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.

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