says, “Prepare three envelopes.”


tph retire at 80


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