Torah Study Notes 12-8-12

December 8, 2012
Haftarah from The Book of Amos. The Torah analog is the story of Joseph and his brothers. We are here introduced to the prophet Amos who is believed to have authored his “book” about 750 BCE. Some scholars think it was written all at once. His Cassandra-like predictions are remembered because they came true. See the book “This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly” by economist Ken Rogoff – a cousin of Paul Golomb.
p. 263
2:6 Thus says the eternal… Amos uses the rhetorical device of attacking Israel’s neighbors verbally – and then attacking Israel itself. The connection to the Torah portion is “,,,they sell the innocent for silver…” which recalls the sale of Joseph to the Egyptians.
2::9 The Amorites were a region within the kingdom of the Canaanites. ML: What exactly is he trying to say? See footnote 8. PG: When times are good we feel somewhat smug and take credit for things that we did not do. See Daniel Kahnman’s Book “Thinking Fast and Slow.”,_Fast_and_Slow on two modes of thought. The critique that both Islam and Christianity make against ancient Israel is the constant back-sliding of the Israelites. The lesson to the Jews is that faith does not come easily – grasping a new idea can be problematic. Wittgenstein said “We never remember when we had pain.” CL: The period 800/600 BCE is much debated by historians – both Egyptian and Greek cultures were fallow in terms of the creation of art.. PG: That is intriguing. Richard Eliot Friedman talks about the 600 year leaps in the development of religious thought. LL: Talib in his book “The Black Swan” said that, statistically, if something bad can happen it will. So if you prophesy bad times you will eventually be right 100% of the time.
2:12 Amos sees the Assyrians massing on the border of Israel. DC: This reminds me of the right wing religious types today who say we will be punished for violation of God’s law. PG: The critiques today comes from both extremes – the left points to social injustice and the right to personal immorality. The basis for the reduction in crime over the past decades is attributable to the “baby bust.” The percentage of people in their teens and early twenties went down so crime went down. LL: That bodes ill for China since they are having a boom of male babies – and young men are responsible for most crimes.
3:1 People of Israel… The chosen people have a greater responsibility. This last section is quite significant. But why does the Haftarah end where it ends? Because that is what the writer really want you to hear. The greater obligation of the Jews is the central message here.
3:3 This is emphasizing the law of cause and effect. When you see an effect one posits a cause. There has been much written (Aristotle and Hume) about cause. Hume argued that we are too facile in making connections between perceived effect and cause. Remember the toilet flushing scene in “All of Me” where the swami associates the flush with the ringing phone. Emmanuel Kant argued that cause and effect is in our minds – not external. The connection is something we create. LL: Isn’t that how we create God? We see things we cannot understand by making/assuming a causal connection. PG: This notion applies to metaphysics as well as observed reality.
3:6 This is the crux of the lesson. Cause and effect here is attributed to God. The moral and metaphysical are connected as well. DC: Amos is somewhat self serving here in saying that God speaks only through his prophets. PG: Later, Amos, who is from Jerusalem, is challenged on this point by the priests in the north. That is when he says “I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet.” He is referring to the guild of prophets – those recognized by society as such. Amos is a person who is impelled to speak – the spirit has moved him. The classic political perception of those in power is that things are good – or getting better. To the challenger they a bad and getting worse. LLant: Could we ever live in a utopia and, if so, for how long. PG: Both Micah and Isaiah talk about the end of days when every man shall sit beneath his fig tree and practice war no more. This is a Buddhist concept but they talk about the obliteration of the self. The result is abandonment of the world and being “no place” – which is a literal translation of “utopia.” The Hindu sees life as a wheel – where everything happens in cycles.
Later: After morning services – a discussion of personal beliefs in God as engendered by an article and survey by Rabbi Mark Shapiro that appeared in a summer issue of the magazine Reformed Judaism. Miriam Schwartz read his preamble to the survey of his own congregation. He concluded that statistics on faith are problematic – but the survey did stimulate good discussion. Reform Judaism magazine will be compiling and publishing the results of a reader survey.
First question: Science explains everything therefore God is superfluous? LL: Science to date has not explained everything. AF: But why are there the laws of physics, etc? RR: Science itself has evolved – quantum mechanics from Newtonian physics. RR: Science is a perception of the universe that keeps changing. Susan F: Art is a separate realm than science. We are animated by creativity and the unknown.
Second Question: We would understand why there is suffering if we could see the complete story? True or false. AF: Evil may be a manifestation of free will. There are things that just happen. LL: This question is actually answered by Darwin’s theory of evolution. There can be no evolution without death and birth. DC: See the children’s version of the Book of Job. Her nine year old granddaughter said “He must have done something bad or he wouldn’t have been punished.” SF: You cannot eradicate evil or bad things in life. God is not directly involved in our lives. ML: I think that all people need something to hang onto to give them strength – that gives you the ability to get through it all. RS: There are no atheists in a foxhole.
Third Question: When did you feel closest to God? Or most distant from God? RR: The grandeur of creation is sublime. MS: That was the most common response to the survey. SF: The presence of community is part of the feeling that I have of God’s presence. LL: Read Karen Armstrong on the golden rule, compassion, love and community. This is a different view than the traditional anthropomorhic view of the divine. ML: That feeling of community is something that I felt today during services. Worship creates a feeling of community. AF: I remember, as a five year old, attending an Orthodox ceremony with my grandfather – it was another world that sunk in on me. SF: I practice tai chi – I feel like I am in synagogue by focusing, having intentionality, energy, a spark. MS: The notion of a special place seems important – you have to create a space for God to enter. That was probably why Shabbat was created. AK: I went on a religious retreat once with Temple Beth El and expressed my view that I couldn’t believe in something I couldn’t see. When I got home I found that my pet rabbit had died. Somehow I connected the events.
Forth Question: If you could ask God any question what would it be? AF: Did you have parents? LL: That is a cosmological question about the origins of the universe. RS: I see God as someone with a great sense of humor. AF: How can he have knowledge or experience? DC: We created God. AF: Why is the Torah so convoluted? MS: We need to be God wrestlers. EL: We are asking why when we should be asking how. How do we get the strength to deal with life and its vicissitudes. Like the Holocaust. What did it take to survive. AK: Because they could not take away your thoughts or your faith.

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. ibritter

     /  December 9, 2012

    A fantastic conversation. I am sorry I missed it! Thanks for the notes Lew!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: