Torah Study Notes 2-4-17

February 4, 2017

With Rabbi Leah R. Berkowitz

Exodus – The plagues continue. Query: The captivity of the Israelites’ in Babylonia is well documented. They were in fact released and allowed to return to Israel. Is not Egypt merely a surrogate for Babylonia in this account? It is believed to have been written shortly after the return. See:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Exodus

Page 407

10:1  “I have hardened his heart…”  – in the first five plagues P hardened his own heart. Maimonides https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maimonides  opined that P eventually lost his ability to repent. See Rick Jacobs recent article in the Huffington Post. He appears to be attacking Trump but it is soon apparent that he is talking about this episode from the Torah. It sounds like he is calling out Trump but is actually calling out P. (I could not find this.) Compare Lincoln’s Team of Rivals. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_of_Rivals  RB: One argubly becomes stronger and sharper by debating with those of different views. Also, policy can be adapted to different views.  The same dynamic applies in personal relationships such as marriage. G is humiliating P and P’s gods. Each plague addresses a different one  of those gods.

10:7  The courtiers now suggest that the Hebrew’s should leave. A question is presented as to what constitutes slavery at that time. How did it compare to slavery in America? From a literary perspective, this is somewhat like a super-hero narrative with a good guy and bad guy. It is usually  more interesting when the characters are complex. This speaks to a time when people wanted a hero and a villain. Read Victor Frankl’s Mans Search for Meaning. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man%27s_Search_for_Meaning chronicling his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II, and describing his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positively about, and then immersively imagining that outcome.

LL This reads like a play with dialog. The writer likely has a variety of intentions: to entertain and to teach via that entertainment. See the The Philosophy of the Torah. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-philosophy-and-philosophies-of-judaism/

What is “essentialism” – the tendency to say that people are of a certain nature and are therefore designed for specific roles. There is a good deal of this in Exodus and elsewhere in the Torah.

10:12  Hold out your arm over the land of Egypt for the locusts… The Eternal drove an east wind over the land. Why do the locusts come from the east? The other empires were to the east and they periodically invaded Egypt.  “I stand guilty before the Eternal your God.”  The west wind hurled the locusts into the sea of reeds. Compare the Santa Ana winds that impact southern California.  Hold out your arm so that darkness will descend on the land. This could have been a sandstorm. Note that some of the plagues are Egyptian specific whereas others are of general impact. The hail did not strike the Israelites. They had light. Arguably the darkness is of ignorance and depression.

10:24 P said “Go worship the Eternal. Only your flocks and your goods shall be left behind… E shall bring one more plague upon P. The E again stiffens the heart of P. There are clearly issues of free will and predestination here. E apparently knows the outcome and is orchestrating it. “Why?” is a very difficult question.

LL: If this is read as a work of art one would not question the plot line of the author. (RB says she would and does.) If the artist is successful one accepts the artist’s vision and is immersed in the artistic experience and intent. Such an approach does not make the work any less sanctified. It may be more so as we react with astonishment, anger, delight and sadness. A search for historical foundation, for verisimilitude and logic, in my opinion, actually does a disservice to the author and strips away the divinity. The “play” has several messages – philosophical and theological – that touch upon inter alia, morality, ethics, and politics.   The Torah is a work of divine inspiration that has kept its readers transfixed and fascinated for thousands of years.

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