Saturday, May 26, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Naso ("mmm... that's good adultery...")

-random Apu quote from the Simpsons

Naso is the longest parasha in the entire Torah. It says so in the very first commentary on the portion in the Etz Chaim chumash. Though it is the longest portion, I have the shortest time so I will continue it, bli neder, after Shabbat.

Last year I discussed the threefold priestly benediction. This year, as promised, I will discuss the Sotah.

The Torah takes a hardline stance against adultery. You Ten Commandment buffs will note that it made the top ten at #7. The penalty is harsh for all parties involved. We arrive at one of the strangest rituals in the Torah. A potion is brewed for a woman suspected by her husband of adultery, spring water which contains the ink of a written formula, a curse, that was inscribed on parchment. It is possibly the only occasion God's name is ever erased (more on this later), as it is rubbed off into the phial of stupefaction (probably not a phial of stupefaction, but I want to use that phrase whenever I can), it is rubbed off into the vial and she is forced to drink it. If she is guilty of adultery, horrible things happen to her (complicated Hebrew involving distended bowels and sagging thighs, possibly meaning miscarriage) and if she is not, then nothing will happen and the husband, in punishment for falsely accusing her, will never be able to divorce her.

The Rabbis later comment on this account saying that even if she had committed adultery, the hocus pocus never worked (whereas so much of the other Temple magic did work, like the red fillet turning white on Yom Kippur). The reason is that God was more concerned with the holiness and stability of marriage than severe retribution. God allowed His Name to be erased for the sake of family togetherness. Women who actually committed adultery would realize they had been given another chance and would be straight arrows from now on and husbands would think their wives were innocent, thus while living a lie they would never separate, under penalty of catapult.

Okay, that last part was from the Simpsons too.


PS (Post-Shabbos): I was sitting next to my Rabbi in davening on Shabbos morning (we were running services) and he noticed that the story of the events leading up to the birth of Samson should actually belong to an absent story of the birth of Saul and that the birth of Samuel belongs here in the story of Samson. Check out the language of the births themselves compared to the preceding story as well as what the reasons for their names (Samson because God heard my prayer or something? That is Shmuel not Shimshon!) Anyway, off too bed, but checkitout! checkitout!

Summer of Sequels

Note: this article is a little dated, considering I started it a couple of weeks ago and only am recording it now. It is also a work in progress and I may update it.

With three days in a row of triple digit temperatures (though it has been recently replaced by an early June Gloom), it is time for the coolest place on earth, where you can get $5.99/hour air conditioning and a small popcorn for roughly the same price. I am, of course, referring to the sizzling summer movie season. I believe this to be the biggest movie season in decades; three to be exact. 30 years ago today, on May 25, 1977, moviegoers were given A New Hope as the original Star Wars movie was released. Then George Lucas decided to revive his trilogy with a prequel trilogy and screwed everything up. But this is the summer of good sequels...

I have to admit that I am a pretty positive reviewer and my grades skew toward the light side. There was only one movie I actually hated this summer, a movie with Chris Rock, something like "I Love My Wife" or something like that. Don't ask...

The summer started with Spiderman 3. I enjoyed it, maybe not as much as the first two, but I liked it. I fully expected it to beat the $150 million box office open. However, I am confident that it will be shattered, once again by...

Pirates of the Carribean. I predict $162 million opening this weekend, up $1 million from my estimate before I saw the movie last night, in an unending tug-of-war between the webswinger and the swashbuckler in box office openers. This has been, thusfar, the best movie I've seen this year. It leaves room for a sequel though they've closed most of the holes in the previous movie

And then we arrive at the third in my series of third movies of trilogies (3-3-3, which is three numbers, which makes four in a series of three): Shrek the Third. I have to say I was disappointed. It wasn't as fun as the previous two. Of the Part 3 movies I've reviewed, this has to rank with the third Godfather (ie: a decent movie but far far behind the significance of the previous two movies). SKG, Please don't release a fourth Shrek... That's as scary as the proposal to make THREE more Terminator movies, the original trilogy which also suffers from Godfather Syndrome.

I saw a sneak preview a month or so back of Knocked Up. This was one of the funniest and one of the sickest movies I've seen in a long time. This is from the creators of 40-Year-Old Virgin and is even better and raunchier than its predecessor.

I also took my cousins to see Aqua Teen Hunger Force. That was hilarious in a demented way, to the extreme. You will remember the advertisement campaign that got the city of Boston on high alert for terrorism? That was for this movie! If you don't watch the show then you probably shouldn't see the film. And if you pirate the film, well, then your child-making possibilities are going to be limited according to the film, so be careful.

Alright those are some of the movies I've seen so far. Now for the previews. The other movies I really am looking forward to, obviously are

The Simpsons Movie. I've waited almost my entire life for something like this. This will probably surpass the "Never Jumped" vote on, but you never know. Remember that the South Park movie was very beneficial for the show and remains a cult classic. Speaking of which, I fear the plot of the Simpsons movie runs close to the South Park movie's plot. Nukes being launched due to something that has to do with the main characters? Sounds familiar. However, I do not want to know the plot because I'm sure whatever it is, I will laugh. I really like their "posters" in movie theater lobbies, which consist of a simpsons couch gag with a space for you to sit (though the Galleria has recently put up a sign asking you not to sit and why would anyone be carrying a camera in a movie theater. Instant trouble...)

I already know the plot, however, for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I will not get too far into this because I will, sometime in the next 7 weeks, post an entry about my theories on the final Potter book. I feel something will come out of this movie, something we have read but never visualized, that will give us an important clue for the seventh book. A picture is worth a thousand words. According to Wikipedia, HP5 is 255,000 words long. That means the movie is worth 255 million words. That is before the director makes cuts left and right, leaving it worth around 100 million words. I realize they have to cut things, and having listened to PotterCast and MuggleCast podcasts for the past year I know that they cut things that I would have loved to see, like "Weasley is Our King". Plus they are assigning more roles to Cho Chang. Enough spoiler. Go see it and then read the final book.

That's it for now. Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Shavuot ("first and last")

Finally we arrive at Sinai! We count 49 days (should be 50 according to the Torah but who's counting? Oh right, us...) from Passover and arrive at the foot of the mountain where we will receive the Torah. Some really cool supernatural stuff happens and we have the laws. This is probably the most little known of Jewish holidays, major or minor, but certainly one of the most important.

I have very little time so that means no analysis of the Chashmal/Merkava, the mysterious Chariot/Throne of God which kills those who successfully figure out what it looks like (see Babylonian Talmud Chagiga) found in a Haftarah that the Rabbis said is never allowed to be used as a Haftarah. Instead I will quickly review the traditions of the day. There is an acronym to remember the traditions: אחרית, meaning "the end of time". Shavuot is a very apocalyptic holiday and therefore this acronym is appropriate. Conversely, the Torah is also known as the first of things, as is God. the first word of the Torah is "In the Beginning" and consider the following from the first letter of the acronym:

א Akdamut/Akdomos Milin is an Aramaic poem that speaks in the most beautiful of language. Every line of the 90 verse poem ends in ותא- (oota) and uses the melody used for Festival Evening Kiddushes all over the year as well as calling up the special aliyot on Simchat Torah, the nusach is always known as the Akdamut nusach.

חChalav (Dairy): Blintzes, cheesecake, need I say more? Maybe: there is the tradition that kashrut took effect when the Torah was given and the Israelites didn't have the time to properly prepare meat in time for their first meal so they had dairy (didn't they have manna?) Also

ר Rut(h), Book of: the megillah chanted on Shavuot, tells the story of the first righteous convert in history (you know, besides Abraham and Yitro...) and great grandmother of King David (who was born and died on Shavuot that fell on Shabbatot 70 years apart)

י Yerek (greenery). The Sinai is often mistakenly called a desert. It was really a wilderness (or more accurately, steppes) and things did grow there. Sinai was noted for blooming excessively when the Torah was given. Therefore we turn our synagogues into forests.

ת Torah: duh.

Sorry, that's all the time I have for this one. Gut Yontif!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Roar, Zion, Roar!

Firstly, thank you everyone for the kind birthday greetings thus far.

I was handed a napkin at breakfast today by a fellow B'nai Mitzvah tutor and fellow Columbia Alumnus who happened to be in the Columbia University Marching Band back in the sixties. Inscribed on the napkin were controversial alternate lyrics to our alma mater's fight song that was previously sung by aformentioned scatter band in the aforementioned era. This is not the version about "a whore named Sally"; no, this is the wholesome era when engineers were able to study for their Orgo finals in peace. The vast majority of the bandies were Jews who were ardent Zionists which would explain the lyrics. For the first time on the internet (at least anything that can be googled) I present the lyrics of Roar Zion Roar:
(to the tune of Roar, Lion, Roar! (these lyrics begin in the middle, during the chorus), the Columbia University Fight Song)

Roar, Zion, Roar!
And wake the echoes of the Jordan Valley
Fight on for Israel ever more
While the sons of all the prophets rally round
Shouting her name (in Yiddish!)
Roar, Zion, Roar --
And show the Arabs what a God is for!

Okay, so they still knew how to piss people off without an Orgo Night. By the way, I just saw a blog entry which puts Columbia's fight song as fifth best in the nation. I've always liked our fight song.

Friday, May 18, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Bamidbar (Numbers!)

Today's Hebrew date, 29 Iyar, is the 11th anniversary of My Bar Mitzvah (tomorrow is the Civil date, May 18), and this Shabbos will be the first time since my Bar Mitzvah that I will layn my Bar Mitzvah Torah reading. I'm not going to study because I still have it memorized...

I have to admit that this Torah portion is not the most fun for which to have to write a Bar Mitzvah speech. The layning is not too difficult: the trope and almost all of the words, phrases, and clauses repeat themselves, a frequent trend in the Book of Numbers, the only major changes from verse to verse being names and numbers. But this portion is boring to speak about and when Bnei Mitzvah at my shul are given the option of speaking about either the Torah Portion or any of a selection of mishnayot from Pirkei Avot (If I were Bar Mitzvahed today I would pick a smartass one like "don't talk excessively to women lest you inherit hell"), they opt for "the sponge, the sieve, the funnel" and other kitchen utensils meant to teach us an ethical lesson (I'm so sick of that particular mishnah... everyone chooses it...)

At my Bar Mitzvah, I did speak about my Torah Portion, that there had to be a specialized way of counting to separate us from cattle (lehavdil; in fact, if I were to reprise the path I took in this particular speech, I would mention the methods we use to "count" a minyan, ten word phrases such as "Hoshiya et Amecha", HaMotzi, or my personal favorite from my High School days at Milken, the ten plagues).

I also spoke about my special Haftarah, Machar Chodesh (it fell on 29 Iyar 5756, the day before the new month), talking about the greatest and purest friendship of all time, that of Crown Prince Jonathan and a shepherd/harpist/giant-slayer named David (though my reading of a couple of endearing gestures (maybe that's how they rolled in Hebron 3000 years ago...) as well as the newly appointing (but not widely recognized) King David's lament of Jonathan and his father King Saul's deaths at the beginning of II Samuel might indicate that they were more than just friends ("Your love is better than the love of women"‽ C'mon!)

However, this year we read the "normal" haftarah ("normal" meaning less often than we read the special haftarah as almost every year since my Bar Mitzvah Bamidbar has fallen on 29 Iyar, Machar Chodesh), the beginning of Hosea. Basic plot: God tells you to marry a prostitute and have children with her, giving them horrible names like "Not-My-Nation" (well, at least He didn't command him to name him Swift-Booty-Speedy-Prey)
, the prostitute leaves you, returning to her life of indentured whoritude (is that even a word? Well it is now!) , you pay through the nose of to get her back and she is finally grateful to you, all to serve as an allegory for the everlasting love God has for the harlot Israel. I challenge you to write a Bar Mitzvah-appropriate Dvar Torah on this Haftarah. Ready, go!

Chodesh Tov, Shabbat Shalom.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerusalem Embassy Act

In honor of the fortieth anniversary of our liberation and reunification of our eternal capital, Jerusalem, in a battle that took two days to accomplish in a major war that lasted only six days, after a gap of about 1,900 years, I would like to mention something that has been bugging me. There is rampant anti-Semitism that does not allow Jerusalem to be recognized as the eternal united capital of Israel and the Jewish people. While the Palestinians and their lackeys are blowing themselves up and murdering innocent civilians, the world has it in for the Jews who have supported the rights of all (which is why we haven't knocked down anything on our Temple Mount as we respect other cultures). However many appeasements we make, it is not good enough. The specific thing that is bugging me is that there are few or no nations that recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Every country has their embassy in Tel Aviv since Costa Rica and El Salvador moved from Jerusalem a couple of months ago. The UN is anti-Semitic as is Jimmy Carter (sorry, had to throw that one in there.

About 12 years ago the United States congress voted to relocate the embassy back to Jerusalem, in what is known as the Jerusalem Embassy Act. The act explicitly declares Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and demands that the embassy be moved to Jerusalem no later than 1999. The penalty for not doing this (unless the president signs a postponement waiver every six months) is severe, as seen in Section § 3.3.b
Not more than 50 percent of the funds appropriated to the Department of State for fiscal year 1999 for "Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad" may be obligated until the Secretary of State determines and reports to Congress that the United States Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened.
Presidents Clinton and Bush II have postponed this every single time. I talked to my congressman about this and he said that his top priority is Iran but that this is important too. Let's see what happens, but it's probably going to be just a whole bunch more years of red tape. Sigh...

For those who don't want to actually read the legalese, there is brief synopsis of the law that can be found here.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Behar/Bechukotai (fallow fields were our idea)

Firstly, one of my posts, my Dvar Torah for Rosh Hashannah (The Chosen Jew, The Chosen You) has been voted as a FINALIST in the JIBAwards
. Please vote for it here. Voting is through Wednesday at 7PM PDT. Thanks.

Quickly, once again...

Back in Medieval times people would leave a portion of their field fallow on a rotation schedule.
The beginning of this week's double portion of Behar and Bechukotai make a similar request: that we observe a Sabbatical Year, a Shemita. In the serfdoms of the Middle Ages they realized that the Jewish practice of remission would be agriculturally beneficial.

It is a common misconception that one is not allowed to make use of the produce during the seventh year. If that were true our agrarian ancestors would have starved to death; rather, the field and the trees are free-for-all and landowners are not allowed to financially benefit from what grows during this year but may eat it themselves and give some away. This is the case in the Land of Israel to this day. I had a professor at Pardes who would hang up a sign during the Sabbatical year in his front yard saying something like "please come in and take from my tree". The Shemittah year is this coming year, 5768 and only pertains to areas within the biblical land of Israel (anywhere where they celebrate only one day of Yom Tov)

I won't discuss it because it requires a lot of preparation, but I suggest you check out an article on remission of debts that also occurs in the Shemittah year; particularly the rabbinic loophole/legal fiction known as the Prozbul. Hmm, there doesn't seem to be a Wikipedia article that even contains the word Prozbul... Well, that has to change. Perhaps I will take care of it after Shabbos. Eh, just google it for now.

Then there is the Yovel, the Jubilee Year, the 50th year, after 7 counts of seven years (sound familiar? Sefirat HaOmer has the same kind of counting system!) in which we "proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof" (Leviticus 25:10). Have you seen this phrase before? If you've ever been to the most famous landmark in the state of Pennsylvania (or a replica being approached by a dragon in Jerusalem), you have. It is inscribed on the Liberty Bell. America uses a bell, Jews use a shofar. The shofar is used to announce the beginning of the Jubilee on Yom Kippur. Let all slaves be freed, for nobody deserves a life of servitude. Unlike Shemita, Yovel is not observed in Israel today, not until, according to some, most of the Jews of the world return to Israel.

Shabbat Shalom and Chazak Chazak V'Nitchazek.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Entourage takes on Yom Kippur

Emily Gold: You want me to lie
Ari Gold: That is the beauty of Yom Kippur, as long as you apologize before sundown it doesn't matter what you do!
Thus was super-agent Ari Gold forgiven by God on last night's episode of Entourage, "Return of the King". This is over-the-top perversion of the actual meaning of Yom Kippur and yet it is a belief of many that the forgiveness of Yom Kippur is automatic.

There has been a recent trend in television, particularly on HBO, to lampoon and trivialize Judaism's most sacred traditions, such as Yom Kippur services and the Passover Seder... And I couldn't be happier. It happens that it has come in vogue to use Jewish humor, usually in the form of the "self-hating" Jew. It indicates that Jews and Judaism have become a hallmark in the highest indication of societal acceptance: the American sitcom.

Take, for example, the aforementioned episode of Entourage. An Orthodox Jew complains of the "Half-Church Reform Temple down the street" and the non-Jewish main characters drink before ten AM because today is a holiday. "Which holiday?" "Yom Kippur!". The second season episode, "The Bat Mitzvah" portrayed a Jewish party that was "too much bar and not enough mitzvah"

My favorite uses of jokes at the expense of the Chosen People include Seinfeld-creator Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm,. This is especially juicy due to the fact that he is married to a WASP and his wife's family fails to understand Judaism (though Larry perverts his own religion as well). Episodes such as "The Seder", "The Survivor", and many others expose Judaism at its most ridiculous.

The most gratuitous and incredibly obscure Hebrew-humor comes from the Comedy Central cartoon/"reality show", Drawn Together. It contained in-Jokes that were too inside for most Jews to even get. Wooldoor Sockbat (who turns out to not even be Jewish) kills himself and his epitaph is given as something like "5751-now", a reference to the Jewish anno-mundi calendar. Captain Hero calls his mother Eema, the Hebrew word (actually a lend-word from Aramaic, but most Jews don't know that) for mother, properly pluralizing it as Eemahot. Jewish jokes abound; you'll probably find at least a dozen per episode.

How can I forget Borat, created by religious Jew Sacha Baron Cohen who exposes the anti-semitic sentiments of ignoramuses in both Great Britain and the United States.

Family Guy takes a few harsh and perhaps tasteless jabs at Judaism: in its pilot it crosses the line by having a chip-eating Peter Griffin exposing the hiding place of Anne Frank AND forces a religious Jewish High School student to "take off that damn hat" when he replaces the yarmulke on his head. "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" is an episode previously banned from television, a notorious act by FOX. This, however, seems to be the one show that doesn't really do its research and the dreydl and menorah is riddled with errors. Very funny though...

And then there is The Simpsons (
"I know Weinstein's parents were upset, Superintendent, but I was sure it was a phony excuse. I mean, it sounds so made up: 'Yahm Kip-Pur'.") . My friends and I in college had a game where we would try to find at least one Jewish Joke in each episode as it first aired. There were a few episodes that expose the bottom line: that humor and Judaism go hand-in-hand. In "Like Father, Like Clown" Bart makes numerous attempts to reconcile a hard-line rabbinic father with his estranged clown of a son Krusty the Clown (a fuller account can be found in "The Simpsons Talmud" made by apparently fellow List alum Noah Gradowsky). Bart paraphrases Taanit 22a and says that the Messianic Redemption will be brought through the jesters. I believe it to be a method of our survival that we have also been known as the most self-depreciating people on the planet. Without humor there could be no joy, something deficient since the destruction of the Temple, and therefore this reference to the Messianic age being brought on by a clown is appropriate.

May it come soon and may it be very funny.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Emor ("It's pronounced Eh? More!")

(the tagline courtesy of a conversation I had)

Very quickly as I must run minyan in a few minutes...

This week we read of the major holidays of the Jewish people. Appropriately enough we have the source for counting the [H]omer the eve of our celebration of Lag B'Omer. We count up from the second day of Passover (this might not make sense for us in the diaspora, but in Israel where they only observe the first day of Passover as a Yom Tov, a holiday of complete abstention from work, the second day is considered the first work day of the barley harvest season) to the holiday of Shavuot 50 days later. We count up, not down. This evokes shades of the famous argument of Hillel and Shammai over how to light chanukkah candles. Shammai says we go from 8 candles on the first night to 1 on the last night. Hillel, conversely, says 1 to 8. Naturally, Hillel wins. He always wins (to which I have coined an adage: "Poor Shammai, he's the Goofus to Hillel's Gallant."). The reasoning is that we prefer to increase in holiness. Though not mentioned in the passage in Emor, the Jews did increase in holiness the year before this directive was given during the period between the Exodus from Egypt on Passover to the Revelation of the Torah at Sinai on Shavuot. It is a symbol of purity and holiness. We prepare for all of our major holidays in some way. Sukkot we prepare for by building huts, Passover we clean and kasher our homes (or synagogues in my case), and Shavuot we commit ourselves to 49 days of hagbalah, of preparation of holiness to receive the Word of God from God God'sself (sorry, trying to create God pronouns...)

Anyway, Shabbat Shalom and Lag B'Omer Sameach.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

JIB Awards (please vote)

This blog is up for a number of blog awards. Unfortunately it is a popularity contest so I ask that if you enjoy my blog and my Divrei Torah, please vote for me at EACH of these links. Your response gives me an incentive to continue doing what I am doing. Each of these are for round one. Should I, B"H, become a finalist, I will post the appropriate links. So please vote for RABBINIC RAMBLING on each of these links:

Best Overall Blog (
Best Small Blog ( If you told your friends, I might be designated a large blog...
Best Religious Blog (
Best Torah Blog (

Thank you and have a happy Yom Haatzmaut


Best Torah Post ( <--VOTE HERE. Two of my Divrei Torah are nominated. The Rosh Hashannah one looks like it has the better chance of winning.