Pinchas (Numbers 25:10 -30:1)

(Comments from 2016) The ancient rabbis did not like vigilantism.  We see that in the story of Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron who skewers Cozbi (the Midianite princess) and Zimri (a chieftain of the tribe of Shimon), putting an abrupt halt to the plague and Israelite apostasy.  It’s split over 2 weeks, 9 verses each week, which breaks our attention.  In verse 25:12, about the pact of peace between the Lord and Pinchas, the letter vav in the word shalom (peace) is broken:  tph broken shalom  And the haftarah assigned to this portion, about Elijah (another passionate lone actor) and the still small voice, is only read occasionally.  I think the next time will be 2035.  More about this season and its haftarot later.

Now that the latest (last?) plague is over, there’s another census, like farmhands anxiously counting chicks after the incubator fails to make sure they save them all (cf. Auntie Em and Uncle Henry).  The census is needed both for military reasons and for determining how the land is to be apportioned.  The overall number (men, aged 20 and up, not Levites) has barely changed since the last one, even though almost 40 years have passed, 601,730 now versus 603,550 then.  Levites (1 month and up) have increased a bit, from 22,000 to 23,000.  The tribal distribution has changed, however.  The tribe of Shimon lost over half its population and will eventually disappear.  The tribe of Manasseh, in contrast, up about 64%.

Speaking of Manasseh, we are now introduced to Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, the daughters of Zelophehad of the tribe of Manasseh.  Their father has died without sons, so they want his share of land when it is apportioned.  We may think this is a simple enough proposal, but Moses thinks it requires divine intervention.  The Lord agrees with the daughters and makes this a general rule: if there are no sons, the inheritance passes to the daughter(s), then to the fathers surviving male relatives.  A wrinkle will arise, as usually happens with laws, which we’ll read about next week.

Next, Moses is reminded that he will not enter the Promised Land and why.  (Does the Lord really need to rub this in?) Since his death is approaching, Moses and the Lord finalize their succession plan and present Joshua (really, who else?) to the people as their next leader.  Finally, remember all those second scroll readings for Rosh Chodesh (1st of the month) and holidays?  Here they are!  Sacrifices.  Lots of livestock.

Last Saturday was the 17th of Tammuz in the Hebrew calendar.  That is designated as a fast day (just daytime), but, since we don’t fast on Shabbat, except for Yom Kippur, it was observed on Sunday.  It commemorates the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans that led to the destruction of the Temple three weeks later.  Thus, it ushers in “The Three Weeks,” a period of increasingly intense mourning that culminates in the fast day of Tisha B’Av.  During that time, we read three Haftarot of Rebuke, beginning this week with Jeremiah’s call to prophecy, Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3.  After Tisha B’Av, we get seven Haftarot of Consolation (not a bad bargain), leading up to Rosh Hashanah.   More on those later.  Jeremiah 2:2 has become part of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy: “I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, your love as a bride–How you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.”  I immediately thought of that verse when my sister-in-law-to-be agreed to marry my brother, leave suburban Philadelphia, and move to Bloomsburg.

Shabbat shalom,


tph vigilante Pickles


Squirrel census needs volunteers to help count critters in Central Park

OCTOBER 03, 2018 – 10:26 AM

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — This is not a joke; the city of New York wants to conduct a squirrel census. That’s right a squirrel census, and once again, this is not a joke.

The eastern gray squirrel is extremely common in American cities.

“It’s so common that people ignore it,” Squirrel Census founder Jamie Allen said.


NYC Mayor’s Office


*squirrel JFK voice*
“Ask nut what NYC can do for you, but what you can do for NYC.”

You can count SQUIRRELS in @CentralParkNYC. For real – no really, yes really – we need a squirrel census.

Sign up (and please count with your eyes not your hands): 

10:06 AM – Oct 2, 2018


That means there isn’t much data on the squirrels of Central Park. That will change this weekend as he leads teams of volunteers observing squirrel behavior and making a map of their hangouts with cartographer Matt Slaughter.

“There’s something parallel between the resilience of squirrels and the resilience of New Yorkers,” Slaughter said.

More information at


(3 of) 13 Bizarre Stipulations in Wills


3.Jeremy Bentham
The 18th-and-19th-century social philosopher left the world a rather odd bequest in his will: his preserved, clothed body. No one’s quite sure what Bentham was getting at with this “gift,” but since his 1832 death his clothed skeleton topped with a wax model of Bentham’s head has been preserved in a wood-and-glass cabinet known as the Auto-Icon. It now resides at University College London and is occasionally moved so Bentham can “attend” meetings.

6.Heinrich Heine
The German poet left his entire fortune to his wife, but with one catch: she had to remarry “because then there will be at least one man to regret my death.”

12.Henry Budd
It’s not clear how he originally made 200,000 pounds, but when Henry Budd died in 1862, he left his substantial fortune to his two sons on the condition that neither sullied his lip with a mustache.


A king has no sons…

Question: A king has no sons, no daughters, and no queen. For this reason, he must decide who will take the throne after he dies. To do this he decides that he will give all of the children of the kingdom a single seed. Whichever child has the largest, most beautiful plant will earn the throne; this being a metaphor for the kingdom. At the end of the contest all of the children came to the palace with their enormous and beautiful plants in hand. After he looks at all of the children’s pots, he finally decides that the little girl with an empty pot will be the next Queen. Why did he choose this little girl over all of the other children with their beautiful plants?

Answer: The king gave them all fake seeds and the little girl was the only honest child who didn’t switch seeds.


Farmers and their mad cows

August 28th, 2008

A man’s car stalled on a country road one morning. When the man got out to fix it, a cow came along and stopped beside him. “Your trouble is probably in the carburetor,” said the cow. Startled, the man jumped back and ran down the road until he met a farmer. The amazed man told the farmer his story. “Was it a large red cow with a brown spot over the right eye?” asked the farmer. “Yes, yes,” the man replied. “Oh! I wouldn’t listen to Bessie,” said the farmer. “She doesn’t know a thing about cars.”



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