Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)

This week, Jacob goes home.

When I was growing up, “home” meant a refuge from the outside world.  During my first year of college, it also meant food and TV.  Later, it meant a temporary respite from at-times-overwhelming grad school stress.  Once I was employed, married, and had kids, “home” became again what it is now, a place of warmth, rest, and love.

Jacob is not so lucky.  His journey back to Isaac is a long and meandering one.  Now free from Laban, he sends a message to Esau, letting him know what he’s been up to for the past 20 years (reminds me of reunions with people I haven’t had contact with for decades), and hoping to make up.  Esau’s response is to set out with 400 armed men.  Since Jacob can’t best Esau physically, he uses diplomacy, sending Esau a lavish gift of livestock.  Jacob prays and and divides up his household into two camps to protect them, unfortunately demonstrating his hierarchy of family favoritism in the process.  Alone that night, he wrestles with some “being,” emerging limping but with the promise of a new name, Israel.  This is one time Jacob uses physical strength, not guile, to triumph.

This wrestling episode has generated much commentary (surprise).  According to Rambam (Maimonides, 12th c.), Jacob is just having a dream and injures himself while thrashing about.  More commonly, the rabbis believe the “being” is an angel, whose re-naming of Jacob is made official by God later in the text.  For the rabbis living during under the Hadrianic persecution (ca. 132-135 C.E.), the angel is specifically Esau’s guardian angel, so the story mirrors the struggle between Jews and Rome, the thigh injury symbolizing the martyrdom of the rabbis.  Ramban (Nachmanides, 13th c.) extends this interpretation to the medieval persecutions of his own time, during which Jewish survival is like Jacob’s.  Nechama Leibowitz (New Studies in Bereshit, p. 370) points out that not only does Jacob best his adversary but he “enjoys his adversary’s blessing. The breaking of the dawn involves not merely the victory over every adversary, but also his blessing with which he will bless us.” To me, what is critical is that Jacob must wrestle in order to get his adversary’s blessing.  After the encounter with the angel, he is limping physically but is spiritually whole.  He is now ready to deal with his past (here, Esau).

The brothers’ reunion goes smoothly (suspiciously, according to the rabbis).  Jacob is particularly obsequious, generous with gifts and flattery.  Aware of Esau’s volatility, Jacob diplomatically refuses his offer of an escort.  He and his family head to Beth El where he’d had his first personal encounter with God all those years before.  He sets up an altar and is formally given the name Israel.  Also at Beth El, Rebecca’s nurse dies.

But Jacob’s family troubles are not over.  During their stay in Shechem, his daughter Dina is raped, and, though the Hivvite prince responsible wants to marry her, her brothers Shimon and Levi respond deceitfully and massacre 300 men; though he later chastises them, Jacob’s response at this point is shockingly cold.  Then his beloved Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin.  And son Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah.  He finally returns to Isaac in Hebron.  Rebecca has died (this isn’t in the text.  Isaac dies at the age of 180 and is buried by Jacob and Esau.  The portion ends with a list of the descendants of Esau.  The stories of Isaac and Esau are neatly tied up, as were Abraham’s and Ishmael’s in Chapter 25.  Jacob continues to reappear, sometimes as Jacob, sometimes as Israel, through the rest of Genesis, but now the spotlight will be on his 11th son, Joseph.

Shabbat shalom,


Quotes about Flattery

Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it but don’t swallow it.  Hank Ketcham
Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.  Edmund Burke
Flattery and insults raise the same question: What do you want?  Mason Cooley
Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.  Jack Paar
Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel.  Benjamin Disraeli

A psychiatrist visited a California mental institution and asked a patient …

… “How did you get here? What was the nature of your illness?” He got the following reply.

“Well, it all started when I got married and I guess I should never have done it. I married a widow with a grown daughter who then became my stepdaughter.

My dad came to visit us, fell in love with my lovely stepdaughter, then married her. And so my stepdaughter was now my stepmother. Soon, my wife had a son who was, of course, my daddy’s brother-in-law since he is the half-brother of my stepdaughter, who is now, of course, my daddy’s wife.

So, as I told you, when my stepdaughter married my daddy, she was at once my stepmother! Now, since my new son is brother to my stepmother, he also became my uncle. As you know, my wife is my step-grandmother since she is my stepmother’s mother. Don’t forget that my stepmother is my stepdaughter. Remember, too, that I am my wife’s grandson.

But hold on just a few minutes more. You see, since I’m married to my step-grandmother, I am not only the wife’s grandson and her hubby, but I am also my own grandfather. Now can you understand how I got put in this place?”

After staring blankly with a dizzy look on his face, the psychiatrist replied: “Move over!”

Submitted by John, Emmitsburg, Md.


tph touchy-feely family


Ah, wrestling.  I’m the only one of the four of us who doesn’t know how to wrestle.  Even my daughter was briefly on a high school wrestling team.  Whenever my husband tried to show me some hold, I’d always start giggling.  My son was most involved, wrestling on school teams for 3-4 years, finally stopping largely because of recurring injuries (his pediatrician kept urging me to get him to take up cooking).  I remember seeing his first match in junior high.  The grappling seventh graders reminded me of trying to dress my kids when they were about three.  (IGP, 2004)


From 2013

Tommy Smothers, Mom always liked you best

(For those too young to remember the Smothers Brothers routines, one of their bits was centered on Tommy’s claim that Mom always liked Dick best, whence the item below, recorded in 2008.  The video is also at the above website.)

Tommy Smothers: When Dick was really good, if he really got on my case, the audience would sometimes boo him. Actually hiss a little bit and boo. And it kind of hurt his feelings. I said “that’s – you’re really doing a good job.” Bud Abbott was relentless on, on Lou Costello. Just relentless – he – didn’t show any humanity or – but you believed him. And people believed my brother too so when really gets – he’d do this one litany, about five or six lines in a row, when we were recording an album in St. Louis and he said “you’re stupid. You’re dumb. You’re not a man. You’ve never done anything right. You’re a failure. Da da da da.” And he finished up, he ran out of things and – and “You’ll never amount to anything.” And I said, “Yeah, and mom liked you best.” It was like the – and just the audience fell apart. Don’t know where it came from. So it – we have one enduring, uh, idea that will always live on with the Smothers Brothers, that mom always liked you best. We’re the universal, uh, feeling that every child, every sibling has had somewhere along the line. Or who did she like best? And that became kind of a little mantra.

‘Most unfortunate names’ revealed (abridged)

What do you call some of the most unlucky people in Britain?

Justin Case, Barb Dwyer and Stan Still.

It sounds like a bad joke, but a study has revealed that there really are unfortunate people with those names in the UK.  Joining them on the list are Terry Bull, Paige Turner, Mary Christmas and Anna Sasin.  And just imagine having to introduce yourself to a crowd as Doug Hole or Hazel Nutt.

The names were uncovered by researchers from parenting group after trawling through online telephone records.

Retired airman Stan Still, 76, from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, said his name had been “a blooming millstone around my neck my entire life”.

“When I was in the RAF my commanding officer used to shout, ‘Stan Still, get a move on’ and roll about laughing,” he said.  “It got hugely boring after a while.”

But 51-year-old Rose Bush, from Coventry, West Midlands, said she loved her name.  “I always get comments about it but they are always very positive,” she said.

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Vayetze (Gen. 28:10-32:3)

It is the day after Thanksgiving, and while I have no ready excuse – my husband made the delicious feast and my visiting daughter did a lot of clean-up (thanks, Rich and Roz!), I am nevertheless distracted and behind schedule. So, here is a lightly edited version of my 2015 comments. Current asides are in italics.

This week, in Parashat Vayetze:  A ladder to heaven, a meeting at a well, a devious uncle, two wives, two concubines, 11 sons, and a daughter.  A 20-year rags to riches story.  Jacob grows up, and what goes around, comes around in neat symmetry.

In flight from Beer Sheva to Haran, Jacob sleeps fitfully, with a stone for a pillow, dreams of angels going up and down a ladder to heaven (more likely a staircase or ziggurat), and has his first communication with the Lord, confirming the covenant.  There are a variety of interpretations of the dream.  Rashi thought the angels were just changing shifts. (That’s the interpretation I like.)  I came across three Hasidic interpretations.  Here’s one: Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev suggests that the ladder represents how human beings can be planted in this world as corporeal beings yet be capable of reaching upward to enter into a relationship with the Lord.  Further, the angels’ movement shows that the heavens are affected by our actions. 

Anyhow, Jacob meets his lovely cousin Rachel at a well (where else?) and is totally smitten. He uncovers the well, waters the flock, kisses her, and then (!) introduces himself.  They go on to Haran.  Rachel’s father Laban, now head of the family, is disappointed at his nephew’s penniless state, remembering the riches Abraham had sent for Rebecca.  Jacob offers to work 7 years for Rachel’s hand, “and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.” (29:20) (sigh)

Laban tricks Jacob by switching brides, so that Jacob wakes up with her older sister, Leah.  He is allowed to marry Rachel as well as long as he works another 7 years.  The women are focused on childbearing, that being the path to increased status.  Even though Rachel is Jacob’s true love, he has 6 sons and a daughter with Leah, 2 sons with Rachel’s maid Bilhah, and 2 sons with Leah’s maid Zilpah.  At this point, Rachel has only one son, Joseph.  Jacob continues to work for Laban, eventually learning how to protect himself; for example, Laban’s scheme to limit Jacob’s prosperity is foiled by Jacob’s version of genetic engineering (30:29-43).  But Jacob’s prosperity is too big an irritant for Laban and his sons, and Jacob finally takes his family away. Rachel takes Laban’s household gods, Laban can’t find them in the caravan, and Jacob – feeling unjustly accused – finally gets a chance to tell off his boss.

Alan Dershowitz, in his book, The Genesis of Justice, describes how Jacob’s life shows that “he who lives by deceit shall himself be deceived” and that the deceptions are symmetrical.  Jacob, the younger son, tricks the older brother out of his birthright and is tricked into marrying Leah because the older daughter should be married first.  Jacob is able to deceive Isaac because he is blind and is later deceived in the darkness of his wedding tent.  (You might also consider Leah’s veils on the wedding night a disguise paralleling the goat skins.)  Later, as he deceived Isaac by wearing goat skins on his arms, he will be deceived by his own sons, who bring him Joseph’s torn coat dipped in a goat’s blood.  However, as Dershowitz points out, there was no settled legal system to call upon.  Life was dealt with by physical force or guile.  Esau used force.  Jacob and Rebecca used guile, guile being “the great leveler between the physically unequal.” 

But the message of the story is not simply that you reap what you sow.  The story is “a lesson about the symmetry of justice even in the absence of formal law.”   Further, “it is precisely because justice is not the natural condition of mankind…that we are obliged to pursue it actively.\ and not take it for granted.”

Next week:  wrestling, reunions, rape, birth, and deaths.

Shabbat shalom,


What Goes Around Comes Around – Quotes

“You see what you expect to see, Severus.” 
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 “Rabbi Hiyya advised his wife, “When a poor man comes to the door, be quick to give him food so that the same may be done to your children.” She exclaimed, “You are cursing our children [with the suggestion that they may become beggars].” But Rabbi Hiyya replied, “There is a wheel which revolves in this world.” —Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 151b” 
― Joseph TelushkinJewish Wisdom

“Within the realms of what goes around, resides the magnitude and severity of what comes around.” 
― Sandeep N. Tripathi


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A really unusual surrogate mother…

A baby hippopotamus, swept into the sea by the tsunami is finally coming out of his shell…  thanks to the love of a 120-year-old tortoise.

Owen, a 300kg, one-year-old hippo, was swept down the Sabaki River, into the ocean and then back to shore when the giant waves struck the Kenyan coast.

tph Hippo Tort

The dehydrated hippo was found by wildlife rangers and taken to the Haller Park animal facility in the port city of Mombasa.

Pining for his lost mother, Owen quickly befriended a giant male Aldabran tortoise named Mzee – Swahili for “old man”.

“When we released Owen into the enclosure, he lumbered to the tortoise which has a dark grey colour similar to grown up hippos,” Sabine Baer, rehabilitation and ecosystems manager at the park, told Reuters on Thursday.
Haller Park ecologist Paula Kahumbu said the pair were now inseparable.

“After it was swept and lost its mother, the hippo was traumatised. It had to look for something to be a surrogate mother. Fortunately, it landed on the tortoise and established a strong bond. They swim, eat and sleep together,” the ecologist added.

“The hippo follows the tortoise exactly the way it follows its mother. If somebody approaches the tortoise, the hippo becomes aggressive, as if protecting its biological mother,” Kahumbu added.  “The hippo was left at a very tender age. Hippos are social animals that like to stay with their mothers for four years.”

She said the hippo’s chances of survival in another herd were very slim, predicting that a dominant male would have killed him.

Officials are hopeful Owen will befriend a female hippo called Cleo, also a resident at the park.


Pregnancy Dictionary [selected]

Funny how words take on new meanings when you’re expecting!

AFTERBIRTH: When the hard part begins.

CRAVINGS: An excuse to gluttonize your way through pregnancy.

FIRST TRIMESTER: The first three months of pregnancy when you wonder, “Is it too late to hire a surrogate mother?”

MATERNITY CLOTHES: What a pregnant woman wears to show people there’s a reason she’s fat.

MIRACLE: 1. The birth of a baby. 2. The fact that you lived to tell about it.

OBSTETRICIAN/MIDWIFE: The person who tells you you’re doing fine when you think you’re caught in the jaws of death.

PREGNANT PAUSE: The amount of time it takes for a 9-month pregnant woman to get out of a chair. [I think that one’s my favorite. IGP]

PRENATAL: When your life was still your own.

SECOND TRIMESTER: The time when you ask the question, “Will my husband notice if I eat this gallon of ice cream and side of beef before he gets home?”

THIRD TRIMESTER: The final months of pregnancy when you wonder, “How much longer can I keep from waddling?”


Results of the Washington Post Style Invitational, in which readers were asked to come up with intriguing questions to be considered by President Clinton’s special commission to study the moral and practical effects of cloning:

– If you cloned Henry IV, would he be Henry V or Henry IV Jr. or wait, Henry IV part II?
– Would there be a market for genetic “factory seconds” and “irregulars”?
– Are the Pope and his clone both infallible? What if they disagree about something?
– Would it be ethical to dig up the remains of our founding fathers, create clones from the bone cells, and place them in a theme park called Clonial Williamsburg? 

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Toldot (Genesis 25:9 – 28:9)

After the promisingly idyllic ending last week, we return to the narrative and its threads of crime, sin, deception, revenge, punishment, and other bad actions.  But before we throw up our hands in despair at all the shenanigans, consider this:

“Viewing Genesis as a book about the development of justice before the existence of a formalized legal system helps to explain why the narrative is so much about crime, sin, deception, revenge, punishment, and other bad actions.  The law evolves from bad actions and the way they are dealt with.  The common law is built on the wrongs, not the rights, of humankind…Thus the genesis of justice in the injustice of Genesis is not as ironic as it may appear…”  (A. M. Dershowitz, The Genesis of Justice (2000), pp. 211-2)

Toldot (generations) is mainly about a broken family.  There are a lot of gaps and missing information, so I think I’ll just give you some questions to think about.

Isaac:  What lasting effects did Isaac’s near-sacrifice have on him? Are the stories echoing his father’s experiences (unplugging wells, passing Rebecca off as his sister to Abimelech) typical father versus son competition, or maybe an effort to show he was indeed Abraham’s son, not Abimelech’s?

Isaac and Rebecca:  Isaac’s ruse is revealed to Abimelech when he catches him “playing with” Rebecca.  So at least at that stage they appear to have been together emotionally. What drives them apart? 20 years of waiting for a child (for which Isaac prays)?  Why do they never talk to each other in the text, except when Rebecca tells Isaac to send Jacob away to Haran to get a nice monotheistic wife?

Jacob and Esau:  Do they hate each other?  Jacob clearly doesn’t respect Esau, finding it so easy to swap a pot of lentil stew for the first-born’s birthright (which, having to do with a priestly leadership role, isn’t really to Esau’s liking anyway).  Did Esau respect Jacob at all?  Esau’s interests are physical and outdoorsy. Does he look down on Jacob? Does he think about Jacob at all?

The family:  What led to the family’s break up? It’s one thing to have a favorite son, but in this case, is the break into two parts so complete? Does Jacob have any relationship with Isaac at all, or Esau with Rebecca?

The deceit and blessing:  Did Rebecca ever tell Isaac the divine message sent to her before the twins’ birth, that the younger would serve the elder?  Did Isaac not see that Esau was unsuited to be the one to ensure continuance of the covenant?  Why did he favor Esau to such a degree?  Did he admire Esau for his self-sufficiency, his hunting prowess, maybe a resemblance to Ishmael?  Since blessing Esau was such a major event, why was Isaac planning to do this with no one else present? Jacob doesn’t argue with his mother when she presents her scheme. Have Jacob and Rebecca discussed such possibilities before?  Does Isaac actually realize the man before him, with the goat-skin-covered arms and neck, was really Jacob?  Could he not recognize that this one did not sound or speak like Esau, and that goat wouldn’t taste like venison (maybe the spices helped obscure that)?  Finally, does he realize Rebecca is lying when they send Jacob away, that Jacob’s life is in danger?

Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Kislev, so there’s a special haftarah, I Samuel 20:18-42, where David and Jonathan communicated via bow and arrows.  24 days after Rosh Chodesh is Chanukah.

Shabbat shalom,

Alabama Deer Hunting Joke

A group of Alabama friends went deer hunting and paired off in twos for the day. That night, one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under the weight of an eight-point buck. ‘Where’s Henry?’ the others asked.
‘Henry had a stroke of some kind. He’s a couple of miles back up the trail,’ the successful hunter replied.

‘You left Henry laying out there and carried the deer back?’ they inquired.

‘A tough call,’ nodded the hunter. ‘But I figured no one is going to steal Henry!’

tph twins evicted


tph twins bogo


From 2011:

Now this is what belongs in a reality TV show: [lightly edited]
Posted by
 BreeMPLS at

I have a small family, with just one cousin. She is about 5 years older than I. When she bought her first house and had a kiddo, she wanted to host Thanksgiving.  So we went to cousin Josie’s house. Highlights of the night:
1.        Cousin getting MEGA trashed and forgetting about any cooking or hosting. 
2.        Grandpa drunk in the corner and yelling slurs and racial epithets at any family member within range 
3.        Two Uncles nearly getting in a fistfight about the Presidential race (I think it was Bush v Clinton). 
4.        Mom yelling at me “YOU RUINED THANKSGIVING I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY. 
5.        One Uncle’s ex-wife sneaking smokes with me in the garage, hinting at naughty stuff. No thanks, lady! 
6.        Unattended baby smears poop EVVVVVVERRRYYYYWHERE 
7.        100% burned turkey. 
8.        Fire alarms go off 
9.        Fire department comes. Oven is fully engulfed in flames. 
10.        Nobody had anything to eat or drink other than cheap wine and Ritz crackers. 
11.        Grandpa insisted that we take him to Old Country Buffet, his favorite place ever, ever, ever.

Dysfunctional family Thanksgiving at Old Country Buffet. I haven’t seen some of those relatives since that day.


A bus of politicians is driving by a farm where a man lives alone. The bus driver, caught up in the beautiful scenery, loses control and crashes into the ditch. The man comes out and finding the politicians, buries them.

The next day, the police are at the farm questioning the man. “So you buried all the politicians?” asked the police officer. “Were they all dead?”

To which the man replied, “Some said they weren’t, but you know how politicians lie.”

Marriage Jokes

True Love

It may have been the most romantic statement ever uttered in our courthouse. In between hearings, a wedding was performed. As the newlyweds left the courtroom, the bride nestled up to the groom and cooed, “Isn’t it nice to be here when we’re not being convicted of something?”

The Birthday Present

On his birthday, my husband was stuck driving our six rambunctious children around. As usual, they were yelling, punching, and annoying one another. Joel finally had had enough.

“Kids,” he said over the din, “if you would behave and be kind to each other, that would be a very nice birthday present for me.”

Our six-year-old shot back: “Too late, I already got you another present.”

Right Answer

Jack wakes up with a horrible hangover and a throbbing black eye. The first thing he sees is a single rose on the side table and a note from his wife: “Dear, breakfast is made. I’ve gone shopping to make you your favorite dinner tonight. I love you!”

He stumbles to the kitchen and, sure enough, there’s breakfast. “Joe,” he says to his son, “what happened last night?”

“You came home soused and got that black eye tripping over a chair.”

“So, why the rose, breakfast, and sweet note from your mother?”

“Oh, that. Mom dragged you to the bedroom, and when she tried to take off your clothes, you screamed, ‘Leave me alone, I’m married!’”



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Hayyei Sarah (Genesis 23.1-25.18)


Comments are from 2010, except for an updated link.  Jokes are newly dug up.

“After last week’s stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, incest, banishment and near death in the desert, and near (very, very near) human sacrifice, this week’s portion provides welcome relief.  Yes, it stars with the death of Sarah, but the opening verse is “Sarah’s lifetime—the span of Sarah’s life—came to one hundred and twenty-seven years.”  Then we are told of her death.  Tradition has it that she died of shock upon learning of Abraham’s apparent intention to sacrifice their son.  

“Once he has mourned, Abraham gets up and buys land for a burial plot, the Cave of Machpelah.  We learn two things here: (1) Abraham gets up – that is, he gets on with his life after mourning.  (2) As Professor Arnold Eisen points out [ ], this is the first purchase of land by Abraham in Canaan: “The purchase of land in Canaan marks a turning point. Abraham seeks an ‘eternal home,’ an ‘eternal resting place,’ in the Land which at that moment offers neither home nor resting place for his family, but, according to God’s promise, will one day provide both to his descendants.”  The portion ends with Abraham’s marriage to Keturah, a list of their sons, his death (buried by both Isaac and Ishmael), and Ishmael’s descendants and death.

“The rest of the portion deals with acquiring a wife for Isaac.  He marries his cousin Rebecca three years after Sarah’s death.  Since he was 127 minus 90 = 37 years old when she died, that means he was unmarried until about 40.  (Oy!)  Abraham sends his servant (assumed to be Eliezer) back to the old country (Aram naharaim) to find Isaac a wife. What follows is like a fairy tale in which the uniquely suitable spouse is identified (like the ones where the princess has the right foot size or is a really light sleeper), and it’s told in that repetitive rhythm:  Eliezer prays that the young woman will not only give him water but offer to water his camels, Rebecca not only gives him water but offers to water his camels, and Eliezer tells her family how she not only gave him water but offered to water his camels. And Eliezer reveals his identity, and Rebecca reveals hers, and there are golden gifts that really pique brother Laban’s interest, and Rebecca accompanies Eliezer to Canaan and Isaac, with whom she lives happily for a while.

“What is disconcerting is that Isaac is not involved at all in the process.  I have noted before the ubiquity of “the well” as a place where potential spouses meet (the Biblical singles’ bar).  It’s where Jacob meets and helps Rachel get water and where Moses meets and helps Zipporah get water.  But here, it is Rebecca who provides water for Eliezer and his camels.  She is also the one who decides to leave immediately for Canaan.  Rebecca, not Isaac, is the one who takes the initiative, and we will see that continue through their relationship.”

Shabbat shalom,


tph motivational speakers cemetery


Be careful what you wish for …

Hopeful suitor joined a computer-dating site and registered his wants.

He wanted someone who enjoyed water sports, liked company, favored formal attire, and was very small.

The computer operated faultlessly.

It sent him a penguin.


tph carbon dating


Children’s Views on Marriage (selections)

What exactly is marriage? 
“Marriage is when you get to keep your girl and don’t have to give her back to her parents”
Eric, age 6

How did your mom and dad meet?
“They were at a dance party at a friend’s house. Then they went for a drive, but their car broke down. It was a good thing, because it gave them a chance to find out about their values.”

Lottie, age 9

Is it better to be single or married?
“It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need somebody to clean up after them”
Anita, age 9

“It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I’m just a kid. I don’t need that kind of trouble.”
Will, age 7

What is the right age to get married?
“Eighty-four, because at that age, you don’t have to work anymore, and you can spend all your time loving each other in your bedroom.”

Carolyn, age 8

“Once I’m done with kindergarten, I’m going to find me a wife”
Bert, age 5

How can a stranger tell if two people are married?
“You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.”
Derrick, age 8

How do you decide whom to marry?
“No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.”

Kirsten, age 10

“You flip a nickel, and heads means you stay with him and tails means you try the next one.”
Kelly, age 9

How would you make a marriage work?
“If you want to last with your man, you should wear a lot of sexy clothes, especially underwear that is red and maybe has a few diamonds on it.”

Lori, age 8

“Tell your wife that she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck.”
Ricky, age 10


Quotes about Fairy Tales

Everything is for sale in Hollywood; the fairy tale, the costume, the pumpkin, the footman and the mice. Amanda Eliasch

I’m not a big fan of kids’ movies that have this knowing snarkiness to them or this post-modern take on storytelling. I think that sails right over the heads of most kids. There’s something to be said for a well-told fairy tale. There’s a reason that these mythic stories stay with us. John C. Reilly

Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost kingdom of peace. Eugene O’Neill

As long as you keep one foot in the real world while the other foot’s in a fairy tale, that fairy tale is going to seem kind of attainable. Aaron Sorkin

Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale. Hans Christian Andersen


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Vayeira (Gen. 18:1-22:24)

Parashat Vayeira includes a lot of stories, each one having some negative or ambiguous aspect, even the birth of a long (really long) awaited son. I often avoid discussing the near-sacrifice of Isaac here, but I think I’ll stop dancing around it.

As Abraham recovers from his circumcision, three angels come by and he and Sarah are generous with their hospitality.  The angels announce to Abraham that Sarah will bear a son, the second time he’s heard this. Note that Sarah is not told directly but overhears and laughs incredulously, then denies laughing.

Then it’s off to Sodom.  God tells Abraham that it will be destroyed.  Abraham gets God to agree to spare the city if there are even 10 righteous people in it.  Of course, there aren’t.  When two angels go to rescue Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family, the rules of hospitality (including not letting a mob attack your guests) are upheld in a bizarre reflection of Abraham’s experience.  Yes, Lot protects his guests, but offers his two young virgin daughters to the mob in their place.  It takes some convincing, but the angels manage to effect a rescue (except for Lot’s wife, who looks back and turns into a pillar of salt) when Sodom and nearby Gomorrah are destroyed. Lot’s daughters later get him drunk and seduce him; the resulting babies are the progenitors of Moab and Ammon.  

After Abraham once more uses that “Sarah’s my sister” line, this time on Abimelech, Isaac is finally born, circumcised, and weaned.  Later, Sarah declares she doesn’t want Ishmael around to “play” (not defined) with Isaac, nor be considered a co-heir.  This is especially mean, since Sarah presented Hagar to Abraham to bear children in her name, the same way Rachel and Leah will give handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah to Jacob to bear legitimate heirs.  But God sides with Sarah, so Abraham banishes Hagar and his beloved Ishmael to the wilderness. God speaks to Hagar once more, opens her eyes to a nearby spring and assures her that Ishmael will also father a great nation.

Sometimes, the most disturbing episodes in the Torah are especially terse; the Cain and Abel story takes only 15 verses.  The near-sacrifice of Isaac, referred to as the Akedah (binding), is told in only 19 verses. God tells Abraham to take “your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac” and offer him as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah.  When Abraham is about to kill his son is he stopped by an angel (not by God, who apparently never speaks with Abraham again), now that he has proven he fears God and has not withheld his son, his only son.  (Note the missing “whom you love, Isaac.”) Abraham sacrifices a ram instead and returns, apparently alone, to the young men who had accompanied them, and they go on to Beer Sheva. 

Why doesn’t Abraham question God’s command?  Does he think there’s no point in bargaining as he had at Sodom? Does he see believe this is just another test of his faith?  If so, does he pass it? Is he too stunned to do anything but obey?  Is he relieved at not killing his son, angry the task had been given to him, or even despondent that he hadn’t been allowed to fully demonstrate his faith by killing Isaac? 

In Sunday school, we are told that this story is intended to demonstrate that God does not want child sacrifice, a not uncommon practice in ancient times, even, apparently, in Israel.  Shalom Spiegel, in The Last Trial, reads the Akedah as an attempt to connect the new, preferred norm of animal sacrifice, in place of human sacrifice, to a revered personage like Abraham, writing, “This was a daring innovation and was not at once accepted.” 

But this is a story, not part of a legal code.  There is no statement condemning human sacrifice in general.  In fact, according to Judith Civan in Abraham’s Knife – The Mythology of the Deicide in Anti-Semitism, there are hints in the Bible (e.g., Jeremiah 19:5, Ezekiel 20:25-26, Micah 6:6-8, Lev. 18:21 and 20:4, Deut. 18:10) “that the outgrowing of child sacrifice was a long and a hard process.”  Doubts lingered for centuries as to whether a ram was enough of a sacrifice.  Commentaries over the centuries suggested that Abraham had indeed sacrificed Isaac and scattered his ashes on the altar, after which he was resurrected.  In early Christian texts, such as the Epistles of Paul, Isaac is identified with Jesus.  In the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Christian Bible, “Abraham reconciled the ideas that he would be the father of many nations even though he must kill Isaac, by having faith in resurrection.” (Devorah Schoenfeld, Akedah: How Jews and Christians Explained Abraham’s Faith)

Some commentaries suggest that Isaac did not return with Abraham because he was traumatized, so he spent two years in Paradise to recover, or two years studying monotheism with Shem.   As Rabbi Samuel Z. Glaser notes in Biblical and Greek Ambivalence Towards Child Sacrifice, “Thus, the ambivalence inheres not only in the biblical text (redacted or not), but in the commentators who feel that even if Abraham did not actually kill his son, he severely damaged him in one way or another.”  Still other ideas:  Abraham had misunderstood God’s command (Midrash), or God’s mind was changed (Ibn Ezra, 12th c.), so Abraham’s hand was stayed.  

As I noted here previously, the story was reinterpreted to suit times of persecution (ancient Roman, medieval Europe): “(A)s Rabbi Leonard A. Sharzer, MD (Associate Director for Bioethics of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, JTS) writes in Ultimate Values and the Akedah Story, some Talmudic commentators felt Abraham didn’t go far enough, since he did not actually sacrifice Isaac (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 57b).  And medieval commentators were familiar with many examples of men who had slaughtered their families and themselves during the Crusades.  ‘For Jews in the rabbinic period and the Middle Ages, ‘their sufferings and sacrifices exceeded by far everything endured by the original Akedah’s father and son.’ (Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, 21) They were sympathetic mainly to Abraham’s being thwarted from demonstrating his devotion to God.’”

The portion ends with news of the family of Abraham’s brother’s Nahor, including Rebecca, who will be chosen to be Isaac’s wife in next week’s considerably more peaceful Torah reading.

Shabbat shalom,


The teacher told the story about Lot leaving Sodom & Gomorrah before its destruction. He stressed how God to Lot to take his wife and flee out of the city. He pointed out that Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt. After the lesson he asked if anyone had a question. One child asked, “What happened to the flea?” ·


tph lot's wife sodium


A Misunderstanding….

Two church attenders had just come from church and a sermon on Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis. “You know, George, I always thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were man and wife.”

His friend replied, “I can believe you, because I thought the Epistles were the wives of the Apostles.”


A Different Take on the Akedah (excerpt)

 [From “Without Feathers,” by Woody Allen, Random House, NY, 1975, p.24 of the hardback.  I send the whole thing out occasionally, but the section below seems particularly appropriate somehow. IGP]

And so he took Isaac to a certain place and prepared to sacrifice him but at the last minute the Lord stayed Abraham’s hand and said, “How could thou doest such a thing?”
And Abraham said, “But thou said –

“Never mind what I said,” the Lord spake.  “Doth thou listen to every crazy idea that comes thy way?”  
And Abraham grew ashamed.  “Er – not really…no.”
“I jokingly suggest thou sacrifice Isaac and thou immediately runs out to do it.”
And Abraham fell to his knees, “See, I never know when you’re kidding.”
And the Lord thundered, “No sense of humor.  I can’t believe it.”

“But doth this not prove I love thee, that I was willing to donate mine only son on thy whim?”

And the Lord said, “It proves that some men will follow any order no matter how asinine as long as it comes from a resonant, well-modulated voice.”
And with that, the Lord bid Abraham get some rest and check with him tomorrow.


Top 25 List of Best Pregnancy Jokes Ever (selections)

By CorCell November 12, 2015

20. What is the most common pregnancy craving?
For men to be the ones who get pregnant.

15. What’s the oddest stage of pregnancy?
When people aren’t sure whether to congratulate you or buy you a gym membership.

12. How many days are there in a month?
Each month has an average of 30-31 days, except the last month of pregnancy, which has 1453.

3. And (what do I say) when they ask: “How much weight have you gained?”
“Enough to make your life pretty miserable when I sit on you.” (I used to threaten to sit on my husband when I was pregnant if he got snarky. IGP)

2. My wife’s pregnant and my doctor asked me if I had ever been present at a childbirth before.
I replied, “Yes, just once.” The doctor asked, “What was it like?” I said, “It was dark, then suddenly very light.”


Quotes about Guests

  • Visits always give pleasure — if not the arrival, the departure. ~Portuguese Proverb
    Santa Claus has the right idea: Visit people once a year. ~Victor Borge
  • Mankind is divisible into two great classes: hosts and guests. ~Max Beerbohm
  • Visitor’s footfalls are like medicine; they heal the sick. ~African Proverb
  • We dare not trust our wit for making our house pleasant to our friend, so we buy ice cream. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


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Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27)

Why Abraham?

The story of Abram (later Abraham) and his family starts with a command to him from the Lord (12:1-3):

The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”

Abram unquestioningly (for now) obeys.  He’s 75 years old, he doesn’t know where he is going, yet he uproots his family to go “there.”  We are not told why Abram is chosen to found a great nation, let alone have a covenant with the Lord.  Compared with all the laws the Israelites have to follow to continue their relationship with the Lord at the end of Deuteronomy, not much is asked of Abram. 

The rabbis, as is their wont, try to fill in the gaps. For instance, there’s the story about Abram smashing the all but one of the idols in his father’s shop, then blaming it on the lone surviving idol in order to teach his father that idolatry is nonsense.  Abram supposedly reasons his way into monotheism without the aid of spectacles like a burning bush.  Nachmanides asks what sense there was to Abram’s selection “without prefacing it by being loyal to God, or being righteous, or by telling him that by leaving his birthplace and going to another country he would attain a greater nearness to God?” He has no satisfying answer. Perhaps God simply recognized Abram was inherently worthy and able to withstand the trials to which he would be put.  From Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 32: “Said R. Jonathan: A potter does not test cracked jars which cannot be struck even once without breaking.  What does he test?  Good jars which will not break even if struck many times.” (Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit, pp. 116-9)

Concerning the rest of Lech L’cha, I wrote in 2005: “For some reason, this portion strikes me as particularly disjointed and internally contradictory this year.   At 75, Abram is told to leave his home and move someplace TBD, which turns out to be Canaan. But he leaves Canaan soon after to shelter from the famine in Egypt. He’s told his descendants will be as numerous as the stars, but he doesn’t have a son until he’s 86, and then by his wife’s servant Hagar.   His wife is the one who suggests he take Hagar as a concubine and then she mistreats the pregnant Hagar, causing her to run away.   Abram is told he is to possess the land of Canaan, but that his descendants will be strangers in a strange land, enslaved for a couple of centuries. There are visions of the descendants of Abraham becoming a nation, but, between nephew Lot’s splitting off to live separately and the squabbling between Sarai and Hagar, this is one family that doesn’t seem able to live together themselves, much less be progenitors of a nation. We read of an exalting identity change (Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah) but also a dangerous identity sham (when Abram passes Sarai off as his sister to Pharaoh in Egypt). And it’s not until he’s 99, 24 years after he’s begun following the Lord’s commands, that he is finally called Abraham, that Sarah conceives, and that circumcision is instituted as a sign of the covenant. Times are definitely not settled, as we will continue to see next week.

Shabbat shalom,


When I was a kid, my parents moved around a lot.
But I always found them.            Rodney Dangerfield


Babysitting. I gave my nephews $5 each. I told them to hold it against the wall with their nose.  Whoever dropped first would lose, with the winner getting to keep both.  Kept them busy for three hours.


Welcome to America   submitted by: Mark

Yehudah Tzvi Windweher arrived at Ellis Island and asked his friend “What would be a good American name for me? I want it to be Jewish, but more American.”

His friend replied, “Sam Cohen, that’s a good American Jewish name.”

Yehudah Tzvi began his long walk up a massive flight of steps leading to the immigration office. With each step he said, “Sam Cohen, Sam Cohen,” in an earnest effort to learn his new name. When he finished carrying his luggage to the top of the flight, he was winded and tired.

A large immigration officer caught Yehuda Tzvi off guard when he said, “NAME?” in a booming voice. A flustered Yehudah Tzvi replied “Shoyn fargesin” (“I already forgot” in Yiddish).

The immigration officer replied, “Sean Ferguson, welcome the United States of America!”


A Priest, a Rabbi and a Minister

A priest, a rabbi and a minister decide to see who’s best at his job. The test is to go into the woods, find a bear and try to convert it.

After they are done the priest says, “I read to the bear from the Catechism, sprinkled him with holy water and next week is his First Communion.”

The minister said, “I found a bear by the stream, preached God’s holy word and he let me baptize him in the river.”

The rabbi was bandaged from head to foot and said. “Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have started with the circumcision.”


tph land of canine


 Abraham was the first, but not the last, patriarch to have marriage woes.

(5 of) 9 Marriage Tips from Ancient Philosophers (excerpts)


Tips for wedded bliss from the first century CE philosophers Plutarch and Gaius Musonius Rufus.


From Plutarch’s “Advice to the Bride and Groom, and A Consolation to His Wife Those who have to go near elephants do not put on bright clothes, nor do those who go near bulls put on red;42 for the animals are made especially furious by these colours; and tigers, they say, when surrounded by the noise of beaten drums go completely mad and tear themselves to pieces.43 Since, then, this is also the case with men, that some cannot well endure the sight of scarlet and purple clothes, while others are annoyed by cymbals and drums,44 what terrible hardship is it for women to refrain from such things, and not disquiet or irritate their husbands, but live with them in constant gentleness?


Plutarch, from “Advice to the Bride and Groom”:

“Fishing with poison is a quick way to catch fish and an easy method of taking them, but it makes the fish inedible and bad. In the same way women who artfully employ love-potions and magic spells upon their husbands, and gain the mastery over them through pleasure, find themselves consorts of dull-witted, degenerate fools…”


From Rufus’ lectureOn Sexual Indulgence”:

“If it seems neither shameful nor out of place for a master to have relations with his own slave, particularly if she happens to be unmarried, let him consider how he would like it if his wife had relations with a male slave.…”


Plutarch:…“The lawful wives of the Persian kings sit beside them at dinner… But when the kings wish to be merry and get drunk, they send their wives away, and send for their music-girls and concubines… because they do not concede any share in their licentiousness and debauchery to their wedded wives. If therefore a man in private life… commit some peccadillo with a paramour or a maidservant, his wedded wife ought not to be indignant or angry, but she should reason that it is respect for her which leads him to share his debauchery, licentiousness, and wantonness with another woman.


Plutarch writes in “Advice to the Bride and Groom”:

“In the beginning, especially, married people ought to be on their guard against disagreements and clashes, for … such household vessels as are made of sections joined together are at the outset easily pulled apart …, but after a time, when their joints have become have become set, they can hardly be separated by fire and steel.…


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Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32), Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (Num. 28:9-15)

Today and tomorrow we observe Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new month, for Cheshvan, aka Marcheshvan.  The rabbis say the “mar” comes from the Hebrew for “bitter,” since poor Cheshvan has no holidays in it (for which I am ever so grateful).  That’s just wordplay.  It appears to come from the Akkadian for “eighth month.”  Anyhow, this means we read Numbers 28:9-15, about new moon sacrifices from a second scroll, and a special haftarah, Isaiah 66:1-24.

This week, we read about Noah, the Tower of Babel, and the genealogical line from Noah to Abram (later called Abraham).  Noah’s story: Humanity has become wicked since Creation, so the Lord decides to start over, wiping out all humans and animals with a great flood.  Only one family, Noah’s, will be spared, along with pairs of animals for breeding and additional animals for sacrifices.   Noah builds a rudderless vessel, an ark, as commanded by the Lord.  After 40 days of rain and close to a year while the water recedes, they disembark and offer sacrifices.  In a renewal of Creation, the Lord then makes a covenant with Noah. It parallels the charge given to Adam in Gen. 1:27-30 (be fruitful and multiply, etc.), but now Noah and descendants will clearly dominate the animals, eat meat, and set up a system of laws.  The Lord promises never to wipe out life on earth again, at least not with a flood.

Noah’s story is similar to several Mesopotamian flood stories, especially the story of Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In Chapter II of his book Understanding Genesis (1966), Nahum M. Sarna lays out pertinent similarities and differences between the two stories.  In both, the flood is a divider between historical epochs; it is initiated by the Deity/deities; the ship is built to exacting specifications; both animals and the hero’s family are saved; upon disembarking, they offer sacrifices having a “sweet savor” to the Deity/deities; and both heroes are blessed afterward.  On the other hand, Utnapishtim’s selection appears arbitrary, while Noah is “righteous in his generation” (grading on a curve?) in the midst of everyone else’s wickedness; the Mesopotamian gods’ power is limited, versus God’s omnipotence; and the sacrifices seem to be actual food to be eaten by the gods, but not for God.  Only Utnapishtim and his wife are blessed, with immortality and isolation from humanity.  Noah and his descendants are all blessed with an ongoing covenant symbolized by a rainbow, and a promise that God will not drown them again.  The cosmic nature of the Noah story is also seen in the very word used for Flood-with-a-capital-F, mabbul, which “is now recognized as having denoted originally the heavenly, or upper, part of the cosmic ocean…the primeval sea.” (Sarna, p. 55).

Unfortunately, Noah, back on dry land, now plants a vineyard, discovers wine, and gets so drunk as to be humiliated and/or assaulted by his son Ham.  This story is possibly a way to set up a claim to moral superiority for the descendants of the other sons, Shem (Abram’s ancestor) and Japheth.

The Tower (better, Ziggurat) of Babel story is a bridge from Noah to Abram (see Sarna, Chapter III).  It’s a story of the origin of languages; note, however, that the fact that different nations have different languages was already introduced in Gen. 10:9, 20, and 31. It can also be read as an example of Biblical satire, centered on the 300-foot ziggurat in Babylon, built to glorify the god Marduk.  Apparently, while Noah’s descendants are contentedly being fruitful and multiplying, they are reluctant to go out and fill the earth.  Instead, they are concentrated in one place, with one language, consolidated as one people.  But sometimes, lockstep unity can lead to a bad outcome.  They decide to build a humongous tower to serve as a physical link between earth and heaven. This is halted by the divine imposition of myriad languages and consequent dispersal of the people, filling the earth. 

The portion ends 10 generations after Noah with the introduction of Abram, who is blessed by God at 75 and sent on a journey to Canaan.  We’ll read about that next time.

Shabbat shalom and Chodesh tov (a good month),


THE BLOG 04/02/2014 02:19 pm ET Updated Jun 02, 2014

Noah Tells the Real Story (abridged)

By John Blumenthal

First of all, I wasn’t 500 years old. They totally made that up. I was maybe 75, max, which — don’t get me wrong — was pretty old back then. Decrepit actually. When God chose me for this genius shipbuilding project, I should have said, “Thank you very much for the honor, Your Holiness. I’m flattered, but please, do me a favor: Find somebody else like maybe… I don’t know… a carpenter? Do I look like a guy who can schlep 3000 tons of lumber back and forth, all day and night?

The first thing I asked was the obvious question: “Why, oh Lord, do you want me to build a boat? I live in the desert.” And then he lays this story on me: He made humans, but he’s not thrilled about the direction that went in so he’s going to make a big flood and drown everybody.

O……… K.

This did not amuse Him. Basically, he wanted a do-over. He decided to save me because He thought I was a righteous man (evidently, He hadn’t heard about that shoplifting incident).

Of course, I thought he wanted me to build a small boat just for my wife and my sons and their wives and me. But then He gave me these measurements — 500 cubits this, 2000 cubits that. Basically, He wanted me to build an aircraft carrier. I wanted to say, “God, you made the earth and the seas and the mountains and the trees, you can’t just make a lousy boat yourself and save me the aggravation?” But I didn’t. I could see that He was a little moody.

Then there was the animal business. OMG. Somehow, I was supposed to round up all the animals on earth and get them all on the ship. I have a dog, and I can’t even get him to sit. All I could think of was who’s supposed to clean up two months of animal sh**.

So I built the ark and somehow I got the animals on. Then, it rained. Boy, did it ever rain. Try drying your clothes in humidity like that. Of course, I had to wonder why I was the only guy on the entire planet who had a boat.

The raven and the Mt. Ararat stuff — never happened. The boat sank. Surprise! When He saw what was happening, he threw us 450,000 life preservers.

But it all worked out for the best. It’s so comforting to know that Mankind isn’t evil anymore.


tph ark


Wine Humor

I have joy in my heart and a glass of wine in my hand. Coincidence??

When you get a hangover from wine it’s called the grape depression.

I enjoy a glass of wine each night for its health benefits.  The other glasses are for my witty comebacks and my flawless dance moves.

The secret of enjoying a good bottle of wine:

  1. Open the bottle to allow it to breathe.
  2. If it doesn’t look like it’s breathing, give it mouth-to-mouth.

I can’t wait for the day when I can drink wine with my kids instead of because of them. (It arrived! IGP)


Jokes about language, translation, and interpreting

Two translators on a ship are talking.
“Can you swim?” asks one.
“No” says the other, “but I can shout for help in nine languages.”

A former secretary of commerce liked to tell how a high ranking official once responded to a subordinate’s request for a raise by saying, “Because of the fluctuational predisposition of your position’s productive capacity as juxtaposed to governmental statistics, it would be momentarily injudicious to advocate an incremental increase.”
The staff person said, “I don’t get it.”
The official said, “That’s right.”

A cat is sitting on the throne, and two dogs, an envoy and his interpreter, are standing before him. The interpreter dog is whispering to the envoy dog, “You’ll have to rephrase that. Their language doesn’t have a word for ‘fetch’”.


tph atm

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