Torah Study Notes 4-13-13

April 13, 2013
Second Kings p. 747
In the ancient world there were Elisha stories and Elijah stories. The related Torah portion deals with issues of ritual purity – eruptions on the skin.
4:42 This is probably the source of the text for the marriage at Canaan from the NT. The parable of loaves and fishes. The intent here is magical. Consider the Hasidic tale of travel to escape a pogrom and there is one cart jammed full of people and people along the road. There is always room if we are willing to love one another a bit more. Here, with a sense of sharing, the bread could suffice. Consider the birkat hamazone – the blessing after the meal – which assumes there is enough food in the world for everyone. “When you have eaten and are satisfied you shall bless the lord your God for the good land he has given you.” Remember that “Haftarah” is the departure reading – read at the end of the meal and when you leave for the synagogue. These are communal prayers as contrasted to individual prayers. Note also that the Reform movement changed the departure blessing by making it shorter by deleting several paragraphs in the nature of encores.
5:1 A valiant Aramean soldier who had a skin disease. The name Naaman is very close in sound to the Hebrew word that means faithful. Note the trope marks for vocalization developed by the Masoretes. An Israelite girl suggest that he see a prophet in Samaria who will cure his skin.
5:4 Naaman gets permission from his king to go to Israel and takes a considerable sum of money with him to see the Israeli king. The king of Israel, upon being called upon to cure Naaman, tears his clothes and accused the Arameans of picking a quarrel with him. Which may be correct. Or the girls message became terribly garbled. There are elements of comedy here.
5:8 Elisha sends a message to the king and asks that Naaman be sent to him.
5:9 Elisha suggest that Naaman bathe in the Jordon but this annoys and upsets Naaman who expects a magical cure with a show. He compares the Jordan to the greater rivers of Damascus. “So he walked off in a fury.” Recall again the more elaborate procedures for cure of skin dieseases set forth in the Torah portion. The reference to the number seven may refer to the observed movable objects in the sky – sun, moon and five planets. There are other cycles in the ancient world but the Israelites’ used seven – which was adopted by the Greeks and then the Romans.
5:13 Naaman follows the instruction and his flesh becomes purified. This is a very simple solution compared to that the Israelites had to follow to be purified after the tenth plague which was very complex. Sometimes complexity is an indication of importance. It suggests that the people had to be tested to evaluate their will to be free.
5:16 Elisha refuses any gift for the cure. Naaman hopes that he will be forgiven when he goes home and is forced to enter the Temple of Rimmon and bow down. LL: Compare this to the feelings of the Marranos and Conversos in Spain ( who were forced to convert during the inquisition. This Haftarah must have given them some solace. Issues of idolatry are treated with nuance here. It is interesting to consider the various vignettes in this account – the scene before the king and before the tent of Elisha. What defines a folk tale is that there is no definitive form for the story. Note that it is the waters of the Jordan that works and that Naaman takes away with him some of the earth of the soil of Israel. This points to Israel as a sacred place – particularly to a community in exile. There is also the notion here that a skin disease can be reflective of stress or other disturbance within an individual – which is erased by belief. Consider the Christian belief in taking the waters at Lourdes.
PG: The first real Zionists were Protestants who returned to the Old Testament and found there a path to redemption via the Jews returning to the land. This is still a powerful force today with evangelical Christians. Zionism among Jews did not become a powerful force until the 20th C.


Torah Study Notes 3-19-11

March 19, 2011
Today is Shabat Sahor – which precedes Purim. Shabat remembered. This portion is read in honor of Shabat Purim. Next week we will read the red heifer from the Book of Numbers and then from the Book of Exodus – introducing the new moon. This is done because of the festival “”Maftir” means a reading of a portion of the Torah in honor of the person reading the Haftarah.
p. 1334 26::17 Amalek is the desert tribe that attacked the Israelites after they had crossed the Red Sea. “Amalek” has become a metaphor for anti-Semitism. Heyman is thought to be a descendant of this tribe. To blot out the memory and “Do not forget.” Is a conundrum. The composition of this paragraph takes place well after the events described. Also, there are no archeological remains of the Amaleks – is it a literary construct? Hillel and Shamai are two noted Rabbinic commentators but the names mean praise and contempt. Are they actually literary constructs as well? We know nothing about the literary traditions of the time. Compare to a Greek play – which also often appears to be founded on actual events. See p. 447 in Exodus – the story of Amalek at 17:1. “Is the Eternal present among us or not?” And the next line is Amalek. When you question God’s presence you admit the enemy to your presence is the traditional rabbinic view. But is the enemy exterior or is it within us? This contradiction seems to plumb our inner psychological state. But without an antagonist do we fall into complacency? Is an antagonist necessary for growth? In the beginning of their journey the Israelites need the assistance of God. By the time they get to the promised land they defeat their enemies on their own.
This raises the question as to what we mean by “faithfulness” In Jewish thought it was the starting point. In Christianity per Paul and Martin Luther it is the acceptance of Jesus. How is Moses holding up his arms? Is it in compassion or victory? See Gustave Dore’s painting.
P. 690
7:11 “This is the ritual of the sacrifice of well being…” See the Reformed commentary on the three kinds of prayer. Do these connect to the equivalent sacrifice? Sam: But the prayer must be accompanied by some physical act. We go to temple and participate. PG: But actually you go to temple and hand your sacrifice to the priest – he takes it from there. Sam: Isn’t this the standard rabinnic complaint that they have to do everything? But even the priest did not have a direct relationship with god. It is only the prophets “holy fools” who have the visions. See Davorah Steinitz comment on the 613 commandments reduced to 15 by David etc. until there is only one commandment: “The righteous shall live by faith.” Compare Paul’s epistle to the Galatians quoting this same line. To Jews faith comes first and is a means of achieving a goal. In Christianity faith alone is the goal. Paul was an apocalyptic. See Eugen Weber on the Apocalypse.

Torah Study Notes 4-6-13

April 6, 2013
p. 729 Second Samuel
The analogous Torah portion deals with the incineration of Aaron’s sons for making an improper sacrifice at the altar.
6:1 The Ark had been carried off from its shrine site in Shiloh by the Philistines and David has successfully recaptured it. Now there is a parade. Note that David does not appear in the Torah – only in the prophetic books. Also, there is no reference to the Ark in the Torah segment.
6:6 The oxen stumbles. Uzzah touches the ark and is struck down by God. Or at least this is the chroniclers explanation of this otherwise inexplicable event. This may also be a difficult translation. Could Uzzah have been crushed under the wheels of the cart? Or did he fall off a cliff in his urgency to save the cart. Any action which is not a matter of negligence is considered “an act of God.” It could also be argued that Uzzah sacrificed himself to save the Ark. But God got “furious” which suggests a direct action. How is this different from the actions of Aaron’s sons – who were also punished for sacrilige?
6: 9 David is terrified to take the Ark. It could be dangerous. He wonders if the Ark should go to Jerusalem or be returned to Shiloh. But the family he leaves the Ark with is blessed. How were they blessed? Perhaps a good crop or the birth of sheep. AF: How do the people know God’s feelings – that he is angry or is happy/blessing? PG: This is more reflective of the views of the author that is creating the text – if it were to be fiction. For non-fiction it is more difficult to ascertain internal states. Here, the author himself is divinely inspired to know the mind of God. LL: Compare the last scene in Raiders of The Lost Ark – where only the righteous were safe from the wrath of God.
6:12 David takes custody of the Ark and skips/dances before it. PG: This story was likely told in a variety of ways but the redactor has selected this version. Or combined two or more versions.
6:16 Saul’s daughter, David’s wife, sees him skipping/dancing and comes to despise him for his un-kingly behavior. Note that Michal is the only woman in scripture who is identified as loving her husband. Until know.
6:17 David passes out “goodie bags” to the people in celebration.
6:20 Michal takes David to task for his behavior. Here it says she had no children – suggested as punishment – but elsewhere it is suggested she had five children perhaps by a previous spouse.
7:1 David is in a cedar palace and the Ark is in a tent. What does this comparison mean? David must build an elaborate palace for the Ark – which is eventually achieved by Solomon in the construction of the first Temple.
7:4 God wants a cedar temple for the Ark and tells Nathan that in a dream. But God also suggests that he really doesn’t need it – that He is everywhere.
7:8 “I have been with you wherever you have gone…” Nathan learns that David will be able to establish a dynasty.
7:13 “He is the one who shall build a temple for me…” PG: This Haftarah portion is the story of three frustrations. The Sephardic version only tells the first two: Uzzah and Michal and leaves out the failure of David to build the temple. Note that David does not represent the settling of the people from their erstwhile nomadic lives – that happens during the time of his progeny. Note also that all of the punishments here seem harsh but all of the set-backs are temporary and eventually overcome. LL: This could also be viewed as a microcosm of the entire sweep of the Torah leading up to the still small voice – after which God disappears from the narrative. PG: Yes. Compare Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes where he re-imagines some of the sotries of Ancient Israel – particularly the building of the Temple.