Torah Study Notes 10-31-15

October 31, 2015
Today’s NY Times – an illustrated guide to the 613 Jewish Commandments. Class: Seventeen congregants in attendance – plus Doi Cohan.
Page 132
RB: See And Hannah Wept by Michael Gold at response to a Jewish wife’s infertility per question raised last week. He also wrote Does God Belong in the Bedroom.
21:1 The Eternal now remembered Sarah… LL:  Can God forget? SamF: more “ignores” or “overlooks.” AF: It is a question of scheduling. RB: This notion of scheduling works with the Hebrew translation for “the appointed time.” SamF: It could also refer to human time – God’s time is unknown to us.
21:6 Hagar the Egyptian bears a son to Abraham. This is Ishmael. It is unclear what he was doing that disturbed Sarah. Note that she was the one who “set up” Abraham and Hagar and promised to accept Ishmael as her own. Why is there frequently a perceived threat from the second born? There is no story in Genesis in which the first born is dominant. This radically undermines the notion of primogeniture. The authors seem to be looking at attributes of leadership instead of birth order. It is notable that Isaac does not seem to be a high achiever and is most famous for almost being sacrificed.
21: 14 Early next morning…Hagar “places her son on her shoulder”, leaves and, when they run out of water, casts Ishmael under a bush. An Angel leads them to a well. Ishmael then becomes a bowman. Consider Ishmael in Moby Dick as the harpooner. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851) is a novel by Herman Melville considered an outstanding work of Romanticism and the American Renaissance. A sailor called Ishmael narrates the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, a white whale which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab’s ship and severed his leg at the knee. Although the novel was a commercial failure and out of print at the time of the author’s death in 1891, its reputation as a Great American Novel grew during the 20th century. William Faulkner confessed he wished he had written it himself,[1] and D. H. Lawrencecalled it “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world”, and “the greatest book of the sea ever written”.[2] “Call me Ishmael” is one of world literature’s most famous opening sentences. CL: It is notable that the Ishmael in Moby Dick is also an outsider as well as the only survivor of the voyage. Does the discarding of the second wife and her child perhaps constitute a criticism or even a rejection of polygamy? RB: Polygamy was not banned in Judaism until the 12th C. And that only applied to the Ashkenazic community – it continued among the Sephardim.
21:22 Abimelech and the water well. Abraham gives him seven lambs and calls the place “Beersheba” which means “they took an oath.” but is also a play on words for seven sheep.  Remember that Abraham also negotiates for Sarah’s grave. He is a negotiator and abjures force. This is an exemplary form of leadership. These vignettes also are fundamental to the Jewish right to the land. The land is purchased – not stolen or taken by force. This in contrast to the ultimate subjugation of the Canaanites.
21:32 Abimelech returns to the land of the Philistines. Abraham plants a tamarind tree.
22: 1 God tests Abraham by challenging him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Here is the famous phrase “Here I am.” An angel of the Eternal calls out to him and releases him from the obligation to sacrifice his son so Abraham offers a ram instead. LL When and why do the authors use the trope of an angel as messenger rather than have God speak directly? Is there a clear distinction between God and human? God takes on the manifestation of human? See the Essay The Messenger on page 138. RB: This is a major problem with the divinity of Jesus for Jews. Maimonides rejected the idea of God taking on human form as a way of rejecting Christianity. The Reform movement also rejects the notion that God can take on human form. SF There is a cabalistic notion here of an angel as a manifestation of divine force. There is a real force in nature that is beyond our consciousness. Note that Abraham returns to Beersheba without Isaac. The next time we read of Isaac he is in a place associated with his brother Ishmael. This account has been construed as an argument against child sacrifice – which still existed in other cultures.

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