Torah Study Notes 1-4-14

NOTICE TO READERS: THESE TORAH STUDY NOTES ARE BASED ON READINGS FROM PLAUT’S “THE TORAH – A MODERN COMMENTARY.” “PG” IS RABBI PAUL GOLOMB.  IT IS RECCOMENDED THAT THE TEXT BE AVAILABLE AND READ IN CONJUNCTION HEREWITH. COMMENTS ARE WELCOME. ALL ERRORS ARE MINE AND CORRECTIONS ARE WELCOME AS WELL. HAPPY NEW YEAR.

January 4, 2014

p. 406

10:1 PG: Justice is always the proper combination of mercy and punishment. That is the conflict that runs throughout the Torah and a very important element of the promulgation of the Torah as a foundational text for the formation of a just society. This can also be understood as a contest of wills and a contest of gods; the struggle to accept the oneness of God. LL: Remind us of the social advantage of having one god. Clearly the advantage of polytheism is the separation of good and evil. SN: the Hebrews at the time seem to accept that other societies will have their own gods. PG: See the work of John Hick who made arguments in favor of polytheism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hick

“Hick has identified with a branch of theodicy that he calls “Irenaean theodicy” or the “Soul-Making Defense”.[26] A simplification of this view states that suffering exists as a means of spiritual development. In other words, God allows suffering so that human souls might grow or develop towards maturation. For Hick, God is ultimately responsible for pain and suffering, but such things are not truly bad. Perhaps with a greater degree of perception, one can see that the “evil” we experience through suffering is not ultimately evil but good, as such is used to “make our souls” better.”

PG:  Here Pharaoh is viewed as the avatar of all of the gods. Monotheism is hidden even in polytheism. If there is a chief god what are the others for? Here, by letting the people go Pharaoh’s divinity is on the line. “Regarding the eradication of evil is god willing but not able or able but not willing.” David Hume.  The Buddhist say that the world is suffering – a cycle of ups and downs without real progress. With a single god who is concerned with human progress evil becomes a challenge that we can eradicate. The mystics would argue that the existence of the world itself is an imperfection – the classic cabalistic response. This is the argument of Hillel and Shumei. See the NYTimes today on the rise of Calvinism.

10:7  What does it mean to have a hardened heart? The courtiers hearts were hardened but here say “let them go.”   Consider “tough love” which also means a certain hardening of the heart. A soft heart would be willing to give in to the moment.  A hard heart means accepting reality. They recognize that ultimately this would end badly either way. The Hebrew word “abed” also has the connotation of being “heavy.”  See footnote in the Woman’s Commentary which relates the weight of the heart to burial practices. Also, see page 366 essay “Pharaoh’s Hardened Heart”. In ancient times the heart was considered to be the seat of the intellect.

10:12 The plague of locusts. What is the significance of the rod? This is a gesture that is part of the drama. Again, God is willing here to be revealed to individuals – who in turn address the people. Faith does not involve perception. Only at Sinai does God address the people.

10:16  The west wind blows the locusts into the Sea of Reeds. Compare the repetitive pattern here to that in the Book of Judges where the people are dysfunctional and respond only to external threats. What is the change that happens here?  What role do the plagues play in the Haggadah? Only that liberation was impossible without God’s intercession. Cf the rescue of the people in the story of Purim where Esther and Mordachi are the actors. SF: The purpose of the recitation in the Haggadah is to feel compassion for the drowning Egyptians.  EL:  The Union Haggadah did not have a recitation of the plagues.

10:21  Darkness for three days. But all of the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings. Note the lack of warnings here. The midrash describes this as a darkness where one could not see but could feel. It is called a “khamsin” based on the Arabic word for fifty days of sandstorm. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khamsin

10:24 Moses – “You have spoken rightly, I shall not see your face again.” SF: This is a negotiation wherein Moses wants to get to a place where he can take care of his people. PG: A prophet should never expect immediate results. Moses is told at the beginning what will happen – that none of this will work until Paraoh loses his first born.   See Gleanings page 398 with the two songs/psalms that speak of the plagues. The narrative is an amalgamation of the two psalms.

LL/

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