Acharei Mot – Kedoshim (Lev. 61:1 – 20:27)

I am currently working on a presentation for this coming Sunday, on how “natural” versus “man-made” items are valued in Jewish tradition and thus too mentally distracted to think a lot about atonement, forbidden sexual relationships, and holiness, the major themes this week.  The comments below are cobbled together from 2012, 2013, and 2015.

This week, we read a not overly long double Torah portion, Acharei Mot (“after the death of,” referring to Aaron’s sons) and Kedoshim (“holy”).  They present both ritual and behavioral expectations of the Israelites and make it clear both are required.  Acharei Mot (Lev. 16:1-18:30) deals with the atonement rituals of Yom Kippur, including how Aaron can safely enter the Holy of Holies; ritual purification; and forbidden sexual relationships, mainly incest.  It includes sacrifices, blood sprinkling, the equation blood=life, and driving a scapegoat into the wilderness.  Appropriately, most of Acharei Mot is read at the morning and afternoon services on Yom Kippur.

While Acharei Mot largely deals with expiation for past misdeeds, Kedoshim (Lev. 19:1-20:27) prescribes how to behave from now on.  Kedoshim immediately gets to its point (19:1): “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The rest of the portion tells us how, and Ch. 19 is the core of the Holiness Code, Ch. 17-27.  Some laws are puzzling, like a law against rounding the corners of one’s beard.  Easier for us to accept are commands like helping the needy, being fair and honest, using honest weights and measures, not taking advantage (e.g., by insulting the deaf or putting a literal or figurative stumbling block in front of the blind), respecting the aged, and loving the stranger as yourself.  So we get an idea of what being holy entails, but holiness per se is not explicitly defined. 

We read in Lev. 20:26, “You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine.”  Generally, in Judaism, we say something or someone is holy when it or s/he is set apart because it is special, distinguished in a positive manner (as opposed to the punishment of karet, being cut off from the people).   Thus, the holy Sabbath (“Shabbat kodesh”) is set apart from the rest of the week, and a wife is set apart from other women in the part of the marriage service called “kiddushin”.  Other interpretations of holiness focus on restraint: in terms of forbidden sexual relationships (Maimonides) or more generally in terms of personal conduct (Rashi, Nachmanides)

Marc Gary (Exec. Vice Chancellor of JTS) wrote in “A Holy Tongue – Kedushah and the Ethics of Speech,” “Modern society has little patience for the concept of kedushah because holiness insists on the importance of distinctions and separateness… (T)he notion of kedushah appears countercultural in today’s society, elevating distinctiveness over universalism.”  However, given the recent global decline in universalism, I’d say that is no longer the case. 

You may have noticed my recent fascination with Purity and Danger by Mary T. DouglasFrom pp. 54-55:  “Holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation. It therefore involves correct definition, discrimination and order. Under this head all the rules of sexual morality exemplify the holy. Incest and adultery (Lev. XVIII, 6–20) are against holiness, in the simple sense of right order.…Then follows in chapter XIX another list of actions which are contrary to holiness. Developing the idea of holiness as order, not confusion, this list upholds rectitude and straight-dealing as holy, and contradiction and double-dealing as against holiness. …To be holy is to be whole, to be one; holiness is unity, integrity, perfection of the individual and of the kind.”  This wholeness is what we are to aspire to as part of being made in the image of God.

The essence of holiness is not simply “I have set you apart,” but “I have set you apart to be Mine (20:26).”  “You are holy” means not only that you have been set apart (distinguished) because you have behaved in a manner conducive to holiness, but with the intent that you will continue to do so in accordance with the concept of Imitatio Dei, imitation of God.

Shabbat shalom,


As the rabbi began his lecture on repentance, he asked the class, “What must we do before we can expect forgiveness from sin?”
After a long silence, one of the men in attendance raised his hand and said:
Remember that old song, “I’m my own grandpa”?  It’s sung by Ray Stevens on youtube, and the family tree is helpfully built, branch by branch, as the song progresses.  Here is the result:

tph myowngrandpa

Murphy, a Dishonest Lawyer…

Murphy, a dishonest lawyer, bribed one of his client’s jurors to hold out for a charge of manslaughter, fearing the murder charge being brought by the state. The jury was out for days before returning with the verdict:
Later, as Murphy paid off the corrupt juror, he asked him if he had a hard time convincing the other jurors to see things his way.
“Boy, did I!” said the juror. “They kept voting to acquit!


Jokes and Lessons from the Professions (selected, and I left out the lessons)

The Teacher The answer to the problem was “log(1+x).”  A student copied the answer from the student next to him, but didn’t want to make it obvious that he was cheating, so he changed the answer slightly, to “timber(1+x).”

The Businessman  A young businessman had just started his own firm. He rented a beautiful office and had it lavishly furnished. One day, while he was sitting at his office desk, he saw a man come into the outer office. Wanting to impress the stranger, he picked up his phone and pretended he had a big deal working. After some time, he hung up and asked the visitor, “Can I help you?” “Yeah, I’ve come to activate your phone lines,” the man replied. 

The Bus Driver An elderly lady boarded a bus and asked the bus driver to excuse her as she had forgotten to bring along her pensioner’s pass. “I am sorry, ma’am,” the bus driver said, “but you will have to pay the full fare without your pass.” The lady got extremely angry and she shouted, “You go to Hell!” A rather timid man at the back of the bus pleaded, “Lady, is it okay if I get off first at the next stop before the driver takes you to your destination?” 


Quotes about Wholeness

You are all things. Denying, rejecting, judging or hiding from any aspect of your total being creates pain and results in a lack of wholeness.  Joy Page

That’s why people listen to music or look at paintings. To get in touch with that wholeness. Corita Kent

We live in a fractured world. I’ve always seen it as my role as an artist to attempt to make wholeness.  Anish Kapoor

Individuality is only possible if it unfolds from wholeness.  David Bohm

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Tazria-Metzora (Lev. 12:1 – 15:33)

“Eeewww! Gross!”

That’s the typical reaction to the Torah portions Tazria (Lev. 12:1- 13:59) and Metzora (Lev. 14:1-15:33), especially if you’re 12 and have just been told this will be your Bar or Bat Mitzvah portion.  At least this year, we read the two at once, getting through them in one week instead of two.  Actually, the text lends itself to Bar/Bat Mitzvah talks on some interesting, non-yucky topics: considerations of life and death, male and female, purity and impurity, divinity and earthiness; boundaries; “uncleanness” of a person (say, a child who doesn’t “fit” with a peer group) or a group (Syrian refugees, Republicans, Democrats…). But this year, I’m going to be more literal.

The reading begins with instructions for ritual purification after childbirth and a re-statement that a boy is circumcised on the 8th day.  The woman is ritually impure twice as long for a girl as for a boy.  For various opinions on this, see, e.g., .

Then we get into tzara’at.  This condition can occur as a skin disease, a reddish or greenish discoloration of cloth or leather, or a similar discoloration of the stones of a house.  The skin ailment is not leprosy (Hansen’s disease), but some other skin ailment(s) (psoriasis? vitiligo?).  The other manifestations might be some type(s) of mold or mildew.  We get a detailed, clinical, businesslike description of how a priest (it must be a priest) deals with tzara’at: diagnosis, removal of the infected person (metzora) or item from the community, follow-up, and determination of readiness for purification, and rituals for purification.  The priest is not a doctor; there is no treatment per se, just separation, observation, and waiting.

My go-to reference concerning ritual purity and impurity (that does sound weird – I have a “go-to reference on such stuff?) is Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas.  From p. 52, on holiness: “Granted that its root means separateness, the next idea that emerges is of the Holy as wholeness and completeness. Much of Leviticus is taken up with stating the physical perfection that is required of things presented in the temple and of persons approaching it. The animals offered in sacrifice must be without blemish, women must be purified after childbirth, lepers should be separated and ritually cleansed before being allowed to approach it once they are cured. All bodily discharges are defiling and disqualify from approach to the temple.” 

The end of the portion concerns ritual impurity caused by genital discharges.  Details are in Chapter 15.  These discharges are normal and healthy, like those after childbirth, but they disqualify one from participation in Tabernacle or, later, Temple ritual. Tzara’at, on the other hand, is regarded as the manifestation of divine disapproval, a spiritual problem.  Tzara’at is eventually linked to the sin of lashon hara (literally, “evil tongue,” derogatory speech about someone else).  We’ll see this with Miriam’s punishment in Deuteronomy.

Shabbat shalom,


tph pregnant late for work


tph epidural


Funny List of Fake Medical Diagnoses, Signs and Symptoms (selections)

Acute Lead Poisoning –  gunshot wound.

Cell-ulitis –  getting sick right before getting arrested. 

Chandelier Sign – jumping off the bed to belly palpation, seen with extreme pain. 

Chartomegally –  when the patient is in the hospital so long the chart becomes massive.

Craniorectal Inversion –  self-explanatory.

Cyberchondria –  worrying about all the worst possibilities after reading the internet.

Fakasia –  faking stroke symptoms with aphasia to try and get admitted to the hospital.


10 Weirdest Diseases (selections)

4. Blue Skin Disorder: the blue people
A large family simply known as the “blue people” lived in the hills around Troublesome Creek in Kentucky until the 1960s. They were the blue Fugates. Most of them lived past the age of 80, with no serious illness – just blue skin. The trait was passed on from generation to generation. People with this condition have blue, plum, indigo or almost purple skin. (Source)

8. Blaschko’s lines: strange stripes all over the body
Blaschko’s lines are an extremely rare and unexplained phenomenon of human anatomy first presented in 1901 by German dermatologist Alfred Blaschko. Neither a specific disease nor a predictable symptom of a disease, Blaschko’s lines are an invisible pattern built into human DNA. Many inherited and acquired diseases of the skin or mucosa manifest themselves according to these patterns, creating the visual appearance of stripes…usually forming a “V” shape over the spine and “S” shapes over the chest, stomach, and sides.


Senate Slander

A member of the United States Senate, known for his hot temper and acid tongue, exploded one day in mid-session and began to shout, “Half of this Senate is made up of cowards and corrupt politicians!”

All the other Senators demanded that the angry member withdraw his statement, or be removed from the remainder of the session.

After a long pause, the angry member acquiesced. “OK,” he said, “I withdraw what I said. Half of this Senate is NOT made up of cowards and corrupt politicians!”


Gossip One-liners

It isn’t what they say about you, it’s what they whisper.  Errol Flynn

In Hollywood now when people die they don’t say, “did he leave a will?” but “did he leave a diary.”  Liza Minnelli

If you can’t say anything good about someone, sit right here by me.  Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Gossip is nature’s telephone.  Sholom Aleichem

Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid. Walter Winchell

A gossip is someone who talks to you about others, a bore is someone who talks to you about himself, and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself.  Lisa Kirk

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Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47)

I am still foggily transitioning from Passover.  The boxes are packed but have not yet been moved to the basement.  And it’s a rainy day.  I remember a Sesame Street song from a few decades ago, It’s a Rainy Day, and I enjoy the song more than the rain.  Anyhow, here are comments from 2012, with a few typos corrected and a paragraph from 2016:

“This week’s Torah portion is neatly divided into three parts: Chapter 9, priestly triumph; Chapter 10, disaster; and Chapter 11, kosher and unkosher animals.

“It is the eighth day of the ordination week for Aaron and his sons. Aaron and his sons flawlessly offer the various sacrifices. Aaron and Moses go inside the Tent of Meeting, come out, and bless the people. The ‘Presence of the Lord’ appears to all the people, and fire comes forth and consumes the offering. The people are suitably impressed. Then disaster inexplicably strikes. Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu break from the strictly detailed instructions and offer incense-containing “alien fire” to the Lord. They are promptly consumed by fire. Aaron stands silent, in shock, while Moses does damage control that won’t get anyone else killed.

“Why did Nadav and Avihu make that fatal offering? This section is followed by a command that the priests must not drink any intoxicant prior to performing their duties, since they have to be able to distinguish between sacred and profane and between clean and unclean. From this juxtaposition of verses, the rabbis conclude that Nadav and Avihu acted as they did because they were drunk. Perhaps they were nervous before their first priestly gig and overindulged? Perhaps the drinking showed they really didn’t take this seriously? Another interpretation is that they were overcome with spiritual ecstasy and their souls were taken up to heaven. Rav Gedaliah Schorr has an interesting take along those lines (A Daily Dose of Torah, Kleinman Edition, Y. Weiss, ed., (2007), vol. 7, pp. 78-79). Generally, love of the Lord impels performing the commandments (mitzvot) and fear (awe) of the Lord promotes abstention from sin. The two emotions must be kept in perfect balance, Nadav and Avihu felt a great excess of love and insufficient fear (awe).

“Anyhow, the rest of the portion concerns kosher and nonkosher animals. The kosher ones are listed first (the good news), then the unkosher ones (the bad news), which are called ‘abominations’. Touching the carcasses of the unkosher ones results in a short spell of ritual impurity. Dead creepy crawly things that have fallen into a vessel transmit impurity to that vessel; there’s a whole tractate of Mishnah (Kelim) devoted to that.”

Insert from 2016, Mary Douglas’s analysis re: why an animal is kosher or not: “Douglas goes back to square one: The only sound approach is to forget hygiene, aesthetics, morals and instinctive revulsion, even to forget the Canaanites and the Zoroastrian Magi, and start with the texts (p. 50).  The purpose of all of the laws in Leviticus is promote holiness: To be holy is to be whole, to be one; holiness is unity, integrity, perfection of the individual and of the kind. The dietary rules merely develop the metaphor of holiness on the same lines… To grasp this scheme we need to go back to Genesis and the creation.  Here a three-fold classification unfolds, divided between the earth, the waters and the firmament. Leviticus takes up this scheme and allots to each element its proper kind of animal life. In the firmament two-legged fowls fly with wings. In the water, scaly fish swim with fins. On the earth four-legged animals hop, jump or walk. Any class of creatures which is not equipped for the right kind of locomotion in its element is contrary to holiness.”

Back to 2012: “How the laws of kashrut are followed or not can be a wonderful vehicle for studying the history of a Jewish community. I recently started reading Kosher Nation by Sue Fishkoff and was startled by the shenanigans surrounding kosher meat in the US in the first half of the 20th century: riots over suspected price fixing, racketeering and violence in the kosher poultry business, possible organized crime involvement, corruption, and scandal.

“Consider this little incident related on pp. 62-63: ‘In 1914, Barnett Baff, owner of several wholesale and retail poultry markets in New York, was suspected of price-fixing and of underselling his rivals. He was shot and killed on the street, as were two eyewitnesses to his murder who had offered to testify in court. One of Baff’s shooters later confessed that one hundred kosher poultry retailers in the city raised $4,200 to pay for the murders. Strong arm tactics prevailed for decades and turned particularly ugly…’ Turned particularly ugly?!! Kosher poultry retailers hiring hit men to do away with someone doesn’t count as ‘particularly ugly’?!! Sheesh. … I assume nowadays the only blood spilled in the industry is from animals.”

Shabbat shalom,


Moshe goes to see his Rabbi. “Rabbi, last week I missed saying grace after meals.” 
“Why,” asked the Rabbi. 
“Because I forgot to wash my hands before the meal.” 
“That’s twice you’ve broken the law but you still haven’t told me why.” 
“The food wasn’t kosher.” 
“You ate non-kosher food?” asked the Rabbi. 
“It wasn’t a Jewish restaurant.” 
“That makes it even worse,” said the now angry Rabbi. “Couldn’t you have eaten in a kosher one?” 
“What, on Yom Kippur?”


Oldie but goodie, last sent out in 2013. I wrote it around 2000 in response to a suggestion that maybe Conservative Jewish synagogue board members should be required to keep at least somewhat kosher, at least in public. “Treif” (Hebrew,
“torn”) = unkosher. So, here are:

Levels of Treif When Eating Out

  1. Mini-treif: baked goods whose ingredients are unknown to you.
    2. Minor treif: grilled cheese sandwich, where the grill is also used for
    3. Treif: hamburger made from unkosher ground beef.
    4. Major treif: cheeseburger.
    5. Super deluxe treif: bacon cheeseburger
    6. Adding-insult-to-injury treif: bacon cheeseburger made with Glatt
    kosher ground beef and Orthodox union supervised cheese.

I hope you have found this helpful…


Medical Marijuana May Soon Get Kosher Stamp of Approval (excerpts)

Paul Berger February 23, 2015 Anya Ulinich

Kosher marijuana could soon be available to Orthodox Jews in New York State — but only on doctor’s orders.

Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher certification agency, said he has held “preliminary discussions” with several companies interested in obtaining a kosher seal of approval for medical marijuana….

Although Orthodox rabbis appear to have accepted the medical benefits of cannabis, they remain much more cautious about recreational marijuana. Most Orthodox rabbis say it’s strictly prohibited.

Such a view marks a clear divide between Orthodox Jewry and progressive Jews who support across-the-board regulation of pot.

Cannabis has been shown to alleviate pain, anxiety, appetite loss and nausea in patients suffering from a range of diseases including HIV/AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis. In Israel, which is a world leader in medical marijuana, with more than 11,000 people licensed to receive the medicinal form of the drug, patients can already buy kosher-certified products.

Because of marijuana’s clear medical benefits, the Orthodox Union, which has rejected kosher certification requests from cigarette and e-cigarette manufacturers on health grounds, “would not have a problem certifying” medical marijuana, Elefant said.

Marijuana is a plant and therefore kosher certification is not necessary for the cannabis itself. But in New York State, where companies are vying for up to five licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana, patients will not be allowed to smoke pot, so they will have to ingest it in other ways — such as capsules, food or drinks, which will require kosher certification for Orthodox patients.


A girl is overweight, so her doctor puts her on a diet.

“I want you to eat regularly for two days, then skip a day, and repeat the procedure for two weeks.  The next time I see you, you’ll have lost at least five pounds.”

When the girl returns, she’s lost nearly 20 pounds.

“Why, that’s amazing!” the doctor says.  “Did you follow my instructions?”

The girl nods.  “I’ll tell you though, I thought I was going to drop dead that third day.”

“From hunger, you mean?” said the doctor.

“No, from skipping,” replied the girl.


tph men instructions

Quotes about Awe

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
Albert Einstein

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
Carl Sagan

Two things fill the mind with ever increasing wonder and awe. The more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.
Immanuel Kant

Nothing is more contagious than genuine love and genuine care. Nothing is more exhilarating than authentic awe and wonder. Nothing is more exciting than to witness people having the courage to fight for their highest vision.
Michael Lerner




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Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, 7th & 8th days of Pesach

My last boss at DuPont told me he had been president of a Jewish fraternity in college, even though he wasn’t Jewish.  However, he didn’t realize that Pesach lasts more than the first two days.  No, I don’t know the name of the fraternity.  I have run into that misconception a lot, so, one more time:  Passover (Pesach) lasts 8 days, 7 if you’re Reform.  The dietary restrictions are in place the whole time.

The Sabbath in the middle of Pesach (i.e., not the 1st, 2nd, 7th, or 8th day) is called Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach and it has its own Torah and haftarah readings, as do the 7th and 8th days.  Here is your crib sheet:

April 15, Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach Exodus 33:12 – 34:26   Moses sees the back of God then carves 2 more tablets. Renewal of covenant. Brief texts re:  Sabbath, holidays, boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. Num. 28:19-25   Holiday sacrifices. Same as first 2 days minus v. 16-18. Ezekiel 36:37 – 37:14 [or 37:1-14]

Valley of the dry bones vision. Resurrection imagery.

April 17, 7th day Pesach Exodus 13:17-15:26  The splitting of the Re(e)d Sea, the Song at the Sea. Num. 28:19-25   Ditto II Samuel 22:1-51  David’s song of thanks for rescue from Saul et al.  Also the Haftarah for Ha’azinu in the fall.  Contains Psalm 18.
April 18, 8th day Pesach Deuteronomy 15:19-16:17   Consecration of first born. Holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot. Num. 28:19-25   Double ditto Isaiah 10:32 – 12:6   Messianic vision, which we’ve been leading up to since Shabbat Shekalim.

You see how the content of the readings progresses from the first Passover and the Exodus through the splitting of the sea up to the messianic age. 

There is a lot of singing: the Song at the Sea and a song of thanks on the 7th day and, this Shabbat, the Song of Songs (Shir Hashirim), also known as the Song of Solomon.  This time of year, whenever we get two nice days in a row, I always think of Chapter 2, verses 11-12:

11For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtle*
Is heard in our land.

*Turtle is an archaic word for turtledove.

Yes, that translation is from one of the King James versions.  I like how it scans as poetry.  I also have a modern translation, The Song of Songs: A New Translation by Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch (paperback), which captures both the poetry and the lyrical eroticism.

Enjoy the rest of your holiday!

Shabbat shalom and Pesach sameach,




A bio-research institute in Israel is developing plans for cloning sheep.

“When the Holy Temple is rebuilt, there will suddenly be a tremendous demand for blemish-free lambs to use for the different sacrifices on the festivals, the Korban Hagigah, the Korban Shelamim, and of course, on Passover, the Korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice)”, explained its director. “We will be able to meet that demand by cloning. Each lamb thus produced will be known as a…

Korban Copy”.

[Submitted by Zev Stein]


tph skeleton


From 2014:  [dead link]
Top Ten Signs you are at a DOCTOR’S SEDER
10. Family favorite jingle: “And the shank bone’s connected to the…”

9. His kittel is his usual lab coat
8. Considers the plague of Blood more of a windfall for the Red Cross 
7. Promotes leaning to prevent choking. Shortly thereafter, chokes on marror.
6. Prescribes extra hot marror for sinus decongestion 
5. Wonders how an outbreak of Ebola wasn’t rampant after plague of blood/frogs
4. Takes at least 3 emergency calls in the kitchen during maggid
3. Freely warns neighbors before eating matzo of pending constipation
2. D’var torah revolves around the week of Darkness impact on retinal sensory
1. Favorite Seder Pastime: Plague Victim Triage


tph goldfish bowl


Quotes about Singing

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.  ~Chinese Proverb

I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.  ~William James

It was his nature to blossom into song, as it is a tree’s to leaf itself in April.  ~Alexander Smith

You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.  ~Author Unknown


The Lion and the Lamb

A group of interfaith religious leaders were getting a tour around the Jerusalem Zoo by its administrator, Shmuel Shapira. Shmuel showed them one cage where a lion was lying together with a young lamb.

The head of the delegation was amazed. “For 2000 years, we’ve prayed for signs of the messianic era and the prophesy that the lion will lie down next to the lamb. How did you do it?”

“It was quite easy,” Shmuel replied, “All it needs is a new lamb a day!”


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Tzav (Lev. 6:1 – 8:36), Shabbat HaGadol, First Two Days of Pesach

Except for the Torah readers assigned to chant Parashat Tzav tomorrow, I doubt anyone is really thinking a whole lot about its contents, since Pesach (Passover) starts Monday night and most of us are preoccupied with the requisite cleaning and food.  But Tzav fortuitously ties in to both.  First, we read about cleaning the altar each morning.  The assigned priest, wearing decent but plain linen vestments, cleans up the ashes from the sacrifices that were burnt completely, the olot.  He then changes into more utilitarian garments and takes the ashes out of the camp. As I noted here 5 years ago, “(w)e can infer from this that (1) one must start fresh each day and not let yesterday’s ashes pile up; (2) the gathering and disposal was handle with care, since they were, after all, from one of the holiest types of sacrifices; and (3) taking out the trash is not only necessary but important. In fact, it is written in the Mishnah that this task was considered a great honor among Temple priests and had to be assigned by lottery.

Then, we get into more detail concerning the sacrifices, i. e., the burnt, meal, sin, guilt, and well-being offerings, and those to be offered as part of the ordination of Aaron and his sons.  There are specific instructions about what to do and who gets to eat what from the sacrifice (no blood or fat).  While the Torah focuses here on the mechanics, the Mishnah (Tractate Zevachim) is particularly concerned with the intent of the priest during the process; the wrong intent can invalidate the sacrifice.

At the end of the Torah portion, Moses finally ordains Aaron and his sons in an involved ritual including the special vestments, sacrifices, blood, and anointing oil.  For seven days, Aaron and his sons remain at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, a week of expiation, during which they eat the food given to them from the sacrifices. This is the last time Moses acts as both priest and political leader, and you have to wonder if he’s at all nervous about turning a large chunk of duties over to Aaron and his sons after the Golden Calf incident.  In fact, the shalshelet cantillation sign, which signifies hesitation and occurs only 4 times in the Torah, is used in 8:23, at the height of the ordination ceremony.

This Shabbat is also Shabbat HaGadol (“the great Sabbath”), the one right before Pesach.  There is no additional Torah reading, but there is a special haftarah, which prophesies that the reconciliation between parents and children will bring about the messianic age.  Before we started remodeling rabbis as ministers, making them give a weekly sermon, this Sabbath was one of only two during the year on which the rabbi gave a sermon (quick, what’s the other one?), on the laws of Pesach.

Ah yes, Pesach.  We are supposed to rid our abodes of chametz, which technically is “any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and ‘rise’.” Chametz is also symbolically linked to pride (being puffed up, get it?), so getting rid of chametz is a means of increasing your humility.  But trying to rid one’s house of all chametz can be carried to extremes if one conflates chametz with schmutz (dirt). I have read of Legos placed in a mesh bag and laundered to get rid of possible crumbs on crevices.  In the last several years, however, I’ve seen articles encouraging a moderate approach.  An article in my own shul’s newsletter declared that if we’re spending more than a day getting rid of chametz, it’s too much.  Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s 2011 essay, The Passover Cleaning Season Is Upon Us, and the link there to advice from Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg are also worth looking at. 

Because of late night sedarim with 4 cups of wine, attendance at services tends to be light the first two days.  My mother, z”l, used to tell us that Rabbi Goodblatt would give the 2nd day sermon in Yiddish, there were so few totally English speaking attendees. Anyhow, the Torah readings for the first day are Exodus 12:21-51 (the laws of Pesach and the Exodus, what else) and Numbers 28:16-25 (about the Pesach sacrifices, of course) and for the second day, Leviticus 22:26 – 23:44 (harvest festivals) and the same section from Numbers. 

Shabbat shalom and a zissun Pesach* to you all,

* sweet Passover 


tph pesach scream


tph passover cleaning


Fat-free French fries

 Submitted by Sam S., Birmingham, Ala.

A boy read a restaurant sign that advertised fat-free French fries.  “Sounds great,” said the health-conscious boy. He ordered some.  He watched as the cook pulled a basket of fries from the fryer. The potatoes were dripping with oil when the cook put them into the container.  “Wait a minute,” the boy said. “Those don’t look fat-free.”  “Sure they are,” the cook said. “We charge only for the potatoes. The fat is free!”


Sermon Jokes

A rule of thumb for preachers: If after ten minutes you haven’t struck oil, stop boring!

The pastor was greeting folks at the door after the service. A woman said, “Pastor, that was a very good sermon.” The pastor says, “Oh, I have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit.” “It wasn’t THAT good!” she says.

The definition of a good sermon: It should have a good beginning. It should have a good ending. And they should be as close together as possible.

After an exceptionally long and boring sermon the congregation filed out of the church not saying a word to the pastor. After a while a man shook the pastor’s hand and said, “Pastor, that sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!” The pastor was ecstatic. “No-one has ever said anything like that about one of my sermons before! Tell me, how did it remind you of the peace and love of God?” “Well”, said the man, “it reminded me of the peace of God because it passed all human understanding and it reminded me of the love of God because it endured forever!”


Two from 2009:

Church of England to ordain Rabbis

Written by Steddyeddy
Story written: 11 February 2009 [yes, it’s a spoof!] 
In their continuing efforts to appear non-discriminatory and anti-racist, the Synod of the Church of England has decided to allow the ordination of Rabbis for the first time.

Continuing on from the banning of churchmen who might be members of the BNP [the far-right British National Party. IGP], the church authorities decided that it was time the Church of England showed its true colours.

Their spokesperson, Bishop Takesrookthenchecks said that following on from the ordination of women, the next step was the ordination of Rabbis.

He continued to explain that because the good old bean Archbishop Rowan Atkinson had a beard, and many Rabbis also exhibit this form of facial growth, both the church and synagogue had a lot in common. Not to mention the seats, doors and singing of holy songs. Also, he felt that Rabbis might be well placed to comment on the Bible, especially the Old Testament.

He confirmed that the Church of England now has plans for the future ordination of Imams, Gurus and even that extremely nice Dalai Lama chap with the lovely smile, although he could do with ditching the NHS glasses.

Tom Cruise was said to be devastated that there were no plans to ordinate aliens.

Question for Dr. Laura: 
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

At where I got this in 2009, now a dead link, the top answer out of 15 was judged to be “Yes, with fire and brimstone preferably.” I would have liked to see the other 14. 

Top Ten Seder Recipes for the Plagued Cook

10. Watercress covered in Blood Orange Vinaigrette
9. Frog Leg Fiesta (great in cholent)
8. Angel Hair with lice, ehr, rice
7. Basil Pesto-lence
6. Wild rice
5. Boiled Tongue with fiery gravy drizzle
4. Hail Caesar Salad
3. Low-custard
2. Death by Dark Chocolate
1. Hardened hearts of palm


The Joys of Parenting (selections)

By Rob Fee

 Gloria Fallon 
My 7-year-old daughter asked me twice today “what poison would kill someone the fastest?” and now I’m wondering if I’ve underestimated her.

Jenny Pentland
I just asked my 8yo to quit yelling and he said, “I’m NOT yelling. This is my voice and all my life I’ve been whispering. Now I’m free!”

Julius Sharpe
According to my kid, the perfect amount of time to stay at the park is five more minutes.

kelly oxford
5 year old is at my Gram’s memorial. She’s pissed that Gram didn’t show up.

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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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