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.

Fighting the Plague of Darkness

Rabbi Berkowitz’s remarks at the Mid-Hudson Solidarity March. You can watch a video of the speech here. Mid-Hudson welcomed its first refugee family, from Congo, this past Tuesday. The family our community has volunteered to welcome is delayed indefinitely.

For the sin of silence,
For the sin of indifference,
For the secret complicity of the neutral, 
For the closing of borders,
For the washing of hands,
For the crime of indifference,
For the sin of silence,
For the closing of borders.
For all that was done,
For all that was not done,
Let there be no forgetfulness before the Throne of
Glory;
Let there be remembrance within the human heart;
And let there at last be forgiveness
When your children, O God,
Are free and at peace.

From Chaim Stern, editor, Gates of Repentance (Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1978).

This week, the Jewish scriptural readings find us enslaved in Egypt, inching ever closer to that moment of liberation, but with many roadblocks along the way. With Pharaoh’s heart so hardened that even his most trusted advisors cannot sway him, God brings about the ninth plague: “a darkness upon the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be touched” (Exodus 10:21).

Unlike many of the other plagues, this one fell only on the houses of the Egyptians. What was the nature of this strange and selective darkness? The rabbis tell us that this is not a physical darkness, but a spiritual one, “the punishment that awaits those who cannot truly see their neighbors, who cannot feel the pain and recognize the dignity of their afflicted neighbors” (Etz Chayim 377).

This is a story that has recurred too many times in our history. Too many times, we have drawn the curtains and shut off the streetlights, turned off the television and silenced the radio, so that we did not have to bear witness to our neighbors’ suffering, so that we would not be held responsible for our inaction.

But we are here this evening to say: we will not give in to the darkness of ignorance and indifference. We will shine the light of solidarity, even in these dark times. Because, as the ancient rabbis tell us, the break of dawn is the moment we can first recognize the face of our friend (Berachot 9b).

We are here tonight, to say to our neighbors, to our faith communities, and to our public officials: We will not let the actions of our national leadership prevent us from seeing the humanity of our neighbors, whether they are our Muslim brothers and sisters living among us now, or our refugee cousins who are, in spite of everything, still hoping to make a home in our community. We will not allow our nation to fall victim to the plague of darkness.

We are here tonight to say to our neighbors.

Our lights have not been extinguished.

Our curtains are not drawn.

Our doors are not closed.

Our ears and eyes and hearts are open:

We see you.

We hear you.

We are you.

We are standing beside you.

We will welcome you.

And we will fight for you!

 Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu lirdof tzedek ule’ehov et ha-ger.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes us holy through sacred obligations, and commands us to pursue justice, and to love the stranger.

Torah Study Notes 12-3-16

December 3, 2016

Discussion led by Rabbi Leah Berkowitz

Page 173

25:19 This is the line of Isaac son of Abraham… The subsequent statement “…and Isaac loved Rebecca…” is one of the few mentions of love between husband and wife in the Torah. Note that we don’t have “Jewish” yet and in fact not even “Israelite” This is the first family. “Abiru” is likely the word for foreigner, alien, immigrant. There is a negative connotation to it. There is some controversy about the age of Rebecca at the time of marriage – probably somewhere in her teenage years.

25:22 “If this is so why do I exist?” is the question posed by Rebecca in response to the struggle going on in her belly. One might be tempted to give this question a philosophical or existential import but the question might more realistically be re-phrased to “…why am I in this pain?” or even a question by her as to the role of motherhood.

25:24: “Two people are in your belly…” She gives birth to Esau and Jacob. Jacob is holding Esau’s heel which is clearly a precursor of his efforts to supplant his brother. There are Cabalistic interpretations of the numbers of ages for both Isaac and Rebecca at the time of this birth.

25:27:  The story of Jacob’s effort to obtain his brother’s birthright. Note the use of the word “red” to describe Esau, his hunter’s soup and the kingdom of Edom. See page 997 for the location of Edom. LL Who is the author here? This section about the soup seems to be an insert to justify what happens subsequently. Most of this is J. The justification here seems also to be the prophecy itself. In the last sentence of that passage about Esau eating his food “and he ate” is one word in Hebrew indicating haste and speed. SN This could be a joke between brothers. But note that Jacob makes him swear. Note also that the first born gets a double portion of the land – so this is no small thing.

26:1 There was famine in the land… Here we see Isaac and Rebecca interacting. Abimelech gives them land. Isaac settles in Garar where he passes his wife off as his sister – just as his father did in Egypt. This passage appears to be out of sequential order. Abimelech sees Isaac “fondling” R and challenges Isaacs behavior – which would have been inappropriate if she was in fact his sister.

26:12: In that area Isaac sowed seed…but Abimelech asks them to leave considering Isaac’s deceptive conduct. They return to the lands of Abraham but they then quarrel over the wells with the inhabitants there until they get to Rehoboth. Note the words “became too numerous… which is resonant of the complaint of Pharaoh in Egypt. See map on page 15. How is Isaac feeling about this comparison to his father? To some extent Isaac is overshadowed and never comes into his own. But he successfully establishes coexistence with the Philistines. And had a loving relationship with his wife. He appears to be a man of moderation. Jacob and Esau are so polarized that they are almost two sides of the same person. Some consider the wells to be symbols of Abrahams monotheism –  that the Philistine’s were rejecting.

The analogous Haftarah portion here is Malachi – who lived in the middle of the 5th C. BCE. This was a time of corruption and instability assessed to the Edomite’s who were descendants of Esau. Malachi’s critique helped bring about reform.

Torah Study Notes 11-19-16

November 19, 2016

Class led by Senior Rabbi – Paul Golomb.

Page 123

Note the interaction of personalities – Abraham, Sarah, the strangers and God. God is a personality here as well. The portion opens right after all the males in the household have been circumcised.

18:1 Abraham sees three men and offers them hospitality. LL There is an implicit assumption that the strangers will move on. They are likely armed. A has already shown he can defend himself – is a pretty effective military leader. Hospitality is offered with limitations. The text is signaling something to the reader about the divinity of the strangers that A himself does not know. Note that he rushes but does not appear to invite them into his tent. He hurries to do a good deed. At age 99 he has circumcision without anesthesia. He must be uncomfortable but he still runs to greet them. In the Torah the stranger is generally a manifestation of the Eternal. A technique in epic literature is not to build to an event. You are told the subject matter right from the start and then are engaged in the journey. This is true in Gilgamesh and others. There is no sense of mystery in the sense of  not knowing what is happening.  Abraham purposely understates his hospitality as “a little bit of water and bread” whereas he then puts out a feast

18:6  He prepares a feast but note that it is not kashrut –there is a mixing of meat and milk. A matter of Jewish apologia with respect to Christianity was to insist that Abraham Isaac and Jacob knew Torah – although they are part of it and it was not yet written. This worked against the Christian notion that religion is based on faith rather than revelation. If these men are “angels” why do they eat? PG In Torah as in much of the bible there are a group of super-luminary beings – they are avatars of God – they are God appearing in human form.  See The Great Chain of Being which makes Plato’s argument that there are no gaps in the hierarchy of things – ranging from rock at the bottom to God at the top. See:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_chain_of_being

The theological challenge in Christianity was the meaning of the Trinity – which led to the council of Nicaea – the reformation etc. Diarmaid MacCulloch in writing about Christianity suggests that the Muslim conquest of Europe was because the Christians were fighting one another over these theological issues. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diarmaid_MacCulloch

18:9 Sara laughs. Will she bear a child when she has grown so old? Think of this as a stage production – where the characters are and who is being addressed. God has appeared in the first verse and now reappears. Sarah is behind the curtain but can hear the conversation. There is a conflation here of the strangers and God. That is an elusive issue. But there is an awareness nevertheless. It appears that God knew what she was thinking. We, as readers, have to figure out the inflections because that is not indicated in the Hebrew. The innovation of Hebrew was vowels – which provided a sense of pronunciation. Catholic doctrine emphasizes God’s grace here – that these three individuals were selected at random whereas in Judaism it has to do with being worthy – taking responsibility. This notion is closer to the Protestant view. But the worthiness of A can only be understood with the presence of Sarah – she represents the reality check.  See Mary Poppiin song “I love to Laugh” which state the different forms of laughter. Isaac means “to laugh.”  This is not the only instance where God speaks directly to a woman. Cf Hagar at the spring.  But there is an ambiguity here – is the speaker Abraham and not God? This appears to be their reward for hospitality to strangers. When she says she did not laugh – she meant not aloud.  Consider Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Armstrong

There is a difference between immanence and transcendence. God is saying that laughter is a good thing. Previously God has used the expression “where is” when asking Abel about Cain.

8: 16  The Eternal thought – Should I hide from Abraham what I am intending? The story of Sodom. Now we have a direct colloquy with God. God appears to be talking out load so that A can overhear. His words are not directly addressed to A.  This parsha presents the question of what is meant by justice. It brings up the notion of collateral damage. WWI was the beginning of total war – wherein civilians were also targets. Recall that during the Civil War people would go out in carriages to watch. They did not feel threatened. Where are the limits of justice? Should the innocent be destroyed together with the guilty? That is the risk whenever there is bombing or a drone strike.

LL/

 

Torah Study Notes 11-12-16

November 12, 2016

Discussion led by Rabbi Leah Berkowitz

Page 91 Abraham’s election as the founder of what would become Judaism – the first person to believe in one God. Called to an arduous journey late in his life. He will be the ancestor of all three monotheistic religions.

12:1 I will make your name great… This was originally written in verse; parallelisms – a chiasmus. But why him? What is God asking him to do and why would he do that? LL Most faiths begin with the inspiration of a single person. Others are worshiping another God. There are other faiths nearby that are dualist – a benevolent god and a malevolent one. A light side and a dark side – like Star Wars. Sometimes a masculine and feminine. The later tends to be pushed aside until the growth of adoration of Mary in Catholicism. There is midrash about Abraham smashing idols – which is not in the Torah. But it is interesting that he was chosen despite his flaws. One of the midrash is that his father was an idol maker and A was a rebel. The idols were destroyed by A except for one who he gave a stick. When his father returned, he asked what happened and A told him the gods had fought and only one survived. “But they are just statutes that I have made” his father said. “Then why do you worship them?” asked A.

12:4 So he set forth with his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot. He leaves without argument. They set forth to the land of Canaan. “I am giving this land to your descendants…” There is a psychological element here – it required a mental and physical commitment to strike off on one’s own. There are consequences to this “gift” of land that reverberate even today – as to who can occupy this land.  PC: It is comforting to replace “nation” with “a great ethical structure.” RB “Nation” just means a populous place here. It is not our modern notion of nationhood. There is an analogy here to political movements that get people fired up. Abraham may have had a message that people were waiting to hear.

12:6 He eventually travels to Egypt and prevails upon Sarai to pretend she was his sister. This worked well for Abraham initially. Pharaoh summoned A and said why did you do this? Take her and be gone! This happens twice to Sarah and once to Rebecca. SF: Why is this here? It certainly shows how flawed A was. He is tested again later. There may be similar myths in surrounding cultures. This kind of stories keep the attention of the audience. This is J and E authorship – two different stories with different kings.

12:13 He travels to Bethel and he and Lot argue. He builds an alter in Hebron. Lot picks what appears to be the most fertile land near Sodom – where wicked people lived. This is more of A separating himself from his past. In the previous parsha we see the death of his father. This separation from Lot is the last connection to his father s house.

LL/

Torah Study Notes 11-5-16

November 5, 2016
Page 59- The story of Noah. In terms of authorship it appears to be a splicing together of J and P. You could lift the P part out and the remainder would make sense. There are two merged stories. The flood narrative is first which is common in early cultures – either there was an early flood or a prevalent notion that God saw man as evil and wanted to start over. In this the people were bad but in Gilgamesh the people were too loud and getting on the nerves of the gods. See A Wrinkle in Time – Many Waters https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many_Waters where the brothers go back in time to the flood. LL In ancient Greek culture there was no sharp division between good and evil – which may account for the absence of a flood myth in that culture. The multiple Greek gods had human characteristics and human weaknesses such as lust and envy.
6:9 Noah was a righteous man… what does this mean in the sense that there is no Torah yet? RB: There is a suggestion of a preexisting set of laws or moral codes that formed a baseline for human behavior. See: 9:1 on page 63 which recites basic laws sometimes known as The “Noahide Laws” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Laws_of_Noah
See also Ch 2:16.
The seven Noahide laws as traditionally enumerated are:[7]
1. Do not deny God.
2. Do not blaspheme God.
3. Do not murder.
4. Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
5. Do not steal.
6. Do not eat from a live animal.
7. Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to the law.
According to the Talmud,[7] the rabbis agree that the seven laws were given to the sons of Noah. However, they disagree on precisely which laws were given to Adam and Eve. Six of the seven laws are exegetically derived from passages in Genesis,[8] with the seventh being the establishing of courts.

The orthodox argue that these seven laws apply even if you are not part of the covenant. Question as to where the comma is in the first sentence. Was he singularly a righteous man or a righteous man only in his generation. See handout – What does it mean to be “blameless in his age.” Is he righteous only in comparison to the wicked people around him? “In a more respectable age perhaps he would have been no better than average.” What makes him righteous? He listens to God and thereafter he saves the animals. The concept of not bending to peer pressure is important for children and in a sense, the history of the Jews, is one of knowing the right path. See Subversive Sequels in the bible by Judy Kushner. LL Consider The Sixth Extinction. See rabbinical commentary distributed by RB:

Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a: These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations (Bereshit 6:9, JPS translates as “blameless in his age”). R. Johanan said: In his generations, but not in other generations. Resh Lakish maintained: [Even] in his generations…how much more so in other generations. R. Hanina said: As an illustration of R. Johanan’s view, to what may this be compared? To a barrel of wine lying in a vault of acid: in its place, its odor is fragrant [by comparison with the acid]; elsewhere, its odor will not be fragrant. R. Oshaia said: As an illustration of Resh Lakish’s view, to what may this be compared? To a vial of spikenard oil lying amidst refuse: [if] it is fragrant where it is, how much more so amidst spices!

Etz Chayim p. 41: “Yohanan sees Noah as righteous only relatively, in contrast to the wicked people around him. In a more respectable age, he would have been no better than average. Resh Lakish, on the other hand, says that anyone who had the moral backbone to be a good person in an immoral society would have been an even better person in a generation that encouraged goodness. One emphasizes the power of society to shape the behavior of its members; the other champions the power of the individual to withstand the pressures of society…. In the face of universal corruption, he maintained civilized standards of behavior.”

6:11 An ark of gopher wood… construction is described in detail. Take seven pairs of every pure beast but only one pair of the impure.
7:6 Noah was six hundred years old…after seven days the flood waters covered the earth and after forty days… the water subsided. Note the poetic parallelism here. The floodgates opening is a symbol of chaos and is sometime considered a feminine opposite to God. Is this a continuation of creation? “And God remembered Noah” – also God remembered Rachel or God remembered the Israelites when they were in Egypt. “Remember” here could mean to focus or acting so as to interfere in human affairs. Also, God did not forget Noah. See Noah movie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_(2014_film) Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an orthodox Jewish rabbi leader, hailed Noah as “a valuable film, especially for our times.”[79] In order to create “a story that tries to explicate Noah’s relationship with God and God’s relationship with the world as it has become”, director of the film Darren Aronofsky himself stated that he was working in “the tradition of Jewish Midrash”.[80]