Ki Tavo (Deut. 26:1 – 29:8)


We are in the middle of the month of Elul, a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh, a personal accounting as the High Holy Days approach.   At my shul, the Ark is now covered in a white curtain, rather than the usual maroon, and the shofar is blown every weekday.  Some feel a bit panicked as the New Year and new school year loom; for congregational rabbis, mid-Elul is like April 1 for CPAs.  But my kids are grown and I have no synagogue assignments, so I am freer to think and look forward, even as my fall activities ramp up.

Parashat Ki Tavo also deals with looking forward, to entering the Promised Land (I entered mine almost 5 years ago: Retirement!). The Israelites are commanded to perform a ritual when bringing their first fruits for sacrifice and after donating tithes, with specific scripts to recite (some of these lines, 26:5-8, appear in the Haggadah for the Passover Seder).  The scripts include thanks to the Lord and recognition that the Lord is the source of their bounty.  Why use fixed scripts?  The offerings should be presented mindfully, and, counterintuitively, this is facilitated by using these prescribed words.

The first fruits offering was reportedly a joyous and fun time.   From here on, the mood turns more serious, then really, really dark, with an uptick at the end. The people are commanded to perform all the Lord’s commands mindfully and wholeheartedly, so that they become a holy and treasured people.  As a visual aid, the people will write the Law on large, plastered rocks (Biblical billboards) and, nearby, build an altar of unhewn stones for offering sacrifices.  Writing the whole Torah on plaster seems a huge undertaking, but it might have been just Deuteronomy.  As my brother told me several years ago (thanks, David!) and I’ve written here, this plaster billboard practice has been corroborated:

“Ever since St. Jerome, there has almost complete unanimity identifying Deuteronomy, or some large portion of it with the book found in the temple during Josiah’s reign and the basis for his religious reforms.   If so, it could indeed have written on large stones, probably as a substitute for actual inscription.  Writing on a whitewashed surface would have been a lot quicker than carving.  In that area, it was common for rulers to inscribe large amounts of text describing their achievements in stone, often multilingually.  The greatest of these was the Bisutun inscription of Darius, written in Old Persian, Assyrian, and Elamite with cuneiform script.  The whole text, transcribed into Latin letters, comes to fifty printed octavo pages.  It is cut into a steep rock face, several hundred feet high.  Its deciphering was one of the great achievements of 19th century scholarship.” 

What follows now are instructions for a dramatic, antiphonal proclamation of blessings and curses by the Levites.  The other tribes are arrayed on two mountains with the Levites in the valley between, half on Mount Gerizim, who stand up for the blessings, and half on Mount Ebal, who stand up for the curses.  The people all chime in with “Amen” after each curse.  The blessings are the usual: success, fertility, prosperity, leadership among the nations – all contingent on faithfully and mindfully obeying the Law.  

Then it’s time for the actual curses, what will happen to the Israelites if they don’t. This section, 28:15-69, called the Tochachah (admonition, rebuke), is traditionally chanted quickly and quietly by the Torah reader.  The curses are graphic and specific, national and personal, physical and mental.    Remember the minor Tochachah (Leviticus 26:3-46)? This is the major one.  Here’s my summary of the two from 2014:

Deuteronomy Leviticus Commentary
Singular,* to each individual Israelite Plural,* to the nation as a whole, regarding broad, national sinning Or HaChaim
Said by Moses in the name of God Said by God Rav Moshe Bergman
No consolation afterward – individual will be punished Consolation – still a chance for national redemption The nation can eventually recover, not necessarily the individual sinner. Ozer Alport
God is clearly the one punishing, like a parent. Theme of abandonment by God (parent), punishments thought by Israel to be by chance Rav Moshe Bergman
Curses are uniformly horrible. Successive sets of curses increasing in severity if disobedience continues IGP.  In Lev., like a parent trying to train a child to behave, resorting to harsher punishments as deemed necessary.  In Deut., everything is laid on the line at once, like communicating with a more responsible teen or adult.

*Singular vs. plural “you” is evident in the Hebrew.

In the last 8 verses of Ki Tavo, Moses then mitigates the horror (a little) by assuring the people that, after their 40 years in the desert, totally taken care of by the Lord, they now finally have a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear.  They are mature and can now mindfully join with the Lord in the covenant and become a successful nation.

After the Tochachah, it is something of a relief to read the haftarah, Isaiah 60:1-22, the sixth Haftarah of Consolation with its images of light, both physical and divine, and a future of peace, glory, and righteousness.  And the days of mourning will be at an end.



Signs for the Office

tph ki tavo 1  tph ki tavo in-case-of-fire-exit-building-before-tweeting-about-it

tph ki tavo machine-hates-idiots-400x479


30 People Share the Most Creative Punishment They Have Ever Received (selected) By hoK leahciM  March 7, 2014

6. Not me, but my younger cousin. I was visiting them in Taiwan one summer, and he was horsing around, being a normal hyperactive 8-ish-year-old despite my uncle (his father) telling him to calm down. He then happens to knock a container of colorful beads over, spilling them all over the floor. Instead of scolding him, my uncle lightly reprimanded my cousin, and, with the faintest hint of a smile, made him pick each bead up, apologize to it individually, and replace it in the bin. – shamHu
8. I think I was 15 (definitely in high school) and got caught cutting classes. For the next week, my dad (who was older and had retired the year before when he was 59) went to school with me. He drove me to school and then attended every class with me. He also ate lunch with me and my friends. Oh, did I mention that he wore his pajamas? He did. He didn’t shave all week, either. By the time Friday rolled around, he looked like a crazy ass, homeless person. I never cut class again. I sure do miss him. – TheOpus
15. I had to write reports based on whatever I did wrong.
Once I got caught in a lie and I had to write a report about 5 famous liars.
Once I refused to take a bath and I had to write a report about germs.
This was before the internet. We had a set of encyclopedias and that was it. It was surprisingly effective. – PenelopePeril

Dumb Warnings: Medicine

Warning: May cause drowsiness.   Nytol Sleep Aid
Contains iron.  Good Neighbor Pharmacy Ferrous Sulfate
Do not take if allergic to zantac.  Zantac 75
This formula may cause drowsiness, if affected do not operate heavy machinery or drive a vehicle.  Demazin Infant Drops
If pregnant or breast-feeding, ask a health professional before use.  Children’s Dimetapp


What Does ‘Amen’ Mean?

When my brother said, “Amen” after grace one night, one of his children asked what “Amen” meant.

Before he or his wife could answer, their five-year-old responded, “It means, ‘Send.’”


Protect Your Library the Medieval Way, With Horrifying Book Curses

BY SARAH LASKOW  NOVEMBER 09, 2016 (excerpts)

IN THE MIDDLE AGES, CREATING a book could take years. To be a copyist, wrote one scribe, was painful: “It extinguishes the light from the eyes, it bends the back, it crushes the viscera and the ribs, it brings forth pain to the kidneys, and weariness to the whole body.”

Given the extreme effort that went into creating books, scribes and book owners had a real incentive to protect their work. They used the only power they had: words. At the beginning or the end of books, scribes and book owners would write dramatic curses threatening thieves with pain and suffering if they were to steal or damage these treasures.

 “These curses were the only things that protected the books,” says Marc Drogin, author of Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses (1983). “If you ripped out a page, you were going to die in agony. You didn’t want to take the chance.”

The curse of excommunication—anathema—could be simple. Drogin found many examples of short curses that made quick work of this ultimate threat.

But the curses could also be much, much more elaborate. “The more creative the scribe, the more delicate the detail,” Drogin wrote. “If anyone take away this book, let him die the death; let him be fried in a pan; let the falling sickness and fever size him; let him be broken on the wheel, and hanged. Amen.”

Or even more detailed: 

“For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand & rend him. Let him be struck with palsy & all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, & let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever.”

If you’re looking for a good, solid book curse, this popular one out. While it’s not quite as threatening as bookworms gnawing at entrails, it’ll get the job done:

“May whoever steals or alienates this book, or mutilates it, be cut off from the body of the church and held as a thing accursed.”


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Ki Tetse (Deut. 21:10 – 25:19)

For a change, the storm that occupies our attention this week is physical, not metaphorical.  The description by one Texas official of Harvey as a one-in-1000-years storm I fear is not the case.  But, as in most disasters, we get to see examples of incredible kindness and generosity.  And that ties in to our Torah portion, Ki Tetse. The comments marked off below are from 2009.

“This week’s Torah portion contains 72 positive and negative commands.  I did not count them, but that’s what Maimonides said.  Some of the laws in the Torah are written as general principals, like ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ In Ki Tetse, we are primarily dealing with the implementation of principals as specific actions in daily life.  Some of these are familiar, like returning lost property to its owner and providing for the needy (though most of us do so in other ways than leaving the leftovers from fields, olive trees, or vineyards).  Others are easily translatable to our lives; e.g., one set of honest weights and measures means fair business dealings.  

“Some, like how to deal with a woman you have captured in war (she is allowed time to mourn and she cuts her hair and fingernails) or not yoking an ass and an ox together, are foreign to us, but we get the idea, which is to be compassionate.  Even forcing a rapist to marry his victim without the right of divorce, heinous though it sounds to us, was intended to protect and provide for the woman.  Aside from unexplained items, like a ban on making cloth out of mixed wool and linen, the theme that runs through the portion is how to incorporate principals of compassion and kindness and obedience to the Lord into daily life.  

“But we’re not just adding goodness; we are taking away evil.  Five times, we are told that by such-and-such, ‘you will sweep away evil’ (uvi’arta ra).  That’s the current JPS translation.  An older one is “thou shalt put away evil” and one website on ancient Hebrew ( ) translated the root, bet-ayin-resh, as “burn.”  In modern Hebrew, according to another online dictionary (it’s a rainy Friday afternoon, and I’m finding it difficult to focus on work), LingvoSoft online, the word means remove, destroy, exterminate, eradicate, or weed.  I like ‘sweep’ since it gives you an image of determinedly taking a broom and pushing all the dirt away.  “Weed” has too much of a sense of futility associated with it.” 

At the end of the portion are the verses we read on Shabbat Zachor, the one right before Purim (as our daughter Roz did for her Bat Mitzvah maftir). The Israelites are commanded to remember how Amalek ambushed their weak rear guard (Exodus 17:8-16) and did not fear the Lord.

And how does this tie in with Hurricane Harvey?  Perhaps in the looting that has been reported; as Amalek took advantage, so are looters taking advantage of weakness. Unfortunately, there will be plenty of opportunities to abuse people financially after Harvey (24:6, 10-15) But what we see a lot of in Hurricane Harvey reports is the readiness of people to help, their kindness and compassion, the main theme of Ki Tetse.  Besides a general “take care of the needy,” there are concrete tasks, like leaving unharvested sheaves.  In 22:1-4, we are commanded to return a lost sheep, ox, or ass (nowadays, dog, cat, horse, etc.) to its owner, help him lift it if it has fallen, and take it home and take care of it until the owner claims it.  Similar care is taken with found objects, like a garment.  There are other examples. The key phrase is in 22:3, “You shall not remain indifferent.”  The Hurricane Harvey rescuers have put aside formerly important differences, if only for now.  They have united to help those in need, because, as one man told a reporter “That’s what we do.”

Shabbat shalom, 

Lost Luggage

This guy couldn’t find his luggage at the airport baggage area. So he went to the lost luggage office and told the woman there that his bags 
never showed up.

She smiled and told him not to worry as they were highly trained professionals and he was in good hands.

 “Now,” she asked him, “has your plane arrived yet?” 


tph nail biting


Sweeping Sailor  Received from

A sailor was caught AWOL as he tried to sneak on board his ship at 3 a.m. The chief petty officer spied him and ordered the sailor to stop. The officer commanded the sailor, “Take this broom and sweep every link on this anchor chain by morning, or it’s the brig for you!”

The sailor picked up the broom and started to sweep the chain.
Just then, a tern landed on the broom handle. The sailor yelled at the bird to leave, but it didn’t. The lad pulled the tern off the broom handle, giving the bird a toss.

The bird left, only to return and land once again on the broom handle. The sailor went through the same routine all over again, with the same result.”

He couldn’t get any cleaning done because he could only sweep at the chain once or twice before the silly bird came back.

When morning came, so did the chief petty officer, to check up on his wayward sailor.

“What on earth have you been doing all night? This chain is no cleaner than when you started! What have you to say for yourself, sailor?” barked the chief.

“Honest, chief,” came the reply, “I tossed a tern all night and couldn’t sweep a link!”


tph witch broom


The Industrial School Journal, Volume 4, Boys’ Industrial School, 1917, p. 22 


“John,” said his teacher, “if coal is selling at $6 a ton and you pay your dealer $24 how many tons will he bring you?”
“A little over three tons, ma’am,” returned Johnny promptly.
“Why, Johnny, that isn’t right,” said the teacher.
“No, ma’am, I know it ain’t,” said Johnny, “but they all do it.”

Quotes about Compassion

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. Dalai Lama

Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. Nelson Mandela

These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness and worship without awareness. Anthony de Mello

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. Francis of Assisi

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Shoftim (Deut. 16:18 – 21:9)

Yes, I saw the solar eclipse on Monday.  I got a pair of ISO certified 12312-2:2015 cardboard-framed glasses at the local library and spent a couple hours lying on the grass, alternating between staring upwards and reading my magazine.  The glasses were cool – everything looked absolutely matte black except for the flat yellow-orange sun that was gradually eaten down to a crescent.  Since we only had about 79% coverage, it never became as dark as night but looked like a weird type of late afternoon.  And the eclipse was immediately followed by Rosh Chodesh Elul (a total solar eclipse must occur with a new moon), during which we can ponder its implications (Doom? Hope? Nothing?) as we approach the High Holy Days, blowing the shofar each weekday.

Parashat Shoftim deals primarily with justice and fairness.   First, set up a system of magistrates and judges.  Then we read (16:20), “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”  This is to enable their society to thrive in the new land, sweeping out evil (which includes idolaters and idolatrous practices) from their midst.  “Pursue” seems a rather vigorous way of commanding “be fair.”   But justice is not simply handed down from on high.  It must be a key component of a system that the whole community actively buys into.

Many examples are then presented of just behavior:  We get the formulaic “… life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” concerning just compensation. At least two witnesses to a crime are needed to establish guilt, and a false witness will receive the punishment anticipated for the accused.  The verdict of the magistrate or priest must be accepted. Should (or when) the Israelites have a king, even he will not be above the law. The people are to provide fair support for the priests and Levites, since they serve the people but have no land.  Laws concerning manslaughter and the establishment of cities of refuge follow.  Markers indicating land boundaries are to be respected.

Even war is to be conducted with some sense of fairness.  The military draft includes deferments for a man with a new house, new vines, a fiancée; one who is simply afraid is not executed but just sent home so he won’t infect the others.  Cities are given a chance to sue for peace before being attacked, and their food trees are not destroyed in any event.  (Yes, if they don’t surrender, the men are all killed, but at least there are some limits.) Finally, if a body is found out in the open and no one knows who the killer is, the elders of the nearest town must formally seek absolution of bloodguilt. Again, this is a communal matter.

Haven’t we read many of these laws before?  Yes.  The perversion of justice forbidden in 16:18-20 was already condemned in Exodus 23:3 and 6, Leviticus 19:15, and Deuteronomy 1:17.  The general “eye for an eye” formula appeared twice previously, as did many of the other laws in Shoftim.  The sages teach us that in the Torah, repetition is used not just for emphasis, but to introduce something new.  For example, 16:18 includes the new concept of appointing judges and magistrates in every town.  Thus, each community is responsible for seeing that justice is served locally.  This is the emphasis of the laws presented in Shoftim.  Responsibility for maintaining a just society rests with the entire community.

These days, I have my doubts about the ability, or even the will, of our national community to pursue justice and “sweep out evil.”  Fewer and fewer behaviors are beyond the pale.  Consider this historical moment:

“In the spring of 1954, McCarthy picked a fight with the U.S. Army, charging lax security at a top-secret army facility. …The army hired Boston lawyer Joseph Welch to make its case. At a session on June 9, 1954, McCarthy charged that one of Welch’s attorneys had ties to a Communist organization. … Welch responded with the immortal lines that ultimately ended McCarthy’s career: ‘Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.’ When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch angrily interrupted, ‘Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?’ Overnight, McCarthy’s immense national popularity evaporated.”

I guess nowadays Welch’s words would be met with a shrug from the audience.  Wait, I think they actually were, during the 2016 campaign. Have we, as a nation, really lost our sense of fairness and decency?  Something for us to consider during the month of Elul.

Shabbat shalom,


An Honest Lawyer

An independent woman started her own business. She was shrewd and diligent, so business kept coming in. Pretty soon she realized she needed an in-house counsel, and so she began interviewing young lawyers.

“As I’m sure you can understand,” she started off with one of the first applicants, “in a business like this, our personal integrity must be beyond question.” She leaned forward. “Mr. Peterson, are you an ‘honest’ lawyer?”

“Honest?” replied the job prospect. “Let me tell you something about honest. Why, I’m so honest that my dad lent me fifteen thousand dollars for my education and I paid back every penny the minute I tried my very first case.”

“Impressive. And what sort of case was that?”

He squirmed in his seat and admitted, “My dad sued me for the money.” 


Draft Dodger Rag
Written by Phil Ochs

Oh, I’m just a typical American boy from a typical American town
I believe in God and Senator Dodd and a-keepin’ old Castro down
And when it came my time to serve I knew “better dead than red”
But when I got to my old draft board, buddy, this is what I said:

Sarge, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse
I got eyes like a bat, and my feet are flat, and my asthma’s getting worse
Yes, think of my career, my sweetheart dear, and my poor old invalid aunt
Besides, I ain’t no fool, I’m a-goin’ to school
And I’m working in a DEE-fense plant

I’ve got a dislocated disc and a wracked up back
I’m allergic to flowers and bugs
And when the bombshell hits, I get epileptic fits
And I’m addicted to a thousand drugs
I got the weakness woes, I can’t touch my toes
I can hardly reach my knees
And if the enemy came close to me
I’d probably start to sneeze

I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen…

Ooh, I hate Chou En Lai, and I hope he dies,
One thing you gotta see
That someone’s gotta go over there
And that someone isn’t me
So I wish you well, Sarge, give ’em Hell!
Kill me a thousand or so
And if you ever get a war without blood and gore
I’ll be the first to go

Yes, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen…


A New York man was forced to take a day off from work to appear for a minor traffic summons. He grew increasingly restless as he waited hour after endless hour for his case to be heard.

When his name was called late in the afternoon, he stood before the judge, only to hear that court would be adjourned for the next day and he would have to return the next day.

“What for?” he snapped at the judge.

His honor, equally irked by a tedious day and sharp query roared, “Twenty dollars contempt of court. That’s why!”

Then, noticing the man checking his wallet, the judge relented. “That’s all right. You don’t have to pay now.”

The man replied, “I’m just seeing if I have enough for two more words.”

The Judge admonished the witness, “Do you understand that you have sworn to tell the truth?”
“I do.”
“Do you understand what will happen if you are not truthful?”
“Sure,” said the witness. “My side will win.”

The judge said to his dentist: “Pull my tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.”

Courtroom Q & A
Q. Are you married?

A. No, I’m divorced.
Q. And what did your husband do before you divorced him?
A. A lot of things I didn’t know about.

Q: You stated that the stairs went down to the basement, is that correct?
A: Yes.
Q: And these same stairs, did the also go up?

Q: Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?
A: All my autopsies are on dead people.

Justice: A decision in your favor.


tph kids of lawyers


tph judge judy on dvd


Tweets about the Solar Eclipse

(((OnNoSheTwitnt))) 4:15 AM – 20 Aug 2017
If you stay after the credits of the solar eclipse there’s a funny spoiler about next year’s nuclear war.

Megan Amram 9:36 PM – 20 Aug 2017
YO someone just leaked the eclipse, I’m looking at it right now!

Vienna 1:57 PM – 20 Aug 2017
PSA: don’t look directly at the sun during the solar eclipse because it might get nervous and mess up

Despacitjoe 6:17 AM – 20 Aug 2017
PSA: wild animals do not know to look away from the eclipse, Bring all them inside during it. Birds, raccoons, fox..all of ‘em

(14 h later) Especially the giraffes because they are the most high up to the sun/moon

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Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17)

First, here’s the answer to the bonus question from two weeks ago:

Which 7 verses in the Shabbat Nachamu haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26 occur in Handel’s Messiah? Answer: 1-4, 5, 9, and 11 

The focus of this week’s Torah portion is making the Israelites into a cohesive nation, separate and distinct from their soon-to-be neighbors.

Moses begins bluntly.  He is presenting them with a choice: if they obey the Lord, the will be blessed, and if they don’t, they will be cursed.  In a later portion, we’ll read the series of blessings and curses to be proclaimed on Mount Gerizim and on Mount Ebal.  For now, note that the worst form of disobedience is to follow other gods.

Sacrifices are to be offered only at specified sites.  A new concession is that the people can now eat not only the meat of the offerings, but meat anytime, as they wish, as long as they don’t eat the blood.  This is the source of the kashering process, in which raw meat from a properly slaughtered, kosher animal is soaked in water and covered with coarse salt to draw out blood. I used to do this myself, once upon a time.

The people are forbidden to tamper with the text of the Law by adding or subtracting (rabbinical interpretation is not considered tampering).  They are also warned against false prophets, even those from their own families.  Then we get into more down-to-earth activities:  what animals you can and cannot eat, tithing, the sabbatical year, freeing Hebrew slaves (and what to do with one who doesn’t want to be free), sanctifying the firstborn, and observing the harvest festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot). The holiday instructions emphasize what the individual Israelites do themselves, rather than the details of the sacrifices. 

One of the most effective ways to develop group cohesion and simultaneously create a barrier to the outside is through food.  Chapter 14 contains lists of animals, birds, and fish that are fit (kosher) or unfit to eat.  There are a few general rules.  For example, animals that chew the cud and have split hooves and fish with fins and scales are okay; swarming, flying creatures and animal carcasses (i.e., not ritually slaughtered) are not; and don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk (the laws about separating dairy and meat derive from this).  We are told all this is part of enabling the Israelites to be holy; the command against consuming blood because blood is life (12:23-25) is understandable in this context.  But we are not told explicitly while certain species are “abominations.” 

There have been many theories over the millennia concerning the laws of kashrut, several of which are summarized in Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas, such as health reasons (no – the Israelites saw neighbors eating unkosher foods quite happily), adoption of abomination of creeping things may have been taken from pork and scaleless fish would induce gluttony (Philo), an aid to discipline, and symbolism assigned to animal classes (e.g., Stein on Philo, p. 48, “Fish with fins and scales, admitted by the law, symbolise endurance and self-control, whilst the forbidden ones are swept away by the current, unable to resist the force of the stream.”).  Of course, there have always been those who say it’s all arbitrary.   But the degree of detail in the text suggests otherwise. 

The goal is holiness.  As Douglas wrote (pp. 54-6), “Holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation. It therefore involves correct definition, discrimination and order. …To be holy is to be whole, to be one; holiness is unity, integrity, perfection of the individual and of the kind…. But in general the underlying principle of cleanness in animals is that they shall conform fully to their class. Those species are unclean which are imperfect members of their class, or whose class itself confounds the general scheme of the world. To grasp this scheme we need to go back to Genesis and the creation” when the universe was put in order by separation into three elements: firmament, earth, and water.  Accordingly, the clean species are those equipped for the correct type of locomotion in one of these elements to move within one of these three:  two-legged birds fly with wings in the sky, scaly fish swim with fins in the water, four-legged animals hop, jump, and walk on land.  [For more clarity, you might want to read Chapter 3 of Douglas.]  In any event, it is clear how such laws not only put barriers between the Israelites and their neighbors, but continually remind Israelites, and Jews who keep kosher today, of the complexities of their identity.

Shabbat shalom,


Jewish vs Goyish (selections)

By WARREN BOROSON February 27, 2014

Lenny Bruce had a shtick in which he classified items into those that just “felt” Jewish versus Goyish.  I found a more recent version that I include here merely for sociological consideration.

Judges are Jewish; juries are Goyish

Packing up all the mini hotel shampoos is Jewish; using them is Goyish

Ordering family style is Jewish; ordering ‘a la carte’ is Goyish

Cruises are Jewish; walking tours are Goyish

Grabbing lox from the back of the buffet first is Jewish; grabbing melon from the front is Goyish

Picking from your mate’s plate is Jewish; not wanting even a “little taste” is Goyish

Fruitcake is Goyish; fruit and cake is Jewish

Reading “how-to” books is Goyish; writing “how-to” books is Jewish

ESPN is Goyish; PBS is Jewish

West Coast is Goyish; East Coast is Jewish

Lunch meat is Goyish; deli is Jewish

White bread is Goyish; rye is Jewish

“Youngsters” are Goyish; “kids” are Jewish

Sitting quietly to get served is Goyish: standing and waving one’s hands is Jewish

Beer is Goyish; wine is Jewish

Ham sandwiches are Goyish; corned beef on rye is Jewish

White sox are Goyish; no sox are Jewish

Snowmobiling is Goyish; skiing is Jewish

Doing Landscaping is Goyish; hiring a Landscaper is Jewish

Frizzy hair is Jewish; stick straight flat hair is Goyish

A party that revolves around the buffet table is Jewish; a party that revolves around the bar is Goyish



From Jews and Humor, ed. L. J. Greenspan, p. 33.  Oldie but goodie.

Moses is standing at Sinai and God says to him, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”

Moses asks, “So are you saying that we shouldn’t eat milk and meat together?”

God replies a little impatiently, “I said: You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”

Moses, still puzzled, says, “Do you want us to wait six hours after a meat meal before eating dairy foods?  Is that what you mean?

God. A bit more impatiently this time, reiterates, “I said: You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”

Moses asks again, “Wait.  You want us to use separate table cloths for meat meals and dairy meals?”

God replies with resignation, “You know what?  Have it your way.”


tph trojan pig


Sunday School Humor

The Sunday school teacher was carefully explaining the story of Elijah the Prophet and the false prophets of Baal. She explained how Elijah built the altar, put wood upon it, cut the cattle in pieces and laid it upon the altar. And then Elijah commanded the people of God to fill four barrels of water and pour it over the altar. He had them do this four times.

“Now, said the teacher, “can anyone in the class tell me why the Lord would have Elijah pour water over the cattle on the altar?”

A little girl in the back of the room raised her hand with great enthusiasm. “To make the gravy.”

Identity Quotes

Unlike a drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives. Man’s life is independent. He is born not for the development of the society alone, but for the development of his self. B. R. Ambedkar

Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity. Jonathan Safran Foer

We don’t need a melting pot in this country, folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables – the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers – to maintain their identity. You appreciate differences. Jane Elliot

It’s bad timing, but a lot of kids become teenagers just as their parents are hitting their mid-life crisis. So everybody’s miserable and confused and seeking that new sense of identity. Laurie Halse Anderson

Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity. Louise Fresco








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Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25)

[I will be away next week, so you are getting this a week early.  The comments are from 2014, but the jokes are newly chosen.]

In this week’s portion, Eikev, Moses assures the Israelites that they can have a wonderful future, partly from the innate fertility and richness therein and partly by their own efforts.  They will eat and be satisfied.  But this is contingent upon their not forgetting that it is the Lord that has enabled their success.  No “self-made” men or women.  No claims of “I built that!” without acknowledging anyone’s help.  Basically, all they need to do is only to “revere the Lord your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the Lord’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good.” (10:12, 13).  (That shouldn’t be too difficult, right?)  Even more succinctly in 11:1, “Love, therefore, the Lord your God, and always keep His charge, His laws, His rules, and His commandments.”

Moses relates more of the story of their journey, how he had spent 40 days and nights on Horeb (Sinai) only to bring the two stone tablets back to a people who were worshiping a golden idol.  They were punished.  But Moses miraculously prevented the Lord from destroying them.  And there were ongoing miracles, like manna and water and clothes and shoes that didn’t wear out.  The 70 who went down to Egypt are now as numerous as the stars of heaven. 

Chapter 11 includes the second paragraph of the Shema (11:13-21) which again emphasizes that there will be consequences to the choices the Israelites will make in the years and generations to come.  Good behavior will overall lead to a good life.  Bad behavior will lead to disaster.  The Israelites will also have tangible reminders of proper behavior, tefillin (11:18) and mezuzot (11:20).  Rather than a simple carrot/stick proposition, the Israelites will need to learn that the behavior itself will inherently lead to the consequences.   

Shabbat shalom,


tph overdue library book


Parshas Eikev – On 1 Foot
The Fundamentals of Computer Programming:

IF (condition)
THEN (statements)
[Else if (condition X) Then
(statements X)]
(else statements)



You may remember the incident in January, 2010 where an Orthodox teenager on an airplane tried to pray with tefillin, thereby causing the plane to be diverted because they thought he was a terrorist.  Here are a couple of related items:

A. Watch this video – Philadelphia Police call Phylacteries “Olfactories”,  Daniel Seiradskipicked up on this and gave a very clear explanation with this gem of a photo

tph olefactories

B. Tefillin On Board

Top ten Jewish-related things that may actually pose a higher security threat on board an airplane (with apologies to David Letterman):

  1. Waving a Lulav (eye poker)
    9. Wrapping yourself in a Tallis (whip passengers with those fringes)
    8. My Grandmother’s Chicken Soup (scalding hot, but it’s liquid so it’s already banned)
    7. Wielding a Challah knife (obvious!)
    6. Purim Grogger (Metal corners make dangerously sharp weapon)
    5. Full Set of the Talmud (heavy enough to bring down an aircraft)
    4. Using Jewish Sarcasm (it’s deadly!)
    3. Giving a discourse on the history of the Jewish legal tradition (will put pilots to sleep)
    2. Matzoh Balls (deadly as thrown object)
    And the #1 Jewish thing more dangerous than wearing tefillin on a plane is… 
    1. Singing Shabbat song: “Bim Bom, Bim Bim Bim BOMB

(c) Rabbi Jason A. Miller


Self-Made Man Quotes

Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men. E. B. White

I don’t believe in that kind of American John Wayne individualism where people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Someone changed your diapers. And if that’s the case, you ain’t self-made. Michael Eric Dyson

A self-made man? Yes, and one who worships his creator. William Cowper

I am a self-made brat. Steve Wynn

My parents were self-made people, and they were a team. Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.

The Mezuzah

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Opening his front door, the Rabbi found himself face to face with the local priest. 
“Rabbi, may I have a few words with you?” asked the priest.

“Of course, Father,” replied the Rabbi somewhat nervously.

“Rabbi,” began the priest, “It must be evident to you that in this town we are plagued by thieves. Scarcely a day passes without one of my flock coming to me bemoaning the fact that his house has been broken into. On the other hand, I have noticed that thieves do not bother you Jews nearly as much.”

“Father, you are correct.”

“Yes, but why is that?” inquired the priest.

“Look at this little box here on the side of my door post,” said the Rabbi. “It’s called a mezuzah. We Jews believe that when we put a mezuzah on the entrances to our houses, the Holy One, may His Name be blessed, protects both us and our property.”

“In that case,” replied the priest, “I must have one!”

Not wishing to be the cause of an incipient pogrom, the Rabbi reluctantly handed over a mezuzah to the priest.

Some two weeks later the Rabbi was awakened by the sound of someone pounding violently on his door. Dressing himself hastily, he made his way down the stairs.

“Who’s there?” the Rabbi asked tremulously.

“Open the door! Open the door!” screamed a voice on the other side.

Leaving the door on the chain, the Rabbi racked the door wide enough to see the priest standing in front of him, his eyes wild with great distraught.

“What happened?” asked the terrified Rabbi. “Were you not protected from robbers?”

“I was! But these people were worse than robbers!” screamed the priest.

“Who?” asked the rabbi.

“The Fund Raisers!”



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Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11), Shabbat Nachamu

It’s August.  For me, this year, that means TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars,” with each day in August devoted to a single actor (today, Lon Chaney); going away on vacation; reviewing elementary Attic Greek and starting on Mendelsohn’s Elijah in preparation for my fall activities; and a major wedding anniversary.

It also means we are getting close to the end of the year by the Hebrew calendar.  Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) is over and Tu B’Av (15th of Av), a recently revived minor holiday also known as Chag HaAhava, festival of love ( ), is in a few days (  After Av comes Elul, the last month of the year. 

And, since this is about the weekly Torah portion, it also means we’re in Deuteronomy, and Moses is trying to teach the Children of Israel, the generation of the desert, about their history and its miraculous nature:  “(H)as anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another.” (4:32-34)   They can have a great future in the Promised Land, if they obey the laws they have been given.  Moses himself is an object lesson, having been denied entrance into the Land because he disobeyed.  If they follow the laws, good things should follow as a natural consequence.  The keystone of their laws is the Ten Commandments.  Moses teaches them here (5:6-18), but they differ slightly from the ones in Exodus 20.  According to the Maharal of Prague, Moses is presenting the Commandments in a way the people could better absorb.  When we refer to “the Ten Commandments,” it’s the set in Exodus. 

But it’s not just a matter of carrots and sticks.  They should obey not simply out of fear, but also, even primarily, out of love.  This portion includes the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9), probably the most well-known part of our liturgy. It’s not a prayer, but a command to “Listen!  Pay attention!” (6:4) to the idea of the oneness of the Lord, followed immediately by a command to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and might.  In the JTS translation of this portion, the word “love” appears four times, “heart” three times, and “soul” twice.   “Biblical scholars would typically translate ‘heart’ here as the seat of the intellect and wisdom (the intestines are the seat of the emotions) and ‘soul’ as the physical being, or breath.  ‘Love’ is action, not an emotion (Thanks, Stanley).  It means fidelity, loyalty, faithful obedience.   “For Maimonides, this love arises from intellectual conviction, but one’s soul is “ever enraptured by it” (N. Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 66-67).  Thus, the Israelites are being commanded to approach their God with both rationality and passion. 

This Sabbath is called Shabbat Nachamu (“comfort,” plural imperative) after the first word in the haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26, in which the prophets are being told to comfort the people.  [BONUS QUESTION:  Which 7 verses in this haftarah occur in Handel’s Messiah?].  It’s the first of the seven Haftarot of Consolation following Tisha B’Av.

“We search for comfort in many ways – food to satisfy and evoke memories of happier times, drugs and alcohol to numb pain, stuffed animals to cuddle.  A baby learns to comfort itself by sucking a thumb or pacifier (though my kids were never really into that).  But the most efficacious comfort involves a sympathetic response from a real being – a real or virtual hug, another’s warm words, the snuggling of a pet or a child: “The baby slept, wrapped in a great fold of the cloak.  Feeling this little life, so unconscious and untroubled, snuggling into the hollow of her breast, Marie gradually regained her calm.” (The Royal Succession, Maurice Druon, 1958, p. 159).” (2015)  

And after seven weeks of Haftarot of Consolation, it will be time for Rosh Hashanah, a brand-new year.

Shabbat shalom,


Love, as perceived by some children 4 to 8 years-of-age (selections)

  • Tommy – age 6: “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”
  • Clare – age 6: “My mummy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.”
  • Elaine-age 5: “Love is when Mummy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.”
  • Mary Ann – age 4: “‘Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”
  • Lauren – age 4: “‘I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.”
  • Karen age 7: “When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.”
  • Jessica – age 8: “‘You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”
  • And the final one — Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”


 Class’s Attention

One of the highlights of the freshman biology class at New Mexico Highlands University was the monthly feeding of a caged rattlesnake kept in the laboratory. One time, the entire class gathered around the cage and, in complete silence, watched as the feeding took place.
“I’m jealous of the snake,” the instructor said. “I never get the class’s undivided attention like this.”
A student answered matter-of-factly, “You would if you could swallow a mouse.”


Hannah was spending the night with her grandparents. At bath time Hannah asked her grandmother if they were going to church the next morning. When Grandma said yes, Hannah turned up her nose and said, “I don’t like Sunday school.”
“But Hannah,” Grandma replied, “we should learn all we can about God.”
“I learned all about that when we lived in Illinois.”
“Well, I’ve been going to church all my life and I haven’t learned everything about God,” Grandma said.
“Maybe you weren’t paying attention.”

The Math Class

The math teacher saw that little Johnny wasn’t paying attention in class. She called on him and said, ‘Johnny! What are 2 and 4 and 28 and 44?
Little Johnny quickly replied, ‘NBC, FOX, ESPN and the Cartoon Network!’



Tom had won a toy at a raffle. He called his 5 kids together to ask
which one should have the present.
“Who is the most obedient?” he asked.
The children all stared back at him in silence.
Then he asked, “Who never talks back to mother?”
Again the kids appeared to be mystified by the question.
Then Tom asked, “Who does everything she says?”
With that question, the kids were finally able to come to a conclusion. The five small voices answered in unison, “Okay, dad, you get the toy.”



tph tencommandments-2Bipad


Quotes on Comfort

There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. Jane Austen

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. John F. Kennedy

Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always. Hippocrates

Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort. Humphry Davy


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Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), Shabbat Chazon, Tisha B’Av

 [Comments partly derived from 2009 TPH].

I love words.  I love their rhythm, their music, how they evolve, how they feel in my mouth.  I occasionally make a point of memorizing bits of text I find particularly vivid, from sources as disparate as Lord Kelvin and Sylvia Plath.   I love puns.  I love using unexpected verbal imagery to get a point across, like describing the structure of a plastic gas tank as resembling baklava, or invoking a reaction coordinate diagram to discuss romantic relationships.  A highlight of my early life was getting my very own library card as soon as I could print my name and using it to take 10 books out from two libraries weekly (15 from three on rare occasions).  So it’s not surprising that, even after so many years in the lab, I ended up in a language-oriented job in the library building. 

All of which is an introduction to this week’s Torah portion the first one of the final book of the Torah.  In The Book of Devarim and the Birth of Talmud Torah, Rabbi David Hoffman writes, “No form of the Hebrew root l-m-d (to learn, study, or teach) appears in any book of the Torah other than Devarim, where it appears seventeen times in thirty-four chapters. The experience of learning and teaching is central to the project of Devarim. This verb is used in connection to God teaching the Israelites, Moses teaching the nation and, perhaps most critically, the Israelites themselves teaching Torah… (Deut. 11:18–19).(F)or the Jew, learning is an active process that is primarily about making meaning…. to develop a personal, rich, and nurturing relationship with God.   Study is the means by which we make meaning in our own lives.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Tigay explains (Etz Hayyim, page 980) that Deuteronomy “consists of five retrospective discourses and poems that Moses addressed to Israel in Moab shortly before his death, plus two narratives about his final acts.”  For someone who used to be slow of speech, that’s a lot of talking.  He begins with a quick and selective recap of the wanderings from the time the earlier generation had left Sinai (=Horeb here).  His selection of topics is not obvious: the command to leave Sinai, his implementation of a hierarchy of magistrates, the incident with the 12 spies and its disastrous result, and then he pretty much skips to the most recent months and their military victories and the apportionment of the land.  It’s actually not a bad introduction, since the recent events are of greatest interest to this new generation.  More history can come later. 

We are currently in the midst of the Nine Days, a semi-mourning period that culminates in Tisha B’Av (literally, 9th of Av) which starts next Monday night.  Tisha B’Av commemorates several disasters, particularly the destruction of the First and Second Temples.  It is a black fast (mourning), unlike the white fast (solemn) of Yom Kippur.  One site with links to laws, customs, etc. is .  I recommend the article,  “Lest We Forget – What do we get from Tisha B’Av?” by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach.    The Sabbath directly preceding Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Chazon (Vision) after the vision of Isaiah, recounted in the haftarah, Isaiah 1:1-27.  The haftarah is traditionally chanted mostly using the mournful melody that will be used to chant the book of Lamentations (known in Hebrew as “Eichah,” literally, “How?!”) on Tisha B’Av.  

While the haftarot between the 17th of Tammuz and Rosh Hashanah are connected to the calendar rather than to the weekly Torah reading, there actually is a link between this haftarah and Devarim.  In Isaiah 1:21, we read “How is the faithful city become a harlot!” In Deut. 1:12, Moses says, How am I able to bear your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels?!” Traditionally, this verse is also chanted using the Eichah melody. And the Book of Lamentations itself begins, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!”  Each “How” is not a request for analysis, but an expression of mixed exasperation and mourning, mainly exasperation in Moses’ case.

What is most significant to me this year is the teaching that, while the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry among the Israelites, the Second was destroyed on account of “sinat chinam,” which means “baseless hatred,” among the Jews.  I am troubled by a startling amount of what I consider sinat chinam among world Jewry, factions ever more separated and incommunicative.  And, while not limited to Jews of course, polarization and division (lots of hatred, a lot baseless) may be destroying our country.  We need to sit down, take a deep breath, and focus on the task at hand, which is to chart a viable future from a difficult present. 

Shabbat shalom, 


From the weekly Washington Post Style Invitational FLORA & FAUXNA: THE NEOLOGISMS OF WEEK 1227

The neologism challenge for Week 1227 was to coin a new life form whose name — in the spirit of genetic diversity — had no two of the same letter. (selected submissions)

Dogirafe: The only canine that can fetch a Frisbee stuck in a tree. (Shani Alexander, Wanneroo, Australia, a First Offender)

Kremling: A Russian weasel noted for its tiny paws and orange fur. (David Peckarsky, Tucson)

E. moji:A bacterium manifesting itself in poop, soft-serve ice cream, and a face with stuck-out tongue and winking eye. (Dave Matuskey, Sacramento)

Beaglu: A dog that never leaves your side. Literally. (Jeff Shirley, Richmond, Va.)

Ost-rich: A bird that buried its head in the sand and found oil. (John O’Byrne, Dublin)

Pseudoryx: A troublesome species of antelope, also known as fake gnus. (Kevin Dopart)

Peach mint: Some in Congress would like to send this herb over to the White House. (James Colten, Washington, a First Offender)

Sycolephant: Large animal with a long, brown nose (Larry Gray, Union Bridge, Md.; Tom Witte)

Tydebola: A virus that sterilizes itself. (Neal Starkman, Seattle)

Muhel: A rabbi who stubbornly refuses to perform circumcisions. (Roy Ashley. Washington)


Fifteen Things You’ll Never Hear a Teacher Say

  1. “Our principal is soooooooooo smart. No wonder he’s in administration!”
  2. “Thank goodness for these evaluations. They keep me focused.”
  3. “I’d like to see Red Lobster offer a meal like this!”
  4. “I can’t BELIEVE I get paid for this!!!!”
  5. “Here class, just put all your gym shoes in this box next to my desk.”
  6. “I bet all the people in our administration really miss teaching!!”
  7. “Gosh, the bathroom smells so fresh and clean!”
  8. “It must be true; the superintendent said so!”
  9. “I think the discipline around here is just a LITTLE too strict!!”
  10. “It’s Friday already???????”
  11. I believe schools would run better if only a few more ex-coaches would go into administration.
  12. This in-service training has just been fabulous.
  13. I believe that athletics are not getting enough money.
  14. We’d be able educate our children if they would let us teach through June, too.
  15. Have you noticed that teachers drive better cars than the students?



 22/08/2014 11:19 | Updated 20 May 2015

tph phrases kids don't understand


Quotes about Exasperation

5. “We mothers of grown-up daughters tend to view them with a mixture of love, exasperation, irritation and awe.”
Author: Anne Robinson

7. “Exhaustion andexasperationare frequently the handmaidens of legislative decision.”
Author: Barber Conable

14. “…he arrived late at the office, perceived that his doing so made no difference whatever to any one, and was filled with suddenexasperation at the elaborate futility of his life”
Author: Edith Wharton

15. “Father, in those moments of utter exasperation, help me to want You as much as I need You!”
Author: Evinda Lepins

18. “I go from exasperation to a state of collapse, then I recover and go from prostration to Fury, so that my average state is one of being annoyed.”
Author: Gustave Flaubert

24. “Well what are you looking at me for? If this is a democratic process, I’ve been outvoted,” he said in exasperation. “This is why democracy doesn’t work. The crazy people always outnumber the sane people.”
Author: Joseph R. Lallo


tph chalk board

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