Torah Study Notes 6-24-17

June 24, 2017

Page 1003

16:1 Korah raises a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Note that K is of the line of Rueben. His argument is that everyone should be equal before the lord. LL This has socio-political elements – almost a form of proto communism. Who can encounter God? Why should a small group enjoy all of the emoluments of leadership? But there are also the burdens of leadership. We cannot just look at the glory and benefits. This very issue was one of the key bases of the Protestant Reformation. And is more in accord with the attitudes of rabbinic and modern Reform Judaism. Moses argues that he is God’s choice. He urges them to make fire to divine the truth. See essay page 1001.

Moses remonstrates by arguing that K and the others have jobs as Levites.

16:16 The theory is that we have two stories of the rebellion here – that are weaved together. One reads as a rebellion against Moses and the other against Aaron.  The presence of the Eternal appeared before the community and threatens to annihilate them all. But they cried out “when one person sins, will You be wrathful with the whole community?” Communal responsibility is an essential tenet of Judaism. LL note: There is a recurring theme in the Torah on this issue. We have Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah and this. In each instance the question is presented as to the liability of all for the transgressions of a few – or even the preservation of the few where the society at large is guilty.

16:23  Moses again says that he is just obeying the Eternal. The earth opens up and swallows them and their household. They went down into Sheol. There is a suggestion here however that rebellion is necessary and justified at a certain level.

17:1 et sec. A plague kills 14,000. God indicates that He can fix this. Moses supports and serves the people. He sees his job to protect the people. But note that it is Aaron who saves the people – denoting a shift in power. It is not until Ezekiel that parents and children are seen as separate from their father – they and wives were merely property.

Torah Study Notes 6-17-17

 

June 17, 2017

Page 979

  • Numbers 13:1| Spies Sent into Canaan

 

Multiple authors. Note that the chieftains are sent – indicating the seriousness of the mission. More of a tour rather than espionage? Why is G giving us the land occupied by others? Seems ethically wrong. A problematic precedent for Israel today. But we should not look at this through a modern lens.  Note that these translations are constantly “updated” – often to become more gender neutral. All translation is interpretation. The use of the word “representative” here instead of “man” is interesting because it implies responsibilities to the group. The Hebrew word used is “man.” “Anashim” is translated as “notables’ rather than “people.” See Deuteronomy 120:2 on page 1154. The latter suggest that “you” or the people have decided to reconnoiter. Later it is implied that the whole sending of spies was problematic – not just the peoples reaction.  Why the name- change to Joshua? It endows him with more gravitas.

13:17 What they are to look for. They scouted the land. It does indeed flow with milk and honey but the people are powerful. See map on page 997. LL I see a problem with consistently positing an omniscient God. It would eliminate free will. Maimonides argued that there must always be mystery.  Consider the philosophy of Star Trek. https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetstemwedel/2015/08/20/the-philosophy-of-star-trek-is-the-prime-directive-ethical/#287b2f462177

 

13:30 Caleb wanted to proceed but the others were negative. See a Wrinkle in Time as a midrash on the Noah story. There was likely hyperbole here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Wrinkle_in_Time

 

 

14:1 The whole community broke into loud cries… “Let us head back to Egypt.” Can also be translated as “let us choose a new leader.” Note that Caleb’s message is not accepted until Joshua stands with him.

 

Torah Study Notes 6-3-17

June 3, 2017

Here we count the Levites. A census of the Gershonites, Merasites and Koathites and their duties in the tabernacle are detailed.

Page 923

Numbers 4:21

From last week – question as to conscription into the Israeli army. There are a variety of exemptions for woman. Orthodox woman can do a year of national service. One can be a conscientious objector but first must serve jail time. Loophole if you are in a Yeshiva. The Druse population are exempt but many of them serve. There is an inherent prejudice against anyone who has not had military service. There was a law some years ago requiring the Haredim to serve but this was changed by Netanyahu in order to form a government.

RL –  note that we are now considering individuals who are slightly older. They are in their 30s. RB – That is correct. It is unclear what they were doing before.

There is a biblical concept that is carried forward in The Handmaid’s Tale. Ihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Handmaid%27s_Tale It has to do with the adoption of the child of a concubine. There is also leveret marriage. Note that one can start rabbinical school at a later age. There is a tradition of coming to Judaism later in life. Rabbi Akiva did not start Hebrew until later in life. Mysticism can only be studied at the age of forty or later. The is an ultra orthodox called “Baal teshuva” or “master of repentance.” See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baal_teshuva  …a Jew who turns to embrace Orthodox JudaismBaal teshuvah literally means “master of return” i.e., one who has “returned” to God. It is often contrasted with “FFB” (Frum from birth), which refers to Jews who are born into families that are already religiously observant, and who have been conceived, born, and raised in the Orthodox Jewish religion.

Originally, the term referred to a Jew who transgressed the halakhah (Jewish law) knowingly or unknowingly and completed a process of introspection to “return” to the full observance of God’s mitzvot. According to the Talmud, a true “ba’al teshuvah” stands higher in shamayim (lit. “heaven”) than a “frum from birth”, even higher than a tzadik, chasal says. In contemporary times, the phrase is primarily used to refer to a Jew from a secular background who becomes religiously observant (normally in an Orthodox fashion) later in life. The alternative term, chozer b’teshuvah (חוזר בתשובה) is more commonly used in Israel.

29: As for the Merarites… they shall be recorded from the age of thirty and up to the age of fifty… They are in charge of the posts and sockets for the tent.

34: So they were recorded and counted – the Koasites, Gershanites, Merarites. SF: To be counted means that you have affirmed your obligation to serve God. It takes maturity and wisdom to do so.

Torah Study Notes 4-29-17

April 29, 2017

Rabbi Leah Berkowitz

NOTE TO READERS: All page references are to Plaut “The Torah – A Modern Commentary” Revised Edition

Page 735 Defilement, Childbirth and Purification.

12:1 Woman’s impurity after childbirth. Metaphorical? Also, touches on skin diseases and heredity. Note that the uncleanliness here is ritual impurity. The woman cannot enter the mishkan in a state of ritual impurity. This clearly places a greater value on the son than the daughter. The latter is impure twice as long. What is the symbolism of the numbers here? Some of this has to do with circumcision and the necessity of having the mother present at the bris. The bris provides spiritual protection to both the baby and the mother. Note that there would be no mourning until a child has survived at least a month. Medically, there are no clotting issues after eight days. There is no place in rabbinic Judaism to mourn miscarriage and stillbirth. Note that 40 is a significant number representing wholeness. That is the total of 7 and 33. Woman are supposed to go to the mikvah once a month. See Notes on page 734. Question as to practices in other ancient religions. Polygamy was common at this time. Partly because death in childbirth was common. See work of Rebecca Goldstein on male preferences. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Goldstein

12:6 The sacrificial offerings to be made by the woman who has given birth. Note the exception for woman not of means. If she can’t afford a sheep a pigeon will do.

13:1 Skin diseases. This section is most avidly read by dermatologists.  Note that there were rules against sorcery and witchcraft. Note also that the word “leprosy” here is a loose translation of a Hebrew word for an unknown disease. The priests were not healers or medical practitioners. How did the tradition of medical practice evolve among the Jews? Note that there was no distinction between philosophy and medicine/science. The rabbi’s would argue here that the described ailments are spiritual and the disease is punishment. The rabbis are not comfortable with unexplained suffering. LL The notion of physical isolation suggests that there was an awareness of the fact that some illnesses are actually communicable via contact. This suggests that there was something other than a spiritual malaise being addressed. The question is raised as to how we treat someone who is visibly ill. The limitation of day of “impurity” at least puts a limit on how the community might treat someone with disrespect. It appears that a pronouncement of “pure” is the same as a pronouncement of “cured.” One could use a flow chart to diagnose these diseases. See “Medicine in the Bible” https://blog.oup.com/2010/02/medicine-and-the-bible/

Until there was any proper understanding of the causative factors in disease and the actual disease processes themselves, there was a tendency to see sickness as the result of divine visitations and punishment for wrongdoing. The Bible itself knows little of physicians as such, and in the faith of Israel it was God alone who was the healer and giver of life. Ultimately, it was God alone who sent disease and disaster as a punishment for wrongdoing or, alternatively, rewarded the good with health and well‐being (see, e.g., Exod. 15.26; Deut. 7.12–15). It was seen especially with regard to contagious and disfiguring diseases, of which the best example is the disease complex unfortunately called leprosy in most English translations. Various ritual prescriptions were applied to such diseases in order to avoid the contamination of the community, which was seen as more important than the healing of the sick person.

Torah Study Notes 3-20-17

 

May 20, 2017

Rabbi Paul Golomb

Page 850

25:1 In the seventh year the land must rest. Note the shift in location from the beginning of Leviticus. The tent of meeting has moved from amidst the people to the top of a mountain. Moses is here alone and the people are camped nearby. There is a sociological philosophical/theological shift here. This is a continuation of the Holiness Code – a term used in biblical criticism to refer to Leviticus chapters 17–26, and is so called due to its repeated use of the word Holy.

Consider the notion of environmental ethics and sustainability. Both the earth and humans are entitled to a rest period. PG We must be aware of human intervention with the land. There is mutual dependence here that requires a process of conservation. To rest on Shabbat is fundamentally an act of faith – the notion that things won’t fall apart without us. This is more poignant as an issue for one tilling the land and caring for livestock. Can one lease his land for the 7th year and comply with this section? Consider the idea of “yenas” or first fruits in winemaking or “shmita.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmita

Wine is used to sanctify so has a special place here. However, the use of wine is generally discouraged throughout scripture because it dulls the senses. There are two categories of violation when a ritual violation takes place – intentional or accidental. The penalty for the latter is lenient and can be remedied. Someone passing through the vineyard at night and touching the grapes would be considered unintentional or inadvertent. LL Note: There seems to be an assumption that leaving the land fallow will replenish it whereas there are crops that today are used to enrich the soil. See line 21 re the abundance of the sixth year.

25:8 The 50th year. The horn shall sound and this year shall be a Jubilee. No sowing or reaping – only eating what grows naturally in the field. In buying the use of land from your neighbor there are special rules because what is being sold is the number of harvests. PG: Note that there is no cultivation in the 49th year since that is a multiple of seven. A question is raised as to keeping the land fallow for two years in a row. LL This encourages the building of granaries and silos. The people must prepare for the two fallow years – occurring either naturally or by design. RL Who enforced these rules? In Egypt, it was Pharaoh. Solomon Zeitlin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Zeitlin) has suggested that the definition of a “year” is not explicit. He suggests that the Hebrew year in Biblical times was 364 days so the same day of the week fell on the same day of each year. This lost a day to the solar year so they made up the loss by the 50th year. That year would only be fifty days. The land is held by a clan in perpetuity. Any exchanges are therefore leases or sub-leases.  At the end of the 50 year period the land returns to the clan. SF This could be massively destructive to social order. Business and market based codes are outlined here. Honesty is required as to pricing and valuation. Line 14 “You shall not wrong one another…”  This becomes significant after the Babylonian return – the text is promulgated and is being read. The question is why did they lose the land in the first place? Social injustice. The rich took advantage of the poor. This is picked up in Prophets. There is an analysis of what went wrong and what can be done right now.  This is being promulgated at Sinai because it is terribly important – social injustice leads to destruction. (If these are leases, do they decrease in value as the 50th year approaches? Compare 99 year leases of today.) In Israel today most of the population does not care about the shmeta. Only a smallpercentage are still able to engage in personal piety by strictly following these rules. PC There are lessons here for today’s society in America. The Jubilee was considered inoperative after the exile – it could no longer be done since the Jews were landless. That was certainly even more true after the Diaspora.

Torah Study Notes 4-22-17

April 22, 2017

The Rabbi Slept Late! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friday_the_Rabbi_Slept_Late

Not really, but this morning we gathered outside and socialized while waiting for the Rabbi. RB: Last week there were questions about the dates for the priesthood: First Temple was destroyed in 586. Solomon died in 930 BCE so we know that there was animal sacrificing happening at that time. The origins of the priesthood probably date back to that time as well. Remember that much of this is retrojection and likely incorporated extant practices into past events. In Israel the Bible is taught as history – in order to assert a claim to the land. Biblical teaching there starts with Kings – rather than Genesis.

We note that there are various versions of some of the events contained within the Torah. Just as there are four Gospels. This raises the question as to how we should approach God  – via the Torah or through something more internal and personal. Or both.  Obviously, different theologies have grown out of these approaches – just as between Catholics and Protestants. Does this matter? The stories are what bind us together as a people. That is what makes them important. LL: It could be argued that it is the discussion; the utilization of our minds and the consequent sense of community that is the “Thou’ of Martin Buber. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Buber

Page 707 We have just had the ordination of priests, here we address different kinds of sacrifices. Animal sacrifice is highly problematic theologically and very contrary to modern notions of worship.

9:1 The purgation offering. See Essays on page 734 and 705. Also, the burnt offering. This is happening on the eighth day of the ordination of the priests. The eighth day indicates starting over at a new level – one more than whole. Also, a return to “normal.” The peoples purgation offering, the meal offering, the sacrifice of wellbeing. Note the “elevation offering.” What does “presence” mean here? It could mean the smoke. It is unclear as to what made the people “fall on their faces.” A belief that God was present? How does G manifest to the blind and the deaf? Fire can be sensed by four of the five senses. This is a description of “doing it right.” insofar as the rituals are concerned.

10:1 Now come Aaron’s sons Nadah and Abihu. Alien fire consumes them. “You must distinguish between the sacred and profane…” But how does one distinguish? What is the good to the community that comes from this? Why can’t they mourn? Why hasn’t God warned them of the penalty for minor transgressions. Why is Moses explaining this rather than God? Aaron is not allowed to mourn because he is in the middle of the ritual practice. Today Cohanim are not allowed to go to a cemetery or to touch a dead body. The leadership has an obligation to strictly adhere to the proper procedures. They are held to a higher standard.  But what is the “alien fire.?” Compare the story of the Tower of Babel and arrogantly getting too close to God. Consider as well the story of Icarus. See verse nine where God tells Aaron not to drink wine during the ritual – were they drunk? The Rabbis have come up with several interpretations.  Were they excessively ambitious? Discussion of “staying in one’s lane.” “Nadab” means “giving.”

“Like most of Leviticus, the sidrah presents itself as relating what took place in the Sainai wilderness, in the Israelite camp. ..the sidrah opens on the eighth and final day of the ceremony…The joyous occasion is suddenly disrupted by tragedy, Aaron’s two oldest sons commit a ceremonial offence; and again a miraculous flame appears, this time to take the lives of the offenders…The terrible fate of Nadab and Abihu underscored the priests need to perform the rituals strictly according to rule. It stressed priestly accountability for the faithful discharge of their duties.”

Torah Study Notes 3-11-17

March 11, 2017

NOTICE TO READERS: These notes are best understood when read in conjunction with The Torah a Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, edited by W. Gunther Plaut.

Joined today by Rabbi’s mother Amy! See Rabbi Berkowitz’s sermon on the subject of clothes – also posted here.

Page 563

Here we are looking at the clothing of the priests. See http://www.biblesearchers.com/temples/jeremiah10.shtml for an image. See also PBS documentary on the Met collection – fashion as art. http://fashionista.com/2016/02/met-gala-documentary-trailer#! Now available on Netflix.

The intentionality of the messages conveyed by clothing. Note that the previous generation of rabbis wore robes. When woman first became rabbis, and hoped that the robes would avoid any comments about their clothing, there were still comments about shoes and hair. Richard – how ancient is the tradition of white associated with purity? Does white denote virginity or austerity? RB It can be both and may also be a symbol of equality if worn commonly by a group. LL White denotes mourning in some cultures in the east – China, India and Japan.

27:20  Olive oil for lighting. The Hebrew word “Tamid” is eternal or perpetual. But here, and as a practical matter, the light is from evening to morning. Archeologist have not found textiles from this period.  Any kind of textile work would likely not be accomplished by a purely nomadic people. Most of this section is likely therefore back-dated from the Temple period – a retrojection.

28:1 The sacred vestments and what they were intended to communicate. “sacral vestments” for priestly service.  Dignity and adornment are stated messages. These items are heavy so as to convey a sense of gravitas. Did they wear this all of the time? Surely while in the tabernacle. There is a suggestion of elitism here in that special fabrics and symbols of wealth that is dynastic to Aaron and his progeny. There was a hereditary priestly class. PC “Thank God I am not a Alpha, they have to think deep thoughts. I am only an Epsilon” from Brave New World (LL I could not find this exact quote and this is also a ZBT fraternity chant.) There is some comfort to having prescribed ritual or order of things.  There is an advantage in having clothing that tells who you are. CL The structure of society in the ancient near east was God/King personified in one person. This is somewhat different in that God here is separated and not personified. The priest seems to be separate and apart but he is one of the people. God is on a mountain top and becomes progressively more removed as we approach modern western religions.   RL What is the listing of tribes and sons on the stones about? LL Possibly remembering? This is resonant of “You shall set them as frontlets before your eyes.” The stones are symbols but also burdens. The notion of weight as seriousness of purpose.  CL The use of the written word as part of the art/decoration is unusual in this period.  RB The script would likely have been a precursor to Hebrew.  See footnote 10 re 25 characters on each shoulder stone.

28:15  Details of the construction and identification of the stones that would represent each tribe. They are framed in gold. Note the phrase “…inside the breastplate of decision…” SF: What is the decision or decisions that they would have to make? RB A variety of decisions. In many cases the priest would also act as a judge – probably in matters both theological and civil. But the priest would here be called upon to make predictions as to future events. This indicates that any decision must be predicated on the common good. They are also a reminder to God that the priest is speaking for the people of the covenant. LL Interesting that God again “remembers” or is “reminded.”

28:22 More details of construction of the vestments.

See note on page 573. Re Urim and Thummim. These objects are unknown but are believed to be in the nature of oracle bones. Joshua approached Eleazar to  decide if the people should or should not go to war. PC Is there regret that we have lost this ancient direct contact with God? RB Yes but there has been an evolution in the relationship. The notion is that modern practices of prayer are in fact a lesser substitute for the that direct contact. Our modern way is more democratic arguably. Shira – the previous generation must on occasion feel uncomfortable with change so that the next can more easily accept it. Structure and tradition are themselves evolutionary.

Torah Study Notes 3-4-17

March 4, 2017

Page 545

T’rumah means “gift” This is from a Priestly author so is very detailed. How a holy place is created with the described objects. See Essay at Plaut page 543. Here Moses has ascended Sinai alone where he remains in communication with God.

25:1 The Eternal one spoke to Moses…let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them… note that the translation “dolphin skin” is uncertain. “The Torah is our ancestors telescope searching for God.” (LL: I like this quote but could not find the source.) How they understood Gods relationship to space. SF: What are the gifts that we can give to God now. Current thinking is that we make a sanctuary in her hearts. Love is an emotion that cannot be commanded.  These gifts need to be gifts of the heart. Joan B. – I don’t think of God living in a specific place. RB: Again, these accounts are being codified after the destruction of the First Temple. This was a way of creating a focal point and keeping everyone busy. RB:  If you don’t give the people a tabernacle to build they will build and idol. The Reform movement is bringing back the physicality of prayer. There was a considerable period when that was not the case. LL: My earliest memories at VT are from 1952 when I was studying for my Bar Mitzvah with Rabbi Alton Winters. The service was much more restrained at that time. Men never wore a prayer shawl during services and the Torah was definitely not marched around the sanctuary.

25:10: They shall make an ark…RB: The description here looks like the one from Raider of the Lost Ark.https://www.google.com/search?q=raiders+of+the+lost+ark+images&espv=2&biw=1094&bih=510&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwix4tiW-r_SAhVqxFQKHQzCAIoQ7AkIOA#imgrc=SdhBKE-CJvhgiM:

The rings and poles made it transportable. The tablets of the Covenant are placed within. The poles are intended to create distance – no one can touch the ark.  Gloria: In Europe I saw an exhibition of merry go round figures that were made by the same carvers who build the Arks for temples.

When did synagogue design as we know it today start?  Remember that what is described here is not Judaism – it is a priestly religion with the same or similar laws.

17: Cubits and Cherubim. Note reference to “the pact.” Why does it not say “covenant?” This was likely a parchment written in Hebrew. The “cherubim” is sometime thought of as a childs face but we don’t know if these are winged persons or some other figure – such as a lion – or even multi-faced. There were similar figures in other near eastern religions. Some think of them as angels. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=images+of+cherubim&*

SF They represent certain kinds of energy – God will meet us between them. Or the attributes of justice and mercy. LL Cannot mercy be part of justice? SB It is interesting that we are asked to build a place for God. LL The process of building or creating is part of the training or even transformation of the individual – be it in a place or via internalization.

23: You shall make a table of acacia wood…overlaid with gold. The bread of display? Almond blossoms and calyx with petals. Follow the patterns that are shown to you on the mountain. See note on page 555. God needed food? The loaves we have Friday are salted and recalls the sacrifices. Salt is also a sign of wealth. There is clearly a reference to pagan practices here. They are taking steps away from the notion of food for gods. Creation must be consistent with our values.

Torah Study Notes 2-25-17

February 25, 2017

Page 513

21:1 These are the rules that you should set before them… starts with the management of slaves. There seems to be no clear segue from the Ten Commandments here. We have moved from general precepts to very detailed rules of conduct in specific situations. This is a self contained legal code. They are setting limits on what was the common practice of slavery at that time. A question of moral relativism here which is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. This seems to be debt slavery which was probably their situation in Egypt. Note that these restrictions only apply to other Hebrews. This has been identified as the Elohim text. Daughters may be sold as a slave but with certain restrictions. Compare Ken Burn’s film on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/films/not-for-ourselves-alone In 1840 America woman had virtually no rights.

Who is enforcing these rules at this time? Recall that there are provisions for protection of worker’s rights in Leviticus. See: https://www.theologyofwork.org/old-testament/leviticus-and-work/holiness-leviticus-1727/treating-workers-fairly-leviticus-1913/

21:12 One who fatally strikes another person…there is reference here to sanctuary cities which are described later. Note the phrase “act of God.” We assume it means “by accident.” It is unclear here why the translation assumes only a male killer. Again, this is likely a humanization of existing practices. See Mishpatin at Plaut page 511.

21:22  When individuals fight… tooth for tooth etc. The rabbis argue that this is not literal but rather monetary – a value is assigned to each part; a question as to how much the victim will settle for. Here a fetus is not classified as a living person but rather as the property of the husband. RB has this memorized because of her work with Planned Parenthood. In the traditional Jewish community one does not say Kadesh for a child who dies in miscarriage. See Essays at page 526. “Assessment of the age and origin of this law code…depends on how one views its relationship to the laws of the ancient Near East, of which we now have extensive knowledge. There can be no question  that a number of these laws were familiar to Israelite society, either by way of patriarchal traditions formed in the Mesopotamian past, or indirectly through the practices of the nations with which the Israelites came into contact – especially the Canaanites after the conquest of the land.”

21:24  What happens when your ox gores someone. Note that an ox is a very valuable animal. Note also the concept of “muad” meaning “in the habit of.”  One can put themselves in a situation where harm can be expected to ensue but even a trespasser is subject to some protection. These laws are clearly designed for a settled farming community – rather than a nomadic society. That is why it is generally agreed that  they were likely written much later than the time of the events described. There is a close relationship between this text and the laws of Hammurabi.

21:33 When a person opens a pit… very detailed rules on dealing with livestock. Monetary compensation by a thief for theft of a sheep. Note the reference to tunneling at night or in the day. The rabbi’s argue that there is an expectation of an armed confrontation at night. During the day it is more likely that no one will be at home. Or is this reference to “tunneling” a fair translation?

The companion Haftarah here is Jeremiah 34:8-22. In that prophet’s time, the ruling classes of Judah, who had released their slaves as a tribute to God, reversed their previous release once the threat of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar had passed. They reneged on the promise they had made. This tells how Jeremiah dealt with that reversal.

1st night Seder on April 10.

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.