Torah Study Notes 1-5-13

January 5, 2013
2nd Isaiah. The analogous Torah portion is Jacob going down to Egypt- where the people flourish and become numerous – thus making the Pharaoh nervous.
27:6 Taking root and flourishing is the connection with the Torah portion.. The Israelites had actually tried to appease the Assyrians by setting up an altar to their god – which may have been Asur or Marduk. See:
The plan was to restrain them but this establishing an altar to a false god was the sin of Jacob that is referenced. This back story is referenced in other parts of Isaiah. Note that the reference to Jacob is actually to the people of Israel. Isaiah is mediating between the past and his present – an inner dialogue that still takes place today in the disparate Jewish community. We tend to create simplistic narratives from the past to the present – but that is only achieved by ignoring the events that have impeded what we deem to be progress. PG: This is frequently a theme in wedding services. One of the blessings that is recited in a wedding is the miracle that the couple have found each other.
27:10 This is a reference to the destroyed northern kingdom of Israel that has already been overrun. That is here described in moral terms. Note that the northern kingdom was ruled by a series of dynasties. ML: Why were there two kingdoms? PG: There were differences between south and north – not unlike the divisions that led to the Civil War in the United States. The two peoples had a common origin and spoke the same language but different priesthoods. Note that there were two shines – Hebron and Shiloh – one in the north and the other in the south – that created their own priesthoods. The Philistines split the country by their military incursions from the coast. David united the kingdoms much later. Solomon created a priesthood in the south that developed a tradition of being descended from Aaron. Deuteronomy and Leviticus reflect these two different views of the priesthood. Also, note the territorial clans that are recited in the Book of Numbers. The tribe of Benjamin occupied the land between the North and South – which became the ideal place for the city of Jerusalem. Three things happened to the people of the North – they were slaughtered by the Assyrians, some were enslaved hence losing their identity, and the third group fled south. Every religion has a spectrum of practice. Christianity has orthodoxy in Catholicism and then a variety of practices ranging to Unitarianism. For more on this history of ancient Israel and Judah see:
27:12 The day will come when all of those who are lost will return to the holy mountain in Jerusalem. Note that the 8th C BCE was the peak of the Assyrian empire – but it fell very quickly. Generally, ancient empires that endured had an economic basis and allowed local cultures to co-exist. It is unclear exactly what happened here that caused the downfall of the Assyrians.
28:1 The destruction of the northern tribe of Ephraim. The prophet is addressing Jerusalemites after the demise of the northern kingdom and is placing all of this in a moral context – that the northerners have brought this upon themselves. What did they do wrong that must be avoided? Drunkenness? Gluttony? All of the prophets rail against wine and spirits – and all except Hosea are from the South – Judah.
28:5 A day will come when a God of heavens host will be a garland of beauty… Isaiah is opposed to the use of wine in priestly functions. He is also making the theological argument that we cannot rely simply on being God’s chosen people for survival.
28:10 A warning of doom to those who are drunk with their own power. Such people learn slowly – like children little by little. LL: The prophets up until now have been warning against false gods but here both people are worshiping the same god. The warning therefore is against the God they have made false – a God that would supposedly save them regardless of their own actions. This raises issues of free will and pre-determinism.
We skip now to two chapters in 29 because a Haftarah must always end in a blessing. See 29:22 and 23.

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  1. ibritter

     /  January 6, 2013

    Echoing PL point above about the common theme and the wedding prayer — Given the struggle for identity that was going on then, it is a miracle that Judaism as we know it today found itself. Would you say that evolution is the hand of God? And if so is it any less than the hand that was at work with the prophets?

  2. Judaism today is pretty diverse – so I am not sure what you mean by “as we know it today.” The range is from the ultra-orthodox to cultural Judaism. There are seven rabbis with separate congregations in Dutchess County alone. As to the question about evolution do you mean the evolution of Judaism as a religion or human evolution? It seems pretty clear that God no longer felt personally constrained to intervene in human affairs by the end of the Torah. The reasoning is that we have The Law – all the rest is commentary.


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