Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26)

This week, we start reading the book of Leviticus (Vayikra).  I realize that there is probably something somewhere in Leviticus to annoy and/or offend pretty much everyone who is reading this.  And there’s very little in the way of narrative.  But amidst the sacrificial details, skin diseases, genital disorders, and prescriptions of appropriate sexual partners, there is actually a lot of good stuff concerning ethical behavior.  In this week’s portion, however, there’s a little ethics, but it’s mostly sacrifices.

The first few chapters of Leviticus constitute a training manual for the priests concerning offerings: what is to be sacrificed, when, why, by whom, how, what could be substituted, and who gets to eat what [yes, only after many years of skimming such readings did I look more closely and realize that not everything was totally burned up and that the sacrificial system provided a lot of good meat for the priests and Levites (mmm, barbecue)].  The ArtScroll’s Stone edition of the Torah readings has a several-page, tabulated crib sheet of all the details.

Here are the 5 basic types of offerings we learn about this week:

  • The burnt offering (olah) (Lev. 1:1-17), totally burned, was intended to bring the giver closer to the Lord.
  • The meal offering (minchah) (Lev. 2:1-16), made of flour and oil (unleavened), cooked or uncooked, was often given by those who couldn’t afford an animal for an olah. 
  • The offering of well-being, or peace offering (sh’lamim) (Lev. 3:1-17), was given in gratitude and was partly eaten by priests, donor, and guests as a festive meal (like sponsoring a kiddush lunch at synagogue today).
  • The sin offering (chatat) (Lev. 4:1-35; 5:1-13) was to atone for an unintentional sin, individual or communal.
  • The guilt offering (asham), (Lev. 5:14-26), a ram, was usually offered by someone who had stolen property. The thief also had to make restitution and pay a fine.

If you want modern parallels, think of how we give money or other gifts in honor of something or in memory of someone or because we feel guilty (flowers and candy) or because we are grateful for something or in honor of a holiday.

Two questions:  Why is there a sacrificial system at all?  And why do the Israelites have to hear all its details, most of which are intended for priestly practice? 

There have been, naturally, many positions taken concerning the sacrifice of animals as a means of worshiping God.  Maimonides (1138-1204) saw this system as a useful means of gradually leading them from idolatry to prayer, i.e., sacrifices to idols -> sacrifices to the Lord -> serving the Lord without sacrifices.  Nachmanides (1194-1270), on the other hand, felt that was nonsense, that sacrifices were not inherently linked to idolatry since they predated idolatry in the Torah.  Instead, he held that the details of the sacrificial system had intrinsic value; in fact, the sacrifice was symbolically offered in place of the person himself.  A modern sociological/historical analysis by Hillel Gruenberg of JTS (The Rituals that Make a Nation) identifies the sacrifices and rituals in Leviticus as reflecting the Israelites’ “communal needs …giving form and substance to an emergent sense of “groupness” that transcended the tribal and familial divisions that then characterized their society of wanderers.”

Why do the Israelites (and congregants) have to hear all the details? Robert Tornberg nicely sums it up in Looking through the Smoke: A Transparent Message:  “The Torah ensures that Judaism is not a secret religion run by priests who know more ‘truth’ than anyone else. It is, instead, open and accessible.” 

Finally, I mentioned we do indeed get some ethics in this portion. I was thinking specifically about the sin offering (chatat).  Remember, those are for unintentional sins.  An individual could offer a chatat in private.  But if the High Priest sinned, leading the people astray, he had to offer a chatat in public.  A community that unintentionally sinned also offered a chatat in public, as did a leader who unintentionally sinned.  Nowadays, we have general communal confession on Yom Kippur.  However, it seems to have become much rarer for some of our designated leaders to admit confess to a misdeed, even an unintentional one, let alone atone for it.

Shabbat shalom,


Speaking the Same Language

 As director of communications I was asked to prepare a memo reviewing our company’s training programs and materials. In the body of the memo one of the sentences mentioned the “pedagogical approach” used by one of the training manuals.

The day after I routed the memo to the executive committee, I was called into the HR director’s office, and told that the executive vice president wanted me out of the building by lunch. When I asked why, I was told that she wouldn’t stand for “perverts” (pedophilia?) working in her company.

Finally, he showed me her copy of the memo, with her demand that I be fired, and the word pedagogical circled in red. The HR manager was fairly reasonable, and once he looked the word up in his dictionary, and made a copy of the definition to send back to her, he told me not to worry. He would take care of it. Two days later a memo to the entire staff came out – directing us that no words which could not be found in the local Sunday newspaper could be used in company memos.

A month later, I resigned. In accordance with company policy, I created my resignation memo by pasting words together from the Sunday paper. (Taco Bell Corporation)


Preacher Coming for Dinner?

A husband came home from work one evening and walked into the kitchen where his wife was cooking dinner. He looked into the pots on the stove and smelled their content. 

“Is the Preacher coming for dinner,” he asked. 

“No, he isn’t,” his wife replied. “Why do you ask?” 

“Well, you’ve prepared a burnt offering. I just assumed something religious was going on.” 


tph cured meats


Barbecue: a story and some words of wisdom

As the coals from our barbecue burned down, our hosts passed out marshmallows and long roasting forks.
Just then, two fire trucks roared by, sirens blaring, lights flashing. They stopped at a house right down the block.
All twelve of us raced out of the back yard, down the street, where we found the owners of the blazing house standing by helplessly.
They glared at us with looks of disgust.
Suddenly, we realized why………we were all still holding our roasting forks with marshmallows on them…

The key to good barbecuing is having a sauce that can cover up your mistakes.

They say the great BBQ chefs put a lot of feeling into their cooking. I put a lot of Tabasco in mine.


Guilt One-liners

In Scotland we have a verdict ‘not proven;’ that means ‘not guilty, but don’t do it again.’

Andrew Brodie

When we played softball, I’d steal second base, feel guilty and go back.

Woody Allen

My mother could make anybody feel guilty – she used to get letters of apology from people she didn’t even know.

Joan Rivers

If you’re gonna see a play about slavery, it’s important that you watch it with your white friends because you know they’re gonna pick up dinner that night.

Dwayne Perkins

Scooter Libby was found guilty of perjury, obstruction, and making false statements… or, as the White House calls it, a press conference.

Bill Maher



The new priest is nervous about hearing confessions, so he asks an older priest to sit in on his sessions. The new priest hears a couple confessions, then the old priest asks him to step out of the confessional for a few suggestions.
The old priest suggests, “Cross your arms over your chest, and rub your chin with one hand.”
The new priest tries this.
The old priest suggests, “Try saying things like, ‘I see, yes, go on, and I understand. How did you feel about that?'” The new priest says those things.
The old priest says, “Now, don’t you think that’s a little better than slapping your knee and saying ‘No kiddin’?!? What happened next?'”


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Vayak’hel-Pekudei (Ex. 35:1 – 40:38), Shabbat HaChodesh


There are a lot of details this week.  What strikes me this year is the unity and joy of the people, as they generously and whole-heartedly donate their materials, time, energy, and expertise to building the Tabernacle and making the priests’ vestments.  But, as we’ll read in coming weeks, it can be very difficult to maintain such positive enthusiasm among a large and diverse people.

Comments from 2009:

This week, we end the book Exodus with a double portion.  And not only do we have a real double portion (214 verses, versus a typical 100-140 or so), but, it is yet another special Sabbath.  This is Shabbat HaChodesh (Sabbath of THE Month), which precedes the first of the month of Nissan and is the last of the four special Sabbaths before Passover that includes a reading from a second scroll.  And it’s 20 verses (Ex. 12:1-20), bringing the Torah reading total to a whopping 234 verses!  The second scroll reading describes how the first Passover was to be observed and the Haftarah, again specially chosen, is Ezekiel 45:16-46:18 (45:18-46:13 for Sephardim), which is a prophecy of Passover observance in the Third Temple, i.e., in messianic times. 

As I hope you remember, the Lord gave Moses several chapters of detailed instructions concerning the building and furnishing of the Tabernacle and design of the priests’ vestments, especially Aaron’s, as High Priest.  This week, after still another command concerning Sabbath observance, we learn how the instructions are actually carried out. The people are asked to donate goods and services for the tasks at hand.  One might think that the people would be in a subdued frame of mind after being punished for the golden calf incident, but instead, they people donate and work with joy and thankfulness that they have not been abandoned, that their relationship with the Lord and their future have not been destroyed.  They are so overwhelmingly generous that they eventually have to be told to stop giving.  The gold that had been withheld from making the golden calf (the rabbis say the women did not participate in that incident but held back their gold jewelry) is now used for a much higher purpose.  

The expert artisans, described as endowed with divine skill by the Lord, go to work, led by Bezalel.  Weaving, sewing, carpentry, carving, metal working, embroidery, all are tackled with enthusiasm.    In addition, Moses orders a careful audit of the metals used, all the gold, silver, and copper (pity the banks receiving TARP funds haven’t been as careful tracking where that money has gone).  Finally, on the first day of the first month, i.e., the first of Nissan (what good timing for our reading!  See, everything ties together.), Moses assembles the Tabernacle as directed (yes, “some assembly required”).  When he finishes, the presence of the Lord fills the Tabernacle and a cloud covers it.  The movement of the cloud (or fire at night) will signal when the Israelites are to move onward. 

Shabbat shalom,


tph fundraising Robin Hood


Some Assembly Required

Every year on my birthday, I looked forward to my aunt’s gift – a scarf, hat, or sweater knitted by hand.  One year, she must have had better things to do because I received a ball of yarn, knitting needles, and a how-to-knit book.  Her card read, “Scarf, some assembly required.”


Tailor Jokes

(#774) The trip to Rome 
Moshe and Abe were partners in a very successful clothing factory. It had been in operation for many years and there wasn’t much they didn’t know about the shmatta business. One day, Moshe decided to take a trip to Rome. 
As Abe had many Catholic friends, he surprised Moshe by getting him an audience with none other than the Pope. 
On Moshe’s first day back at work after his Rome trip, Abe asked him, “So, Moshe, what kind of a man is the Pope?” 
Moshe replied, “I would say he’s a 44 regular.”

(#790) The tailor – 3 
Isaac was out shopping in Golders Green when he sees a sign in a window saying, ‘JACOB’S CUSTOM MADE CLOTHING’. He’s not sure whether to go in – it looks an expensive shop. But Jacob, the owner, sees him hesitating and quickly invites him in. 
“What are you looking for?” 
“A suit.” 
“Good,” said Jacob, “you’ve come to the right place. When we make a suit here, you’ll be surprised at how we go about it. First, digital cameras take pictures of your every muscle and we download the pictures to a special computer to build up your image. Then we cultivate sheep in Australia to get the very best cloth. For the silk lining, we contact Japan for their silkworms, and we ask Japanese deep-sea divers to get the pearl buttons. 
“B-b-bbut,” said Isaac, “I need the suit for a Bar Mitzvah.” 
“…You’ll have it.”


Artist Jokes

Q: Did you hear about the artist who died? A: Too many strokes.

Q: Did you hear about the attempted robbery at the museum? They had run out of gas a few blocks away when the police caught them, and they said, “We didn’t have the Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh.”

Q: Did you hear about the artist who paints in jail? A: He had a brush with the law.

Q: How does Salvador Dali start his mornings? A: With a bowl of “Surreal”

Q: What do you call a painting by a cat? A: A paw-trait.

Q: Why was the painting arrested? A: Because it was framed.

If it ain’t Baroque, then don’t fix it.

The Earth without art is just Eh.

Adam and Eve

A Briton, a Frenchman and a Russian are viewing a painting of Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden. “Look at their reserve, their calm,” muses the Brit. “They must be British.” “Nonsense,” the Frenchman disagrees. “They’re naked, and so beautiful. Clearly, they are French.” “No way! They have no clothes and no shelter,” the Russian points out, “They have only an apple to eat, and they are being told they live in a paradise. Obviously, they are Russian.” 


Tabernacle Reloaded  ADMIN — MARCH 12, 2010

10. Showbread would be sponsored by Zomick
GPS/Mapquest: 40-year desert problem solved
8.Want to know how to bring a Korban Chagiga (festival sacrifice)? there’s an app for that 7. Home Depot would have a cubit converter
6. Project Runway would have a breastplate-robe-tunic challenge
Live streaming Libation coverage
$10 to get into your office’s Kohain-Gadol (High Priest) Yom-Kippur Death Pool 3. ‘Incense for Men’ by Calvin Klein
Kodesh Kadashim (Holy of Holies) would be username/password protected
Jews would all live in trailer parks. Jtrash!


tph pigeons matzo crumbs


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Ki Tissa (Ex. 30:11 – 34:35), Shabbat Parah (Numbers 19:1-22)

It is three days after Tuesday’s frozen slop storm.  It is still cold.  The white stuff is just starting to melt.  Yesterday, I spent about 40 minutes hacking about 4 inches of ice-on-snow off my windshield and rear window.  I am generally grumpy and tired and getting our tax numbers together for the accountant.  But 7 years ago, I put together some pretty good and not overly long comments on Ki Tissa and Shabbat Parah, so that’s what I’m sending you this week:

“For the past two weeks, the Torah portion has contained instructions concerned the Tabernacle, priests, and their accoutrements.  We continue that briefly this week (the half-shekel head tax section we read on Shabbat Shekalim, incense and anointing oil recipes, and the appointment of Bezalel and Oholiab as artists-in-residence) and in the next two weeks, we will read, again in great detail how these instructions were carried out.  Dr. Benjamin Sommer, professor of Bible at JTS, writes at  that modern scholars believe these detailed, parallel sections on the sanctuary and priests (kohanim) were written down by the kohanim ‘who put tremendous emphasis on the importance of the Tabernacle, which was the predecessor to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The sections of the Torah written by the kohanim repeatedly highlight the Tabernacle’s centrality’ literally (it was in the center of the camp) and figuratively: ‘In short, the mishkan is a sacred center, the capstone of the universe; and their God is constantly and reliably manifest.’ 

“Most of this week’s portion, however, is a narrative:  how the people panicked when Moses appeared to be a day late (they apparently weren’t clear on whether he was supposed to be gone 40 full days or return on the 40th day) and demanded something concrete from Aaron; how Aaron tried to stall for time by asking for their gold and made a golden calf (why a calf? probably both  young bull -> fertility rites and knowledge of Egyptian bull cults, see, e.g., ); and what happened when Moses came back.  After persuading the Lord to not destroy the Israelites just because they’d already broken at least the second commandment, Moses shows his own anger by smashing the tablets, grinding up the idol into dust and making the people drink water containing it.  Aaron tries lamely to explain what happened, how he just threw the gold in the fire and this calf jumped out.  At Moses’ order, the Levites slay many people, and many die of a plague.

“But the portion ends with Moses bringing a second set of tablets to the people, so there’s still hope.  According to Dr. Sommer, this whole section is from a different set of documents, not written down by the kohanim, and presenting an entirely different world view: ‘God did not dwell there but “popped in” on appropriate occasions to reveal Himself to Moses or other Israelites.  …it regards the divine as less predictable and not subject to manipulation by precise if demanding rituals. This point of view recognizes the reality, the unavoidability—even the value—of reversal, of chaos, and of that which is outside the boundary of the community. This viewpoint is much more skeptical of the idea of sacred space.’ 

“This is yet another special Sabbath, Shabbat Parah.  The second scroll Torah portion concerns the red heifer and ritual cleanliness, and the special Haftarah (Ezekiel 36:16-38) concerns spiritual cleanliness.  All of this is to help get us into the mood for Pesach, now that the first seder is less than four weeks away (AGH!!).”

Shabbat shalom, 


Good Humor: God’s Kids Say the Funniest Things: The Best Jokes and Cartoons Barbour Publishing (2011).

By Cal Samra, Rose Samra

Mass Ed

Fr. John Hissrich of Guardian Angels Catholic Parish in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was teaching a fifth-grade class about some of the things that are done at mass.  He told them that incense is sometimes used at the reading of the Gospel, and that they may see the altar server come out carrying incense.

One boy, with a rather squeamish look on his face, raised his hand and asked, “Father, are the insects alive?”


tph golden calf


Sunday News Journal, Wilmington, DE, 1/31/16, p. 2A

Jeffrey Gentry

I was late for work (on lame excuses) (excerpts)

Ever been late for work and had to give the reason?
Did you make something up or tell the truth?
Made it up: The person in front of me hit a dog and kept going.  I felt bad so I stopped and took care of the dog, found the owner and helped him take his pup to the vet.
Told the truth:  I was drinking my bloody Mary this morning and spilled it on my dress shirt.  So I had to change.  And fix another one.
(From an annual survey by Here are some of the real excuses given by employees:

  • My hair caught on fire from my blow dryer.
  • I was detained by Homeland Security.
  • A black bear entered my carport and decided to take a nap on the hood of my car.
  • My lizard had to have emergency surgery in the morning and died during surgery. I had to mourn while deciding whether to have the lizard disposed of by the vet or bring the lizard corpse with me to work.
  • All of my clothes were stolen.

This is what I (Jeff Gentry) came up with:

  • Wawa had any size coffee for a buck. So I stopped at all 22 of them between home and work. Then I had to go back home and use the bathroom.
  • Three snowflakes fell. Have you seen how people in Delaware drive when it’s snowing? I wasn’t about to go out in that until I was sure it stopped.

And the most cited reason for being late to work in Delaware:

  • I took I-95 this morning.


Guilt-tripping your way through parenting: learn from the masters

tph moses breaks the tablets


Sent out in 2009, now edited

Red-Headed Woman
I found a 1932 Jean Harlow movie “Red-Headed Woman” very enjoyable in part because the red-headed villainess (Jean Harlow) was named Lil and the wronged good girl, Irene.  My mother Lillian had red hair as a toddler, which her mother considered to be bad luck.  Anyhow, here’s a synopsis based on one at . Note that, while Bill returns to good girl Irene, Lil also lives happily ever after with both her sugar daddy and hunky chauffeur in France.

Jean Harlow in a pre-Hays code movie, in a red wig, portrays a beautiful young woman, Lil who seduces the boss’s son, Bill (Chester Morris) and ruins his marriage to Irene. But as Bill’s wife, Lil is snubbed by his well-to-do friends. She heads to New York and starts an immediate affair with Charlie, an old (literally) friend of the family and Albert, the family chauffeur (a young Charles Boyer), too. just for good measure. But Bill tells Charlie about the affair with Albert. Bill gets back with Irene. Lil accepts a payoff and leaves for France with Albert, where she finds herself an elderly French millionaire who hires Albert as chauffeur.  Happy endings for all.

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Tetsaveh (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10), Shabbat Zachor (Deut. 25:17-19), Purim

A fashion line for an elite.  A new leader shows himself to be less than competent, is delegitimized, and will later sink into madness.  Code hacking.  And though an administration’s inner circle has close Jewish connections, the real power behind the throne encourages open antisemitism to flourish.  These are some of the elements in this weekend’s readings for Parashat Tetsaveh (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10), Shabbat Zachor, and Purim.

In Tetsaveh, we segue from the Tabernacle construction to its function via instructions for the menorah, which is to be lit continually, using pure, uncontaminated olive oil.  Then we get into the instructions for the priestly vestments, including particularly elaborate ones for Aaron, the High Priest (Kohen Gadol).

tph kohein gadol

As with the plans for the Tabernacle, the instructions are so detailed that kits are available for purchase today.  The garments for the priests (Aaron’s sons) include fringed linen tunics, linen turbans, embroidered sashes, and linen breeches.  The High Priest also wears a breastplate, an ephod, and a blue robe with alternating gold bells and pom-poms
(“pomegranates”) of blue, purple, and crimson yarn.  (Frankly, when I look at all the paraphernalia, I wonder how the High Priest didn’t succumb to heat exhaustion.)  By the way, this was my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah Torah portion.  She liked the bells on the hem but fretted over learning the obscure names of the 12 gemstones.

As I noted last year, parts of the High Priest’s outfit are functional in a ritual manner (see Baruch J. Schwartz, “The ‘Garments’ of the High Priest: Anthropomorphism in the Worship of God”).  Having the names of all 12 tribes carved on the gemstones symbolize that the High Priest represents all the people.  When he performs his duties, especially out of sight, the bells indicate that he is moving, thus alive.  The gold diadem on his head is inscribed “Holy to the Lord,” which is to ensure, that the Lord accept the people’s offerings.  And there’s my favorite, the Urim v’Thumim (literally, lights and completeness).  The breastplate was folded in half to form a pocket. The High Priest would insert in the pocket a sheet of parchment with the Lord’s name written on it and ask a question.  Letters would then light up on the gemstones and be decoded by the High Priest.  Very Star Trek.

And then we read the details of the ordination and sacrifices, etc., which we’ll see again in a few weeks.

Shabbat Zachor (“Remember”) is the second of the 4 special Sabbaths leading up to Passover.  The second scroll reading, Deut. 25:17-19, for once does not concern sacrifices, but instead refers to an attack by Amalek on the stragglers after the crossing of the sea (Ex. 17:8-16).  We are commanded to wipe out the name of Amalek and never forget what he did.  Through the ages, Amalek became a symbol for evildoers, which is one reason this is read on the Sabbath before Purim.  But first, we also have a dramatic haftarah, (1 Samuel 1-34 or 2-34.  No, I don’t know why).  King Saul only partly obeys orders to wipe out all the Amalekites and loses control of the people, who take forbidden booty.  He lets the king, Agag, live.  Samuel, tells him his nascent kingship is doomed and kills Agag instead.  Saul will rule for years yet, sinking into madness.

And, yes, that is related to Purim, on which we read the Book of Esther, exchange food gifts (Shalach Manot), give to the poor, eat hamantaschen, drink, dress up in costumes (ah, a link to the priestly vestments?), and generally have a good time.  Traditionally, Mordecai and Haman are descendants of the families of Saul and Amalek, respectively, and we noisily blot out Haman’s name during the reading.  Usually at this point I harp on how this is not a sweet children’s story about an innocent girl who wins a beauty contest and saves her people; come on, it involves eunuchs, courtesan training, and a king who chooses his queen by trying candidates out every night, not to mention murder plots and attempted genocide.

This year, though we’re commanded to be happy the whole month of Adar, I haven’t been able to get in the mood.  I am naturally subdued for the first week and a half, which includes the observance of the yahrzeits of my father, mother, and mother-in-law.  The snow outside isn’t helping.  More significantly, today’s world fills me with foreboding, especially the flaunting of antisemitism all across the country.  My local JCC has had four bomb threats and the cemetery in Brooklyn where my great-grandmother is buried has been vandalized.  So how am I supposed to be happy?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes that this entire month of joy, as well as the holiday, is supposed to be therapeutic (The Therapeutic Joy of Purim):

“On Purim the Final Solution was averted. But it had been pronounced. Ever afterward, Jews knew their vulnerability. The very existence of Purim in our historical memory is traumatic.

“The Jewish response to trauma is counterintuitive and extraordinary. You defeat fear by joy. You conquer terror by collective celebration. You prepare a festive meal, invite guests, give gifts to friends. While the story is being told, you make a rumbustious noise as if not only to blot out the memory of Amalek, but to make a joke out of the whole episode. You wear masks. You drink a little too much. You make a Purim spiel.

“Precisely because the threat was so serious, you refuse to be serious – and in that refusal you are doing something very serious indeed. You are denying your enemies a victory. You are declaring that you will not be intimidated.”

Shabbat shalom and Purim Sameach (Happy Purim),


How many Mossad agents does it take to change a light bulb?
Light bulb? There was no light bulb.

How many Shin Bet operatives does it take to change a light bulb?
We ask the questions around here.

How many Chabbadniks does it take to change a lightbulb?
None! It’s not dead! –

Church unveils new swine flu vestments

tph swine flu new_vestments

The Church of England has announced that following its introduction of special swine flu prayers, new clergy vestments are now available in case of a further outbreak of the deadly virus.

The discreet vestments (see left) make it possible for church life to go on absolutely as normal. Each clergy suit is hermetically sealed to provide 8 hours of total biological protection from parishioners, visitors, Alpha group leaders, the organist, fellow clergy and other noxious hazards.

“I don’t know why the Archbishop hasn’t issued them before now – they would have been a life saver during after-church coffee,” said Revd Ian Fluenza, who donned his new vestments as soon as he received them, and is said to be sleeping in them.

The vestments, which are in liturgical orange, are intended for use at the Service of Commemoration for the Loss of a Mexican Holiday, and other new Church of England liturgies


Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller

May 27, 2016

(thanks, Stanley)

tph zachor


Celebrity Bintel Brief: Jared + Ivanka Answer all Your Questions (excerpt)

Dear Jared,
My wife says that as a historically oppressed minority, we Jews have an obligation to fight for a just society that protects the rights of all minorities, Jews included. But I think we need to look out for ourselves — if Donald sees we support him then he’ll take care of us.
What do you think?
Self-Interested In Santa Monica, Ca.

Dear Self-Interested,
I hear a lot of kvetching about how Steve Bannon and his white nationalist followers are “coming for” the Jews, but that’s just silly.  I’ve been in on these discussions, and while I can’t break confidence, suffice it to say there’s a long list of groups ahead of us – first they’ll come for the Muslims, then the Hispanics, Blacks, and so forth.  I can assure you, we’re way down the list.
As long as we say nothing, we should be fine.


Top Ten Uses for Leftover, Stale Hamataschen

(oldie but goodie, written by IGP)

  1. Disposable kippot (“yarmulkes”, for you old folks)
  2. Scoop out the old filling and use as a cereal bowl
  3. Earrings (mini-hamantaschen only)
  4. Frisbees? Need to check aerodynamics*
  5. Template for drawing Jewish stars in Hebrew school classes
  6. Model for geometry lessons on triangles
  7. New game like Jenga (sp? the one where you fit wooden rods together to form a tower until a rod makes it fall)
  8. Layer for bottom of bird or small rodent cages (need to crumble first)
  9. Use in pot pies: scoop out filling, fill with chicken and vegetables, cover with broken pieces of a second hamantaschen, and bake. For more interesting results, don’t bother to scoop out the original filling.
  10. Use as teething ‘rings’ for babies. Also for kids who’ve just had their braces tightened and have ‘tingly teeth.’

*Local rabbinical decision based on actual test data: Doesn’t work. Try badminton instead.


The Jewish Weak – Headlines In The Purim Issue (selected)

BY JEWISH WEEK EDITORS March 8, 2017, 11:32 am

After Trump U. fiasco, president declares “universities, colleges, they’re all rigged.”

Even Mort Klein upset with declaration that holiday marks ‘ancient’ Persian event when wide variety of ethnic minorities’ were saved.

Following Major League Baseball lead, congregants will be granted Intentional Walks to the lobby; speed readers to be hired for Torah portions; spitting, tobacco chewing and crotch adjustments banned.

Paul Krugman, Charles Blow, David Brooks overdose on Trump bashing.

Admit infatuation, possible engagement, “but, alas, Donald not ready for lasting commitment,” prime minister acknowledges.

Editors insist content hilarious satire; readers confused, divided, annoyed.

After meeting with Russian ambassador revealed, Democrats urge him to step down as son-in-law.

Would-be bombers urged to be patient if line is busy; each will be handled in turn.

But Pew finds 97 percent on campus think BDS an underwear brand.


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Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

Details, details.

In the last few Torah portions, we’ve had the Exodus, the splitting of the sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and dozens of laws to help the Israelites set up a just and functioning society.  Moses has gone back up the mountain to get the hard copy (sorry, both for the pun and for my repetition of it over the years) of the Ten Commandments, leaving the people to…well, he’ll find out later. 

This week and next, we read very detailed instructions for building and furnishing the Tabernacle (mishkan) and for the priests’ vestments.  Then we have the (spoiler alert) Golden Calf disaster, followed by the actual fabrication of the Tabernacle and vestments.  Three questions occupy the commentators about all this:  Are these sections in chronological order?  Why have a Tabernacle at all?  Why the often mind-numbing detail?

Some commentators, like Rashi, feel that building the Tabernacle is a means of atoning for the Golden Calf, so that story is actually first chronologically.  Further, according to Maimonides, the Golden Calf incident demonstrates the need for the people to have something tangible to connect them to an intangible God, so the Tabernacle would be a concession to this weakness.  However, others, like Nachmanides, take the chronology as is and reject the notion of the Tabernacle-as-crutch.  The amount of detail in the instructions, the space given to them, and the importance of the Tabernacle’s eventual descendant, the Temple in Jerusalem, all support Nachmanides, in my opinion.  The degree of detail has the practical benefit of preventing arguments when the people are actually carry out the instructions and enables the reader to experience the Tabernacle and vestments vicariously, even to the extent of replicating them today (you can buy kits online).  I also like to think of the four portions of instructions and execution as peaceful, soothing buffers around the awful story of the Golden Calf. 

So.  Why a Tabernacle?  I’ve written here before that the building of the Ttabernacle has parallels with Creation. Buber drew seven such parallels with Creation (Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot, vol. 2, pp. 480-1).  Thus, by building the Tabernacle, the Israelites that will, in a small way, imitate the Lord’s own project of Creation.  

I feel the key points in this portion are found right at the beginning, in verses 25:2 and 8:
“2. Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.”

The gifts, though very specifically described (a mishkan registry?), are to be voluntary.  The only compulsory donations are a half-shekel of silver for the sockets for the Tabernacle’s planks and the annual half-shekel donation for communal offerings.  We’ll also read of the emotional involvement of the people during the actual building.  The degree of detail evokes the excitement of people who are into building dream houses and interior design and has the practical benefit of preventing arguments when the people are actually carry out the instructions.

“8. And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

Yes, the people have been told that the Lord is not constrained physically.  But this verse resonates with warmth.   It defines the Tabernacle as a special, sacred space where contact between the people and the Lord is especially loving and intimate.  As Rabbi Edward Feinstein wrote this week about 25:8 (“When You Haven’t Got a Prayer”), “We are to build a place for God to dwell in our world, in our lives. Not on high. But down here in the rhythms of daily experience God wishes to dwell.”

Shabbat shalom,

———————— new church

The new church

A rich man goes to his minister and says, “I want you and your wife to take a three-month trip to the Holy Land at my expense. When you come back, I’ll have a surprise for you.” 

The minister accepts the offer, and he and his wife set off to the Middle East.

Three months later they return home. They are met by the wealthy parishioner, who shows them a new church he has had built for them while they were gone.

“It’s the finest building money can buy, reverend,” the man says. “I spared no expense.” 

And he is right. It is a magnificent edifice, outside and in. But there is one striking difference. There is only one pew, and it is at the very back. 

“A church with only one pew?” asks the minister. 

“You just wait until Sunday,” the rich man says.

When the time comes for the Sunday service, the early arrivals enter the church, file onto the one pew and sit down. When the pew is full, a switch clicks silently, a circuit closes, the gears mesh, a belt moves and, automatically, the rear pew begins to move forward. 

When it reaches the front of the church, it comes to a stop. At the same time, another empty pew comes up from below at the back and more people sit down. And so it continues, pews filling and moving forward until finally the church is full from front to back.

“Wonderful!” says the minister. “Marvelous!” 

The service begins, and the minister starts to preach his sermon. He launches into his text and, when 12 o’clock comes, he is still going strong, with no end in sight. Suddenly a bell rings, and a trap door in the floor behind the pulpit drops open.

“Wonderful!” says the congregation. “Marvelous!”








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Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:8), Shabbat Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16)

Chaos.  Law.  Orders coming down from above, some incomprehensible.  And what will we do with the resident aliens in our midst?  I refer, of course, to this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (statutes).

First:  Shabbat Shekalim is the first of four special Sabbaths leading to Passover on which a relevant addition is read from a second scroll and there’s a special haftarah. Exodus 30:11-16 is about the census of the adult Israelites via a half-shekel donation, or head tax.   The special haftarah is II Kings 11:17-12:17 (Ashkenazim, 12:1-17), is about the money donated to the priests for Temple maintenance.   A further complication: Rosh Chodesh Adar is Sunday and Monday, so some congregations will add the verses I Samuel 20:18 and 42 after the Shabbat Shekalim haftarah.

We read the Ten Commandments last week.  Now we read a few dozen more, 53, according to some commentators.  Some of these flesh out specific Commandments.  [Identifying which laws in Mishpatim link to which of the Ten Commandments is an exercise left to the reader.]  Chapter 21:2 -22:16 includes criminal and civil laws.  The goal is fair treatment.  Among the laws is the formula: (Ch. 21) “23 But if other damage ensues,* the penalty shall be life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”  [*This refers to a miscarriage caused when a pregnant woman interferes in a fight between men (21:22)] This is the first of three times such a formula appears in the Torah. It prescribes just compensation, not mutilation. 

Chapter 22:17-23:19) continues the emphasis on treating each other fairly, like returning found animals and items to the owner, not favoring rich over poor or poor over rich in judgement, and caring for the needy.  The Israelites’ experience as slaves should make them acutely aware of the suffering of others and strongly desire to alleviate it.  A few future-oriented items are included as well, the dedication of the firstborn and the three harvest festivals and the sabbatical year. In a third section (23:20-33), the Lord tells the Israelites that an angel will accompany them to the Promised Land, that life will be good if they obey and that the Canaanites will be driven out to prevent the Israelites from worshiping their gods. Finally, (24:1-18) the people declare their acceptance of all the laws (at least for now) and Moses, Aaron, Nadav, Abihu, and the 70 elders ascend and see the Lord (24:9-10). And then Moses beings a 40-day sojourn on Mt. Sinai, writing down the Law, leaving Aaron and Hur in charge and, rather naively, expecting the people to behave.

It appears that a legal system is needed for the orderly functioning of a stable society.  Yet, as I wrote here three years ago, “(c)haos and legal systems are intimately linked, and not (just) because the latter are designed to eliminate the former…’Chaos’ denotes a kind of unpredictable behavior occurring in a deterministic system.  But in a deterministic system, the present determines the future.  Period.  So, this sounds like a paradox.  Rather, chaos is ‘a subtle mix of order and randomness; it is predictable in the short run (because of determinism) but unpredictable in the long run (because of sensitivity to initial conditions.’ ([Prof. Steven] Strogatz’s [Teaching Company] course transcript, vol. 1, p. 205, glossary).  Chaos theory focuses on the nature of the process, not the specific material … undergoing the process.”

In a similar tension between opposites, Robert E. Scott [Chaos Theory and the Justice Paradox, William & Mary Law Review, 35 329 (1993)] describes what is called the Justice Paradox: does the law produce justice between parties in a specific dispute today and will the law regulate the conduct of parties in such disputes in the future, as they learn from earlier experience?  In another, sense, this is the issue of justice versus law and the difficulty of obtaining both simultaneously.  Jean Valjean’s plight in Les Miserables shows that justice needs context to be humane; Javert’s obsession, that rules and laws are needed to control human behavior and protect the social welfare.

In one theory of law, early Legal Realism, the law draws its justification from “raw coercive power,” the force it wields as the “keeper of social order.” That view had greatest currency during the 1930’s (hmmm).  But consider the case of the ger (stranger, resident alien, even just “outsider,” as I wrote here 4 years ago) in this week’s portion, The fair treatment of the ger is mentioned 36 times in the Torah, this week in 22:20 and 23:9.  The Israelites are repeatedly told, because you were oppressed as strangers in Egypt, you do not oppress the ger.  Today, an unfortunately large number of people want to use raw, coercive legal power to oppress gerim of various sorts with a view toward protection of the social order as advocated in the 1930’s.

Scott uses chaos theory metaphorically to deal with the inherent justice versus law tension: “I suggest that we should look to Chaos Theory as a metaphor for the way to think about the contradictions and the tensions inherent in the legal system. … All systems, including the legal system, are unpredictable and erratic. The butterfly effect teaches us that small differences in initial variables will always produce dramatic variations in final outcomes. By explicitly applying this to law, it becomes clear that even slight differences in the facts of cases result in wildly disparate judicial outcomes. In both instances, disorder is inevitable…Chaos in law describes human life. Thus, we in law must continuously be self-conscious, self-criticizing, self-analyzing, but above all, patient and accepting of the limits of our discipline…Do not despair because law has fundamental contradictions. It is the very tension whose resolution we seek that keeps our legal system in a dynamic state of continuous renewal and repair.“ (pp. 348-50)
Shabbat shalom,



Hershel of Ostropol (1757-1811) was a prominent figure in Jewish humor in the Ukraine.

The Painting

Once, Hershele was selling antiques and trinkets in the market. Among his wares was a large canvas, that was entirely blank. A customer asked Hershele what it was, and Hershele replied:

– “For a silver shekel, I will tell you about this painting. (The man, overwhelmed by curiosity, gives him a shekel). Well, this painting is a famous painting, depicting the Jews crossing the Red Sea, with the Egyptians in pursuit.”
– “Well, where are the Jews?”

– “They’ve crossed.”
– “And the Egyptians?”
– “Haven’t come yet.”
– (Getting frustrated at having been duped) “And where’s the Red Sea?!”
– “It’s parted, dummkopf!”


Advertising a dentist’s office:


Lost Mosquito



Quotes about Chaos

The task of art today is to bring chaos into order. Theodor Adorno

I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me. Bob Dylan

We know from chaos theory that even if you had a perfect model of the world, you’d need infinite precision in order to predict future events. With sociopolitical or economic phenomena, we don’t have anything like that. Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man. Henry Adams

FEBRUARY 14, 2017

This one’s pretty straightforward:


Loud noises generated by burglar were unnecessary but helpful

Someone at the Olympia (Wash.) Police Department put this together to illustrate how officers caught a man burglarizing a local Taco Bell at 3:30 a.m. on February 6. It had snowed for most of the previous 12 hours and was just letting up about the time of the 911 call. This meant there was a nice, fresh covering of snow perfectly suited for leaving a trail of footprints.

This trail led toward the building where an alarm had been triggered. Specifically, it led to a ladder, the ladder went to the roof, and then more prints led to an open roof hatch. Inside: Burglar. “Snow makes crime scene investigation much easier,” one officer said, and that’s probably not always true but it certainly was here.

This, of course, is hardly the first time criminals have made things easy for law enforcement by leaving a trail of some sort that led police to them, directly or indirectly. See Crooks Leave Trail to Own Front Door” (Apr. 5, 2005) (coins dropped out of a hole in a milk crate); “Cake-Wielding Police-Station Vandals Test Positive for Icing” (Jan. 12, 2007) (trail of crumbs led from station to cake box outside restaurant; two restaurant patrons later arrested); see also Angry Parrot Leads Police to Thief” (July 21, 2006) (parrot-stealer’s DNA obtained from blood trail caused by parrot bite); “Trail of Chewing-Tobacco Spit Leads to Thieves” (May 14, 2009) (safecrackers’ DNA obtained from chewing-tobacco spit trail); cf.Police Rapidly Crack the Case of the Stolen GPS Devices” (Jan. 20, 2007) (self-explanatory).


Dumb Laws in the United States (sampling)

Alaska: Moose may not be viewed from an airplane.

              Juneau – Owners of flamingos may not let their pet into barber shops.

California: Sunshine is guaranteed to the masses.

              No vehicle without a driver may exceed 60 miles per hour.

Delaware:  Lewes – Getting married on a dare is grounds for an annulment.

Missouri: Kansas City – Minors are not allowed to purchase cap pistols, however they may buy shotguns freely.

               St. Louis – It’s illegal to sit on the curb of any city street and drink beer from a bucket.

New York: The penalty for jumping off a building is death.

New Jersey:  It is illegal to wear a bullet-proof vest while committing a murder.

Pennsylvania:  You may not sing in the bathtub.

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Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23)

This week:  The Ten (more or less) Commandments!

But first, a lesson in management.  Yitro (Jethro), having heard of the Exodus of the Israelites in Midian, goes out to his son-in-law Moses, bringing along his daughter and her sons, i.e., Moses’s apparently forgotten family.  Indeed, we do not read of any conversation Moses had with Tzipporah or Gershom or Eliezer, not even a greeting.  Then again, he has his hands full – too full, according to Yitro. 

When you have 600,000 or so people together, disputes arise (No doubt you’ve heard the old saying, “Two Jews, three opinions.”).  Naturally, Moses is asked to settle them all, and he does.  This reflects, not a desire to micromanage, but a simple humility: they ask him, he answers.  Seeing Moses heading toward early burnout, Yitro tells him how to set up a hierarchical judicial system, so that only the most difficult cases get all the way up to Moses and no one is burned out along the way.  This was very practical.  However, as Rashi notes, it also meant people had less personal contact with Moses himself.

It is now over two months since the Exodus.  The people are getting used to manna.  They’ve been given a few simple laws to follow.  They are being readied for Revelation (of the Ten Commandments) at Mount Sinai.  Moses is their go-between with the Lord, Who tells him to say (19:4-6),

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ 

The people are thrilled and respond (19:8), “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!”   So far, so good.  Now they are given three days to get ready individually (e.g., wash their clothes) and warned that anyone who touches the mountain itself will die.  Then the Revelation itself is overwhelming: lightning, thunder, smoke, cloud, the blaring of the shofar.  The people, and even the mountain, trembled.  In the sensory overload, it’s unclear what words the people, other than Moses, actually heard.

The haftarah, Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5-6 (Sephardim, 6:1-13), includes a personal theophany (manifestation of God), in which the prophet, when he is called to serve, sees the Lord on a throne in the Temple, served by six-winged seraphim calling to each other (6:3), “Holy, holy, holy (kadosh, kadosh, kadosh)!  The Lord of Hosts!  His presence fills all the earth!”  This is the source of both the Kedushah in Jewish liturgy and the Sanctus in the Christian Mass.

As for the Commandments themselves, they are best described as a contract, like other suzerain/vassal treaties in the ancient Near East, consisting of a preamble (the parties and their relationship, Ex. 20:1-2); stipulations (what the vassal is required to do, 20:3-17); and what will happen to the vassal (blessings and curses) depending on whether the stipulations are met (20:5, 6, 7, and 12).  That’s it.  It’s not the source of all our laws.  It’s not even currently in our liturgy, lest people think those are our only laws.  And to those who want to honor the Ten Commandments by displaying them publicly, I suggest avoiding disputes as to numbering and translation by using the ancient text in Sinaiatic Hebrew:


Shabbat shalom,





Funny* Organization Titles for Your Next Reorg

*And more descriptive



Utah Park to be Overcrowded with Donated Monuments; Little League Baseball Brings Lawsuit!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008
ark that has been displaying a donated monument to the Ten Commandments has been ordered by the Supreme Court that now they must accept displays given by any and all groups to guarantee freedom of religious expression.

The Seven Aphorisms of Summum, the Four Pillars of Islam, the 619 Laws of the Torah and Roman Catholicism’s 1,932 regulations have already been delivered. On order to the park are the Quaker five principles, Luther’s Theses, Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps, the Code of Hammurabi, Jehovah’s Witnesses Seven Testimonies, The Eight Beatitudes, the Six Antitheses, ET’s Phone Messages Home and The One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.

The Little League Baseball national committee announced that they will be bringing a law suit against the park’s department for destroying the children’s baseball diamond with monuments.


Washington Post, February 13, 2017, Opinions
Trump orders may reach biblical proportions
By Tom Toles (thanks, Stanley) 



Dental Contract (excerpts)

Does the very thought of a dentist set your teeth on edge? Is pudding too challenging to chew? This contract should help mitigate your pain.

AGREEMENT entered into this ____ day of ________, 20__ by anxious Patient and drill wielding Dentist.

WHEREAS, Patient views dentistry as legalized S & M; and
WHEREAS, Dentist enjoys pillaging mouths almost as much as yachting and golf;
NOW, THEREFORE, Dentist and Patient hereby agree as follows:

1. Dentist shall instruct his receptionist not to ask, “How are we today?” If we were well, we would not be here.

2. Dentist acknowledges that Patient’s time has a modicum of value. Accordingly, for every minute Dentist keeps Patient waiting, one dollar shall be subtracted from Patient’s bill. Double, if the waiting room is filled with kids.
4.Dentist shall not say “You have so many fillings, I can’t read the X-rays.” Otherwise Patient shall say, “Your invoice has so many dollars, I can’t pay the bill.”

5. Dentist shall not do any work until Patient’s mouth approaches actual numbness.

7. Dentist agrees that a mouth crammed with blood-soaked cotton and dental weaponry isn’t capable of a clear “Yes” to the question “Does it hurt?” To improve communications, the following definitions are agreed on:

                 a. “Urghh.” — “It hurts a little, but I think I can stand it.
                 b. “Uuurrggh!” — “Maybe you should give me another shot.”
                 c. “UUUURRRGGGH!!” — “If you don’t drop that drill, I will kill you.”

14. In the interest of good taste and an improved IQ, Dentist shall switch from Muzak to Mozart.

16. Dentist will stop trying to impress Patient with glossy, high-class magazines. Patient doesn’t want to read “Town & Country.” Patient wants to get the hell out of here.

17. Dentist shall not prescribe aspirin for post-visit pain. Dentist shall prescribe something that works.

19. This agreement shall be deemed effective for all future dental work that Patient may be desperate enough to seek.

WHEREFORE, We affix our signatures.

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