Torah Study Notes 6-7-14

June 7, 2014
Prologue by PG: The Israelites are about to begin wandering in the desert. A close reading of each section here doesn’t entirely make sense – but it does from the perspective of an overview,
p. 952
8:1 The making of the lamp stand – a menorah. LL: This works well from the perspective of metaphor. The lamp stand is the basis of the “light” of understanding and knowledge. PG: If you are starting on a journey you want to make sure the lights will be working. Note that the author here is interested in origins. At the time of writing the lamp stand existed and the people are here being told this is how God wanted it. The menorah is hung by the tabernacle – also a symbolic location.
8:5 The purification of the Levites. A complex procedure. See footnote 6 on page 952 – The Levites were only purified, not consecrated like the priests. Recall that the Levites have been mentioned previously – why is this introduced? It was not previously about purgation and purification it was genealogy. Note the important role of Aaron. Rather than a specific clan it is suggested that any Israelite may step into the position – just by volunteering. There is a strong tension between priestly leadership via genealogy and volunteerism. See Richard Elliot Friedman on this subject.
In the Middle Ages the priesthood was hereditary until about the year 1000 when priests were forbidden to marry and were required to remain celibate. Typically the second son of the noble would become the priest. The designation of “Cohan” was post-exilic where claim was made of descent from Aaron. The nobility always had last names. Jews did not until the time of Napoleon when it was mandated. See The Cohanim Project at the University of Arizona.
8:13 A reference to the experience in Egypt. The Israelites were enabled to leave by a slaughter of the Egyptian first born – here the first born are taken by God as Levites into his service. Throughout most of the previous Torah the second or younger child has been chosen for special favor. There is a story about Emmanuel Kant, who was very ethical and never lied, he is said to have responded to the question “May I ask you a question?” with the answer “No.” One must be pragmatic and recognize that the ideal cannot be attained. AF: What is the purpose of all this detail? PG: In most ancient societies sacrifice was intended to propitiate the gods. The first principal is Buddhism is “All life is suffering.” And life was very difficult for most people in ancient times. ShF – this was also part of establishing a community by bringing everyone together through ritual. SN: This process also establishes a class of people who do not work. Further, we are haunted by the slaughter of the first born of the Egyptians to this day. PG: The text here has set up extreme situations in order to clarify what is being discussed. The situation of slavery in Egypt was radical and therefore demanded a radical solution. PG: We now sacrifice as a way of thanksgiving – all life is a blessing – turning the older axiom on its head. This is one answer to the question “How do I go about thanking God.” The arc of Torah is the movement from being the property of Pharaoh to being the property of God to being truly free within a covenanted society. LL: Is the translation of the word “Mine” proper here in the sense of the word today? Does it mean owned by me or a part of me. The latter is suggested in the New Testament. PG: That would have to be studied by a philologist but the translation appears to be accurate in the modern sense of the Hebrew. The notion of a covenant with God is so radical that it becomes a challenge for the people to fulfill their role. SN: The emergence of nation states was similarly radical in that it moved populations away from the divine right of kings.
8:20 et sec. Retirement at the age of 50. Note the range of 25 to 50 for service as a Levite instead of 30 to 50 as mentioned previously. This suggests two different traditions being amalgamated here.

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