Torah Study Notes 8-22-15

August 22, 2015



Handout “We seekers of God…”  from the Mishkan Tafilah. We are dealing today with the role of the Levites, false prophecy and the cities of refuge.

18:6 …They shall receive equal share of the dues… The priestly class who are descendents of Levi and of Aaron. They are sustained by the community – including getting a share of the sacrifice. This role was in lieu of having land. Somewhat analogous to the role of the rabbi today in terms of leading a congregation.  All Cohanim are Levites but are specifically descendants of Aaron. AS: Read Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky. See: entertainment/books/reviews/outwitting-history-by-aaron-lansky-6150945.html on the subject of preserving a heritage.  AF: Is this like the public sector and private sector in modern society? JB: Those in the public sector pay taxes. A very rough analogy.  RB: Here the Levites could live anywhere. This is pre-Jerusalem before the temple was centralized. This is likely written by a Priestly author who is opposed to locating temples anywhere other than Jerusalem. Note that the rabbi’s essentially democratized Jerusalem by accepting that there would be synagogues outside of Jerusalem. Consider the story of Hannah who went to Shiloh to make a sacrifice. RB: there is a connection between the Cohanim gesture and Star Trek gesture. In his autobiography I Am Not Spock, Nimoy wrote that he based it on the Priestly Blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim with both hands, thumb to thumb in this same position, representing the Hebrew letter Shin (ש), which has three upward strokes similar to the position of the thumb and fingers in the salute. The letter Shin here stands for El Shaddai, meaning “Almighty (God)”, as well as for Shekinah andShalom. Nimoy wrote that when he was a child, his grandfather took him to an Orthodox synagogue, where he saw the blessing performed and was impressed by it.[2] LL: See also the University of Arizona study finding seven key alleles that could be identified with the descendants of the Cohanim.  RB:The Reform movement is not comfortable with this hierarchy of Levites and Cohen’s.

18:9 The subject of sorcery as practiced in other nations. Also, possibly child sacrifice. LL: What was the attitude, if known, toward those who wanted to adopt the Hebrew God? RB: There is reference to  the stranger who dwells among you. The stranger could adopt the Hebrew practices but since there was a tribal  blood aspect one wonders if they were ever completely accepted. LL: Perhaps after many generations. After all, the Ephraim’s are identified as initially being Hittites. SF: There is clearly a conception on the part of the redactor as to what the Eternal will find acceptable as to practices. AF: this harks back to the time in Egypt – which is here rejected. RB: Here the word “wholehearted” signifies that we trust in God and not  other forces. LL: the modern analogy here might be the division between science and theology. RB: Science and religion are not mutually exclusive. Torah is a moral document. God determines future events and we insure those outcomes by following the rules.  CL: Here the priests of another faith are described in negative terms – they become “the other.” Many of those early empires were agglutinative – in that they took on aspects of the faiths they encountered. The Hebrews refused to do that. The Roman’s are a good example. LL: Modern society in the west seems to follow the Roman example to some extent but we term it “religious tolerance.”

8:15” …the Eternal your God will raise up for you a prophet…” the problem of true and false prophets. If it doesn’t come true he is a false prophet. Also, the direct connection to God is too much for the people. They are terrified and clearly need an intermediary. Moses is considered The Prophet. AS: can there be prophets in modern times? Probably not as a speaker for God but one who “speaks truth to power.” See Francis Collins “The Language of God.” SF: Science establishes models for predicting the future and analyzes probability. AF: Some of this text seems predictive of Jesus Christ. RB: The New Testament is filled with references to the Hebrew Bible and builds on that. The sacrifice of Isaac is also frequently referenced as a precursor to the death of Jesus. Jews see the Book of Moses through one lens and Christians through another. MS: The selection of Moses was likely done by the Levites who wanted no further prophecy after Moses. RB: There was supposedly an oral Torah that was whispered in Moses ear and passed down through the generations. Now we have a human interpretation – the age of prophecy is deemed over. There is patently a danger in those who purport to speak for God.

8:19 When the Eternal your God has cut down the nations… you shall set aside three cities… and even add three more towns to those three. A legal distinction is made between death by misadventure and murder.  These are the Cities of Refuge. In ancient times it was the role of the clan to exact vengeance. The person avenging was known as a “goel” which translates as “redeemer.” They could also pay a sum on behalf of the criminal and seek exoneration. This notion can be expanded to the notion of taking care of society. Or the idea that whole community can bear responsibility for the death of the innocent.

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