Don’t Look Up

OF ALL THE PET PEEVES this modern life offers, one of the most soul-sucking is checking out at the grocery store.

I’m specifically talking about the debit-card machine. Time was, you could fill the two-to-three-minute transaction with friendly banter; ask after the checker’s health and/or welfare; comment on how busy the day is; even chat about the house music. It doesn’t matter what — it’s a friendly benefit for both customer and checker. When you’re working retail, these little conversations help pass the time and break up the daily monotony.

365 Names of God: El Shaddai

EL SHADDAI is the name used primarily by the Biblical Patriarchs, usually translated as “God Almighty” and focusing on the deity’s providential or nurturing aspect. Scholars differ over whether “Shaddai” is cognate with similar Phoenician or Ugaritic words for mountains, breasts, or the act of sustaining. The last sense seems to best capture the Toraitic context.

The Torah can be taken, among other things, as a ‘polyphonic’ text, or a loose anthology of competing claims regarding the legal stipulations of the covenant. The edited Torah, following this approach, was not meant to be read as a practical and coherent handbook on how to carry out the law, but as a collage of competing understandings of the requirements of the covenant.

— Rabbi David Frankel

Words to Bring Back: “Amateur”

– Definition: n one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession

– Used in a sentence: “He is a true amateur of cooking.”

– Why: What I would like to bring back is the usage “an amateur of _________,” which makes the word synonymous with “lover.” What I would like to get rid of is the connotation of “amateur” as “slipshod; half-baked; amateurish.”

Why I Love: Writing

IT’S THE SCARINESS OF THE blank screen. It’s the focused attention. It’s the mental sensation of assembling Tinker-Toy pieces into a coherent structure. It’s the way the hours fly by. It’s the nothing-else-like-it buzz (thank you, Stephen King). It’s the feel and click of the keys beneath my tapping fingers. It’s the occasional brain-wracking pause. (It’s also the occasional chortle.)

The Seven Don’ts (bagel reprise)

THE AUTHOR OF THIS PIECE is a “born and bred New Yorker,” but even here in the sticks some things are sacrosanct when it comes to that most iconic of Jewish foods. I agree with much of what she says, am unfamiliar with part of it (again, we miss some things in the Valley) and was frankly astonished by one (see: “rainbow bagel“). Your culinary mileage may vary, but if you were raised eating bagels (or even came to them later in life), it’s worth your while to check out this article for — to paraphrase Frank Herbert — the forms that must be obeyed. Smacznego, b’tayavon and bon appetit!

Minute Mitzvah: Saying the Shema

Today: Say the Shema.

Explanation: The Shema (“Listen, Israel: יהוה our G?d! יהוה One!”), from Deuteronomy 6:4, is the statement of Jewish faith-commitment. It’s the first prayer we learn after birth and, if we time it right, the last prayer we say before death. Although it’s actually three paragraphs long (see for the complete text in both Hebrew [original and transliteration] and English), halacha (Jewish law) says the first verse is the most important — so much so that it can be spoken in whatever language the speaker understands.

Raiders of the Lost Prayer

THE SCENE IS TENSE. RENE Belloq, a French archaeologist hired by the Nazi government (ptoo ptoo ptoo) to steal the Ark of the Covenant in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, is about to open the sacred artifact wherein lay the original tablets of the Ten Commandments. Dressed in the garb of the High Priest as detailed in the biblical book of Exodus (and standing before the Ark as described in the same book), he whispers a prayer before raising the lid — and thereby provoking the fiery Wrath of G?d to incinerate the infidels.

Art Imitates Science Imitates Art

WHO DOESN’T KNOW “THE UNIVERSE Song” from the Monty Python movie Meaning of Life? The one that starts out, “Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving / And revolving at 900 miles an hour…”? For years, I’ve used it as a go-to reference when I need to pull a quick astronomical fact out of my yarmulke. Well, the attentive folks at Astronomy magazine have annotated that little ditty to help us sort truth-as-we-know-it-so-far from the poetic license of the 1980s. is a three page article that also features a clip of the song in question, so you can sing along (if you like). Enjoy!