Torah Study Notes 6-18-11

NOTICE TO READERS: ON OCCASION THE WRITER WILLMISS A CLASS. IN AN EFFORT TO MAINTAIN SOME CONTINUITY IN THE NARRATIVE I WILL FILL IN WITH NOTES FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR. THIS IS SUCH AN ENTRY.

June 18, 2011

p. 983 The scouts go out to spy out the land. A number report in the negative but the report from Joshua and Caleb was very good.

14:8   The people choose to hear and dwell on the negative – they must be Jewish! Note that the Eternal appears in the tent of meeting to all of the Israelites.  But the word “presence” suggests something less than actuality. In any event the Eternal continues to speak only to Moses. AF: There are two practical aspects of this – fear of losing and fear of dying.  There is also the aspect of expectations. The people might have expected an Eden but now find out that they are again on their own to complete the promise.  Doi: This is a classical description of irrational faith. Caleb means “like a heart.” Joshua means “god is victorious.” And is the Hebrew for Jesus. AF: It could be argued that there were two political camps – Joshua and Caleb were from the religious camp. PG: Not necessarily. See the Book of Joshua – not in the Torah. Future battles do not involve God directly – no divine intervention – just belief in their own arms – and on cleverness. SF: Why do we as a people filter that way? Accepting the negative.

14:11  Moses makes an argument that plays upon the vanity of God and his pride in his power. What would the Egyptians think if the Israeli God permitted his people to perish?  This is a repetition of the scene and dialog at the Golden Calf incident. This is chiastic story-telling. AF: This could be viewed as a leadership training exercise. God wants Moses to step up and be more assertive.

14:20  None of those who spurned me shall see the land. Note the mention and exception of Caleb without mention of Joshua. The may be an artifact of the northern and southern traditions which were not adequately merged by the Redactor.

14:26  SF: I have a problem for modern Judaism from the implication of this text. Why do we have to wander for twenty years in our lives before we find faith?  Is the message that none of this is easy? That patience and struggle are essential elements to the acquisition of faith? PG: Consider the still small voice in the Elijah story – the challenge of the prophets of God in the Book of Kings. AF: Using a normal distribution curve based on 60 years – which is the suggested maximum survival age here – could tell us the typical mortality rate. Doi: the Friday night prayer book can be viewed as a series of exhortations to be optimistic and to have faith. SF: The thrust of later rabbinic literature is self-improvement as a path to God. PG: Note that records are kept and referred to only once the kingdom of Israel under David – before that the stories were not formally preserved. A writer in about 600 BCE has to evaluate a medley of stories and different traditions and address deeper questions in presenting them. The Redactor is asking “how did we get here?” when the Assyrians are knocking on the door. How did we achieve that exalted status and how have we descended from it.

14:36  Only Joshua and Caleb ultimately survive to enter the land. They proceed without the Ark of the Covenant or Moses and get clobbered at Hormeh. Note that the stories of the patriarchs and those of Solomon and David have many parallels. The glory days of Israel – David and Solomon – are recapitulated followed by descent and loss. The text is establishing a Distant Mirror ala Barbara Tuckman. Events are cast into a literary sphere so as to avoid immediate political confrontations.

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Torah Study Notes 6-30-12

June 30, 2012
GT: When did the practice multiple wives end among the ancient Jews? PG: There is very little on this in the rabbinic literature. It is generally thought to be at the time of the Babylonian Captivity when they were stripped of their wealth and could no longer afford to have more than one wife. CL: Where does it say marriage is a union of one man and one woman? PG: It doesn’t. Isogesis: Pushing into the text what you want it to mean. As contrasted to exegesis. AF: The Victorian era continued through the 1950s in this country and there are remnants of that continuing today. PG: The Industrial Age resulted in tremendous population growth and poverty in cities. There was a concomitant rise of interest in birth control and at least publically an aversion to expressions of sexuality.
p. 1028
The narrative arc of Torah is coming out of Egypt, crossing the Sinai and coming into the land. With this Torah portion the forty years of wandering is coming to an end.
20:22 The death of Aaron on Mt. Hor. His position as High Priest is passed to his son Eleazar. The issue of priesthood being a matter of personal choice or genealogy has been a continuing debate played out in the Torah. The Levites are thought to be the former – becoming part of a group by choice. The Aaronites are strictly via genealogy. Chasidic houses are often passed to sons-in-law Schneerson is the son in law even though he has retained his fathers name. Neither Moses nor Aaron will be permitted to enter Israel because of the incident of striking the rock at Meribah. PG: Consider professional sports teams. There comes a time when it is no longer in the interest of the team to have a certain person in the game. These decisions are frequently not easy.
20:27 All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron for thirty days. Note that the moving of the vestments to Eleazar was not done publically but was nevertheless accepted by the people. Keep in mind that this is a polished literary text. One could conclude that Aaron was “functionally dead” once his vestments were removed. Notice that the discussion about Aaron’s burial on the mountain parallels that of Moses – except that only God is present at the latter. There are many questions posed by the text that can be utilized homiletically. Sometime it is perhaps better to “die” when the arc of one’s career is over. Consider Jimmy Dean, Elvis and Michael Jackson. Upon hearing of Dean’s death in a car crash Humphrey Bogart is reputed to have said “Good career move.” DeKooning lingered and when his obit was published in the Times everyone said “He was still alive?”
Skip to 21:21 Compare this to the previous. Here there is no intercession or assistance with the military victories – at least patently – from God. This is fundamental – the maturation of the people. They, at this point, are more than ex-slaves. See map on page 1034. The location of the battle with the Amorites is identified. It is notable that they entered the land from the east rather than the west as might be expected for a group coming from Egypt. There is also a likely misunderstanding of geography by the narrators.
21:4 The people complain, God sends serpents to bite them, and Moses make a caduceus so that they can recover by looking at it. There is a certain element of folk lore here. Stories so well known that they cannot be left out; like Washington and the cherry tree. It makes no difference to the author of the text if these things actually occurred.
21:10 We are given an itinerary. How does the author know? There is a book that existed at the time named The Book of the Wars – which is referenced by the writer. Most scholars today understand that the early pre-history of Israel, even at the time of the assembly of the Torah, was legendary and is virtually impossible to connect to hard information.
21:16 They sang a song giving thanks for a well. We no longer have material indicating the origins of this song – which apparently was well known at the time of this redaction. See p. 1032. Next week: The last real narrative in the Torah.

Torah Study Notes 6-9-12

June 9, 2012
p. 960
The Israelites leave the base of Mt. Sinai.
10:33 LL: Why are there words written as poetry? PG: The indented words are usually sung. There are two inverted Nuns in the Hebrew – which splits off these two verses from the text. This is sometimes considered a separate “book” of the Torah. AF – referring to Moses: Stutterers don’t stutter when they are singing. PG: In the Torah there is no indication of song but this refrain is traditionally used to take the Torah in and out of the ark. It is not known how far back the tradition extends. See footnote 35. What is the meaning of the word “return” as it appears in 36? Later commentaries refer to exile and return. This assumes that the verses are timeless and can deal with the future as well as the past. Remember that the redactors were post-exilic.
11:1 There was a fire. But what were the people complaining about such as to warrant punishment? There is no explanation. However, it is logical to ascribe the fire to misconduct of some sort – in this case complaints. (LL: Since Jews continue to complain without provocation it would seem logical that there should be more fires.) Note that this is not the start of the official “wandering” in the desert. The cloud is leading them to a specific spot where they will build the tabernacle. The word for complaining in Hebrew is “ananim” which has two nuns in it. These have been connected by some scholars to the inverted nuns. LL: Do we really understand what the Hebrew word for complain meant at the time it was used? Could the word have had a connotation of being irreligious? PG: That could be – we really don’t know. AF: Of course they would be complaining – as slaves their lives were very regular and predictable. Now they are faced with uncertainty. PG: Right, it takes time for people to adapt and learn to handle their new circumstances. This is a lesson as to what is happening in North Africa. The transition from totalitarian to a democratic society will be fraught with set-backs. ML: People complain in times of tranquility – just as we hear complaints about our democratically elected government.
11:4 Here a segment of the population is complaining about the food. See the footnote about the euphemism for sexual license. The words “erev rav” suggests “not of the tribe” – which becomes “riffraff” in English. Compare Ruth who is in Moab at the time she makes her famous declaration of loyalty. Here we have people who become Israelites by living among them – and have been present at the base of Sinai.
11::10 “Moses heard the people weeping…” Moses questions why he has been chosen to “carry these people.” Now Moses is complaining – hence his eventual punishment of not being admitted to the Promised Land. By the time that Torah is promulgated the redactors have the remainder of the story in front of them. There are two other occasion where the designated prophet asks to be killed rather than take on a difficult task – Jonah and Eliza. As to the latter he has proven the existence of God on Mt. Carmel and yet the people doubt. AF: This is a test of faith. Moses does not have the skills and talents to handle these responsibilities. True faith recognize that there are “speed bumps” along the way, PG: Compare the situation of Job whose wife urges him to curse God and die. His faith is so strong that he rejects death as a solution.
11:16 They shall eat meat until it comes out of their nostrils. This is the lesson ala the children’s book “Bread and Jam for Francis.” By Russel Hoban. See: http://www.amazon.com/Bread-Jam-Frances-Read-Book/dp/0064430960 Elijah, we recall is told not to despair of the people, Jonah is urged to have compassion; God understands the nature of their burden. God sees that Moses is burdened with the problems of an entire population. Accordingly, he is to gather all of the elders and officials. LL: It does not appear that this “solution” to the complaints, feeding the people meat until it comes out of their nostrils, is a result of consultation with the elders and officials. PG: Read this as two parallel track narratives telling the same story. Leave consistency aside.
11:21 Moses is incredulous – it is impossible to feed so many with meat. PG: There are no super heroes in the Torah. All of the leaders are flawed. AF: It is strange that Moses is incredulous when God has already proven he can rain frogs from the sky. Supplying meat for a month would be doable.
11:24 The spirit rested upon the elders. Note that there are 70 elders – not six times twelve tribes. But then Eldad and Medad also claim to have the spirit upon them. Joshua suggests that they be restrained because they are acting inappropriately. They are violating the rules – the divine instruction. But is it possible for individuals to “play the prophet?” Are they legitimately inspired? Moses sees that it is valuable that there be more people who are inspired – an infraction of the rules is not important. LL: From the perspective of leadership does it matter whether they are truly inspired or not? PG: It is important that they be genuine. We will see more of false prophets later. How do we know when something is authentic? It is critical that the people be able to recognize what is fake and what is real. This subject becomes very important in Talmudic literature.