Torah Study Notes 11-10-12

November 10, 2012
p. 169
First Kings – The connections between this Haftarah and Torah are multiple but see particularly page 156 where the section begins “Abraham was old and advanced in years…”
1:1 Note that King David already likely had several wives so bringing a young virgin to “keep him warm” was not startling to the reader/listener of the time. Note the Shunammite origin of the young woman – in the Torah portion Elisha also encounters a Shunammite woman. See footnote 4 re virility. CL: This was a common practice in ancient cultures and had a mystical aspect. The young woman was intended to impart her energy and purity to the king.
11:5 Adonijah, the handsome fourth son, would become king. The first paragraph has established that David is alive but frail. Who will be his successor and when will the successor begin to reign? Adonijah is the oldest surviving son and older than Solomon. LL: Both paragraphs endorse the notions that those who are “beautiful” or “handsome” are automatically entitled to special treatment. These words are also a-cultural so that the reader imposes the standard of the reader’s time. See the comment about Rebekah on page 165 and what constitutes “beauty.” “Her behavior shows modesty and hospitality; she is kind to animals and respectful of her own family.” Adonijah reaches out to priests from different areas of the Kingdom for support. He has a party but does not invite Nathan or Solomon or the elite warriors.
11:11 Nathan involves Solomon’s mother Bathsheba. “Advice that will save your life and that of your son.” This suggests that competitors to Adonijah will not fare well and could be executed as traitors.
11:15 Bathsheba complains to the King. Nathan the prophet arrives and tactfully broaches the same question: who will succeed the King David? David takes an oath that Solomon will in fact succeed him. What can we learn from this? One thing is the ascendance of merit over “handsome.” This is the first instance of leadership transition. The individual who looks the part may not be the best choice. PG: Babe Ruth was once asked why he earned more than Herbert Hoover. “Because I had a better year.” he replied. Ruth was also vastly more popular than Hoover – but this doesn’t mean he would have made a good president. How does this translate to nobility that retains leadership for 1,400 years via dynastic succession? There is something about the expectation of one who is born into a family that has power.
Later: The foregoing was the Torah portion for the young man who was being bar mitzvohed today. He suggested a different lesson: That there is a certain established order to things and one needs good judgment to determine when to follow the established order or to defy it. He gave examples of teenage smoking or failing to do one’s homework or just being lazy. These are actions in defiance of the order of things and of good sense. Adonijah should have known better.

Torah Study Notes 11-3-12

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.

 November 3, 2012

p. 149
Second Kings: 4:1 “Now a creditor is coming to take away my two sons to be his slaves.” A commentary about justice. It is taking a diffuse event –Sodom and Gomorrah in the Torah portion – and trying to make sense of it. Here it is personalized into an account of a woman’s anguish and questions about the death of her husband. She cries out to Elisha.
4:5 A miracle of oil. Just as justice in Sodom derives from a supernatural force – so does it act here. The first step is going around to all of the neighbors. She is able to call upon her community for support. The destruction of Sodom was brought about via inhospitality. Here that is turned on its head. The community is generous for the sake of an individual. The phrase “the man of God” refers to a member of a band of spiritualists who engaged in ecstatic practices. We use the word “prophet” but that is a problematic word in referring to this group. Amos said “I am neither a prophet or the son of a prophet.” These figures appear throughout. SN: What is the significance of the non-public aspect of this event?PG:  That is unclear. LL: Perhaps there was a social stigma attached to publically asking for and expecting assistance.
4:8 Special treatment for a man of God. One of the ways these special people were identified may have been as to how their hair was cut – a tonsorial. Elisha was called to “orders” by Elijah – of whom we know virtually nothing. He does not wear the tonsorial but was recognized as having prophetic ability. See footnote 9. This echoes the Torah portion where Abraham runs out of his tent and offers strangers a meal. It is unknown which of the accounts came first and so which drew upon the other. See Michael Fishbane at the University of Chicago – who writes on biblical interpretation within scripture:
4:11 An exact reference or adaptation to the story of Sarah. The boy born to the otherwise barren woman “dies” and she seeks out the man of God who predicted that she would have a son. Note that here it is the husband who sees limitations to divinity and the wife who is the believer – just the opposite of Sarah and Abraham.
4:23 The Mishna tells us that Ghazi is one of the people who will find no place in the afterlife. His conduct is questionable.
4:31 The boy sneezes and opens his eyes. The life force of Elisha is imparted to the child. Also, appears to be ancient CPR. Ghazi says that the child has not awakened – not that he is dead. What is the significance of sneezing seven times? The expulsion of the demon or whatever was choking off the life of the child. Again, one can ask the question: why is this woman favored whereas the sons of other mothers will die. This is the ambiguity, the uncertainty, of life.
Remember that God has disappeared as an active presence after the “still small voice.” See Jack Miles book God: a Biography: ” See also Friedman The Hidden Face of God.

Torah Study Notes 10-20-12

October 20, 2012
p. 85
54:1 Noach – LL: Clearly the function of woman in this society is to have children. PG: The society is pro-natal. In Victorian society a sense of prudery was developed to thwart population growth. This is also metaphorical – Israel is the “barren woman.” The use of the word “widow” is problematic for translation. It is closer to “barren” than without a husband. See footnote indicating “abandonment.”
54:5 A continuation of the metaphor – where Israel is now “the wife.” Here punishment occurs when God withdraws His presence because of the sins of the people. Going into exile is only a “moment.” Note the poetry and parallel structure of line 5. This is the use of different words saying the same thing. Adonoi and Elohim are here used interchangeably. See the book “God and the Big Bang” which considers the nature of time and the role of the observer as connected to the six days of creation. Is it acceptable that God has partially destroyed his own creation by use of the flood? Rashi questioned why we need the account of creation at all. PG: Torah is about the relationship between Israel and God. Any relationship starts with the act of creation. But once we posit god as a creator we automatically assume the possibility of destruction. Compare with Zoroastrianism where there is God the creator and God the destroyer. In Buddhism a balance is sought. Judaism accepts that creation/destruction is the reality of a single entity. LL: This is more analogous to a farmer who sees that his field is stricken with ergot. He wants to remove the tainted crop and keep the healthy part. PG: Like the process of maturation in the individual – a society matures and internalizes rules of conduct. Also, in these times flood was the perfect metaphor for total destruction.
54:9 Never again. The language of the prophet to the people is meaningful at the time but it is also relevant a thousand years later. LL: But this doesn’t seem to be a promise that was kept in light of the Shoah. PG: See: Evil in Modern Thought by Susan Neiman    which considers the Lisbon earthquake and the Holocaust. Evil is seen in the latter but not the former. CL: The natural event may not be evil but the response or lack of response on the part of government can be construed as evil. Voltaire was arguing, during the Enlightenment, that Man is not all bad.