Torah Study Notes 2-18-12

.NOTICE TO READERS OF THESE TORAH STUDYPOSTS: The text submitted here is unedited. Corrections and comments are welcome. Generally, the initials shown are an attempt to credit the individual who made a particular point or responded to it. “PG” is Rabbi Paul Golomb. Page references are to Plaut. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with the text but these notes will be more inteligible if read in conjunction with the cited passages.

February 18, 2011


23:14  This is right after the revelation of the Ten Commandments. “Three times a year you should hold a festival for Me… and you shall not come empty handed.” This is Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. PG:  This is the first reference to a gathering of males. There is a practical basis for this reference – who was available to leave the farm. You also have to think about who is being told the story – not the situation at the time of the story. LL: I suggest that the woman were left behind because they were actually doing the important work.  Note that the numerical equivalent of “Torah” parsed is 611. That’s how we know there are 611 commandments in the Torah. This is a kabalistic process called gematria – turning letters or words into numbers. In Hebrew words are used for numbers but have other meanings as well – unlike most Arabic numbers. This is significant because Moses/authors wanted the people to know that there were other suggestions as to proper behavior embedded in the Torah. Compare the stele of Hammurabi which depicts the king sitting on a throne receiving laws from God. Law tends to be foundational and must have continuity from generation to generation – such as a constitution or a well established tradition. Laws can be derived didactically (as here) or situationally (as in the case law system.)

23:18  “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” This instruction appears three times in the Torah – virtually out of nowhere – almost as a tag line. The ethical instruction seems to be that there are certain acts that are inherently repulsive. Note that blood is equated with life – the animating force. One doesn’t eat life and hence not blood.  This is the foundation of the dietary laws and was extended into a general prohibition against mixing meat and dairy products.

23:20  An angel here is a manifestation of God’s presence. LL: I find the appearances of angels throughout the Torah somewhat troubling – inimical to strict monotheism. Here the angel cannot be defied “…for he will not pardon your offenses, since My Name is in him.” The Angel has god-like powers but seems to be almost a separate entity.

23:23  Fulsome promises to those who adhere to the law and abjure idolatry. As to the mandate applying only to men: see Hertz commentary from an Orthodox perspective – woman are freed from time-bound commandments since they must care for the children. This reflects real social patterns. With the advent of the feminist movement in the 1960s Hertz accepts that there is something there that must be accommodated.

23:27  Sets out some interesting boundaries for the Promised land that are much more extensive than those that appear in the Book of Numbers. This is likely a post-exilic idea that incorporated a romantic notion of David’s kingdom. They can drive out the indigenous people because they are idolaters. Note that the Hebrew word translated here as the English word “annihilate”does not mean extermination. Compare the headline “The Reds Murder the Cardinals” and its misinterpretation by Plaut when he visited Cincinnati as the triumph of communism.

24:1  Here Moses wrote down all of the Commandments of the Eternal – after he had repeated them to the people. This is the first indication of the recording of the Commandments. How it was done is unknown. There is a significant difference between verse three and verse seven in the Hebrew – not apparent in the English translation. In verse three “we will listen and we will do.” Now in the midst of the ceremony they say “we will do and we will listen.” This means that one will obey even prior to full understanding. This is the difference between seeing (reflexive and immediate) and hearing (reflecting). But how can one act before hearing? The ceremonial act is that of a witness. Some things can only be shown.  What puts us in the position of reflexively doing the right thing? Compare the debates between Buber and Rosenzweig on action vs. the ritual law.  According to Rosenzweig the ritual is the training that embeds the ability to act properly without reflection. GT: Like that American in China that saved a child that had been hit by a car while all of the Chinese stood around and did nothing. LL: Is there something embedded in us via Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian religious tradition that is different from Eastern faiths? I will defer to my roommate who has a PhD in Chinese Art History. CL: That idea may be correct.

Leave a comment


  1. Lou,
    The torah has 613 commandments–the 611 from the count for the word TORAH plus the two commandments explicitly mentioned in this text…
    Ron Rosen

    • llewis1124

       /  February 21, 2012

      Thanks Ron. I was wondering about that as I took the notes. 613 is the number that I had always heard.

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