Torah Study Notes 9-5-15


September 5, 2015

Page 1351

Moses is still in the same pace on the banks of the Jordan. But now we have his recital of blessings and curses – more of the latter. They are characterized by “ If –than” statements leading to punishment. We like to think of God loving us unconditionally but these parshas emphasize that there are rules. Christians sometimes refer to the Old Testament God and the New Testament God as pertaining to the rules that must be obeyed. The prayers of the High Holy days originated in times of drought and the advent of rain – or no rain – as a blessing or punishment. In many parts of the country Israel does not have rain until Succoth.

26:12 When you have set aside the tenth part of your yield… A blessing in return for adherence to the rules governing sharing with the Levites and the burial rituals. Some of the rules were designed to distinguish these people from the societies surrounding them. Unlike the Egyptians nothing is to be buried with the dead. In most western societies, up until about 200 years ago, weddings and other celebrations were open to everyone. That is still true in some easter countries such as India where weddings can be very large. There were no place cards at each table. See Deuteronomy 13:28 which suggests a different tithe earmarked for a different  group. There are other portions that address caring for the poor. Today one response is Mazon – A Jewish response to hunger.

26:16 The Eternal your God commands you this day to observe these laws… MS: Why is it important to observe with one’s heart and soul?  RB: In the ancient times it was thought that the heart was the seat of the intellect – not the brain. Soul is also one’s breath. As to fame etc. note that sin and glory are shared by the community.  Note also that forgiveness must come from the injured party as well.

27:1 Moses charged the people…as soon as you have crossed the Jordan…. Set up large stones on Mt. Ebal and build an altar… inscribe the words of this teaching. SF: It is remarkable how much action is to be taken as a community. That is one of the central lessons for us as Jews today.  What are they inscribing? RB: Probably only the Book of Deuteronomy. Buber talks about the unhewn stones that  are the prayers of our hearts. Temples constructed in modern times frequently have a wall of Jerusalem Stone. Note that hewn stone may have previously been used for other inappropriate purposes – such as a pagan temple.

27: 11 Thereupon Moses charged the people… Cursed be anyone who makes a molten image accursed by the Eternal. Many curses after which we say “amen.” This is an affirmance of what is said. What is common here is maintaining the sacred nature of the family and maintaining the family unit. This is not an exhaustive list. Much of this list are activities likely done in secret. There is also the element of taking advantage of someone who cannot speak out publically about what has happened to them. The role of woman at the time was such as to make it very difficult to report a rape by a son or a brother. There are other things forbidden elsewhere in the Torah. These are twelve things that are specifically prohibited.  LL: Consider the legal distinction of  malum en se and malum prohibitum in the law. One is essentially wrong and the other is made wrong by the law – such as smoking marijuana.  HF: How is the decision made as to which tribes will be on the mountain to receive the blessing? See footnote 12 on p. 1353. Note as well that much of this retrospective and is being edited from a place of exile. Accordingly, it is a “look back” with knowledge of outcomes as to the success of each tribe.

28: 1-6  The blessings for adherence to the Law. This is a communal.

RB read  a poem by  Aldan Solovy about blessings. See:

See also essay on Blessings and Curses on p. 1363 “Blessings and Curses were closely bound to a belief in the power of speech, and both were frequently amplified by precisely circumscribed acts.”

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