Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

I’m taking a week off from thinking.  So, these comments are from January 2013, except for additions in italics.

A new year, a new book, and a familiar yet still-exciting story to curl up with on these cold, dark winter mornings.  This week’s portion takes us all the way from a reminder of the names of the brothers who went down to Egypt, through the Hebrews’ entrapment in slavery, to that bricks without straw episode (which always reminds me of those productivity-increase initiatives at work which are NOW ONLY A MEMORY HAHAHAHA!!!  But I digress…). 

In between, Pharaoh tries different schemes to weaken the Hebrews, including ordering the deaths of newborn sons.  Moses is born, hidden, found, and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Primed to fight injustice, Moses kills an abusive taskmaster and flees to Midian, where he meets and rescues the daughters of Jethro (at a well, of course) and marries one (Zipporah). 

After several quiet decades as a shepherd, Moses is shown the burning bush that is not consumed and is given his assignment to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, which he accepts only after he runs out of excuses.  On the way to Egypt, Zipporah saves Moses’ life by circumcising their son, which Moses hadn’t (why is not stated).

When he and big brother Aaron meet with the elders and then head off to Pharaoh, everything looks great.  Then, despite their impressive dog-and-pony (here, snakes and staffs – Biblical PowerPoint) show, Aaron and Moses are exposed to two themes which will recur with depressing frequency: (1) Pharaoh will not simply let the Hebrews go because he’s told their god wants him to and (2) the Hebrews kvetch whenever there’s a setback.  But, at the end (6:1), the Lord provides a reassuring message along the lines of, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

An oft-noted feature of this portion is the major role played by women.  The midwives, Shifrah and Puah (in some commentaries identified as Moses’ mother Jocheved and sister Miriam), save newborn Hebrew boys.  Jocheved saves Moses by hiding him and then placing him in that basket by the river, hopeful he will be rescued.  Pharaoh’s daughter does so [another act of defiance], and Miriam arranges for Jocheved to be his wet nurse.  Rabbinic midrash also has Miriam indirectly responsible for Moses’ birth, by convincing her parents to resume relations, after they had separated lest they have a baby boy who would be killed under the edict. 

Is all this a sign of the innate moral superiority of the women, Hebrew and Egyptian, with the men being abject cowards?  Rather, a key element is the relative invisibility and powerlessness of women.  They are never perceived as a threat, leaving them freer to operate and to act in accord with morality.  Sometimes it can help not to be taken seriously by the powers that be.

Shabbat shalom,



(2013) The world of birth is one of survival at its most basic and grubby.  I’ve been enjoying a series on PBS, “Call the Midwife,” which is based on the memoirs of a nurse midwife in London’s East End slums in the 1950’s. [They’re up to the ‘60’s now.] The midwives and doctors respect each other and understand who steps in when.  Respecting a title instead of skill can bring disaster. For example, it is now thought that Jane Seymour’s death nine days postpartum may have been due to infection caused by incomplete removal of the placenta, probably because Henry VIII was so anxious to have his son (Edward VI) born safely that he insisted on using physicians instead of experienced midwives.  IGP


(excerpt – the full article contains data!)


‘My god, September is terrible!’ one midwife told The Independent

Rachel Hosie  @rachel_hosie  Friday 8 September 2017 10:09 

If you’ve noticed a lot of pregnant women around of late or seem to have a lot of birthday parties in your diary over the next few weeks, you’re probably not alone.

September 26 is the day most babies are born, because what happened nine months earlier? Christmas.

And now a midwife is speaking out to ask people to stop having sex over Christmas. 

33-year-old midwife Mhairi Maharry from London jokingly tweeted:

“How is it only the 5th of September. I can’t take 25 more days of this. If you know or love a midwife, PLEASE STOP SHAGGING AT CHRISTMAS.”

She’s not alone either – one trainee midwife told The Independent that September is notorious for being manic.

And midwife Bethan Jones added: “My god, September is terrible! I’m in the midst of the busiest row of shifts I’ve had in a long time. 

 “Everyone decides this is the year they’ll have a baby, so they start trying right away and end up having a baby nine months later,” she explained to The Independent.

You might think mid November – nine months after Valentine’s Day – would be a busy time in labour wards, but it’s nothing on September.

Thanks to the whole of December being a time for parties, drinking and general frivolity, September is the busiest month of the year for midwives.

And after Maharry’s Twitter appeal, both expectant mothers and mothers of September babies apologised for any extra work they’d given midwives.

Interestingly, December 25 and 26 are actually the days when the fewest babies are born.


tph moses burning bush


Dilbert on PowerPoint Presentations

tph dilbert powerpt


19 #Resistance Quotes For International Women’s Day (selections)

By Samantha Darby  Mar 7 2017

“It’s not a woman’s job to get smaller and smaller until she disappears so the world can be more comfortable.” — Glennon Doyle Melton

“A woman is like a tea bag; you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

“I don’t want to be remembered as the girl who was shot. I want to be remembered as the girl who stood up.” — Malala Yousafzai

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” — Marie Curie

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically . . . no, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” — Rosa Parks


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Vayekhi (Genesis 47:28 – 50:26)

I recently saw the movie Green Book, which I enjoyed and recommend.  Based on a true story, it concerns the relationship between a black pianist with highly refined tastes and the Bronx bouncer he hires as a driver/protector for a concert tour through the Midwest and South in 1962.  I was struck by the pianist’s intense loneliness.  He exists at the interface of the “normal” black and white communities, rooted in neither.  

Which brings us to Joseph’s relationships in this week’s Torah portion, the last in the book of Genesis. 

17 years have passed. Jacob’s family in Goshen, has prospered. Now 147, Jacob, prepares to die.  He makes Joseph swear that the burial will be in the family plot, in the Cave of Machpelah in Canaan.  He blesses Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh, younger (Ephraim) before elder, and formally adopts them, making his beloved Rachel ancestress of three tribes instead of two.  Finally, he gives personal comments to each of his sons.  and giving each of his sons some personalized last words (49:1-28).  These words are intended as prophesies of what will happen to each son’s descendants “in the end of days” and so are, in one sense, performance reviews.  As expected, Reuben, Levi and Shimon come off worst, Judah and Joseph best.  Jacob dies, and his embalmed remains are taken to Canaan by his sons, accompanied by an Egyptian entourage.  The children and livestock remain in Egypt.

Joseph’s older brothers fear that, now Jacob is dead, Joseph will finally retaliate against them for being sold all those years ago.  Joseph weeps in sorrow and frustration, recognizing that they have never believed in his forgiveness; indeed, they have never forgiven themselves.  Despite Joseph’s reassurance and care, the barrier between Joseph and his older brothers remains.

At 110, Joseph prepares for his own death.  He has spent 93 years in Egypt, 80 of them as Zaphenat-Paneah in Pharaoh’s innermost circle.  But he is still a Hebrew.  He must humbly ask Pharaoh’s permission to bury Jacob in Canaan, saying he’d sworn to, and leaving the children and flocks behind.  Yet he also remains apart from his family, at court while they prosper as shepherds in Goshen.  He may still be a Hebrew, but he is no longer a Canaanite shepherd.  At the interface of two adjacent worlds, he is an effective observer, liaison, and manager.  But he is also isolated from both, rooted firmly in neither.

Joseph makes his brothers swear to take his remains to Canaan for burial, but only at the proper time: (50:24-25) “God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. …When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.”  

So ends the book of Genesis, with foreshadowing that, for the Children of Israel to leave Egypt, God will have to bring them out. 

Shabbat shalom,


tph Performance Review comfort food



How do you rate?

Performance Factor Performance Degrees
Far Exceeds Job Requirements Exceeds Job Requirements Meets Job Requirements Needs Some Improvement Does Not Meet Minimum Job Requirements
QUALITY Leaps tall buildings with a single bound Must take a running start to leap over tall buildings Can leap over short buildings only Crashes into buildings when attempting to jump over them Cannot recognize buildings at all
TIMELINESS Is faster than a speeding bullet Is as fast as a speeding bullet Not quite as fast as a speeding bullet Would you believe a slow bullet? Wounds self with bullets when attempts to fire
INITIATIVE Is stronger than a locomotive Is stronger than a bull elephant Is stronger than a bull Shoots the bull Smells like a bull
ABILITY Walks on water consistently Walks on water in emergencies Washes with water Drinks water Passes water in emergencies
COMMUNICATION Talks with God Talks with the angels Talks to himself Argues with himself Loses those arguments

Submitted by Dr. Jay Pasachoff, Hale Observatories, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

Source: The Best of the Journal of Irreproducible Results, Edited by Dr. George H. Scherr © 1983 

The fight for inheritance


Starts at 60 Writers

Three sons go to their father on his deathbed. A father of three, a man of considerable wealth and creator of a veritable empire, lies on his deathbed in the final hours of his life. His sons, all vying to inherit his wealth, stand by his side, arguing over who should take the kingdom.

“I am the smartest,” says one.

“But I am the bravest,” replies another.

The youngest, last in line to inherit, says nothing and holds his father’s hand.

“Sons, sons! Stop this bickering. The inheritor or my vast wealth, of all my lands and riches, will be decided by a task.” said the dying man.

“Father,” cries the first son, “Whatever it is, I shall prove my worth! I will show you that your kingdom will be in safe hands with me! Name the task!”

The father breaths a laboured breath and then regards his first son. “My firstborn, you shall journey to the furthest, storm-tossed seas of the great West. There, you will search the unfathomable depths for the long-lost wreck of the HMS Gordimer. Deep within her bowels, there lies a treasure chest. Inside that chest is the incredibly rare Gem of Kings. Bring that, and you shall have my blessing.”

The son beams with pride while preparing his travels and leaves on his quest.

“What is my task, father?” asks the second son. “Tell me! For your kingdom, for your blessing, nothing is impossible!”

“My son,” he said, “you shall travel East. There, deep within the jungles, you will find the vicious and savage saber-toothed Bear. With just your hands, bring me its heart. Do this, and you shall have my blessing.”

The son packs his things and leaves for his tough journey.

“And me father?” asks the last son. “What is my task? What dangerous quest will you have me do?”

The father just looks at him. “My boy,” he says. “Can you, please, get me a glass of water.”

The son quizzes his father with a puzzled look.  The man sees his son’s face and says “I never did like your brothers much. I hope you like being rich.”


Deathbed Confession

The was a man who had four kids, all gorgeous, except for the youngest one, Craig, who was nothing short of gruesome. While on his deathbed, the husband asked his wife, “Marie, tell me one thing. And please be honest. Am I Craig’s father?” “Yes, honey,” replied his wife. “I promise you, Craig is 100 percent yours.” “I can die a happy man. Goodbye my love.” And the man peacefully passed away. Marie gave a big sigh and said quietly, “Thank heaven almighty he didn’t ask me about the other three.”


Quotes on Being in Two Worlds

It’s great to be able to have your feet in both worlds. I wouldn’t want to be just stuck in one or the other. David Morse

My school was 90 percent white, but 90 percent of the kids I played with were black. So I got the best of both worlds. I think that is where my comedy developed. Will Smith

My heroes in real life are definitely my mom for being true to herself, for having a foot in both worlds, for being so very polite – Canadian and also such a traditional Greek woman. I would sum it up this way: the life lesson she would say is be polite while you’re breaking the rules. Nia Vardalos

I think that black people, to a degree, need to have a certain level of dexterity. If we want to be at the highest level of whatever our field is, we have to be able to navigate both worlds. We all just know that you gotta be able to put that suit on and have a conversation with people that don’t look like you or your family. Mahershala Ali [who played the pianist in Green Book, BTW]

Maybe to feel like an Afghan I needed to be born and raised in the States, and maybe I needed to live in Afghanistan for nearly a decade to feel like an American. Both worlds shaped me, but neither one of them completely correspond to the picture I have of myself. Aman Mojadidi

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Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

When I went to grad school, I was not prepared for how cold it would be.  I don’t mean the weather. Yes, this was Boston, but I had a heavy wool coat and, after some months of neglect, very long hair (past my waist) that was like an extra sweater.  I mean an emotional coldness, not cruelty or meanness, but an inability to connect emotionally.  It was so cold in my department that, when a senior grad student died (of an illness, I think lymphoma), we only learned of it because someone moved into his desk.  And one did not indulge in casual hugs (greetings, farewells, comfort, reassurance, and the like), at least not when sober.  So, since my boyfriend was over a thousand miles away, I had no hugs for months at a time.  But I survived, we got married, and now I hug and am hugged a whole lot, enough to more than make up for that cold time so long ago.

Which brings us to this week’s Torah portion.

Judah pleads eloquently on behalf of Benjamin (and Jacob, who would be destroyed by grief were Benjamin lost to him) and offers himself as Joseph’s slave in place of his youngest brother.   Moved by Judah’s plea and the other brothers’ apparently sincere regret at how they’d treated him 22 years before, Joseph reveals his identity and immediately asks after his father.  He is very emotional, embracing and kissing his brothers. He tries to reassure them (Gen. 45:5-7):

“Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.  It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.”

The brothers return to Canaan, tell Jacob Joseph’s true fate, and the whole household comes down to Egypt to live in Goshen under Joseph’s and Pharaoh’s protection. Jacob is reassured by the Lord that they should go down to Egypt, for it is there that they will become a great nation. Egypt is saved from famine.  And they all live happily ever after…

At least they do in the Sunday School version.  As I wrote 6 years ago, “Reality is more complex:  Joseph’s older brothers don’t respond warmly to his revelation, unable to accept his genuine forgiveness.  Jacob wants to see Joseph but is uncertain about moving to Egypt and needs divine reassurance.  And, while the family is allowed to live peacefully in Goshen, they no doubt cause Joseph some embarrassment, as Egyptians have a low opinion of shepherds, and Jacob kvetches about his short (he’s 130), miserable life when he is introduced to Pharaoh.  Moreover, in Joseph’s business model, the Egyptians are saved from death, but in exchange, they become serfs of Pharaoh (though the 20% rate they pay isn’t bad in context), an ironic foreboding of the Hebrew slavery to come.”

Also ironically, despite his readiness to weep and to embrace his brothers, he doesn’t truly connect with them, except perhaps Benjamin, the only one who tearfully hugs and kisses him back.  They don’t apologize to him.  They don’t take his advice about their meeting with Pharaoh.  They don’t really believe he has truly forgiven them.

And what about Jacob?  He and Joseph love each other, but how does he feel about all those years when Joseph could have contacted him and didn’t? And has Jacob figured out that the 10 older sons were responsible for Joseph’s disappearance at 17?  Does Jacob weep at his reunion with Joseph?  [Some years ago, I gave a d’var Torah on this portion focusing on tears and family dynamics.  I have posted it here for reference.]

Joseph’s tears show that he feels strongly and that he understands the implications of a given emotional situation.  But despite his tears and his physical embrace of his brothers and father, a barrier remains, just as there remains a barrier between him as a Hebrew and the rest of Egypt.  Joseph is still exceptional, and he must deal with the emotional isolation that results from that.  We’ll see more of that next week, in the final installment of Joseph’s story.

Shabbat shalom,

Mistaken identity   Author: YourLifeChoices

Larry, a photographer for a newspaper, was scheduled to meet a plane on the runway to take him on a job.

“Hit it,” said Larry climbing into the first plane he saw on the runway.

The pilot took off and was soon in the air.

“OK,” said Larry, “fly low over the trees over there, I want to take a few pictures.”

“What do you mean?” asked the pilot.

Larry looked at the pilot and answered a little annoyed, “I need to take some pictures for the paper, so please…..”

There was a long pause, before the pilot asked in a shaky voice, “you mean you’re not my flying instructor?”


I really like both these drawings and the idea of “emotional jumper cables,” so even though I already shared this item on Facebook, I think it merits a re-appearance here.

Joseph’s emotional jumper cables don’t seem to make good contact, except with Benjamin, and maybe Jacob, to some extent.  IGP

tph emotional jumper cables


Family Reunion Jokes

  • “I’m here to talk about our family, but Mom always taught me that if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. Good Day.”
  • “We didn’t provide any alcohol at this family reunion. We were concerned people would start being honest with each other.”
  • “If you’re upset because you couldn’t bring a boyfriend or girlfriend, just remember: It’s in their best interest.”
  • “The only reason why I’m speaking right now is because Grandma bribed me with pie so I would say something nice.”
  • “Family reunions get a bad reputation. This is way better than jury duty!”
  • “You want to know what the best part is about an annual family reunion? You get a full year to recover.”
  • “You know what they say about annual family reunions. ‘Again?!??!’”
  • “Do you remember what happened at the last family reunion? Yeah, I’ve tried to block it out too.”
  • “You know, all of the women were really excited when I told them about the family reunion… Until I said, “bring your husband too.”
  • “How many crazy people does it take to throw a party?” (Begin counting people)
  • “Our family is like a fine cheese, we get funkier with age!”


tph family smile laugh


Quotes about Hugs

When I come home, my daughter will run to the door and give me a big hug, and everything that’s happened that day just melts away. Hugh Jackman

I have learned that there is more power in a good strong hug than in a thousand meaningful words. Ann Hood

Eating something fresh out of the oven is like a hug you can taste. Regina Brett

My only self-confidence and satisfaction comes from the people that I do meet; I have fondness for people. I mean, I like to hug. And I also like to be hugged. Teresa Heinz

Laughing together is as close as you can get to a hug without touching. Gina Barreca

The Gift of Kvetch (excerpts)

Nov 24, 2012
by Marnie Winston-Macauley

Kvetching is a necessary part of life! Here’s why… 

I would argue that we actually need to kvetch.  Here’s why.

Shmutz1 Removal: Face it. We’re all clogged with oy veys, “who needs this?” and “You’re all shmegegges2.” Should we attempt to hold in all that fury, it can lead to dire consequences. Kvetching is like a mental enema. It allows us to healthily vent, clean out, then start anew with no nasty rage hangovers – or grepsing3.

Creative Socializing or If You’re Kvetching and You Know it, Clap Your Hands: If we’re older than the mutant meatloaf in my freezer, we know that life is filled with a few big joys and a million daily oys. While We Jews are stoic when handling the Big Things such as rescuing people from a terrorist nation, it’s the little things that make our daily lives one big meshuggoss4, like our husband’s insistence he knows a secret short cut from New York to Miami – through Idaho. By letting out a robust “Oy Vey! Would you believe … !” in the hair salon, gym, or elevator, you’ll suddenly hear from strangers, “You too?! MINE dreams of going to outer space – as a pilot, yet! He can’t find the Tums if they’re behind the Q-Tips, but Venus he thinks he’ll find! And another thing …” See? In five minutes, we’ve made 10 BFFs, and given them the gift of the kvetch.

I’m OK, You’re Not A good kvetch can be cautionary!

We’ve Got a Right! Yes.

This being said, of course you can’t kvetch to all of the people all of the time! The expert kvetcher chooses her/his target and issues wisely. Timing is also crucial. We need to balance the kvetch so that it’s long enough to get results, yet short enough so they won’t run from you. Five minutes per kvetch is about right (unless you’re on the line with a telemarketer from India).

I also suggest kvetches be balanced with optimism and positive reinforcement. For example, say to your Irving: “See darling … ? You buttoned up and didn’t get pneumonia?! I’m so proud.”

Marnie Winston-Macaule


1 shmutz:  dirt

2 shmegegge: a contemptible person, an idiot

3 grepsing: belching

4 meshuggoss: craziness

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D’var Torah – Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

Delivered at Shabbat morning services at AKSE, January 3, 2004 by Irene G. Plotzker [reconstructed from notes]

In this week’s portion, Joseph reveals his identity, assures his brothers he forgives them, and the whole family is reunited in Egypt, where they live happily ever after…

Not really.  This portion is full of unsettling undercurrents.  First, we know that “going down to Egypt” will eventually mean enslavement, so that is in the back of our minds throughout.

And how genuine is that family reconciliation, really?  The brothers never liked Joseph, even as a boy.  They still feel guilty about how they treated him.  They almost certainly never told Jacob what really happened and probably never even discussed it among themselves.  Maybe, for all these years, it’s been like the elephant in the center of the room everyone tries in vain to ignore.  So one would expect their reaction to Joseph’s revelation to be quite mixed.

What about Joseph?  Yes, he certainly acts happy and forgiving.  But he also seems to have become quite comfortable living as an Egyptian.  He seems to have chosen to keep himself cut off from his family.  Consider, for example, when he names his firstborn Menasheh, saying, “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home” (Gen. 41:51).

And why didn’t Joseph ever send word to his father in Canaan that he was alive and well?  He’s been out of prison for nine years.  That question has troubled several commentators, who have come up with various ideas (Uriel Simon, “Joseph Heals the Breach in His Father’s House,” at, a few of which I will note here.  R. Yehuda Hehasid felt that Joseph realized that, if he sent word to his father, Jacob would realize that the brothers played a role in Joseph’s disappearance, and it would destroy the family.  Ramban was amazed that Joseph did not send word to Jacob, noting how much pain Jacob felt and Hebron’s nearness to Egypt.  He concluded that Joseph believed the future as laid out in his dreams needed to play itself out, and this (specifically, the family bowing down to him) could only happen in Egypt.  Similarly, but going a step further, the opinion of R. Isaac Abarbanel was that Joseph saw it was necessary for the events in God’s plan to play themselves out, that the brothers needed time to change and to prove they had changed, and this justified Jacob’s continuing pain.

Then, when they do come down, Joseph treats his brothers like country bumpkins, coaching them on what to say to Pharoah (to not avail – they ignore him).  And Jacob didn’t even want to go down to Egypt and went only because he wanted to see Joseph one last time and because God assured him that it was the right thing to do.

To gain more insight into the dynamics of this situation, I’d like to focus on one element: tears.  Who cries, when, and why.

To be able to weep indicates you can both feel and express deep emotions.  Esau weeps when he’s tricked out of his blessing.  Jacob weeps with joy when he meets Rachel.

In our story, Joseph weeps several times.  Notice that he does not weep when he is thrown into the pit, when he is sold as a slave, when he is thrown into prison, or when he’s forgotten there.  He tends to weep at times of emotion-laden insight.

For example, he first cries when he first sees his brothers in Egypt (Gen. 42:24) and hears them expressing regret for their actions  toward him 22 years earlier.  He’s overwhelmed, not at seeing them, but at hearing that they might actually have repented.

Next, he cries when he reveals his identity (Gen. 45:1-2) and when he kisses each of them.  But only Benjamin, his only full brother, cries as well.  The other brothers do not.  They are emotionally stuck and cannot fully accept Joseph’s assurances that he has indeed forgiven them and that what they did was part of God’s plan.  And so, they cannot weep.

When Joseph meets Jacob, the Hebrew is not clear as to which one of them weeps.  (what follows is based on Binyamin Salant, “Yosef’s Libels, Emotions and Passions” at  To Ramban, it is clear: “It is well known who is crying – the aged father who discovers, after years of despair and mourning, that his son is alive.”  He then goes on to buttress his argument by analyzing the literary structure of the text and comparing it to similar examples in the Bible.  Rashi, on the other hand, agrees with a midrash that Joseph wept and Jacob did not, because he was reciting the Shema.  I agree with the commentary of R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, who wrote, “Yosef wept.  Yaacov did not weep.  Yosef could still weep.  Yaakov was finished with weeping, because he had wept enough in his life…Since he had missed Yosef, Yaakov had not ceased from weeping, his whole life of feelings had been spent in grief over Yosef…Yosef…had had no time to give himself up so much to the pain of separation…Now when he fell round his father’s neck again, he felt all the more what the separation had really meant to him, and lived once again through the past twenty years.  Yaakov had already become Israel.  Yosef still wept.”

When Jacob dies (we’ll read about that next week) and the brothers fear Joseph’s benevolence will end, Joseph weeps again, frustrated and saddened at their lack of faith, even after 17 years of his caring for them.  He realizes that, while he has been able to forgive them, they still have not been able to forgive themselves.  They still cannot weep.

I’d like to conclude with some excerpts from an advice column on the topic of reconciliations that I found on the web, “Dear Avigal,” written by Mindy Davids and Jeffrey Marx (


Dear Avigal:

Five years ago, my partner and I disbanded our business. We had worked side by side for a decade. Our families even vacationed together. Then, in a dispute over bonuses, one word led to another, and we split up. After five years of not seeing him, not speaking to him, I felt bad. Then I remembered the story of Joseph and his brothers. Despite being sold into slavery by his siblings, Joseph forgave them completely…I decided that if Joseph could do it, I could too!

I called my former partner. We had dinner together, we shmoozed about the past, we talked honestly about our falling out. Since then, we talk on the phone at least once a month. But I just learned that his daughter is being married in a month’s time, and he didn’t even invite me!

So much for making peace!

Hurt and Confused.


Dear Hurt and Confused:

The bum! What ingratitude, after you went out of your way to make peace! My advice is to find yourself a better friend.



Dear Avigal:

Did you ever stop to consider that not all reconciliations have fairy-tale endings? It’s true that my brother Joseph hugged and kissed us in the throne room and brought us down to Egypt, but did you ever consider where we ended up living? While we were stuck with the sheep in Goshen, my brother continued living in the palace! (Gen. 47:11) We had to send word to him when our father was on his deathbed, that’s how seldom he came to visit. (Gen. 48:1)

Believe me, after our father died, my brothers and I feared that now Joseph was going to exact his revenge. That’s why we concocted the story that on his deathbed, Jacob had asked Joseph to forgive us. (Gen. 50:15-17) We weren’t close to Joseph when we sold him, why should a few tears and a hug-especially after so many years had passed-suddenly make us one happy family? Tell Hurt and Confused to grow up!

Reuben, son of Jacob


Dear Avigal:

Reconciliation is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Believe me, I know. I did a terrible thing to my brother many years ago involving our father’s inheritance. We didn’t see each other for years. I couldn’t sleep, I kept wrestling with my conscience. Finally, I sent him a note and we arranged to meet. When we saw each other, he fell on my neck and we wept like babies. He invited me to his home to spend time with his wife and kids. I accepted, but at the last minute I decided not to go. (Gen. 33:12-17) What more could I say to him? We were never close growing up; our values were completely different. Tell Hurt and Confused not to get his hopes up too high!

Jacob, son of Isaac


Dear Avigal:

I can’t believe your readers’ responses to Hurt and Confused! Theirs is a most depressing way of looking at the world and our role in making it a better place. How am I ever going to announce the coming of the messianic age with such attitudes?! … We must believe that we can make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others by embracing darchei shalom, the paths of peace.



Reconciliations are inherently difficult because someone has been hurt.  But it is incumbent upon us to try anyway, and to travel those paths of peace.

Shabbat shalom.

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Miketz (Gen. 41:1-44:17), 6th day of Chanukah (Num. 7:42-47), Rosh Hodesh Tevet (Num. 28:9-15)

Three scrolls plus several extra Psalms (Ps. 104, 113-118) and an extra prayer or two.  Wheeee!

That’s what happens when the 6th day of Chanukah, which happens to be Rosh Chodesh, occurs on Shabbat. The regular weekly reading, Miketz, part 2 of the Joseph story, is read from the first scroll.  For Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, we read Numbers 28:9-15, about Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh sacrifices, from a second scroll. And every day during Chanukah, there’s a brief reading about the sacrifices made as part of the dedication of the Tabernacle, paralleling the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabees’ victory; for the 6th day on Shabbat, it’s Numbers 7:42-47, from a third scroll.  There’s a special haftarah, Zechariah 2:14-4:7, which includes the image of a menorah in a rebuilt and rededicated Temple, as well as the famous verse, (4:6), “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the Lord of hosts.”

Back to Joseph.  It has been two years since Joseph interpreted the dreams of the royal wine steward and royal baker.  Now Pharaoh dreams twice. In one dream, 7 attractively plump and healthy cows are swallowed up by 7 ugly and emaciated ones, yet they remain emaciated.  The second dream is the same, with the cows replaced with a stalk with 7 plump ears of grain swallowed by one with 7 shriveled ears. His magicians can’t provide an interpretation.  The royal wine steward tells Pharaoh about Joseph.  Shaved and dressed nicely, Joseph comes before Pharaoh and modestly tells him God is the actual interpreter, but the dreams mean there will be 7 years of plenty followed by 7 of famine; and Pharaoh needs to appoint a smart person to lead and coordinate storing the extra grain from the good years as a reserve for the lean years.

Naturally, Pharaoh appoints Joseph, who becomes 2nd only to Pharaoh in Egypt.  He adopts the name Zaphenat-Paneah and marries Asenath, daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On.  They have two sons, problematically named the first-born Manasseh (meaning, “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home”) and Ephraim (meaning, “God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction”).  Though he is now free after many years of servitude and prison, he does not send word to Canaan that he is alive and very, very well.

The scene shifts to Canaan 9 years later, 2 years into the famine.
Jacob is still very much the head of the family, his sons meekly following his orders.  The 10 oldest are still haunted by what they did to Joseph. Jacob sends them to Egypt to buy food.  Joseph recognizes them, while they have no idea Zaphenat-Paneah is their long-lost brother. Joseph decides to test them (sort of like a cat “testing” a mouse) and holds Shimon hostage until they return with Benjamin, but also secretly returning the money they’d paid for grain.  Jacob finally lets them return, with some diplomatic gifts, the money, and Benjamin.  The visit seems to go well, but then Joseph plants his silver divining chalice in Benjamin’s sack.  Cliffhanger:  Will the brothers try to save Benjamin? Or will they abandon Benjamin in Egypt as Joseph’s slave and cause Jacob to die of grief?  Tune in next week…

As far as I can find out, Miketz always is read during Chanukah.  The particular facet of Chanukah that gets attention has varied over the centuries.  When I was a child, Chanukah was touted as marking the first war for religious freedom.  Today we look at it in terms of the tensions of assimilation. The war was also a civil war, between Jews who had willingly adopted Greek ways (the High Priest Jason even built a gym in Jerusalem) and the more fundamentalist Jews like Mattathias and his family, the Hasmoneans.   Yes, the Hasmoneans ousted the foreign rulers, but their independent state grew corrupt and didn’t last long.   Only a century later, about 63 B.C.E., two rival Hasmonean factions invited Rome in to intervene.  And Rome didn’t leave.

In both the story of Chanukah and the story of Joseph, we are presented with ​the benefits and dangers of assimilation, which is a major issue among American Jews today.  It’s a balancing act.  Do we need to be isolated to be to remain identifiably Jewish? How freely can we interact with the non-Jewish world without letting go of our own religious observance? Culture? Identity? Joseph seems to have assimilated into upper crust Egyptian society in his marriage, his manner of dress, and his name.  He also seems to have cut himself off totally from his family in Canaan.  But he is still that former Hebrew slave who eats separately.  Next week, we’ll get a closer look at how his own pseudo-assimilation has both assisted him in his mission and isolated him emotionally.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,


tph potatohead


Stand-Up Comedians’ Quotes and Jokes about Dreams

It’s not my dreams that get me in trouble, it’s what my wife dreams I did. My wife punched me in the middle of the night; I woke up and went “Oww! What was that for?”, and she goes “I dreamt you were making out with Faith Hill.” I said “I wasn’t dreaming anything! Send her over to my dreams, and we’ll both be happy.”   Jeff Foxworthy

May your dreams be sweet and your nightmares be spooky-monster-scary and not grandma-died-scary.   Donald Glover

Quantum Mechanics: The dreams stuff is made of.   Steven Wright

I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that it’s not the answer.   Jim Carrey

Dreams that do come true can be as unsettling as those that don’t.   Brett Butler

I had a nightmare last night. I dreamed Dolly Parton was my mother and I was a bottle-baby.   Henny Youngman


Success one liners

The road to success is always under construction.

I broke a mirror the other day that’s 7 years bad luck. My lawyer thinks he can get me 5.

If nothing was learned, nothing was taught.

If at first you don’t succeed, we have a lot in common.

There are two rules for success: 1) Don’t tell all you know.

A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success.

—————–  and (dead links from 2013)

Others’ Interpretations of Dreams about Grain and Cows

Grain: No matter what the action, grain in a dream is a most fortunate omen of prosperity, unless it was spoiled or on fire, in which case it is a warning that your business affairs need closer attention if you want to avoid hardship. – Source: Dream Symbols 

Grain: This dream relates to your health and its significance follows the condition of the grain. If it was poor, stunted, or the field neglected, you should see a doctor. – Source: Dream Symbols 

Cow: oppressive, wealthy women who live in leisurely ease, Amos 4:1 – Source: Christian Dream Symbols 

Cow: Cows in dreams represent wealth, happiness and femininity. – Source:

Cow: To dream of a cow implies that you are content with following instructions and not causing an argument. – Source: Dream Interpretation World 


tph dilbert test

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Vayeishev (Gen. 37:1-40:23), Chanukah

It can be really difficult to be exceptional, even “exceptional” in a positive sense.  Case in point: Joseph, whose story we read over the next four weeks.

Jacob has settled down with his family in Canaan.  Joseph, now 17, is his favorite son.  He is good-looking, bright, capable, and a son of his beloved Rachel (the son that didn’t cause her death).  He favors Joseph even though he himself suffered the consequences of paternal favoritism, maybe telling himself, well, Isaac was wrong to favor Esau, but Joseph is obviously special, so he needs special attention. Jacob begins to groom Joseph, which includes giving him the infamous coat as a designation of future family leadership (the translation of ketonet passim is not necessarily a coat that is multicolored, but perhaps full-length with long sleeves or maybe embroidered).

Then Joseph starts have dreams of personal greatness (sun, moon and stars in one dream, sheaves of wheat), which don’t need much expertise to figure out they describe the family bowing down to him.  The jealousy of the brothers explodes into murderous fury, and when Joseph is sent out to them alone, they tear off his coat and throw him into a pit. But they have no plan, having acted on impulse.  It’s not clear exactly what happens to Joseph next, except that Reuben fails to rescue him and Judah suggests that they sell Joseph instead of killing him. After they sell him, they lead Jacob to conclude his favorite boy was torn apart by wild beasts.

[Interwoven with the Joseph saga are tales of Judah, since he’s going to become the real leader of the family and the ancestor of King David.  This week, some time after recommending the brothers make a profit while getting rid of Joseph, Judah’s twice-widowed daughter-in-law Tamar tricks him into impregnating her after he refuses to give her his third son to fulfill his levirate duty.]

Joseph is probably sold to more than one caravan; the narrative is unclear.  Finally, in Egypt, he is sold as a slave to Potiphar, a courtier.  Joseph distinguishes himself and is given more responsibility and trust.  Then Potiphar’s wife keeps trying and failing to seduce him (Biblical workplace sexual harassment), finally accusing him of rape, which lands him in prison.  Once again, in prison, he stands out. He is put in charge of the other prisoners (40:22-23).  Then he accurately interprets the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the royal baker and royal wine steward, to mean that the former will hang, and the latter will be returned to court.  Joseph asks the wine steward to speak up for him to free him, but the steward doesn’t.

The rabbis tend to gush about Joseph, calling him “Joseph the Righteous.” Over the years, I’ve described him as a spoiled, self-centered teenager; a teenager who is totally clueless concerning people’s emotions; an opportunist; and an ambitious, manipulative manager.  But I hadn’t really thought about him as someone who is both hailed as truly outstanding and perennially outside the society that lauds him.

He is indeed exceptional, and that leads to rewards and isolation.  His father favors him, but he is fatally estranged from his brothers.  His work for Potiphar is exemplary, but he is harassed by Potiphar’s wife and specifically resented as a Hebrew slave (39:14).  His behavior in prison is, again, exceptional, as are his dream interpretations, but the wine steward forgets him, so he languishes in prison.  Throughout the rest of his life, Joseph will continue to be exceptional and to be both richly rewarded and emotionally isolated.

Chanukah starts Sunday night.  More on that next week.  For now: Chanukah (however you choose to spell it) marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, after the Jews, led by the Hasmonean family, defeated the Syrian Greeks (Selucid Empire) who had been forcing the Jews to adopt Greek ways.  The holiday is 8 days long, probably because it was a postponed celebration of the fall holiday, Sukkot.  The oil “miracle” is a nice story made up by the rabbis to avoid celebrating a military win, especially by the Hasmoneans.  But the oil story means we eat fried foods like potato latkes and jelly doughnuts (sufganiot).

Shabbat shalom,


From Good Clean Jokes (A, Kostick et al., 1998) p. 314

Teacher: You have ten older brothers?
Mark: Yes.
Teacher: Does your mom holler at you a lot?
Mark: Nope. By the time she finishes hollering at my brothers and gets to me she usually has laryngitis.


tph joseph laundry




Quotes about the Exceptional

The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely. Lorraine Hansberry

What characterizes a member of a minority group is that he is forced to see himself as both exceptional and insignificant, marvelous and awful, good and evil. Norman Mailer

Little islands of human happiness, peace, and prosperity are so exceptional at this point in history that I’m not even sure we can draw lessons from them. P. J. O’Rourke

From Three Women a radio play by Sylvia Plath

I shall meditate upon normality.
I shall meditate upon my little son.

I do not will him to be exceptional.
It is the exception that interests the devil.
It is the exception that climbs the sorrowful hill
Or sits in the desert and hurts his mother’s heart.


tph chanukah t-shirt


Admiring the Christmas trees displayed in his neighbour’s windows one year, Nathan asks his father, “Daddy, can we have a Hanukkah Tree?”

“What? No, of course not,” answers his father.

“Why not?” asks Nathan.

Bewildered, his father replies, “Well, Nathan, because the last time we had dealings with a lighted bush, we spent 40 years in the wilderness.”


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Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)

We’re at the beginning of a holiday season of family and partying and buying stuff and music.  For me, as I grew up, it was highlighted by several family birthdays, beginning with my late mother’s (11/26/15), followed by mine a week later.  Then, coming home became an important aspect, especially once I was in grad school.  When I was first employed, work group holiday parties (often several) and wrap parties (I acted a bit in community theater) were added, and work demands wound down with the year.  In my last years at work, I confined acting to the workplace, and parties multiplied as we frantically tried to meet year-end legal deadlines.  Now, retired, I’m almost party-less. Too quiet.  I think I’ll substitute parties with concert attendance. I will buy a limited amount of stuff.  Family is scattered, but our daughter was just here, and she connected us to her brother via Facetime. And I’m already home.

In this week’s Torah portion (you knew I’d get to it eventually), Jacob finds his way home, somewhat circuitously.  Some loose ends must be tied up before we move on to the Joseph story.

First is reconciling with Esau, who is coming to meet Jacob with 400 armed men. From 2014: “After strategically dividing his household, he spends the night alone and wrestles with someone/something until dawn when he forces the being to tell him he will be re-named Israel, because he has ‘striven with beings divine and human, and … prevailed’ (32:29).  This wrestling incident has given rise to much commentary over the centuries (natch), which I’ve reviewed here.  To my mind, what is key is that Jacob must wrestle to get the being’s blessing.  Jacob’s meeting with a very (too?) genial Esau is treated with suspicion by the rabbis (e.g., putting dots in the scroll over “and kissed him”).  I just had a thought – maybe Esau never intended to attack but was just showing off his (physical) strength.  Jacob demonstrates how adept at soft soap he has become, with lots of gifts and bowing to Esau and general obsequiousness.  They part peacefully, and Jacob settles in the city of Shechem in Canaan.” Why he stops there, we are not told.

There’s a nice literary structure to this story that I noted in 2016:

“There are many parallel structures throughout the Torah. Some of these form intricate sequences of language, events or themes, known as chiastic structures, or chiasms, having the general form A B C D E … E’ D’ C’ B’ A’.  For example,

Jacob and Esau quarrel because of Isaac’s blessing.

      Jacob flees home, penniless and alone,

          Stops at Beth El,

Dreams of angels,

                        Matures during 20 years with Laban,

                 Dreams of wrestling an angelic being, and

           Returns to Beth El.

Jacob comes home, rich and with a huge household.

Jacob and Esau come together to bury Isaac.

Such structures provide a satisfying symmetry of language, events, and themes, kind of like literary karma.”

The ensuing stories about his oldest sons are not encouraging.  His daughter Dina is raped and, though the rapist Shechem wants to marry her, brothers Levi and Shimon trick the men of the community into circumcision and then massacre them.  And Reuben sleeps with Bilhah, who was Rachel’s surrogate.  When the family finally reaches his old home, Jacob finds his mother’s nurse has died; presumably, so has his mother Rebecca.  Isaac dies and is buried by Jacob and Esau.  This was my Bas Mitzvah portion, BTW, not that I read any of the Torah at the time (I also apparently did the wrong haftarah, which was done last week by Sephardim), being a girl in a non-egalitarian synagogue.  I didn’t mind that then. It was more important that it was my home synagogue.

I’ll conclude with this from 2014: “Home is more than a place or memories or even family.  When I was going on job interviews after several years away, when I was in the Philadelphia area and heard the local, generally maligned accent and speech patterns, I thought, ‘I’m home.’  And when I reconnected electronically with high school classmates and cousins and others fondly remembered from my past, I also felt ‘I’m home.’  Home is the past and present that enable us to proceed to the future with confidence, even serenity.”

Shabbat shalom,












Q: What is the definition of diplomacy?

A: The ability to tell a person to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.


Vincent Van Gogh’s Family Reunion

After much careful research, it has been discovered that the artist Vincent Van Gogh had many relatives.

Among them were:

His obnoxious brother – Please Gogh
His dizzy aunt – Verti Gogh
The brother who ate prunes – Gotta Gogh
The constipated uncle – Cant Gogh
The brother who worked at a convenience store – Stopn Gogh
The grandfather from Yugoslavia – U Gogh
The brother who bleached his clothes white – Hue Gogh
The cousin from Illinois – Chica Gogh
His magician uncle – Wherediddy Gogh
His Mexican cousin – Amee Gogh
The Mexican cousin’s American half brother – Grin Gogh
The ballroom dancing aunt – Tan Gogh
A sister who loved disco – Go Gogh
The nephew who drove a stage coach – Wellsfar Gogh
The bird lover uncle – Flamin Gogh
His nephew psychoanalyst – E Gogh
The fruit loving cousin – Man Gogh
An aunt who taught positive thinking – Wayto Gogh
The little bouncy nephew – Poe Gogh
And his niece who travels the country in a van – Winnie Bay Gogh


Farm kid writes letter home after joining Marines…. [shortened a bit]

submitted 2 years ago by Happyhokie

Dear Ma and Pa:

I am well. Hope you are. Tell Brother Walt and Brother Elmer the Marine Corps beats working for old man Minch by a mile.

I was restless at first because you get to stay in bed till nearly 6 a.m. But I am getting used to it, so I like to sleep late. Tell Walt and Elmer all you do before breakfast is smooth your cot and shine some things. Practically nothing.

Men got to shave but it is not so bad, there’s warm water. Breakfast is strong on trimmings like fruit juice, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc., but kind of weak on regular food, but tell Walt and Elmer you can always sit by the two city boys that live on coffee. Their food, plus yours, holds you until noon when you get fed again.

We go on “route marches,” which the platoon sergeant says are long walks to harden us. If he thinks so, it’s not my place to tell him different. A “route march” is about as far as to our mailbox at home. Then the city guys get sore feet and we all ride back in trucks.

The sergeant is like a school teacher. He nags a lot.

This next will kill Walt and Elmer with laughing. I keep getting medals for shooting. I don’t know why. The bulls-eye is near as big as a chipmunk head and don’t move, and it ain’t shooting at you like the Higgett boys at home.

Then we have what they call hand-to-hand combat training. You get to wrestle with them city boys. I have to be real careful though, they break real easy.

Be sure to tell Walt and Elmer to hurry and join before other fellers get onto this setup and come stampeding in.

Your loving daughter,









Quotes about Reconciliation

We have practiced diplomacy since the very beginning of the nation. Sometimes it has not worked, and we’ve had to go to war. I always believe you should try to find peace and reconciliation before conflict. That has been the approach I’ve taken. Colin Powell

Reconciliation is a part of the healing process, but how can there be healing when the wounds are still being inflicted? N. K. Jemisin

Reconciliation should be accompanied by justice, otherwise it will not last. While we all hope for peace it shouldn’t be peace at any cost, but peace based on principle, on justice. Corazon Aquino

In history, the moments during which reason and reconciliation prevail are short and fleeting. Stefan Zweig


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