Korach (Numbers 16:1 – 18:32), Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (Num. 28:9-15, Isaiah 66:1-24)

I grew up in the 1960’s.  Before you start picturing me as a stoned flower child with dangly earrings and long straight hair (OK, I did have the earrings and hair), I should tell you that I was not part of the “tune in, turn on, drop out” crowd, nor was I much of an activist, antiwar or otherwise.  I remained rather conventional; my big rebellion was allowing myself to major in chemistry instead of elementary education. But I did absorb one sixties value, that of questioning authority – not destroying, but questioning skeptically.   

As I wrote here two years ago, my attitude toward authority is complicated.  It is affected by the inherent validity of the authority, the character of the person occupying an authoritative position, and the degree of mindlessness with which people are bowing to that authority and why.  My first manager at DuPont tried to explain away the very different status of scientists and engineers versus management by saying the latter had authority according to the organization chart, but we technical folks had “the authority of expertise.”  Right.  My husband and I are reading a book by Tom Nichols called The Death of Expertise, which examines how a long-standing American tendency toward anti-intellectualism has mutated into a proud rejection of expertise and celebration of ignorance (with a veneer of confirmation bias obtained from the internet) and going with one’s gut.  Democracy itself can lead some to conclude that, since people are deemed equal under the law, all opinions are equally worthy; thus, facts and reasoning don’t matter and may even get in the way.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about an explosion of rebellions among the Children of Israel after they realize the adults among them are doomed to die in the wilderness instead of settling in a land of milk and honey. In this state, the people are especially vulnerable to demagoguery.  All that is needed is a spark to set the people off, and we have three:  Korach, Dathan, and Abiram. According to Jacob Milgrom, you can actually identify four specific rebellions: Korach and his 250 followers against Aaron; Dathan and Abiram against Moses, Korach and the Levites against Aaron, and the community against Moses and Aaron. (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990], p. 415).

Korach is a Levite who is jealous of the priests, Aaron and his sons.  Dathan and Abiram are jealous of Moses, because they are Reubenites; Reuben was Jacob’s oldest son, so they should be in charge.  (A third Reubenite, On ben Pelet, was with them briefly, then either left on his own or was pulled out of it by his wife.)  Dathan and Abiram are particularly disrespectful toward Moses, refusing to meet with him and claiming he’d taken them from a land of milk and honey (i.e., Egypt).  These three, plus 250 chieftains, reject the authority of Moses and Aaron on the grounds that “all the congregation is holy” (16:3) and Moses and Aaron have gone too far.  But the Lord hadn’t said that they are holy, but that if they keep the covenant, they will be holy (Exodus 19:5-6). 

After the Lord offers to destroy the whole congregation, Moses instead proposes a test of authority.  If Korach, Dathan, and Abiram die like other men, then the actions of Moses are not being directed by the Lord.  If, however, something new happens, if the earth swallows up them and their households, burying them alive, then that is proof of the legitimacy of Moses’ authority.  And the earth immediately opens up and swallows Korach, Dathan, Abiram, and their households.  And the 250 fellow travelers who tried to offer incense, having totally forgotten what happened to Nadav and Avihu (Lev. 10:1-2), are consumed by fire.

Does this shock the people into acceptance?  Of course not!  These are cranky Israelites.  They rebel against Moses and Aaron for taking them out of Egypt and slavery.  But the authority of Moses and Aaron derives directly from the Lord, so rejecting that authority necessarily means rejecting the Lord, and that won’t do. And so, they are hit with a particularly bad plague which kills 14,700 until Aaron makes expiation for the people.  Then we’re back to staff tricks.  Aaron’s authority is affirmed when his staff, and only his, among those of the tribal chieftains, sprouts buds and produces blossoms and almonds.  The rebellion ends, and the Israelites start to get used to the fact that they will spend the next 38-plus years in the wilderness.

This Shabbat and Sunday are also Rosh Chodesh Tammuz.  I’ve been told that this was the marker after which it was warm enough to swim in the river in Belarus.  The additional Torah reading, Numbers 28:9-15, describes the sacrifices for the Sabbath and Rosh Chodesh.  The special haftarah is the last chapter of Isaiah, 66:1-24.

Shabbat shalom,




https://www.brainyquote.com/search_results.html?q=demagogue and


Quotes about Demagoguery

We may repeat the awful revolutionary history of the 20th century because of the vulnerability of social movements to demagoguery. Todd Gitli

We have demagogues on all sides of the political spectrum. It’s not helpful. It’s destructive. It’s harmful. So, I don’t like demagoguery whether it comes from the left, it comes from the right. Ron Johnson

A demagogue is a person with whom we disagree as to which gang should mismanage the country. Don Marquis

Are there any monuments built to demagogues? I just don’t think so. Cory Booker




One-Liners about Rebelling
https://www.reddit.com/r/Jokes/comments/236m3v/did_you_hear_about_the_pigeon_rebellion/  submitted 3 years ago by Hungover0wl

Did you hear about the Pigeon rebellion?
Yeah, it was a “coo” d’état.

I’m feeling rebellious today, so I drank coffee in my tea shirt. By “JamesDragonrider“

The difference between a rebel and a patriot depends upon who is in power at the moment.   — Sidney Sheldon


Speaking of plagues:

Things ID (Infectious Disease) has taught me not to do
  by Alan Plotzker, March 20, 2013

Be a doctor (MRSA, pseudomonas, hepatitis, etc.), soldier (meningitis), hunter (tularemia, trichinosis), farmer (aspergillus, anthrax), butcher (erysipelothrix), wrestler (gladiatorum), triathlete (leptospira), or fish-tank cleaner (mycobacterium marinum).
Have a child in daycare (EVERY ILLNESS EVER)
Own a cat (toxoplasmosis, bartonella, pasteurella), dog (pasteurella), or bird (psittacosis), rat (spirillum, streptobacillus, plague), or armadillo (leprosy)
Have sex with men (HIV), women (HPV, trichomonas), or both (gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, syphilis). Or even kiss someone (EBV).
Go to the Northeast (babesiosis, Lyme disease), Southeast (ascaris, enterobius), Southwest (coccidiosis, plague), Northwest (crytptococcus outbreaks), or Hawaii (leptospira)
Go anywhere ever (traveler’s diarrhea, malaria, yellow fever, dengue, cholera etc.)
Stay here (St. Louis encephalitis, histoplasmosis, blastomycosis, tularemia, rocky mountain spotted fever)
Eat beef (E. coli, tapeworms), chicken (salmonella), pork (trichinosis, cysticercosis, Yersinia enterolytica), dairy (listeria), saltwater fish (vibrio vulnificus/parahemolyticus), freshwater fish (diphyllobothrium), shellfish (paragonimus), rice (bacillus cereus), honey (botulism), or vegetables (more E. coli)….or bear (trichinosis)
Drink water from a mountain stream (giardia) or tap water (cryptosporidium outbreaks)
Open mail (anthrax)
Swim in freshwater (naegleria), saltwater (vibrio vulnificus, mycobacterium marinum), pools (pseudomonas) or hot tubs (also pseudomonas)
Gardening (sporothrix), or just generally going outside ever (every arthropod-borne disease).
-We haven’t learned about any space infections (yet), so I think being an astronaut might be ok.

Added June 4, 2013:  Spelunking (rabies, histoplasma)


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Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41)


The Spy in Black (1939), Private Detective 62 (1933), Mata Hari (1932), British Agent (1934), Operator 13 (1934), Our Man in Marrakesh (1966), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and North by Northwest (1959).  I guess Thursday was Spy Day at Turner Classic Movies (No, I didn’t spend all day watching these.  Just bits of 4 of them.)  And, earlier in the week, I saw the spy movie parody Spy a second time.  But of prime interest for us at the moment are the stories of the spies sent out by Moses in this week’s Torah portion, Numbers 13:1-15:41, and by Joshua in the accompanying haftarah Joshua 2:1-24.

The reading starts innocuously enough.  The Lord tells Moses to send men to scout out the Promised Land, a chieftain from each tribe (not Levi, since they aren’t getting land). Moses gives the chosen men explicit instructions: They are to assess and report on the inhabitants, the terrain, the cities, and the fertility of the land.

 After 40 days, they come back and report to the whole people, including opinions, fatefully going beyond their instructions.  Ten say the land is great, but there’s no way we can conquer the land; the inhabitants are so formidable that we (the ten) felt like grasshoppers beside them.  Two, Joshua (né Hosea) and Caleb, protest that conquest will be a piece of cake.  The people believe the majority report, weep, rail against Moses and Aaron, and panic.  Some even want to go back to Egypt.  The Lord threatens to destroy them in favor of a Mosaic nation, Moses convinces the Lord otherwise, and sentence is pronounced: All those aged 20 and up, except for Caleb and Joshua, will die in the wilderness, and the next generation will enter the Promised Land.  As we’ll read in the haftarah (Joshua 2:1-24), when they reached the end of their extended journey, Joshua will draw on this experience to send out a proper, secret, militarily-oriented, small spy mission to Jericho with much happier results.

Why on earth did Moses send men out to report on the Land?  In retrospect, it was a gamble with the (later realized) potential for disaster and little apparent upside.  Here’s a sampling of commentary on “why” (see sefaria.com):

Rashi: They were being set up to fail. שלח לך  (Shelach l’cha), “send for yourself,” means Moses was to do this at his discretion.  In Deuteronomy 1:22, it is revealed that the Israelites had already told Moses that they had decided to send men.  This demonstrated a lack of confidence in what the Lord had told them about Canaan.  Very annoyed, the Lord declared, “By their lives! I swear that I will give them now an opportunity to fall into error through the statements of the spies, so that they should not come into possession of it (the land)”.

Ibn Ezra: First, God said to the Israelites “Go up and conquer. “The Israelites then said to themselves: “Let’s send people first.” After this, God said: “Send forth men.”  The spies were sent to allay the anxieties of the people.

Nachmanides:  They wanted to gather information to develop a sound military strategy. Moses also asked them to spell out the quality of the fruit, land, etc., to increase their enthusiasm and desire.  

Sforno:  We know from Deuteronomy 1,22 that the initiative of sending out spies came from the people and that Moses was put under pressure to do this. “Send out men” means, Moses, not the people should choose the spies.  Unsuitable men selected by the people might give a faulty report that reflected badly on the country and, thus, the Lord. 

There’s something to be said about all of these, but Rashi’s in particular reinforces my thought that the slave generation was inherently doomed as it became clear they wouldn’t be up to the task.

The portion concludes with instructions concerning sacrifices, an incident of Sabbath desecration, and instructions for tzitzit (ritual fringes on 4-cornered garments) in 15:37-41, which is now the third paragraph of the Shema in our liturgy.  [BTW, Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann spoke at my synagogue a few months ago about the chemistry of natural and synthetic techelet, the blue dye prescribed here for selected threads of tzitzit.]   That reminds me of the laws following the Golden Calf incident back in Exodus, pertaining to what the Israelites would have to do after they entered the Promised Land, like the harvest holiday observances.  Also, in that section, the Lord announced to Moses what we call the 13 Attributes, about how merciful the Lord is, Ex. 34:6-7.  Here, in Numbers 14:18-19, Moses throws these words back at the Lord along with a request that the people be pardoned (now in the High Holy Days liturgy).

In Exodus, the people quickly repented and eagerly started work on the Tabernacle.  Here, can they similarly accept their fate with reasonable equanimity?  Tune in next week for a story of rebellions.

Shabbat shalom,


I’m on LinkedIn and occasionally get notices of jobs that, based on my background, I supposedly might be interested in.  I’m not.  One of the more interesting, which showed up several times, was from the FBI:

Special Agent

Company Name Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 
Company Location Greater Philadelphia Area

Posted Date Posted 2 months ago  Number of views 23,911 views

“Interviewing a subject for an ongoing investigation in the morning, testifying in court before lunch, planning an operation in the afternoon and speaking at a community event in the evening. That’s just one day in the life of a Special Agent. In an organization made up of careers like no other, being a Special Agent can be a lifelong career of uncommon days and amazing experiences.”

However, aside from my probable inability to pass the medical exam and physical fitness test and likely inability to obtain Top Secret clearance, I’m over their 37 years old age limit, so that’s that.



A college graduate applied for a job as an industrial spy.

Together with several other applicants, he was given a sealed envelope and told to take it to the fourth floor. As soon as the young man was alone, he stepped into an empty hallway and opened the packet.

Inside, a message read: “You’re our kind of person. Report to the fifth floor.”


A trove of anti-Soviet jokes recently declassified by the CIA offers a glimpse of Cold War humor (excerpts)

Buried in a trove of recently declassified CIA documents is a list of Soviet jokes from the 1980s that offer a glimpse of how American spies during the Cold War enjoyed a good laugh at the expense of their enemy.

First picked up by Russian media, a two-page document titled “Soviet jokes for the DDCI” (PDF) contains a list of 11 jokes told in the form of anecdotes about Soviet leaders and daily life under communism. The document, addressed to the deputy director of counterintelligence at the time, is part of a 13-million-page CIA declassified document dump put online in January.

Here are a few:

Sentence from a schoolboy’s weekly composition class essay – “My cat just had seven kittens.  They are all communists.” Sentence from same boy’s composition the following week – “My cat’s seven kittens are all capitalists.”  Teacher reminds boy that the previous week he had said the kittens were communists.  “But now they’ve opened their eyes,” replies the child.

A joke heard in Arkhangelsk has it that someone happened to call the KGB headquarters just after a major fire.  “We cannot do anything.  The KGB has just burned down” he was told.  Five minutes later he called back and was told again that the KGB had burned.  When he called a third time, the telephone operator recognized his voice and asked, “Why do you keep calling back?  I just told you, the KGB has burned down.”  “I know,” the man replied.  “I just like to hear it.”

A man goes into a shop and asks “You don’t have any meat?”  “No, replies the sales lady, “We don’t have any fish.  It’s the store across the street that doesn’t have any meat.”


tph government-spy-759773



From  Babushkin’s Catalogue of Jewish Inventions

The book, illustrated by Richard Codor and edited by Lawrence Bush, presents 80 pages of funny don’t-you-wish-they-were-real inventions such as wi-fi tzitzit, genetically bred gefilte fish, and extra-large grandparents.

For example:

tph Babushkin-WiFi Tzitzit

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B’Haalotekha (Numbers 8:1 – 12:16)

Summertime, and I’m feelin’ lazy…

From 2013:

“This morning, after minyan (yes, we got one), the rabbi urged us to go to services tomorrow, noting happily that the reading was now back into a narrative mode.  Years ago, another rabbi offered a different view, that the book of Numbers is a real downer.  This week’s portion illustrates the validity of both opinions.

“As we begin reading, the Israelites are making their final preparations before leaving the wilderness of Sinai, 13 months after the Exodus.  Aaron lights the lamps of the 7-branched candelabrum; the Levites are formally designated and ritually purified; a Pesach Sheni (second Passover) is set a month after the “real” one to deal with those could not eat the Passover sacrifice on time because of ritual impurity; two silver trumpets are made for summoning the people; and a cloud covers the Tabernacle by day and fire by night.  Finally, the four tribal divisions, identified by their banners, set forth in a great procession.  Verses 10:35-36, to be proclaimed in triumph whenever the Ark was to set out, are now part of our liturgy, appropriately sung before our own Torah processions.

“That was the happy part of the portion.

“We now are called back from wonder to the mundanities of life in the wilderness.  The people complain.  And whine.  And kvetch.  The general pattern:  the people gripe to Moses, Moses asks the Lord for help, and the Lord (figuratively) smacks the people (usually plague or fire), followed by a usually successful plea from Moses for the Lord to back off. 

Sometimes, we don’t even know what the complaint was (11:1-3), but usually there’s reasonable specificity.  For example, people say they are tired of manna and want the foods of their Egyptian diet: cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic, fish, and, especially, meat.  Perhaps some of this is nostalgia for comfort food (Garlic? Onions?).  Maimonides views it as a rebellion against the Lord’s authority and questioning Divine omnipotence.  Rabban Gamliel, about a millennium earlier, looked at the demand for meat as a pretext: “You will never satisfy them…If you give them beef, they will say they asked for mutton.  If you will give them mutton, they will say they asked for beef, for fish, for grasshoppers.” (cited by Rashi, as presented by Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, pp. 110-111) The people are grasping for – something, but they don’t know what.  Anyhow, they are “rewarded” with a huge flock of easy-to-catch quail, followed by a plague (food poisoning?).

“Moses designates 70 elders to share his burden, and they prophesy, even the two who remain back in the camp.  But the focus remains on Moses.  And not even his elder siblings are immune to the persistent bad humor; Aaron and Miriam slander him and appear to be jealous of his special relationship with the Lord.  After the Lord reminds the siblings that Moses has this special relationship because he’s special, Miriam, as the eldest and apparent instigator of the slander, is punished with tzara’at (a skin disease that is not leprosy) and holds up the march for a week while she’s kept outside the camp. Moses, a humble man, simply prays for his big sister to be healed.  And the journey continues.

“Why are the Israelites so cranky?  It’s not simply a childish “are we there yet?” moment.  Some commentators blame the “mixed multitude” of non-Israelites that accompanied the slaves out of Egypt.  One answer I heard last week (thanks, Faith): they no longer have a sense of purpose.  Everything is given to them; they don’t have to gather or grow their food, and even their clothes don’t wear out.  As long as they were building the Tabernacle, they had purpose, and worth, as a community and as individuals.  But now?  They are wandering in the wilderness, both literally and emotionally.  Their nerves are increasingly frayed, and this will lead to a series of disasters in the coming weeks.”

Shabbat Shalom,


From 2010, on the Israelites’ nostalgia for Egypt:

Part of their nostalgia centers on food that they no longer have: meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic, i.e., flesh, fiber, and flavor.  Foods I get nostalgic for are generally connected with a particular time or situation, like my grandmother’s Friday night pies (my sisters say the lemon meringue was the best they’ve ever had, but I couldn’t appreciate it because I didn’t like the feel of the meringue in my mouth), my Sunday lunch fried liverwurst sandwiches (with lettuce and tomato, on white toast), the coconut pineapple cake for my birthday, and strawberry shortcake for my siblings’ birthdays.  Sometimes food that’s incidental is what I remember most strongly about books and movies (food and deaths) – the three-layer slice of cake in “Pollyanna,” the potatoes baked in the ground in The Secret Garden, the penny candies in All of a Kind Family.  But the memories of Egypt are not linked to anything specific; they just, bluntly, reveal a physical yen for food with more to it than manna.  Nothing spiritual at all.



tph bugle



Jail Time

My older son loves school, but his younger brother absolutely hates it. One weekend he cried and fretted and tried every excuse not to go back on Monday. Sunday morning on the way home from church, the crying and whining built to a crescendo. At the end of my rope, I finally stopped the car and explained, “Honey, it’s a law. If you don’t go to school, they’ll put Mommy in jail.”

He looked at me, thought a moment, then asked, “How long would you have to stay?”



A Morris Dog Joke (oldie but goodie)

Morris gets a new dog and can’t wait to show him off to his neighbor. So when the neighbor comes over, the guy calls the dog into the house, bragging about how smart he is. The dog quickly comes running and stands looking up at his master, tail wagging furiously, mouth open, tongue hanging out, eyes bright with anticipation.

Morris points to the newspaper on the couch and commands, “FETCH!”

Immediately, the dog climbs onto the couch and sits down. His tail wagging stops and the doggie-smile disappears. Looking balefully up at his master, he says in a whiny voice……….”You think this is easy wagging my tail all the time? Oy! It hurts from so much wagging! And you think that designer dog food you’re feeding me is good? You try it. It’s dreck! Too salty! And what do you care? You just push me out the door to take a squirt twice a day. I can’t even remember the last time you took me out for a good walk,”

The neighbor is amazed. “What the hell is that? Your dog is sitting there talking!!”

“Oh, I know”, explains the dog owner, “He’s young, and I’m still training him. He thought I said KVETCH!



A Woman Was Being Questioned In A Court Trial Involving Slander 

A woman was being questioned in a court trial involving slander. “Please repeat the slanderous statements you heard, exactly as you heard them,” instructed the lawyer. The witness hesitated. “But they are unfit for any respectable person to hear,” she protested. “Then,” said the attorney, “just whisper them to the judge.”



What did the underweight onion say to the garlic?

No more light bulb jokes!



tph sense of purpose

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Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

Naso is the longest single Torah portion of the year, 176 verses.  However, that’s partly because it includes a detailed description of the gifts presented by each of the twelve tribes upon the dedication of the Tabernacle, and they’re identical, so that’s a lot of repetition.  Only the names of the tribe and leader vary. According to Nachmanides, this serves to hammer home that the tribes are innately equal before the Lord and also is a way to honor each leader individually, by name (see A Daily Dose of Torah, Y. A. Weiss, ed., Vol. 9, p. 105). 

But before we get to those, there are several situations and laws that do not really seem related.  However, everything not only ties together but logically follows from what came before.

First, we still have to complete the census of the Levites.  This one includes only the men aged 30 to 50 this time; since their work includes disassembling and carrying the Tabernacle when the Israelites were on the move, they retire from that duty at 50. 

Now that we’ve finished talking about the camp, we are reminded that ritually unclean people belong outside it and the offerings required for their ritual purification, which leads to some text about the guilt offering, which is brought for what is referred to as “a trespass against,” or “breaking faith with,” the Lord.

Since the same phrasing is used for a wife suspected of adultery, what comes next is the (in)famous), sotah ritual, a trial by ordeal brought by a jealous and suspicious husband. This involves having her drink “bitter waters” and uncovering her hair.  

“Hair” reminds us of cutting, or not cutting it, so next are the laws
concerning nazirites, including abstaining from haircuts, beard shaving, intoxicants and grapes, and not coming into contact with a corpse. Becoming a nazirite was a way to attain a higher spiritual state.  This was intended to be temporary, say, 30 days.  Famous lifelong nazirites include Samuel, who bore it well, and Samson, born in this week’s haftarah (Judges 13:2-25), who didn’t. 

But there was ambivalence about this sort of spiritually-inspired asceticism, so what’s next but a reminder of who are caretakers of the Israelites’ spiritual welfare, namely, the priestly benediction (6:24-26).  Finally, since we’ve being reading about holiness and dedication to the Lord, the last chapter in the portion includes the presentation of tribal gifts that I described above.

The priestly benediction is the most familiar part of this Torah portion.  It is part of our liturgy and, at certain times, (customs vary worldwide) is pronounced by the Kohanim in the congregation.  That brings me to “An Unbelievably Love-ly Vort” (vort =short insight) from Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s weekly, passed along to me by Arlene (thanks!).  The Kohanim recite a blessing before the priestly benediction, which includes “who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless His nation Israel, with love.”  Giving the blessing with love is a firm requirement. The Italian scholar Rav Moshe Dovid Valle [1697-1777]: wrote, “…and the Torah, by writing ‘amor lahem‘ ( אָמ֖וֹר לָהֶֽם , literally ‘say to them’) implies with great focus and with complete love.  And there is a hint in the pasuk [verse] that it must be said with love.”  What is the hint?  “For the word amor in the language of other nations means ‘love.’”  Whether or not there is etymological evidence linking the Hebrew אָמ֖וֹר  to the Latin amor, it’s a useful insight, since one can extrapolate it to include every time the Lord issues a command, “…amor lahem” that command is inherently filled with love.

 Shabbat shalom,


http://www.retirementjoke.com/retirement_joke a_child_s_view_of_retirement.htm

From 2012

A Child’s View of Retirement

After a Christmas break, a teacher asked her young pupils how they spent their holidays. One small boy wrote the following:

We always used to spend Christmas with Grandpa and Grandma. They used to live here in a big brick home, but Grandpa got retarded and they moved to Florida.

Now they live in a place with a lot of other retarded people. They all live in little tin boxes. They ride on big three-wheeled tricycles and they all wear nametags because they don’t know who they are.

They go to a big building called a wrecking hall; but if it was wrecked, they got it fixed because it’s all right now. They play games and do exercises there, but they don’t do them very good.

There is a swimming pool there. They go into it and just stand there with their hats on. I guess they don’t know how to swim.

As you go into their park, there is a dollhouse with a little man sitting in it. He watches all day so they can’t get out without him seeing them. When they can sneak out they go to the beach and pick up shells that they think are dollars.

My Grandma used to bake cookies and stuff, but I guess she forgot how. Nobody cooks, they just eat out. They eat the same thing every night, Early Birds. Some of the people are so retarded that they don’t know how to cook at all, so my Grandma and Grandpa bring food into the wrecked hall and they call it “pot luck.”

My Grandma says Grandpa worked hard all his life and earned his retardment. I wish they would move back up here, but I guess the little man in the dollhouse won’t let them out.



tph phonecation



31 Temperance Movement Jokes to Zing Drunkards (selections)


In 1867, John William Kirton wanted to show that you didn’t have to drink to be saucy, fun, or extemporaneous. To prove this and to help his teetotalling pals, he put together a book, One Thousand Temperance Anecdotes, Jokes, Riddles, Puns, and Smart Sayings[Nick Greene also gave each joke a BurnMeterTM rating of zinginess, but I figure you have your own opinions. IGP]
2. What letter is frequently drunk?—T

5. Why is drinking like an old coat? It’s a bad habit.
6. Why is a drunkard like a tanner? Because he soaks his hide.
7. A canter will give you ruddy cheeks, a decanter will give you a ruddy nose.
8. What kind of ale does a family of children represent? Homebrood (brewed).
16. “Well, my boy, do you know what syntax means?” said a schoolmaster to the child of a teetotaler.
“Yes sir; the duty upon spirits.”
19. What is a dram?—A dram, generally speaking, is a small quantity taken in large quantities by those who have few grains of sobriety and no scruples of conscience.
26. Archbishop Wately once asked—“If the Devil lost his tail, where would he go for a fresh one?”
“To a gin-shop, for they retail all kinds ofspirits!
30. Why is a vain young lady like a confirmed drunkard? Because she is constantly using the Glass.



“Harvey, will you still love me when my hair is grey?”
“I’ve loved you through blond, brunette, red and every other color. Why not grey?”


A Beard Tax is Being Proposed in England, and It’s Not the First
Shave up or pay up. (abridged)


BEARDS—ONCE ASSOCIATED STRICTLY WITH HERMITS and wizards—have become one of the hottest fashion accessories for men. One British barber and businessman has floated a radical proposal to discourage hirsute faces, or at least make some money off them.

Anthony Kent is proposing a UK beard tax; surprisingly, he’s not the first person to have the idea.  According to the Worcester News, Kent discovered tales of Henry VIII’s 16th-century tax levied on the bearded men of England, and inspiration struck. Claims that Henry VIII introduced a beard tax in 1535 …seem to be apocryphal. One prolific blogger on the life and times of Henry VIII has noted that … beard-pulling was a crime punishable by fines.

Russia’s Peter the Great began taxing beards in 1698 after his grand tour of Western Europe. The tour famously convinced the monarch that Russia was desperately behind-the-times — economically, scientifically, and sartorially. As Mental Floss explains, he initiated his grand modernization with quite a “barber-ous” gesture:

After Peter’s triumphant return to Russia…, a joyous reception was thrown in his honor. … Peter unexpectedly pulled out a massive barber’s razor. As biographer Robert K. Massie writes, “After passing among his [friends] and embracing them… he began shaving off their beards” with his own hands!

Only the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church was spared. Long, flowing beards were considered a symbol of manhood, integrity, and piety according to Orthodox ideals.

Given this cultural preference, Peter turned to taxation; with an exception for priests, men who refused to shave their beards were taxed 100 roubles a year. Peasants were only required to shave when entering a city (or pay a fine of one kopek).

tph beard token

A Russian beard token, signifying that the bearer of this coin has paid to look like that. (Photo: US State Department/Public Domain)

To verify that a bearded man had paid his tax and did not need to be forcibly shaved (and yes, noncompliant men were forcibly shaved) “beard tokens” were minted and given as proof that the tax had been paid.

Peter’s beard tax was abolished in 1772.



Kohanim or Cohanim Hands – Priestly Blessing

On Jewish tombstones, you will sometimes see a symbol showing two hands arranged for the Priestly Blessing like the example here.

tph cohen_symbol_priestly_blessing1

This is a symbol of the Kohen or Cohen (Hebrew for priest). The plural form is Kohanim or Cohanim. Kohanim are assumed to be direct male descendants of Aaron, who was the first Kohen and the brother of Moses. Some Jewish surnames frequently associated with this symbol are Conn or Cohn (Kohn), Cahn (Kahn), and Cohen (Kohen), but you will find the symbol on the grave markers of people with other surnames. Today families can sometimes verify a priestly lineage from the tombstones of ancestors that have this symbol.

Mr. Spock’s Vulcan Salute

And yes, Star Trek fans… You’ve probably noticed the similarity between this symbol and the Vulcan hand greeting (“live long and prosper”) used in the TV show and movies. This was suggested by actor Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), who saw the Priestly Blessing in a synagogue when he was a child. He modified it as Vulcans use only one hand. See: The Jewish Origin of the Vulcan Salute

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Bemidbar (1:1 – 4:20), Shavuot

A new book! In Hebrew, its name is Bamidbar, meaning “in the wilderness” [or, directly from the text, Bemidbar, “in the wilderness of” (Sinai)].  In English, it is called Numbers, and there are a lot, particularly this week.

It is now about 13 months since the Israelites left Egypt, and they are now getting ready to leave Sinai and go to the Promised Land.  The Lord orders a detailed census of all men from each tribe aged 20 and up, except for the Levites, who will be counted later.  Tribal leaders are named. Counting was a particularly big deal in the ancient world and was not done lightly.  By singling someone out, you both recognize the individual and increase that person’s vulnerability.  [It can also be very convenient, of course.  When my choral group is getting ready to come on stage for a concert, each of us has a number determined by where we stand, and that tells us how to line up.  I’m usually around 34.]

Further, the tribes are told how they will be arranged around the Tabernacle when encamped, three tribes on a side, which also dictates the order of march: first, the division of Judah (Judah, Issachar, Zebulun), 186,400; second, the division of Reuben (Reuben, Shimon, Gad), 151,450; third, the division of Ephraim (Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin), 108,100; and fourth, the division of Dan (Dan, Asher, Naphtali), 157,600.  Total: 603,550.

I reread my comments of previous years when I write the current ones, and for this portion I saw, more than once, something along the lines of, “Gee, why are the tribes arranged that way? I should really look that up.”  Well, this year, I did.  I found some useful thoughts by R. Chizkiyah b. Manoach (aka the Chizkuni, 13th c. France) on the Sefaria website and in a d’var Torah by G. H. Cohen of Bar-Ilan University (“How Fair Are Your Tents, O Jacob”).  First, the uneven numbers are reasonable militarily.  You want your largest camp to go first and the second largest to fight off attacks on the rear.  The two smaller camps can then be deployed on the sides. 

The composition of the divisions can be explained by a combination of family rank and future potential.  Judah became the natural leader of the sons of Jacob, and was also the ancestor of the future Davidic royal and Messianic line.  That tribe was also the largest, so it went first.  Now, consider the family ranking, excluding Levi:  Leah’s sons, Reuben, Shimon, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; Rachel’s sons, Joseph (father of Ephraim and Manasseh) and Benjamin; and the sons of the handmaids Zilpah and Bilhah, Gad, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali.  One would expect the first division, Judah’s, to include the tribes of Reuben and Shimon.  But it would be unseemly to make it so obvious that Reuben and Shimon were subservient to their younger brother Judah, so instead the next of Leah’s sons, Issachar and Zebulun, joined Judah.  That left for the next division Leah’s remaining sons, Reuben (the eldest) and Shimon of, and they were joined by Gad, firstborn of Leah’s handmaid. The third division is made of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, the tribes descending from Rachel.  The final division includes, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali the remaining tribes descended from the handmaids.   Ta da!

The rest of the Torah portion includes the beginning of the census of the Levites by house, from one month old and up, and their assigned duties. The Levites will take the place of the first-born Israelites, who normally would have been expected to have “priestly” duties.  However, there are fewer Levites at this juncture than first-born Israelites, so 5 shekels will be collected to redeem each “excess” first-born Israelite.  That practice continues to this day in the redemption of a month-old, Israelite, first-born son (pidyon haben).

Next week, starting Tuesday night, we celebrate the third and final harvest holiday (first fruits, in Israel) of the Jewish calendar, Shavuot (literally, “weeks”), one day for Reform Jews, two for Orthodox and Conservative.  We also celebrate the giving of the Ten Commandments, so we read Exodus 19:1-20:23 on the first day.  We just read the second day’s reading on Pesach, Deut. 15:19 – 16:17 (holidays). Numbers 28:26-31 (sacrifices, of course) is read on both days.  The first day Haftarah is the psychedelic one (yes, I’m dating myself), Ezekiel 1:1-28; 3:12; on the second day, it’s a song by Habakkuk (3:1-19 or 2:20-3:19).

Some Shavuot customs include all-night study sessions, decorating with flowers (we’ve got lots of roses, if they survive the rain storms), reading the Book of Ruth, Confirmation (less of this nowadays), chanting a lengthy 11th century liturgical poem called Akdamut at services, and eating dairy (blintzes, ice cream, cheesecake, yum).  None of that is in the Torah.  In fact, celebrating the giving of the Ten Commandments on Shavuot is nowhere in the Torah.  Even the date of Shavuot is not clear, as I noted here recently.  Today, we agree on the 6th of Sivan, 7 weeks (whence the holiday’s name, “weeks”) after the second day of Pesach.  In any event, Shavuot is a nice, short, low-stress, aesthetically pleasing holiday.  I will cut flowers and consume whatever yummy dairy dinner my husband is dreaming up.

Shabbat shalom and an early Chag Sameach,



Occupations 2011

A young woman greeted the census taker. ‘Good morning,’ said the caller,
‘I’m taking the census and I’d like to ask you a few questions.
‘Homemaker,’ replied the woman.
‘Husband’s occupation?’
‘No,’ said the woman. ‘Dresses.’



Canada’s ‘enthusiasm’ for census brings down StatsCan website [excerpts]
#Census2016 trends across the country one week before Census Day
By John Bowman, CBC News Posted: May 03, 2016 9:39 AM ET Last Updated: May 04, 2016 12:50 PM ET

Idil Burale @IdilBurale  Welcome back, evidence based policymaking tool.

Steve Morgan @SteveUBC As a professor…no, scratch that. As a Canadian, I am *so glad* to see this in the mail. #Census2016

J.-F. Claude, MSM 🍁 @JFClaude Got this in the mail & may have squealed. Never thought Government paperwork could get me this excited. #Census2016

ArielTroster @ArielTroster Nerd party for one. Filled out #Census2016! Yay for evidence-based policy! #censusselfie #cdnpoli #canlab#goc #nerd

Thomas Guignard @timtomch People of the world, tonight Canadians are geeking out about filling out the #Census2016. I love this nation of nerds. #ItMakesCensus

One in four randomly selected households in Canada will receive the 36-page long-form questionnaire known as the National Household Survey. For the rest, the census is a mere 10 questions long. 

Emmett Macfarlane  ✔@EmmMacfarlane Awwwww, I only got the short form. #census

David Hicks @ALL_CAPS Based on tweets in my feed, Wayne R. Smith, Chief Statistician of Canada, is Canada’s Beyonce. #Census

Both versions of the census are mandatory. Failing to provide census information could result in a fine of up to $500, imprisonment of up to three months, or both.

For this reason, not everyone was so enthusiastic about filling out the questionnaire. 

Jen @jendeclinesyou #Census2016 asked if I suffered from anxiety- considering they threatened jail time if I didn’t fill out my form, I’d say yes.

Rolina Ott @RolinaOtt Just completed long form #Census2016 , or so I thought. Looks like Canadians smothered the system w/ love&affection

Jay Gamble @DrJayDrNo It looks like so many Canadians were excited to get a proper census back that we broke the servers. We broke the servers, folks! #Census2016

Statistics Canada confirmed Tuesday morning that the website was down for 45 minutes because of Canadians’ “enthusiasm” for the census.

 [I love Canadians! IGP]



Math Holiday Calendar

tph math-holiday-calendar-dates-imaginary-number-joke



tph 10 commandments for dog



Lame Shavuot Jokes To Keep You Occupied at 2AM (selected)

Here are a few really bad jokes from the bangitout.com clan to help keep you awake and amused throughout your Shavuot night of ‘learning’. Enjoy!

Why did the yeshiva boy ask about sex on Shavuot?
Accidentally read the ‘Book of Dr. Ruth’

What sports team is always favored to win on Shavuot?
The 49ers

What type of car should one drive on Shavuot?
A Si-van

What breakfast cereal is most popular on Shavuot?
Honey Bunches of ShavuOATS.

What game do teenagers play on Shavuot?
Truth or Dairy

What’s the name of the restaurant that Ruth and Naomi founded?

Where did the Jews eat after they got the 10 commandments?
The Golden Calfeteria

Jewish Ice Cream (Oldie but goodie)

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream is now available in Israel in the following flavors:

Wailing Wallnut
Mazel Toffee
Oy Ge-malt
Mi Ka-mocha
Bernard Malamint
Berry Pr’i Hagafen
Choc-Eilat Chip
Simchas T’Oreo

It should be noted that all of these flavors come in either a cup or a Cohen…….

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Behar-Behukkotai (Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34)

This week, we finish Leviticus with a double portion.  The Book of Numbers will have a lot more action and cover almost all that remains of the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness.

Behar (Lev. 25:1-26:2) concerns the sabbatical (shmitta) and jubilee (yovel) years which the Israelites will observe in the Promised Land.  Again, we’ve got sevens (see last week’s comments on Emor): the sabbatical is the seventh year in the seven-year cycle, and the jubilee follows seven complete cycles, so it is the 50th year. Just as humans and animals get the seventh day as a day of rest, the land gets to rest during the 7th year.  It lies fallow.  Produce that happens to grow of its own accord (like the “volunteer” tiny tomatoes we had a few years back) can be eaten and is available to all for the taking.  For this to work, the people must have faith that there will be a bumper crop in the sixth year to tide them over, like the double portion of manna to take care of both the 6th day and Sabbath each week in the wilderness.  The shmitta year is indeed observed in Israel currently; there was one just a couple of years ago.

The jubilee year is a time for starting over, like rebooting.  Israelite slaves are freed. This is the source of the verse on the Liberty Bell (Lev. 25:10), “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.”  Observing the jubilee year can be tricky. First, you have two years in a row in which the land lies fallow, so the crop of the 48th year must be a dandy.  More significantly, land holdings revert to their original owners.   As we’ll read later, debts are also forgiven.  Practically, this must be done in such a way that the economy doesn’t collapse and loans don’t dry up in the few years beforehand.  The idea of the yovel is to remind the people that the land isn’t really theirs, but leased, as it were, from the Lord.

Behukkotai (Lev. 26:3-27:34) describes the blessings that will accrue if the Israelites behave themselves and the punishments they will get if they don’t.  The blessings are summarized succinctly – the usual promises of fertility, peace, strength, prosperity, and communion with the Lord (26:12): “I will walk among you…and you will be a people unto Me.”  The punishments are described graphically, and the list is much longer.  This section is referred to as the minor tochachah (warning, admonition, curses – you get the idea); the major one is in Deuteronomy.  There are five sets of increasingly bad punishments; the increase in severity stems from continued sinning.  After each set, there is a chance to repent and change your behavior.

Next week: back to the narrative.

Shabbat shalom,



tph reboot



tph sabbatical


Category: On 1 Foot
Parshas Behar
by S. Galena Posted: 07-09-2006(Viewed 699 times)

God: Don’t plow your land every seventh year.
Jews: But who will provide for us in the 7th year?
God: Deal or No Deal?
God reminds them of tochacha (punishments)
Jews: Deal!



21 Stupid Warning Labels That Will Make You Feel Like a Genius

Warning: Do not read this post while unconscious.

By Reader’s Digest Editors

On a wheelbarrow: Not intended for highway use.

On a baby stroller:  Remove child before folding.

On Apple’s website: Do not eat iPod Shuffle.

On a bottle of dog medication: May cause drowsiness…Use care when operating a car.

On a dishwasher: Do not allow children to play in the dishwasher.

On a box of rat poison: Warning: has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice.

On a “vanishing ink” marker:  Should not be used for signing checks or any legal documents.



23 Ruthless ‘Politely-Worded Curses’

Posted on October 21, 2015 by Jeff Wysaski

If you ever find yourself in a situation where using an actual curse word is impossible, then these safe-for-work alternatives just might serve as viable substitutes.

  • May you forever feel your cell phone vibrating in the pocket it’s not even in.
  • May the chocolate chips in your cookies always turn out to be raisins.
  • May your tea be too hot when you receive it, and too cold by the time you remember it’s there.
  • May you have your laptop charge overnight without noticing the chord isn’t plugged into the wall.
  • May every “empty” parking space you see in the distance actually contain a motorcycle.
  • May every sock you wear be slightly rotated, just enough for it to be uncomfortable.
  • May your cookie always be slightly too large to fit inside your glass of milk.
  • May you never remember these curses when you try to.



Quotes about Starting Over

There are some things one can only achieve by a deliberate leap in the opposite direction.     Franz Kafka

If God closes a door AND a window, consider the fact that it might be time to build a whole new house.    Mandy Hale

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.     T.S. Eliot

Never forget, Today, you have 100% of your life left.     Tom Hopkins


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Emor (Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23)

Good old Emor.  We run into parts of this portion 4 times a year: first and second days of Sukkot, second day of Pesach, and the regular weekly reading.  This is not surprising, because Emor includes instructions for observing the Sabbath and holidays, or “fixed times”.  Here, the sacrifices are mentioned but soft-pedaled.  Instead we learn about the personal observances, like eating matzah on Pesach, living in huts and taking certain produce (today’s lulav and etrog), blowing the shofar on the first day of what was then the 7th month, practicing self-denial on the Day of Atonement.  Shavuot is another harvest holiday (no connection to the giving of the Ten Commandments, which came much later), 7 weeks after – well, it’s not unequivocal here, but today it’s 7 weeks after the 2nd day of Pesach.  And these are genuine holidays – no working.

Emor begins with more instructions for the priests.  Restrictions are laid out for the priests to define when they are fit to serve and to eat from the sacrificial offerings.  A priest is forbidden to contract ritual impurity by contact with a dead body except for his parent, child, brother, or virgin sister; the High Priest can’t even for those.  A priest cannot marry a divorcee or a harlot, only a virgin or widow; the High Priest can only marry a virgin.  To be fit to offer sacrifices, the priests are also supposed to have no physical defects (see the list at 21:18-23).  Further, the sacrifices must be free of defects and the person bringing the sacrifice must not be ritually impure.  All this is in accord with what we read last week in terms of wholeness and holiness.  There is also a requirement that a sacrificial animal be at least 7 days old before being taken from its mother. 

After the section on holidays are instructions for kindling the lamps with pure olive oil and then an incident of blasphemy. Since the blasphemer is stoned to death, this leads into laws concerning capital punishment and another recitation of the formula for restitution in cases of assault, (24:20), “fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”

How can the different parts of Emor be linked together?  The overall theme of holiness is highlighted by the number 7.  We are to eat matzah for 7 days and the 7th day of Pesach is designated a special day.  We live in huts during Sukkot for 7 days.  Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, occurs 7 weeks, each of which is 7 days, after a designated day of Pesach.  The day for blowing the shofar is the first day of the 7th month.  Shabbat is the 7th day of each week.  And the animal must be with its mother for 7 days, just as a boy must have lived at week before circumcision on the 8th day.  Maimonides explains 7 days as the time before viability is established, in other words, completion.  And (Lev. 8:33-35) the priests recently had a seven-day ordination.  Even the oil is linked to a 7 since there are 7 lamps to be lit.  Then the blasphemer is presented as the antithesis of being holy. So, all of Emor, through sevens, is part of a plan for wholeness and completion, in short, for holiness, something both priests and all the people are to strive for.

This Sunday is a double holiday, Lag B’Omer and Mother’s Day.  Starting with the second day of Pesach, we count 49 days until Shavuot.  Traditionally, this is a semi-mourning period, broken just on the 33rd day, called Lag B’Omer (the Hebrew letters lamed + gimel equal 30 + 3, whence the abbreviation “lag”), traditionally observed with picnics, archery, weddings, and haircuts and shaves (not done during the semi-mourning period). 

As for Mother’s Day:  I miss my mother.  There’s nothing else to say, but I’ve included below a little anecdote I wrote in 2013.

Shabbat shalom, Happy Lag B’Omer, and Happy Mother’s Day,


tph Lillian about 1940

My mother, Lillian Abrams, around 1940

Lev.23:33-44 is the first aliyah I ever chanted (“leyned”).  I was 17, and it was thanks to my mother.

A gentleman at another shul had recently suggested I learn how to leyn Torah.  A class was soon announced at my newly-merged, non-egalitarian shul.  My mother went to the rabbi and told him I was interested, to which the rabbi responded uncomfortably (this rabbi was generally uncomfortable with my mother), something like, “Lillian, we don’t allow women to read Torah here.”  My mother looked at him and said, oh so innocently, “Rabbi, she wants to learn.”  How could he say no to that?  So, I joined a class of about four 12-year-old boys and we debuted that spring.  I read that aliyah again many years later, at my son’s Bar Mitzvah, on the first day of Sukkot; he read the rest of the portion.



Japanese quality standards

This speaks a lot about the quality of Japanese products and their quality standards.

They’re still laughing about this at IBM. Apparently, the computer giant decided to have some parts manufactured in Japan as a trial project. In the specifications, they set out that they will accept three defective parts per 10,000.

When the delivery came in there was an accompanying letter. “We, Japanese people, had a hard time understanding North American business practices. But the three defective parts per 10,000 have been separately manufactured and have been included in the consignment. Hope this pleases you.”


The Purity Issue 

A fellow in a bar notices a woman, always alone, come in on a fairly regular basis. After the second week, he made his move. 
“No thank you,” she said politely. “This may sound rather odd in this day and age, but I’m keeping myself pure until I meet the man I love.” 
“That must be rather difficult,” the man replied. 
“Oh, I don’t mind too much.” she said. “But, it has my husband really upset.”



Google Logos for the Jewish Holidays

tph jewish holiday google logos




North Korea Accuses John McCain of ‘Blasphemy’ for Calling Kim Jong-un ‘Crazy Fat Kid’ (excerpts)

by John Hayward 30 Mar 2017

Pyongyang has responded with both insults and threats to Senator John McCain (R-AZ) referring to dictator Kim Jong-un as “the crazy fat kid that’s running North Korea.”

“He’s not rational,” McCain told MSNBC host Greta van Susteren on March 22nd. “We’re not dealing even with someone like Joseph Stalin, who had a certain rationality to his barbarity.”

McCain called on China to control Kim, saying Beijing could “stop North Korea’s economy in a week” if it wanted to.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry responded that McCain (and his colleague Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who wants North Korea designated a state sponsor of terrorism) had insulted the “dignity” of the supreme leader.

The UK Independent adds that a Foreign Ministry spokesman accused McCain of “blasphemy” and described McCain and Cruz as “puppies knowing no fear of the tiger.”

McCain did not seem much intimidated by the threat. “What, did they want me to call him a crazy skinny kid?” he asked on Twitter.


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