Monday, December 20, 2021

A Forest Wedding

In a quiet glade in the forest, Janet the elk lived with her parents. She had recently met two potential suitors, and was planning to bring each back to meet her parents. Janet had grown fond of each in their way and was having trouble decided which one’s proposal to accept.

The first afternoon, she brought along a deer named Harvey. Harvey arrived late and stomped into the glade without a single word of apology. Janet and her parents served a lovely meal of clover salad, ivy blanched in pond water, and a dessert of assorted acorns. Harvey barely ate, complaining that back in his part of the forest they knew how to cook properly and this was all much too poorly seasoned for his taste. When Janet’s parents asked what he did for a living, he merely snorted and grumbled about having beaten all the other deer his age in fights and how that entitled him not to have to worry about silly things like earning a living. The evening ended abruptly when Harvey caught sight of another buck off in the woods and dashed off to pick a fight.

The next afternoon, Janet brought along a moose named Christopher. The family had just finished setting up another meal when Christopher arrived, bringing along a bouquet of daisies and a fresh bottle of sparkling spring water. The family sat down to eat together, and Christopher had nothing but praise for the food and the glade. Over a very pleasant meal, they talked about recent happenings in the forest, as well as Christopher’s travels to the nearby national park where he volunteered, helping the smaller mammals cross the busy roads safely. By the end of the meal, Janet and her parents had an invitation to come visit Christopher and his herd by the waterfall. As the sun began to sink behind the trees, Christopher bid them a fond farewell and headed back home.

Janet’s parents briefly conferred in hushed tones, and then returned to say to her:

๐ŸŽตWe wish you would marry Chris Moose. We wish you would marry Chris Moose. We wish you would marry Chris Moose, and not Harvey the Deer.๐ŸŽต

Friday, September 24, 2021

D’var Sukkot Shabbat Chol Hamoed

Exodus 33:12-34:26

This Saturday falls in the middle of the observance of Sukkot, so has a special parsha. We read from the book of Exodus from the end of chapter 33 into the beginning of 34. This is shortly after the incident with the golden calf.

Moses is speaking with God. Among the requests he makes is to behold God’s presence.

ื•ַื™ֹּ֗ืืžֶืจ ืֲื ִ֨ื™ ืַืขֲื‘ִ֤ื™ืจ ื›ׇּืœ־ื˜ื•ּื‘ִื™֙ ืขַืœ־ืคָּื ֶ֔ื™ืšָ ื•ְืงָืจָ֧ืืชִֽื™ ื‘ְืฉֵׁ֛ื ื”’

And God answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name LORD.” (Exodus 33:19)

God then tells Moses he will have him go into a cleft in the rock, where God will shield Moses until God has passed by. God adds:

ื•ַื”ֲืกִืจֹืชִื™֙ ืֶืช־ื›ַּืคִּ֔ื™ ื•ְืจָืִ֖ื™ืชָ ืֶืช־ืֲื—ֹืจָ֑ื™ ื•ּืคָื ַ֖ื™ ืœֹ֥ื ื™ֵืจָืֽื•ּ

Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:23)

A few verses later after God has done this, what Moses declares may sound quite familiar:

ื”’ ׀ ื”’ ืֵ֥ืœ ืจַื—֖ื•ּื ื•ְื—ַื ּ֑ื•ּืŸ ืֶ֥ืจֶืšְ ืַืคַּ֖ื™ִื ื•ְืจַื‘־ื—ֶ֥ืกֶื“ ื•ֶืֱืžֶֽืช׃ ื ֹืฆֵ֥ืจ* ื—ֶ֙ืกֶื“֙ ืœָืֲืœָืคִ֔ื™ื ื ֹืฉֵׂ֥ื ืขָื•ֺ֛ืŸ ื•ָืคֶ֖ืฉַׁืข ื•ְื—ַื˜ָּืָ֑ื” ื•ְื ַืงֵּื”:

The LORD! the LORD! a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

This is a prayer that we just heard during the High Holidays! But how did Moses understand this from God briefly passing by?

The answer may lie in just what God has said. Consider the phrases:

“I will make all My goodness pass by you”


“You will see My back; but My face must not be seen”

What do these tell us? God isn’t a corporeal being like us. There’s no here or there for God to pass between. Rather, God’s “goodness” or effects may be seen. Some say that God’s “back” is, in fact, the results of God’s presence – the after effects of God having somehow drawn near. These ripples and echoes may then be seen.

When God has passed by, Moses is able to discern what we call the “thirteen attributes of God” from what is left behind in God’s wake, so to speak. What can this teach us?

Here is what I learn from this passage: something or someone does not need to be directly observed to be understood, at least in part, for the truly astute observer. While you cannot understand the whole from what is left behind, you may still learn a great deal through careful inspection. 

Thinking back on the very early days of creation, we read:

ื•ַื™ֹּ֣ืืžֶืจ ืֱืœֹื”ִ֔ื™ื ื ַֽืขֲืฉֶׂ֥ื” ืָื“ָ֛ื ื‘ְּืฆַืœְืžֵ֖ื ื•ּ ื›ִּื“ְืžื•ּืชֵ֑ื ื•ּ

 And God said, “Let us make people in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

This almost certainly doesn’t mean physical similarities, but perhaps more behavioral attributes. Could it be referring to our ability to have a similar effect on the world as God does in this week’s parsha?

For certain, each one of us may be understood from the ripples and effects we have on the world around us. Do we improve the world in our passing by it? Are we instead content to track muddy footprints all over and leave one mess after another? (Did you know I have kids, by the way?) In the long run, the mark we leave says much about us.

As we move through life, we must remain aware of the impacts we have and how the world changes for having us in it. Long after we are gone, the evidence of the kind of people we were will still be discernible in the echoes left behind. We, like God, would do well to be “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness …, [and] forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” Then, when the keen eyes of future generations look to understand us, they will say that the world was a better place for having us in it.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Scolding of Moses

Preparing for our seder this year, a thought struck me as I recalled the story of the Exodus from Egypt. What if Moses wasn’t supposed to run away to Midian? And how much more suffering was there because he did?

The Verse Where It Happened

In Exodus 2:11-15 we learn that Moses saves a Hebrew slave by killing the taskmaster, but then flees from Egypt. As we learn in Exodus 2:23 he remained away for “a long time.”

Imagine: a person in a position of power becomes aware of an injustice, decides it must be corrected, acts rashly, and then… leaves. Then, they remain away for a long time. This does not seem to be a story of triumph that stirs us to action when read this way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

News Limerick: Wisconsin Recount - November 18, 2020

They'll count for the cost of three million
And that's an expensive cotillion
They'll all dance their parts
But end near their starts
And Trump will become a civilian

Trump campaign requests partial Wisconsin recount, deposits $3 million to challenge Biden victory

Monday, November 16, 2020

News Limerick: Hurricane Iota - November 16, 2020

We’re up to a storm named Iota
They spring up like bubbles in soda
To slow climate change
We must rearrange
Swift action we must not say no to

Hurricane Iota the Second Catastrophic Strike in Two Weeks in Central America

Sunday, November 15, 2020

News Limerick: Coronavirus autumn surge - November 15, 2020

I’m filled with a sense of foreboding
The virus’ spread is exploding
Wear masks, wash your hands
Make long distance plans
With loved ones you long to be holding

New York Times: Tracking the Coronavirus Outbreak

Saturday, November 14, 2020

News Limerick: Student of History - November 14, 2020

Think World War Two time Germany
Were socialists?! No, that can’t be!
That’s crazy at batsh*ts
Those Nazis were fascists!
I’m smarter than Senator T

Incoming GOP Senator Apparently Doesn’t Know Basics of World War II

News Limerick: Utah Bars - November 14, 2020

It’s time for the bars to be closing
Despite all your preening and posing
To stop virus spread
Head home to your bed
At 10 PM? I’m usually dozing

Utah bars turn off the taps at 10, per new state health order

Friday, November 13, 2020

News Limerick: November 13, 2020

A president sitting there sulking
Is nothing else shy of insulting
Since votes are now in
It’s Biden whose win
Unseated this wannabe dull king

As Trump stews over election, he mostly ignores the public duties of the presidency

Space Limerick: Europa’s glowing dark side

Europa may glow in the dark!
A Clipper is planned to embark
In five years or so
Then swiftly will go
To seek out life’s signature spark

Europa’s Nightside Glows in the Dark

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

D'var Chayei Sara

This coming week, we’ll read parsha Chayei Sara, the life of Sarah. Of course, most parshot (as well as books) in the Torah are named for some of their first words. This is no exception. The second and third words are “chayei sara”. Then again, so are the eleventh and twelfth words, still within the first verse. In full, it reads:

ื•ַื™ִּื”ְื™ื•ּ֙ ื—ַื™ֵּ֣ื™ ืฉָׂืจָ֔ื” ืžֵืָ֥ื” ืฉָׁื ָ֛ื” ื•ְืขֶืฉְׂืจִ֥ื™ื ืฉָׁื ָ֖ื” ื•ְืฉֶׁ֣ื‘ַืข ืฉָׁื ִ֑ื™ื ืฉְׁื ֵ֖ื™ ื—ַื™ֵּ֥ื™ ืฉָׂืจָֽื”׃

And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.

So, although it’s called “the life of Sara”, it’s actually about her death. In a moment, I’d like to get to what comes after her passing, but for now, let’s focus on this first verse.

Why is “chayei sara” repeated? I don’t speak Hebrew, but here’s something that jumps out at me here. The first time, it says “the life of Sarah was so and so many years”. That tells us, “Sarah got to live for this long.”

The second time, though, the wording is flipped. It’s “the years of the life of Sarah.” In other words, the years that the world got to have Sarah in it. The focus here becomes the impact she had on those around her and on her time. From this, we learn that the acts and deeds of her life actually extend beyond her passing. She had a lasting impact that was felt and that made a difference even when she was no longer present.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Working from Home: In Iambic Pentameter

If you should fail to find me here today
I hope you will not think I can’t be reached
Though circumstances make me stay away
My presence in the ether’s not decreased

I’m bringing all I need to work from home
You’ll find me via Slack and email too
And if you find you’re feeling quite alone
In Hangouts I can smile back at you

If you should wish to see where I will be
Please check my calendar from day to day
I’ll keep it up to date so you can see
Just whether I am here or I’m away

I thank you for you patience in this time
I hope that you’ve enjoyed my verse and rhyme

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Daf Yomi: Starting Tractate Shabbat

Berakhot has taught us a lot
I’m glad that I gave it some thought
So now the daf yomi
Begins to feel homey:
We’re starting the tractate ‘Shabbat’

My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Swords and Fire limerick tribute

Having read the first two books of Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire trilogy, I wrote several limericks inspired by characters in the books.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

D’var Misphatim

Today I’d like to talk to you about this past weekend’s parshah: Mishpatim. To do so, though, I’ll go one week farther back to Yitro to set the stage. At the end of Yitro, the tribes were camped out at the base of Mount Sinai, G-d has just spoken the ten commandments, and Moses has come down from the mountain to address the people. As he did, they
ื•ְื›ָืœ־ื”ָืขָื֩ ืจֹืִ֨ื™ื ืֶืช־ื”ַืงּื•ֹืœֹ֜ืช ื•ְืֶืช־ื”ַืœַּืคִּื™ื“ִ֗ื ื•ְืֵืช֙ ืง֣ื•ֹืœ ื”ַืฉֹּׁืคָ֔ืจ ื•ְืֶืช־ื”ָื”ָ֖ืจ ืขָืฉֵׁ֑ืŸ ื•ַื™ַּ֤ืจְื ื”ָืขָื֙ ื•ַื™ָּื ֻ֔ืขื•ּ ื•ַื™ַּֽืขַืžְื“֖ื•ּ ืžֵֽืจָื—ֹֽืง׃
witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance. (Exodus 20:15)
So what do they say? They tell Moses that they hear and will obey, but ask that G-d not speak to them because they’re afraid hearing G-d will kill them. Moses gets them to chill out, and then tells them briefly how to build an altar the right way. He shows them that the intense display of power isn’t the way that future praying and religious experiences will necessarily be. Thus ends Yitro.

Now, we get to Mishpatim, the reading from this past week. Immediately after this description of how to build a place to interact with G-d safely, we start with this sentence:
ื•ְืֵ֙ืœֶּื”֙ ื”ַืžִּืฉְׁืคָּื˜ִ֔ื™ื ืֲืฉֶׁ֥ืจ ืชָּืฉִׂ֖ื™ื ืœִืคְื ֵื™ื”ֶֽื׃
These are the rules that you shall set before them (Exodus 21:1)
What would you expect to happen next? We’ve just heard about the altar. Would it follow up with a litany of rules about how to pray? Requirements of the priesthood, cleanliness, or a description of how to build the ark of the covenant? We know that’s coming, right? Maybe there’s rules pertaining to sacrifices and related rituals? It could even be a listing of holidays or festivals.

But none of this happens.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Into the Black

Into the Black

The gradual awakening from artificial hibernation runs the gamut of emotions. You start out relaxed, still nearly flatlined by the drugs that slow down your biological processes. As soon as you realize your limbs don’t respond when you try to move them, you swiftly move through panic. Luckily, the susurrus ocean rain sounds keep you from careening into a total meltdown.

A pale aquamarine display on the glass in front of you begins to come into focus. You see an outline of a generic human form to one side, vital systems outlined faintly to indicate just how perfectly healthy you still are. To the other side, the current date and time glints above a brief readout of the main starship status. Front and center, though, is a rotating diagram of the current star system or nebula.

At least, that’s what should be there. I woke to the normal calm-panic, healthy vitals, and clean bill of health for the ship. The center of the screen, though, was entirely blank. That shouldn’t be possible. The onboard AI that I’ve taken to calling “Aisha” is programmed to handle all interstellar decisions except in the event of an emergency, and there wasn’t even a trace of a rogue planet or radiation burst.

I wiggled my jaw for a minute before I could remember how to work my tongue enough to form words. “Aisha? Why?”

Immediately, the white noise stopped and her voice came in, whispering and calm as always at this early stage of awakening. “Relax, Jenny. Take a breath. Let’s work on your arms first.”

Thursday, January 9, 2020

News Limerick: Royal Family Feud

Seems Harry and Meg want to quit
And soon from the crown they will split
But stealing the show?
The queen didn’t know!
And now they are both in deep trouble

Harry and Meghan aim to ‘step back’ as senior royals and split time between Britain and North America

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Birthdays Happun

For your birthday, I decided to write some puns but I hope they aren’t so bad you want to punch or cake me. I just couldn’t candle it if they made you flee from my presents. If it’s all the flame to you, I’ll try really card to make it up to you. Maybe if there are enough of them you’ll forgift the whole thing.

[Written for my wife]

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Creative Haiku

This was the prompt in a “Creative Thinking” group I’m in at work: “Haikus are one of the most universal poems that anyone can create. Three lines of 5, 7, then 5 syllables. Write a 5-7-5 haiku about creativity.”

Here was my response:
A creative mind
Refuses to be constrained
So this last line has a lot more syllables than it was supposed to

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Weekend Concert

A few of my musically inclined friends put on a festival this past weekend. They’ve been planning it for months, and I helped out with some of the logistics. Since most of them don’t write their own songs, they picked their favorite bands and styles to cover.

My friend Ariel Mullens covered some 80s and 90s hits and decided to go with the stage name Ari M. A few friends sang sea shanties, and named their group after a fish and the color of the sea: Bass Teal. There was a couple who did some children songs under the name A Farmer and A Dell.

My friends Katy and Jane wanted to do a performance piece where they shaved the fur off wild animals, including a grizzly, but animal rights organizations found out about it. When I received strongly worded letters, I had to tell them, “You can’t make that bear naked, ladies.” They asked, “Really?! We have to come up with a new act?!” I replied, “Yeah, that’s what I Zedd.”

A local microbrewery decided to come up with some special sweet beers for the occasion. They named them after famous candies, and brought along a light and creamy 3 Musketeers ale, a golden crisp pilsner Twix, and a dark M&M chocolate stout. Sadly, when I asked about others they’d attempted, they told me that, try as they might, they could brew no Mars.

I got my family to help out, too. We had lots of cameras to cover the event. My sister Diane took camera one, my uncle David camera two, my brother-in-law Tom took three, my cousin Naomi had four, and my nephew Jack’s on five. My ma Sally was MC. Since he’s shy, we had to put my Pa, Nick, at the desk, though.

It was a complete success. At the end, they asked everyone involved to come on stage for a bow. I watched from the wings until they started shouting for me to come out as well. “You want me to come up there?” I asked, to which everyone replied, “Yeah! You, too!”