Torah Study Notes 10-25-14

October 25, 2014

p.61 – This parsha covers the end of the story of Noah. Human being have become wicked and must be wiped from the face of the earth by God. Note that the precise nature of human failings is not identified. Noah and his family have found favor in the eyes of God and are to be rescued.

7:24 And the waters towered over the earth… CL: The hydraulic theory of civilization has to do with man’s ability to control water – for irrigation and other purposes.  See: Most contemporary scholars believe that the Noah story is designed to be a response to the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh. See:

About 150 flood myths have been discovered. Gilgamesh stories go back to about 2000 BC. Gilgamesh was given knowledge of how to worship the gods, why death was ordained for human beings, what makes a good king, and how to live a good life. The story of Utnapishtim, the hero of the flood myth, can also be found in the Babylonian Epic of Atrahasis.

8:6  Sending out the raven and then the dove.  The dove returns with an olive branch. We know the imagery of the dove but what is the raven?  Raven’s are carnivorous and would have to return with an animal. This is an admixture of two stories. In Gilgamesh the raven is sent out. Ararat is part of a range in Turkey – the end of the earth as far as the Judean’s were concerned. We get an image of the earth as sitting in a bowl of mountain ranges. When Elijah goes into the wilderness the raven feed him as he makes his way to where he will hear the still small voice. SF: The dove represents compassion. The raven represents the warrior in us as we work toward peace. PG: Noah is more complex and layered than that.

8:13  In Noah’s six hundred and first year… be fruitful and multiply. On the 27th day of the second month the earth had dried up. The numbers are very precise here. The date gives a sense of the passage of time but also a sense of verisimilitude.

8:20 …the Eternal upon inhaling the soothing fragrance…says never again… although the human mind inclines to evil. PG: what is bracketed out is the inclination of humans to good as well. Note the piece of song in verse twenty two which is likely taken from a much longer song that everyone knew. This song might well be the basis for the entire story – the Noah song that everyone knew. Gilgamesh is searching for immortality. Here it is suggested that humankind will have immortality as a species.

9:1 Note that the word “tref” comes from the Hebrew for “rip off.” Here we are told that we may not eat from a living being. “Moreover for your own bloodguilt I will require your lives…” The notion of capital punishment is essentially destroyed by subsequent rabbinical discussion of this section. This text recognizes that the ideal doesn’t work for a flawed people. This is an idealized text that cannot be lived by precisely.

From Plaut at page 57: With the flood over, humankind begins once more to face the problems of existence. We are reassured that God will not again “destroy every living being” and that there is an immutable order that God will not abrogate.

An interesting comment found at

In English, the Bible says:

“Make thee an ark of gopher wood…” – Genesis / Bereshit 6:14

By popular interpretation, this has been understood to be “a boat.” Yet in Hebrew , the original writing, it says:

“Make thee a תבה tebah of gopher wood…” – Genesis / Bereshit 6:14

Tebah תבה means “chest, box, case,” or “hull, body.” In short, tebah indicates a container. In Hebrew , there are many words for boat or ship, but tebah is not one of them.

Obviously, the word tebah is pretty far from the word ark. So where did the word Ark come from?

Although the word ark does not appear in the Hebrew scriptures (Tanakh or Torah), it does appear in the Latin translations of the Bible as “arca,” which translates into different words, including 1) a chest, both as a box and the trunk of the human body, and 2) also as a coffin, as that which Joseph in the Old Testament was placed within when he died.

Of course, in the Bible, there are several types of “arks.” In each case, the “ark” is a container that protects something sacred. It is not a literal ship or a boat; rather, it is like the “hull” of a seed: it protects the life-giving elements inside.

The word “ark” is obviously related to “arcane, arcanum” which means something hidden, a secret, known only to those specially informed. Therefore, the Ark of Noah refers to something unbeknownst to the public level of religion. The arcane knowledge has always been reserved for those who were prepared beforehand to use it.

In order to understand that secret and what it means, we have to look at the implications of the story and the meanings of the Hebrew words used in it.



Brianna Erlebacher, Vassar Temple Youth Group President
Photo by Perla Kaufman
Article by Susan Karnes Hecht

The Vassar Temple Board of Trustees is thrilled to announce the election of Brianna Erlebacher as Youth Group President. Brianna follows in an illustrious family tradition; her parents Melissa and Seth (z”l) were deeply involved in Jewish youth activities, and her sister Rachel was a recent YG President.

A junior at Arlington High School, Brianna has participated in an extensive array of Jewish experiences. She has attended Camp Eisner for six years and this past summer went on a NFTY trip with an Eisner group. The “L’dor Va Dor” journey included four weeks in Israel and one week in Eastern Europe. This is Brianna’s third year working at the Religious School, where she currently co-teaches the fifth grade. At Arlington, Brianna participates in a number of extracurricular activities including the “Friends of Rachel Club”, an anti-bullying and character education program for which she serves as vice-president. Brianna would like the congregation to know that “after my trip to Israel this past summer, my connection to Judaism has greatly increased, which is why I am so excited to get the younger generation more involved in the temple and Jewish ideals.”

During a pleasurable evening meeting under the sukkah, the recently revitalized Youth Group also elected:
Jacob Moore, Vice President; Tara Lerman, Treasurer; Olivia DiIorio, Secretary; and Zoe Peritz-Greenman, 8th grade representative.

The temple community also welcomes our new Youth Group Advisor, Rachel Cohen, who hails from North Andover, MA. Rachel is a recent graduate of Clark University in Worcester and is currently a student in the Baking and Pastry program at the CIA. She was a collegiate swimmer, diver, and rower. She is an alumna of Camp Eisner, NFTY in Israel, and NFTY EIE High school in Israel.

Rachel sends her thanks to the temple family for its warm welcome and adds “I am very excited to be working with Brianna and the other officers to build Vassar Temple’s Youth Group and really looking forward to becoming part of the Vassar community! Our first project is going to be working on the new youth lounge, located in the lower level of the temple. We are looking for donations (TVs, couches, etc.) to help make the lounge a comfortable, fun, and safe space for the students!”

Please reach out to Rachel with any questions or concerns about Youth Group at Contact Brianna at If you have something in good condition/working order to donate to the new lounge please contact one of them.

The Board heartily supports efforts to build a thriving and meaningful Youth Group at Vassar Temple. Please join us in congratulating and welcoming our officers and advisor to their new roles and in wishing them much luck!

Torah Study Notes 10-18-14

October 18, 2014
With Rabbi B. A record seventeen people in attendance. He grew up as an Orthodox Jew in Israel and served in the IDF. He has four sons – one of whom is in the IDF now. Everything of life is in the Torah but we cannot approach it without opening our souls. So we chanted a song to get “warmed up.” This is a very special Shabbat because we are starting the Torah again. Between lamed – the last letter of the Torah – and the first letter – bet – is the heart – the heart of the Hebrew people.
Genesis 1:1 – the creation of the world was a decision of God. He created the darkness and the light. What was better? SamF: “Sweeter is the light that comes from the darkness.”
1:6 In the Jewish tradition the day starts in the evening. God appears to be speaking to someone. Art M: it appears that there was water everywhere – not a void. SB: Look at the first letter – a Bet. Why is that? It is in a form that suggests a contained space for the world. We are not invited to look outside of that space. AF: You need light to learn – it is much more important than darkness. BR: Was God uncertain that light would be good – as it states in verse 4? SB: In my opinion he was uncertain. The shape of the letter bet suggests that we must look inward for these answers. As to God’s intentions – it is not your business – you will not understand it. You cannot change or fully understand the past. AM: You need a retina – a human being – to “see” light. It arguably does not exist without an observer. LL: What about dark matter and dark energy? Modern physics suggests that there is much of the universe we cannot see. It is significant that humanity was created at the end of this process of creation. AF: Chaos suggests unpredictability. Shira: The entire Torah is about making order out of chaos – it is a process of separation and the imposition of order and rhythm. SFink: When God sees the light it is our first description of him as anthropomorphic.
1:9 The third day. If he “said” who was he talking to? Shira: There is power in words. A discussion of good and evil ensued. LL: There is an old joke about chaos. A doctor, an engineer and a lawyer were having a debate over which was the oldest profession. The doctor explained that medicine was the oldest because God created woman out of Adam’s rib – hence the first surgical procedure. The engineer scoffed and noted that out of the chaos God created the universe – the first great engineering feat. The lawyer smiled and said “Gentlemen who do you think created the chaos?”
1:14 Let there be light. The greater to govern the day and the lesser to govern the stars. There is a midrash about why the moon governs the night. Why? It is a literary creation reflecting what humanity thought about the importance of light and dark at the time.
1:20 Creating fish and birds.
1:24 Who is God speaking to? Who is “us?” Make humans in “our” image? This is not an attribute exclusive to Jews. This addresses all of humanity. Rashi argued that the first human was androgynous.
1:26 Dominion over the earth and the creatures. It was “very good.” The holiness of the Sabbath comes from God’s blessing of the day. It is a day of satisfaction.
2:1 Completed now were the heaven and earth.
Note: It is Rabbi B’s practice to read the Torah from beginning to end. He does not follow the three year cycle.
See handouts – the JPS Torah Commentary (p. 3 and 4) by Nahum M. Sarna and a Brief Introduction to the Old Testament (p. 27 and 25) by Michael D. Coogan . In the former it is suggested that Genesis contains fragments of older cosmologies that existed in Israel. “It is a quest for meaning and a statement of a religious position….The quintessential teaching is that the universe is wholly the purposeful product of divine intelligence.”
Coogan agrees that the narrative was adapted from other sources in the ancient Near East. He adds that there is not a creation of something out of nothing – a later theological notion. Also the structure is a literary arrangement with creations on each of the first three days paralleled by successive creations on each of the next three days. It ends with divine rest on the seventh day and thus emphasizes the Sabbath.

An Exciting Start to Sukkot at Vassar Temple

Vassar Temple Seventh Graders Accept TorahThree dinners. A youth group meeting. A beautiful Sukkot service. Seventh graders accepting Torah. Dessert under the sukkah.

All of this was part of Vassar Temple’s celebration of Sukkot.

The evening began with three dinners. The 5th-7th grade Hebrew School students
met in one classroom for pizza. The post-bar/bat mitzvah students enjoyed Chinese food in the sukkah. The parents had pizza and salad (and some purloined Chinese, too).

Over dinner, the 8th-12th graders met to organize their youth group, electing peer leaders and starting to plan their year.

Then with sundown everyone came together for a celebratory service, during which the 7th graders received their own copies of the Plaut Commentary, a book they will use to prepare for bar and bat mitzvah.

Afterward we moved outside to break bread together under the sukkah.

As I said during the service, I love Sukkot.

Vassar Temple Gathers Under the Sukkah

Vassar Temple Gathers Under the Sukkah

Sukkot is in the Air at Vassar Temple!

Making an edible sukkah

Making an edible sukkah

With Yom Kippur behind us, Vassar Temple students turned their attention to Sukkot on Sunday. Each student in grade K-3 made an edible sukkah. Older students focused on Hebrew vocabulary and helped decorate the Temple’s main sukkah.

This Wednesday evening, the entire community gathers to usher in the festival.

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