Torah Study Notes 6-15-13

June 15, 2013
p. 1043
Judges – The story of Jephthah addresses the nature and quality of leadership. The related Torah portion in Numbers deals with reaching the banks of the Jordon River, the final encampment before entering the Land. Judges reflects the deterioration of the notion of forming a nation out of the tribes. This is chiastic in that what is in Numbers is repetitive or analogous to what has happened in Exodus. Recall the attack by the Amalekites after crossing the Red Sea See: .

11:1 The son of a prostitute he was the son of Gilead – a mighty warrior. Note that the city of Gilead is on the other side of the Jordon River so this is probably only a geographic name. This land was acquired by military force. J becomes an outlaw and goes out raiding. LL: I am troubled by the notion that becoming an outlaw is his only alternative. This is not quite the analogous situation of Jean Val jean in Les Miserables. SN: being an “outlaw” in this context may not necessarily indicate a highwayman. It could mean someone who is literally outside the law of the community.
11:4 The Ammonites attack Israel and the people ask J to defend them. He requires that he be named chieftain if he is successful. The people agree.
11:11 J is confirmed as commander in chief. The King of Ammon explains his hostility – relating to the seizure of lands at the time they crossed the Jordon.
11:14 A recital of the Israelites peregrinations in order to enter the Land. See map on page 1158. In Exodus they were totally reliant on Moses and Aaron. In Numbers the people are still complaining after their travels in the Wilderness. A similar series of challenges take place in Numbers – but Moses and Aaron are overwhelmed and eventually do not enter the Land. The Israelites themselves meanwhile are getting stronger. There is no reference to the aid of God – instead it is the strength of the people that prevails. This story of Jephthah puts all of this into context – now, with J, they are a formidable fighting force. Isaac Asimov said that the best way to create science fiction was to take one aspect – change it – and watch how everything else is distorted – like time travel or the existence of robots.
11:23 LL: The story of Moses striking the rock to obtain water for the people and then not obeying God’s instructions to speak to the rock. Could this be a metaphor dealing with leadership where the rock is actually the people? With that interpretation it is the people who first have to be forced to obtain the water and later persuaded to do so. PG: Sometimes a rock is just a rock. The reference to three hundred years is confusing – the reference is likely to the entry into the land recited in the Book of Numbers. The reference here to Balak shows the lineage to Ruth and ultimately to David. Here he is described as acting sensibly.
11:29 The spirit of the Eternal settled upon J. He makes a vow to the Eternal. LL: Is he bargaining with God? He subdues the Ammonites. Recall that he doesn’t completely keep his vow as to the burnt offering. See Ch. 12 of Judges. As the stories in Judges progress the protagonists become less and less heroic. Consider Sampson who ultimately cannot be fully successful until he kills himself. SF: Two things – the spirit of the Eternal settled upon J – how do we first gain and then lose divine support?? PG: The loss is not covered in the Haftarah. That is a theological concept that is applied to the story after the fact. The references to God here are more likely a reflection of a psychological state – combined with common language usage. Note that this land on the east bank of the Jordan is not land that was promised to Israel by God. Since they are in exile in Babylonia at the time this was written this story has to do with return to the land – the personality and actions of J are intended to bring that result. PG: We are sympathetic to individuals whose lives are not of their own making. The rabbinic question posed after the fall of the 2nd Temple is: why was the Land lost to Rome? The answers are various: hubris, loss of faith, and even the notion that no polity is needed to maintain one’s faith – hence the anti-Zionists. This latter continues to be a position of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel today.

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