Devarim (Deut. 1:1-3:22), Shabbat Chazon

You can take the Israelites out of Egypt, but can you take Egypt out of the Israelites?

The last book of the Torah is basically a several-weeks-long speech by Moses. It is in three parts, according to Nachmanides: a reproof-filled review of national history; laws, starting with Chapter 4; and, in Chapters 26 to the end, blessings, very graphic curses, and a song. Moses starts with a description of their organization at Sinai, goes to the disaster of the 12 spies, pretty much leaves out the ensuing 38 years, and arrives at the near-present, including their recent military victories versus Sihon and Og, and the deal made with Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh about their staying east of the Jordan.

I’ve started an 8-part online course by Dr. Micah Goodman called Deuteronomy:
The Last Speech of Moses
(Thanks, Stanley!). In Episode 01, “Leaving Egypt: Power, Memory, and Leadership,” he notes that Moses repeats one theme over and over: if they reject the Covenant, their nation is doomed to failure and destruction, and they will be dispersed. But Dr. Goodman demonstrates that Moses realizes that what is critical is that, at this transition point before entering Canaan, now that Israel has truly left Egypt, Egypt must leave Israel. If Israel creates a society like that of Egypt, the Lord will punish them like Egypt.

The Egyptian world glorifies power and creates a personality cult around political leaders. The Pharaoh is either divine or godlike. Moses, as he tells the people their story, is the opposite.  He is not entirely absent from his narrative (he freely complains about how hard it was to put up with them), but neither is he at the center.  It is always the Lord who has multiplied them, brought them out of Egypt, placed the land of Canaan at their disposal, will fight for them, carried them, watched over them in the wilderness, and enabled their military victories.  Moses just deals with all the nitty-gritty details and communications.

His death is also the antithesis of Egyptian treatment of a leader, who would be physically preserved, have a magnificent tomb, and (he hopes) establish or continue a dynasty.  Nobody knows where Moses is buried, nor did his descendants inherit his political power. Moses has had to remove Egypt from himself, too. Remember his meeting with Jethro’s daughters at the well (there’s always a well) in Midian? They described him as an Egyptian man.  It took him decades to become otherwise.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon (“vision”), named after the first word of the haftarah, Isaiah 1:1-27. It is the last of the three Haftarot of Rebuke.  It is usually chanted primarily using the melody used for the book of Lamentations (Eichah, אֵיכָה in Hebrew), which we’ll read next week on Tisha B’Av. Isaiah scolds the sinful nation and begs them to change their behavior, to do good instead of evil, so that all will be well. Otherwise, they will be devoured by the sword.

Not a happy note to end on, but next week we start seven Haftarot of Comfort.

Shabbat shalom and zei gezunt,


(2011) I love words.  I’m sick of words.  I drown in words all day and get tripped up by pipsqueak patent examiners who insist what I wrote is not what I wrote.  But I love wordplay.  I am easily amused by articles like one in the latest issue of The Economist on the Big Mac index (July 30-Aug. 5, p. 70) (in 2011), which uses the average price of a Big Mac (or Maharaja Mac – chicken – in India) to test whether a country’s currency is overvalued or not.  The article deftly incorporates relevant wordplay, slipping in terms like “being hard to swallow,”  ” ‘raw’ data,” “the alternative recipe,” “the Brazilian real is still badly overcooked,”  and of course “putting our money where our mouth is.”  My husband and children are all very verbal and likewise appreciative of wordplay.  My then-toddler daughter’s first three-word sentence was “Make Rozzie egg!” to which her father replied, “Poof! You’re an egg!” (their first comedy routine)  Later, our then-toddler son played straight man when his father was reading to him about cows and their udders:

Daddy: …the cows’ udders
Alan: Udder whats?
Daddy: Udders!
(repeat cycle a few times)

And then there was the time my then about 7-year old son looked at my company ID that was inscribed, “If found, please drop in the nearest mail box” and laughed, “You’re too big to fit in a mail box!”   They’re both grown now and still show great facility with language (mainly English, but Roz is trying hard in Vietnamese).

The World According to Student Bloopers [excerpts]

Richard Lederer, St. Paul’s School

One of the fringe benefits of being an English or History teacher is receiving the occasional jewel of a student blooper in an essay. I have pasted together the following “history” of the world from certifiably genuine student bloopers collected by teachers throughout the United States, from eight grade through college level. Read carefully, and you will learn a lot.

The inhabitants of Egypt were called mummies. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. …

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make bread without straw. Moses led them to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments. …

Without the Greeks, we wouldn’t have history. The Greeks invented three kinds of columns – Corinthian, Doric and Ironic. They also had myths. A myth is a female moth. One myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intolerable. Achilles appears in “The Illiad”, by Homer. … Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of that name.

Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock….

Then came the Middle Ages. King Alfred conquered the Dames, King Arthur lived in the Age of Shivery, King Harlod mustarded his troops before the Battle of Hastings, Joan of Arc was cannonized by George Bernard Shaw, and the victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. Finally, the Magna Carta provided that no free man should be hanged twice for the same offense….

The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespear. Shakespear never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. …Writing at the same time as Shakespear was Miquel Cervantes. He wrote “Donkey Hote”… The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote “Paradise Lost.” Then his wife dies and he wrote “Paradise Regained.”

During the Renaissance America began. Christopher Columbus was a great navigator who discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic. His ships were called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Fe…


Quiet Classroom

tph gluelipbalm


Get RIAL: Winning neologisms from our Tour de Fours contest (selections)

Pat Myers

Week 1366 was our annual Tour de Fours contest to create new words (or snarkily define existing ones) that include a particular block of four letters, in any order. This year’s was LIAR (or RIAL, ARIL, etc.).

2nd place and the crocheted Venus of Willendorf:
Heilraiser: The person in a political discussion who inevitably brings up a Hitler reference. (Gary Crockett, Chevy Chase, Md.)

And the winner of the Lose Cannon:

Flopularity: When people flock to see a show just to revel in its badness. ” ‘Cats’ has proved so flopular that the theater added a midnight showing for stoners who want to creep out at Judi Dench’s fur-skin.” (Bill Dorner, Indianapolis)

Receding har-lines: Honorable mentions

Brrraille: When it’s so cold that blind folks can read messages in your goose bumps. (Duncan Stevens, Vienna, Va.)

“King Liar”: A monarch promises his kingdom to all three daughters, then leaves it to his jester. (Steve Honley, Washington)

Darlingual: Fluent in completing a spouse’s sentences. (Eric Nelkin, Silver Spring, Md.)

Fairlymandering: Something elected politicians in “safe” districts will never agree to. (Roy Ashley, Washington)

Huhlarity: The awkward I’d-better-laugh reaction of the only person in the room who doesn’t get the joke. (Lennie Magida, Urbana, Md.)

Receding airline: The flight you just missed as it disappears into the sky. (Jeff Shirley, Richmond, Va.)

Reliarable: Describing people who can be counted on to rattle off falsehoods whenever they open their mouths. (Sorry, I can’t come up with any examples.) (Kel Nagel, Salisbury, Md.)

Shangri-ladies’ rooms: Where there’s never a line, the mirrors are slimming and the three-ply Cottonelle flows like wine. (Jeff Shirley, Richmond, Va.)

Smearling: An apprentice opposition researcher. (Jeff Contompasis, Ashburn, Va.)

Blarification: Explaining something in all-caps. “The president walked back his earlier tweet with an unhinged blarification.” (Jesse Frankovich, Lansing, Mich.)

Clarifuscation: “Explaining” something by intentionally making it even more confusing. “Rather than release the report, the attorney general will repurpose it as an interpretive word cloud, accompanied by pantomime.” (Frank Osen, Pasadena, Calif.)


Quotes on Leadership

  1. “You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership.” -Dwight Eisenhower
  2. “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt
  3. “First rule of leadership: everything is your fault.” A Bug’s Life
  4. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.” Lao-Tzu










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