Torah Study Notes 10-13-12

October 13, 2012
What is Haftarah? Generally readings from the Prophets. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haftarah The latter prophets are Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel. There are a total of twelve, the oldest being Amos. All of the rest of Hebrew Scripture was included in the canon sometime after the advent of the Christian era. Two thousand years ago Jews did not go to the synagogue to pray. There were separate Houses of Prayer. Sometime after the destruction of the Second Temple the tradition of prayer in the synogogue developed. Before that one went to the Temple to hear readings and to assemble and to hear preaching. The Babylonian Jewish practice was to create a fixed cycle for Torah readings and to do an entire reading in the course of a year. There was always a section of prophets read – this is the Haftarah. In Luke there is an account of Jesus being invited to read Torah and then to select a Haftarah reading. He selected a portion from Isaiah. The Torah reading was fixed based on where they were in the cycle. Today’s portion is read with Genesis. The tradition of annual cycle is now almost universally used. Torah was sometime read on market days – Mondays and Thursday – but only a portion of the full readings.
42:5 Second Isaiah. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Isaiah
“Thus says the Eternal God…” This is the role of the Prophets – to speak the words of God. Note that the first four verses do not appear here. One has to refer to the Tanach for the full text. This was written about 540 BC – just prior to their return to the land and the collapse of the Babylonian empire. The return to the land is the focus of the prophet. Note that this section begins with creation – which is the same as the Torah portion that is read at this time. The listener would make that association immediately. There is also a commentary here on the Torah reading in the reference to Light to the Nations – redolent of “let there be light.” Isaiah has seen the alliance of the Persians and the Medes and understands that this signaled the downfall of Mesopotamia. He also recognized that the Persians would not see the Jews as a threat and would allow them to return. Note that some scholars believe there was a third Isaiah who authored the latter verses.
42:8 It appears that the Prophet – in the midst of his speaking – breaks out into song. This is very psalm- like. The word “Eternal” here is obscure. Although it is usually Adonoi the vocalization may have suggested the forbidden/ineffable name of God – Yehweh. Moses likely used the same vocalization. There must have been a standard pronunciation. This may also have been a portal to God’s name. When you name something you confine or limit it – hence one should not name God.
42:13 The Eternal goes out like a warrior… I cry out like a woman in labor… The Woman’s Commentary does not yet cover Haftarah. Here God is smoothing the path to the land.
42:18 The Babylonian exile – per this prophet – came about because of the fault of the people – their idolatry. Note the half-tone word in line 24 of the Hebrew. This is called “Krita ‘ tive” where a word is written one way but is to be vocalized another way. See also verse 20 half tone. The texts were known by hearing them – accordingly the writer is signaling that the words are to be pronounced in the traditional manner.
43:1 This would have been resonant to the exiles but also to Jews living along the Rhine in 1100 CE. Recall that we are reading this text as a reflection on creation but now the focus is on return from exile – a new birth and beginning.
Next week: Noah

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Torah Study Notes 10-6-12

October 6, 2012
p. 592
33:12 Moses is having a conversation with God. Mordechi Kaplan (http://thejewishchronicles.com/the-judaism-of-mordecai-kaplan/ ) picked up on the notion that from the point of view of Israel it is clear that they have been singled out – but from the point of view of God it is unclear. Compare the line in Amos where God says “you think you are so special.” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Amos#The_Day_of_the_Lord
“The central idea of the book of Amos is that God puts his people on the same level as the surrounding nations – God expects the same purity of them all. As it is with all nations that rise up against the kingdom of God, even Israel and Judah will not be exempt from the judgment of God because of their idolatry and unjust ways. The nation that represents YHVH must be made pure of anything or anyone that profanes the name of God. God’s name must be exalted.
Other major ideas in the book of Amos include: social justice and concern for the disadvantaged; the idea that Israel’s covenant with God did not exempt them from accountability for sin; God is God of all nations; God is judge of all nations; God is God of moral righteousness; God made all people; God elected Israel and then liberated Israel so that He would be known throughout the world; election by God means that those elected are responsible to live according to the purposes clearly outlined to them in the covenant; if God destroys the unjust, a remnant will remain; and God is free to judge whether to redeem Israel.”
Lines 12 and 13 are an example of speaking truth to power. “…pray let me know your ways….” AF: Is Moses negotiating or talking to a peer? The question asked by Moses is not answered. God expects the people to learn his ways without being told – much like the dynamics in a marriage. SN: There is always a portion of the task that is left to God’s partner – Israel. PG: We have to be dealing with something other than blind faith – that is a dead end. Responsibility and leadership must be taken by Moses and the people. Faith is an interactive and cooperative activity involving communit. (LL: This is the dialog of  Buber’s I and Thou.) When it comes to predicting the future the so-called experts have a miserable track record with the behavior of humans. JB: We have just had the incident of the Golden Calf. This is more than an “unruly” people – they have proven obdurate. PG: You are right. One never knows if they have been truly forgiven. What is the metaphor of being led by a “cloud?” This suggests that one’s own vision has been partially impaired.
33:17 My face must not be seen… One of the most philosophically laden passages in all of scripture. This suggests the pervasive need in human nature to have something one can look at and identify as one’s God. You can have a completely abstract deity but one is unlikely to be emotionally touched by a total abstraction. In Genesis God is like an emperor who gives an order “let there be light” and is obeyed. Here God is more like a partner – an older brother – a father. God is taking “shape” by having a presence in your life. He has goodness, grace and compassion. God is saying that He has a face but it cannot be seen – only the results of His presence will be known. PG: We talk about God’s arm, hand, eye and it is understood to be metaphor. However, on the plain reading of the text the reference to a face is not a metaphor. The text is dealing with the question of how one can experience the presence of God without an image. A question is also presented as to why the notion of one ineffable God “stuck.” Why did we dispense with multiple gods? ML: Jesus presented an image of a person for Christians that perhaps make Christianity easier to accept. There is little abstraction there. PG: All three Abrahamic religions have had to find a way of mediating between God’s presence and the notion of an image. LL: The acts and history of Jesus created a foundation for an effusion of a very rich visual artistic expression.PG: Jews would argue that their art is in music and literature. There are also the Haggadah’s. And Muslim tile work Is also a rich artistic expression.
34:1 “Carve two tablets of stone like the first…” The first two tablet were “carved” by the finger of God. The people couldn’t handle that. Moses had to provide human leadership for a human community.
34:4 This is known as the 13 attributes of compassion. (See: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Rosh_Hashanah/High_Holidays/Selichot/13attributesofmercy.shtml ) In the liturgy we only speak of God’s compassion – not His Judgment. “Adonoi, Adonoi” suggests two states of compassion – before and after the Golden Calf.
34:8 through 10 . The Covenant of God. This is repeated twice in Exodus and several times in Deuteronomy. Note that there is nothing here about idols but rather pillars and posts. See Note 13.
34::17 You shall not make molten God’s… this makes mention of both Succoth and Passover. There are ten ordinances mentioned here – not a new ten commandments but rather a re-emphasis of the number ten. These are all specific practical things. AF: There is a school of thought that, based on the practices of Hammurabi, the two tablets were identical – one was intended to be archival backup.