Torah Study Notes 1-22-11

Notice to readers. On occasion the writer has the misfortune of missing a Torah Study Class. Accordingly, in order to maintain some sense of continuity in the narrative, I will post notes from the prior year or years. This is such a posting.

January 22, 2011


19:1 Moses has been up the mountain.  The use of the word “moon” is interesting – since no one knows what the ancient Israeli calendar system was. They are now in the wilderness of Sinai and have been borne out of Egypt on “the wings of eagles.” To be holy means to be separate; to be a priest is to act as an intermediary between the people and God. Julius Lester, when asked if he was a bridge between two communities replied “bridges are something people walk all over.” Note that they are a kingdom of priests – which is probably a unique idea – different from other cultures. However, becoming a priest is both an honor and a burden. The difference between a liberal and conservative mindset: The latter wants to maintain order and security while the former wants to create community. This creates a problem for the Jews. It was uncertain as to how and where they would fit in. They succeed in only the liberal scenario. This same rubric also applies to Muslim society – which is supposed to be anti class. Similarly, as to early Christianity until they had an emperor.

19:7  Since it appears that God is providing for them they are willing to accept the commandments – although they don’t yet know what they are. It appears that Moses is going up and down the mountain frequently. In verse 9 there is reference to a thick cloud – which is not mentioned thereafter. This is an example of the conflation of two oral traditions. To this extent the text is indecisive and self-referential. Words fail and “showing” becomes the way to deliver the message. This is a technique most frequently associated with post-modern literature. Consider also “Pulp Fiction” or “Rashomon.” Tom Stoppard in “Acadia” talks about history as a parade along a path. Someone in front drops something and you come along and pick it up. The play occurs in two different points in time. In architecture compare the Seagram’s Building and the Pompidou Center. The latter is post-modern because it turns modern inside out – from concealment of structure to glorification of it.

Note that purification is going to be a process and take time. This also conveys the significance of the event.

19:14 Moses: be ready for the third day – the men should not consort with woman. Moses has now interpreted what God told him and has created a different set of rules. This is what he heard as distinguished from what God said. Sexual intercourse renders both parties impure. What do we know of priestly purification issues in ancient Egypt? Verses 7 through 13 set us up for 14.  The feminist scholar Judith Pleskow has written “Standing Again at Sinai”” where she addresses this problem of the treatment of woman. The ancient Israelites were probably exposed to a pastiche of purification rituals from other societies – Mesopotamian and Egyptian among them. The compilers were already faithful and accepted the authority of God and his commandments but were nevertheless compiling this text. There is always a gap between God’s will and our perception of it. This may be the most important chapter in the Torah since it lays the groundwork for God’s revelation.

19:16  They take their places at the foot of the mountain. Thunder, lightning and a cloud combines the two traditions. Did the mountain hover threateningly over the people? Talmud: It hovered until the Torah was completed and the commandments were accepted. See Emile Fackenheim on God’s presence in history: Think of yourself being there – there were those who experienced the presence of god and those who experienced an extraordinary meteorological event. “We walk sightless in the presence of miracles.”


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