Torah Study Notes 2-23-13

February 23, 2013
When Plaut put together the Torah commentary we normally use it was originally planned with an un-annotated Haftarah appended. Plaut felt strongly that a Haftarah should not be appended without extensive commentary as well. When the revision was done more commentary was included. This Haftarah we are reading today is used for the week before Purim. It is extraordinary. The related Torah verses are from Exodus; the account of Amalek attacking the Israelites as they left Egypt. The Purim connection is that Haman was called an Amalekite – an embodiment of evil.
p. 547
15:2 The Sephardic version includes 15:1 but here we start with 15:2. The Amalekites are to be exterminated by Saul but the Kenites are allowed to leave. Note that “Ken” means“honest” in Hebrew. Obviously they are friendly with both the Israelites and the Amalekites. The animals are to be destroyed to show that this is not a war over possessions – it is a matter of principal. Of justice. Retribution for the attack from the rear while they were exiting Egypt.
15:7 Saul does not follow God’s instruction – he spares the king Agag as well as the best sheep, oxen etc.
15:10 God complains to Samuel about Saul’s failure to follow directions. Samuel argues with God about the interpretation of justice. One’s impulse is judgment and retribution but this must be reconciled with the notion of mercy. Note that the account of Isaac and Abraham is preceded by the debate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Is the issue now Saul and his failures or is it the original sin of the Amalekites? What makes God’s order just?
15:13 Samuel accuses Saul but, initially, Saul does not think he has done anything wrong. Has he? He was sacrificing the remaining sheep and oxen to God. But is this a proper sacrifice? No. One cannot sacrifice someone else’s assets. The gift must be from the giver.  Note the characterization of “your god” vs. “our god.” Saul appears to be sarcastic or taunting.
15:28 Samuel: To obey is more important than sacrifice. LL This is unacceptable. This notion leads to the concept of “I was just following orders.” Why did Saul preserve Agag? Perhaps the king is the best witness as to what has happened. Or he was hesitant to commit regicide because it could become a precedent. Was Saul just a pretty face? Daniel Kahneman (see: and has done research on the psychology of the importance of appearances. He found that there was a 70 percent correlation between the best looking and success as a candidate. Semiotics is important. Note that Saul was a difficult personality – high maintenance for Samuel. The Deuteronomist was writing at the end of the period of Kingdoms – in retrospect.
15:24 I have sinned said Saul. But Samuel doesn’t accept this and declares him no longer King of Israel.
15: 27 Samuel relents and continues to permit Saul to have the appearance of being the king. Are God’s orders – decisions – irrevocable? Can God change his mind? Samuel seems to be engaging in empty rhetoric. Are we ascribing Samuel’s ambivalence to God?
15:32 Agag is presented to Samuel. Samuel cuts him to pieces. Saul and Samuel interact no more. Saul remains king and eventually dies a heroic death. See Samuel’s farewell speech in the Torah. See the account in Exodus prior to the Amalekites attack where it is said “Is God among us or not.” See also Deuteronomy 25:17 through 19.” Remember what Amalek did to you.”. Amalek will disappear when one feels safe and secure – it is a state of mind. But remember: Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that you don’t have enemies. Haman is Amalek. All of our fears are Amalek. See Buber Comment at p. 555. “Man is so created that he can understand, but does not have to understand, what God says to him.” See :
Consider the Greek search for absolutes vs. the concept of the covenant. The later accepts that there are no absolutes – only a dialogue with God.

Making Shobbos by Rabbi Golomb

The following is a short excerpt from an essay on The Sabbath and its Discontents.

Keeping Shabbat is always and inevitably a balancing act, mediating among a set of hopes and aims. Certainly, from week to week – perhaps from day to day – we switch our principal priorities. Now, I wish to connect to my Jewish heritage; now, I want to feel closer to God; now, I seek a real break from the rigors of the week.

The aim is misty, but what about the beginning? I am not referring to the conceptual beginning, but the practical one. Where does one begin in the overarching aim of simply keeping Shabbat? Keep in mind: wherever you begin, you are in the middle. I am going to recommend a few starting points.

Have Friday Dinner as a Family. As a child growing up in the suburbs, my family’s dinner was usually a bifurcated affair. My father tended to come home after his commute from the city at a time that my mother considered too late for me and my brothers to eat. If anything, the distribution of meals has become more fragmented, particularly with the prevalence of microwave ovens. Dinners can be prepared plate by plate, so even siblings can be – and usually are – on their own eating schedule. The simple act of seeing to it that the family comes together for dinner on Friday, in and of itself marks the occasion as special.

Light Candles. Few observances are both so simple and so accessibly meaningful. As evening draw nears we rely without a second thought on electric lighting in order to dispel the dark. Lighting candles on the eve of Shabbat is, from a practical standpoint, wholly superfluous. It can only be taken as symbolic, pointing us away from the everyday and ordinary.

Cut Some Everyday Activity Out. Is Shabbat different from the rest of the week at all? Consider doing something different. Start with low-hanging fruit. Cut out unnecessary use of money, for instance. You could gas up the car on Friday. Or turn off the ringer on your cell phone, and avoid taking calls unless it is family or an emergency. The Sabbath is not only about difference, it also about liberation; freeing oneself from the burdens of the week. When stopping the taking of or making phone calls, or staying away from commerce, feels like a release and not a restriction, then a little bit of Shabbat has been achieved. You figure it out. How far can you go?

* * *

The suggestions I have offered all point toward the fundamental notion of making Shabbat different. Of course, each day in manifold ways is different from each other. Modern life is not an assembly line in which the same items roll before us requiring repetition of the same action. It is precisely because each has its own distinction; not only each Tuesday in contrast to Monday, but this Tuesday in contrast to last week, and the week before, and before… Thus, the Sabbath must not be merely different. It has to be consciously distinct. One must make a point of pulling the family together, or lighting candles, or putting the cell phone ringer on vibrate. On Shabbat, the difference does not come to us. We need to make it.

Once you have found a way into Sabbath consciousness, here are a few more simple activities that make Shabbat a delight.

Bless your children/grandchildren. It is a traditional practice for a parent to pronounce the “priestly benediction” [May the Eternal bless you and keep you…”] over each child in the family at the commencement of the Sabbath evening meal. The blessing is beautiful; traditionally preceded by the words “May God make you as Efrayim and as Menasseh” toward boys, and “May God make you as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah” before girls. The content, however, is much less important than the very act of blessing itself. Indeed, merely reciting the formula of the priestly benediction is not enough. Those are words taken from an ancient text. Yes, they are significant in their continuity with generations past, but they are only words. A blessing should be drawn from the heart.

Jewish worship includes a twice-daily recitation of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, conventionally known as Shma and v’Ahavta. The scriptural passage begins with affirmation of God’s Oneness, and calls upon us to love God intensely – which fundamentally means, I believe, to love all God’s creation. We are then commanded to impress this notion of love upon our children. Twice-daily, therefore, we are reminded of our responsibilities to the next generations. How lovely and meaningful it is to express our deepest wishes and hopes for our children at the beginning of each Sabbath.

Read/study a Jewish text. I am confident that you are well-read; indeed, you probably enjoy thinking about and discussing that which you read. Chances are, however, most of that reading is at best marginal to Judaism. The Sabbath can afford an opportunity to connect with one’s Jewish heritage through its extraordinary literature.

Which text? The easiest choice is the weekly Torah portion (par’shat ha-shavuah). The Pentateuch is broken into sections – technically pericopes – in order to assure that it be read in its entirety over the course of a year. There are many publications of the Torah organized in this fashion. As a rule, they consist of the Hebrew and English translation of the text, supplemented by an array of commentary, marginalia and explanations. The extra material provides both context and texture to any reading. Further, most of these publications include the weekly prophetic reading (Haftarah), though usually with much less explanatory additions. Sometimes, however, the poetry of the prophets, or occasionally the content of the prophetic text, might be preferred as a source of study.

While Torah and Haftarah are easily accessible, and also provide a systematic course of study each week. I would like to emphasize that any self-consciously Jewish text will do: collections of rabbinic midrash, passages from Mishna or Talmud, medieval Jewish poetry, excerpts from Maimonides or Judah ha-Levi. There are more contemporary choices: anthologies of Jewish folklore or short stories, or segments from the writing of modern Jewish thinkers such as those already mentioned in this book. There is a whole world of literature out there. It is entertaining, insightful, inspiriting, and it all connects you to your Jewish identity.

Lose your watch. Abraham Heschel called the Sabbath “a sanctuary in time.” Sanctuaries are physical protections; walls and a roof that can give its inhabitant both respite and security. The Sabbath, Heschel averred, can providing the same respite and security by “walling” one off from the rigors and anxieties of the work. Yet, it is not only a sanctuary in time, but also a sanctuary from time.

Modern family life is ruled by the clock. There are deadlines to meet, appointments to get to, soccer practice and dance lessons our children have to attend. A day cannot be passed without constant references to our watches. There are, however, occasions when we take our watches off (figuratively if not literally). They are vacations, when there is no place in particular we must be, and nothing special we must do. Most people consider their vacations a liberating experience. Put your watch aside each Shabbat (at least some Sabbaths at first) and see if a vacation of sorts cannot be created each week.

All of these Shabbat activities that I have listed are easy. They require very little physical, intellectual or emotional output. And yet they are also quite hard to do, for the very fundamental and obvious reason that most Jews simply do not do them! And the reason we do not do them is because we have not done them. Lighting candles, or reading a Jewish text each Sabbath could be rather effortless, once we get used to doing it. The action is not hard; it is the starting of it that poses difficulties.

* * *

So, let me add one more consideration: do not start alone. The components of the Sabbath are rest, family and heritage. These elements are, in and among themselves, natural and intuitive. But above all, Shabbat is a Jewish religious practice. As described earlier, religious practice is neither intrinsically natural nor intuitive. It takes practice! Certainly, acquiring a practice can done totally on one’s own volition, but doing so is invariably difficult. Acting in concert with others is considerably easier. It is useful, but hardly necessary to connect with an experienced guide. Nothing I have suggested, however, requires much instruction. All you really need is someone else – one or more individuals – willing to engage in the Sabbath along with you.

A story is told in the name of the Hasidic master Hayyim of Tzanz: A person was lost in the forest. Every path he tried seemed to fail. As despair was beginning to overtake him, he encountered another person. “Ah,” he thought to himself, “surely this one will show me the way out.” When he inquired about the proper path, his new acquaintance admitted to being just lost as he. “But this much I know. All the paths we have tried so far have not worked. Let us join together and forge a new way. Thus, we will succeed.”

Torah Study Notes 2-16-13

February 16, 2013
p.559 Haftarah
The related Torah portion is God instructing Moses on the construction of the Mishkan,
5:26 A description of the process of building the temple of Solomon. Herod reconstructed the Temple about 20 BCE. The text is Deuteronomic – written about 600 BCE. The author has apparently seen the building in question and is conveying an impression of a massive project. Note the three month cycle of working: one month and at home two months. This is akin to a “draft” much like forced service or conscription in the service today. In the Torah portion there is no suggestion of forced labor – just donations. CL: We have new information that casts some light on this. The new view of the building of the pyramids is that the pyramids built Egypt. The work was a cooperative effort that had a common goal. The people were better cared for and ate more meat. The need to be organized structured the society. PG: Here Solomon freed the Tyrenes but required them to lend their skills to the construction of the Temple. Note that Solomon’s rule, despite his wisdom, was a failure because immediately upon his death the kingdom broke into two – north and south – Judah and Israel. Here Solomon’s wisdom leads to pragmatic activity. The former soldiers become laborers. This is history that is shaped and spun to fit a particular line of thought.
6:1 A description of what was constructed. It sounds like an inverted pyramid so that each succeeding story is larger than the preceding. This would have been a challenging architectural and engineering feat. Compare the development of architecture in Istanbul – like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The two buildings are comparable in size however the architectural skill to build the mosque is radically superior to the Hagia Sofia; notable particularly is the thickness of the walls and the use of windows that could be accomplished by the use of external buttressing. Here the central temple iof Solomon is built with very thick walls and the outer rooms are independent and not supporting the central core. When Mies van der Rohe created the Helmsley Tower in the 1950s he used a great deal of glass – which called attention to the architecture. This notion of accenting the construction is a feature of post-modernism. One could “deconstruct” the architecture – a term that worked its way into literary analysis and even now into cooking.
6:7 This was to be a house of peace where no iron tools would be used. The Midrash refers to a stone- eating worm that obeyed Solomon – who of course spoke the language of the worms.
6:11 I will keep my promise made to David and I will always be among you. One of the purposes of this Haftarah – which was written after the destruction of the Temple – was to lift up the listeners so as to eventually encourage the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. This is a bittersweet. We have to re-imagine God – not in the Temple but in our hearts. Note that there was already a transition from the volunteerism of those early settlers described in the Torah portion to the requirements of a settled community. Jewish society itself is coercive – with rules that must be followed. But why can’t we do the right thing instinctively – from the heart? The very construction of the earth itself requires compromises and creates problems. Without creation there would be no evil. Existence itself is a pragmatic balancing of our ideals. We are forced to make compromises. We are told that forgiveness comes at Yom Kippur but one cannot then go out and willfully sin again. SF: Each individual is to be a temple – a holy structure. This requires the destruction of certain internalized patterns. It requires a great deal of work. PG: This is the description of a saint – a status rarely achieved and then only temporarily. The Lurianic Kabbalist – – call this the shattering of the spheres – moving from light to produce matter destroys and we spend our life trying to repair the world. Emmanuel Kant: One cannot be ethical unless it comes from your heart. See also: Rabbi Ibn Paquda – – about 1050 – who was influenced by Aristotle and the Greek philosophers. Maimonides also followed this path. Their notion of truth and right as ideals and ultimate’s is contra the notion of a covenant. The covenant gives us independently the ability to examine right and wrong in a dynamic way. Rosenzweig, Buber and Heschel recognize this distinction. See – – We are entitled to continuously challenge God – which means to examine life continuously and to question absolutes. This has been a long-standing process in Judaism which now is exemplified by the Reform movement. Scientific secular thought was an important part of the impetus toward this stage. Orthodoxy would stop this process and keep the outside world at bay. For a recent and important speech by Dr. Ruth Calderon in the Knesset on reconciling Orthodoxy with modern life in Israel see:

Torah Study Notes 2-2-13

February 2, 2013
This is the Haftarah associated with the Torah portion giving us the Ten Commandments.
Isaiah here the 1st Isaiah who lived at the time of the Syrian invasion – the mid to late 8th C prophet. 2nd Isaiah wrote during the Babylonian captivity. JB: Did the prophets know of one another? PG: Yes. It was very likely – word got out when a spectacular or influential speaker came on the scene. HF: Why were the two Isaiah’s linked by the redactor? PG: Not really known – the latter might have taken the name of the former as a form of homage but this is supposition.
6:1 to end at 9:5. (read in its entirety and then discussed.) The connection here with the Torah portion is God’s direct speech to Isaiah – as He spoke to Moses. There is also the aspect of revelation of that direct contact. This is more arguably more important than the content of the Commandments themselves. The personal experience of the divine is a central issue. This was best described in the 20th C by Martin Buber. Here God give Isaiah marching orders but not Commandments of general application. Both Muslims and Christians have systems that separate divine law from achievement of salvation. Paul thought that the age of the law was over because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He was of the apocalyptic line of Judaism. The argument that law itself has its origins in divinity was problematic for him. LL: Compare the discussions on this topic in the new biography of Roger William. See:
Williams broke the Ten Commandments down into two tiers: the first four dealing with man’s relationship with God were personal and not the business of government. The next six – such as though shall not murder etc. were the province of government. PG: The rabbinic system calls for a constant examination of law and situational adjustments – this means that there can be tens of thousands of “rules.” EL: Do the ultra-orthodox ascribe to this notion of situational adjustments? PG: Most people don’t even think about these things. For the ultra-orthodox they defer to decisions of the rabbi. But at some point one crosses the line between individual responsibility and blind adherence to a system. We choose a system of Halakha (Hebrew: הֲלָכָה) or “the way” when we decide to be Reformed, Conservative or Orthodox. See: You are creating the kind of life that you are comfortable with. It is a question of acceptable risk level and what the individual can handle. There is an old story: Three rabbis were discussing the benefits of Rome. One said they built the roads and the aqueducts, one was silent and the other excoriated Rome’s policy on human rights. Again, what can you live with? Consider the compiler of the Mishnah, Judah Hanasi – he performed certain services for Rome. See:
Note that Isaiah has volunteered to carry God’s message knowing that no one will believe him – that his mission was doomed to failure – like Jonah. But there is always a small group who do listen. Hence the seed that springs from the stump in line 13.
CL: The lines in 9:5 are repeated and drawn upon in the New Testament as a prediction of the birth of Jesus. This is reflected in art as early as the 11th C. – at which time there was relatively little animus toward Jews. See: Isaiah at Moissac –The Abbey Church of St. Pierre.

Note: Here the “sign” that will be given to Ahaz is the birth of a child. Why is this section added on? The Haftarah stops here and has arguably been pulled out of context from the main section of Isaiah.