Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Big Bully?

In Exodus on January 31, 2012 at 8:00 am

Playing after school
that kid would come up to me
and flick my ear.

I see clearly now:
Leather jacket, spiky hair
and a knot of toads.

Is it big or small?
What would happen if my self
stood fast directly?

Parsha Beshalach

The Egyptians gave chase to them, and all the chariot horses of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his warriors overtook them encamped by the sea.

Exodus 14.9

Why would Pharaoh send all of his chariots (ibid. v.7), and all of his chariot horses, horsemen, and warriors besides, to overtake a band of tired, scared slave workers, women, children and sheep?  Can we justify this behavior by saying the Israelites were armed (Exodus 13.18) and had 600,000 fighting men (Numbers 1.46)?  Were these truly fighting men, or merely men of fighting age?

Pharaoh took his chariots and captains over all of them (Exodus 14.7).  Does it stand to reason that there would be some discussion before a campaign against a large army, however ragtag it may be?  Would Pharoah and his officers have discussed strategy before setting out?  If the Israelites lifted up their eyes and saw the Egyptians marching after them and were sore afraid (ibid. v.10), what do you think that strategy was?  How long do you think it was discussed?

What do big bullies want?  What do the bullied want?


Claiming You

In Exodus on January 30, 2012 at 8:00 am

I look in darkness
and see others groping on
to what they need most.

They all turn aside
for one reason or other.
I am no better.

After all, I am
still here, looking in darkness,
following them home.

Parsha Beshalach

God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: ‘Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.’

Exodus 13.17

Why would freed slaves so easily decide to return to the land of their captivity so soon after being freed?  How often have you done something and not done it?  How often has something felt so near yet so far?  How often have you had to learn things the heard way?

Are you ready are you to be you?

As near as it might seem, is the path to you always clear?

Dark path

Dark Path by net_efekt

True Wealth

In Exodus on January 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I go to market
and see some people buying,
others just looking.

I go to the ones
who are looking and give each
of them a pence piece.

They buy candies and
toy whistles. They are happy.
They make me wealthy.

Parsha Bo

But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby, in proportion to the number of persons: you shall contribute for the lamb according to what each household will eat.

Exodus 12.4

Is it striking that the third thing we’re told is to be nice to each other? The first is it shall be the first month of the year for you. The second is take every man a lamb…a lamb for a household. The third is our text above.

Does this apply to The Exodus only, and Passover, when it is said that no Jew should have no place to go? Or to any Exodus situation? Define an Exodus situation.

Does this say the haves are responsible for the have nots? Or are the haves responsible for helping the have nots become haves? Is this a mere suggestion? Or a commandment to be sensitive to the needs of others, and not turn the needy away?

How does this instruction relate to the first two instructions received?  The hard part: I don’t want to hear about Passover.  Get creative!

Should the definition of needy be someone in need? Or someone who won’t help someone in need?

Even in hardship, do we affirm our humanity by affirming others’?

Do all creatures deserve to share our hours of triumph?

True Apologies

In Exodus, Midrash on January 26, 2012 at 8:00 am

I start my morning
Someone shows up to ask me
Why’d you do this wrong?

You asked for it that
way, the day before yesterday.
Has something changed?

Nothing. Just see that
it doesn’t happen again.
We’re ok, ok?

Parsha Bo

And Moses said [to Pharoah]: ‘Thou must also give into our hand sacrifices and burnt-offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the LORD our God.

Exodus 10.25

Why does Pharoah need to offer sacrifices? Weren’t the Israelites going to worship for themselves? Why is Moses imposing his own religion on Pharoah?

Pharoah has dealth with the Israelites unjustly and deceitfully since the beginning of Exodus, Ramban points out. Whether done out of fear or hate or lack of understanding, inflicting pain and suffering on others is wrong.

Avot 1.6 says we should “judge all men in the scale of merit” (Soncino) or “judge all men with scales weighted in their favor” (Living Talmud, by Judah Goldin). What does this mean? Should we call it like we see it? Or should we always give others the benefit of the doubt?

When we make mistakes, we are instructed to make amends. Torah is replete with examples. See the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis and parsha Mishpatim (Exodus 21.1 – 24.18). Is it necessary to admit when one is wrong to make amends?  Can we make amends without making sacrifice? Is sacrifice proper without kavannah, intent?

Do necessary reparations increase with greater transgressions? Should this be determined by size and scope, large and small? What happens between friends when a silly insult goes un-repaired for years?

When you betray yourself do you hurt others? When you betray others do you hurt yourself?

State of the Pharoahs Address

In Exodus, Midrash on January 25, 2012 at 8:00 am

Parsha Bo

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Hold out your arm over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come upon the land of Egypt and eat up all the grasses in the land, whatever the hail has left.”

So Moses held out his rod over the land of Egypt, and the…Locusts invaded.

Exodus 10.12-14

Friends, countrymen, fellow Egyptians:

Our program of social inequality has never been more successful. The income gap is better than ever, with us Pharoahs living at the height of luxury, and the people making just enough to feed themselves and their children, which is all anyone really needs, isn’t it? Solid gold toilets are overrated, really. They chafe like hell and, at the end of the day, it all goes to the same place anyway.

No, the people don’t need solid gold toilets. Neither do we, which is why we downgraded to chased silver toilets in light of the plague crisis. They chafe more, but we all must make sacrifices, to please Moses and this God creep. And at the end of the day, it still goes to the same place anyway.

Maybe this is our problem. We need to find a way to keep our poo and their poo separate. I mean, this works for everything else. Our palaces, their houses. Our chaise-carts, their wheelbarrows. Our religion, their cult. This last one worked really well. Our religion gave us money. Their cult gave them values. The people are so stupid. Don’t they know that values have no value?

That’s why its so important to put a cash value on everything! Take human life, for example. Calculated Return On Investment tells us if paying insurance claims are worth it. After all, we all must make sacrifices.

Tying up self worth with net worth was another major lynchpin of our strategy, and a huge success. The people are driven to make money.  Why use old wineskins when you can buy new ones?  In order to do make money, they need to drive. No pun intended. Driving means gasoline sales, and we sell the gasoline. Higher prices means higher margin, higher profits, higher return on investment, and minimum risk to boot. Record profits! The best part is, when they can find work, they drive to work for us!

The valuation of belief systems has paid off too. How can we be wrong about anything when we’ve determined that all other beliefs and facts yield no value? This is how we can dismiss all opposing viewpoints out of hand. If details are blemishes, our beliefs are unblemished by such minute details as human rights, the rights of others to pursue happiness in this country, or lovingkindness.

Not that this devalues our belief in our essential right to pursue happiness. Remember, we valuated different belief systems. For us, its a belief. For people, its a blemish.

You may ask, with everything going so well, why is our economy in the dumps? Why are the people losing their jobs and their homes to the march of industrial progress, and their lives to Return On Investment? Why is our program, the resounding success that it is, being plagued with details, like equal opportunity and women’s reproductive rights, like so many locusts?

Here’s our answer: Moses won’t put his arm down!

English: Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exo...

Worshipping the Golden Calf

Eaten Alive

In Exodus, ReBlogged on January 24, 2012 at 8:53 am

I see the people,
eyes gray, skin pale, like the sky
Eating and sleeping

What do they have? Their
clothes, their beds, their food, their wives
eyes gray, and skin pale.

Parsha Bo

They shall devour the surviving remnant that was left to you after the hail.

Exodus 10.5

Ultra Orthodox Jews and the Modesty Fight (link)

A wonderful article by a courageous orthodox (male) rabbi. Responsibility for ourselves is in our own hands, no one else’s. Don’t the people he discusses have better things to do? Shouldn’t they be studying? Have they not learned anything?  Who are these people, really?

Take Pharoah in our parsha. He’s been through seven plagues already. Why does he invite an eighth?

God hardens his (Pharoah’s) heart and the hearts of his courtiers (Ex. 10.1). Yet the courtiers disagree with Pharoah’s established policy, saying “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the men go to worship the Lord their God! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?” (Ex. 10.7) Jeremiah, our prophet this week, says:

He made many to stumble,
they fell over one another.
They said: “Up! let us return to our people,
To the land of our birth,
Because of the deadly sword.”
There they called Pharaoh king of Egypt:
“Braggart who let the hour go by.”

Jeremiah 46.16-17

What were the courtiers doing here?  Were they trying to protect Pharoah? The Egyptian people? The Israelites? Or their own necks?

Is Pharoah serving Egypt’s interests? Or his own?

When we become our unbalanced selfish interests, do we lose ourselves? Are we eaten alive by locusts?

In God’s Shoes

In Exodus on January 23, 2012 at 8:23 am

Days are tough sometimes
When I talk, and only the
bricks hear what I say.

They talk back, saying
“What do you mean? I don’t know!”
I enjoy good tea.

Parsha Waera

And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘See, I have set thee in God’s stead to Pharaoh.’

Exodus 7.1

Does God actually make Moses a capital-G God here?  This is a fantastic statement to make, given God’s position on other gods, capital-G or small-g. What’s going on here?  See Great Expectations for Moses’ human credentials.

Is Moses being set up as a God? Or is Moses simply getting a crash course in God-hood? Compare the exchanges between Moses and Pharoah over the next two chapters, between Moses and the Israelites over the rest of the Torah, and between God and people over the rest of recorded human history.

How often do people tell God, “no”?

How often do people tell you, “no”?

Great Expectations

In Exodus on January 20, 2012 at 8:00 am

Sometimes I wonder
if I’m not right for the job.
I talk too slowly.

There are younger ones
Stronger ones, with their straight backs
And their empty mouths.

Maybe I’m too old
or I feel great fear, but I’m
the best of my kind.

Parsha Waera

English: Moses and Aaron Speak to the People, ...

Moses and Aaron Speak to the People, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

These are the heads of their fathers’ houses: the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel…And the sons of Simeon…And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations…

And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bore him Aaron and Moses. And the years of the life of Amram were a hundred and thirty and seven years. And the sons of Izhar: Korah, and Nepheg, and Zichri. And the sons of Uzziel: Mishael, and Elzaphan, and Sithri. And Aaron took him Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab, the sister of Nahshon, to wife; and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And the sons of Korah: Assir, and Elkanah, and Abiasaph; these are the families of the Korahites. And Eleazar Aaron’s son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites according to their families. 

These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom the LORD said: ‘Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts.’ These are they that spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt. These are that Moses and Aaron.

Exodus 6.14-27

Why now?  Why does the text interrupt the narrative with an account of Moses’ and Aaron’s lineage?  What purpose does it serve?  Is it necessary to establish their families at this time?  Why not earlier or later?

Interestingly, the text starts with Reuben, first-born of Israel.  Wasn’t Reuben stripped of this status by Israel in Genesis?  Some commentators say Reuben is mentioned first for the integrity of the chronicle.  Others say its an expression of love and forgiveness made by God through the text.

What does Reuben have to do with Moses?  Or Simeon, for that matter?  Levi is Moses’ ancestor.  Shouldn’t the text start with Levi?

Looking back at Genesis, we read Simeon and Levi are brethren; weapons of violence their kinship…for in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they houghed oxen (Genesis 49.5-6).  There may be a clue here to why Simeon and Levi were lumped together.  You might ask isn’t Reuben their brethren too?  But the intent of the verse is to emphasize the brothers’ similarity, so the Living Torah rendering, Simeon and Levi are a pair, gives a better sense of the meaning of the phrase.  It also gives a better sense of their father’s groaning “oy vey.”  How would you feel if they were your kids?

So what about Reuben?  His blessing reads Unstable as water, have not thou the excellency; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it–he went up to my couch (ibid 49.4).  Remember:  Reuben slept with Bilhah, his step-mother, in Genesis (35.22).

The trend thats forming is these people were troublemakers.  Or, perhaps they were made trouble.  One lacks sense, the others are psychopathic.  What about the others?

Korah, Moses’ cousin, starts a rebellion against Moses in the Book of Numbers, chapter 16.  Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, were killed in Leviticus by fire from before the LORD (10.2).  The prohibition introduced immediately after the incident leads many to believe the pair were drunks.  Drink no wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tent of meeting, that ye die not; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.  (Leviticus 10.9)

We also see some famous names here.  Eleazar and Phinehas, Aaron son and grandson, who would become High Priests in turn after their father.  Judah is represented too, by Elisheba, Nahshon’s sister and daughter of Amminadab.  Of Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab (Numbers 1.7).

Such a motley crew this is!  What does it all mean?  Why are Aaron and Moses included in this bunch?  Why say these are that Aaron and Moses…these are they…these are that Moses and Aaron.  Why remind us that the text means this Moses and Aaron?  Why wouldn’t the text mean this Moses and Aaron?  What does this teach?

Two men, descended from morons and murderers, sons of a man who married his aunt, parents of drunks and malcontents, rose to rescue their people from injustice and slavery.

Great Expectations.

Good Shabbos.

On The Agnostic’s View of the Ten(Twelve) Commandments

In Exodus, ReBlogged on January 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

I chanced on two interesting articles the other day at The Tattered Thread  and RemotelyNowhere, written by two friends, Rob Slaven and Grant Dawson, blogging their impressions of the Ten Commandments.  The first is agnostic, the second is Christian.  This is my contribution to their discussion, with some editing.

The name “Ten (Twelve)” commandments is from Rob, who aptly points out that the Ten Commandments, in the strictest sense, discuss more than ten specific things.  I’ve opted to stick to the Ten Commandments formula here.

On The Agnostic’s View of the Ten(Twelve) Commandments

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the Tablets, by Rembrandt

1. I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

The plain meaning of the pesuk (phrase) means as you have said, God says “I am God.” Now, what other gods exist in the world today? Money? Sex? Power? Certitude? What happens when people chase after them? Everyone gets hurt, and everyone is enslaved.

The purpose of this commandment is to encourage appreciation for the ineffable, as Abraham Joshua Heschel puts it, and discourage the worship of bad ideas. It also affirms God’s oneness. God appears in Torah in multiple guises including: love, justice, compassion, mercy, the elements, father, and (hey feminists!) mother. If God is a God of infinite possibility, imposing limits on God reduces Her splendor.

It also reminds us of something more important than ourselves. What is this?  An excellent question.

“And the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.” (Exodus 32.14)

Human dignity is precious.


2. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image…thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them.

The previous commandment discourages the worship of bad ideas. This commandment discourages the worship of man-made things. So, I cannot say: my rock says I should kill you because your rock’s butt ugly and you smell.

In other words, bowing to a rock and giving it my lunch money equals bad ju-ju….even if it is damn funny. Bowing to the rock and going Son of Sam on people…not so much. Is this serving the rock, or savage impulse?

Man-made gods embody the ideas we give them. When this was written, children were sacrificed to fire…by their parents. Is this commandment redundant, or does the repetition teach that idolatry, in any form, is a really, really bad idea?

If we worship man-made things, does that mean we worship man?

God tired of sacrifice long, long ago.


3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

Do not make false oaths in God’s name. Since we run the risk of not fulfilling every oath we make, don’t swear in God’s name at all. Why? To avoid an error.

It’s our responsibility to fulfill our oaths, not God’s.

Better yet: don’t make false oaths in YOUR name, or anyone else’s.


4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

We spend six days a week creating, acquiring, building, and molding existence to suit our needs. Shouldn’t we take some time for ourselves?

We should all take a break from chasing money.

A holiday every week. A beautiful thing.


5. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

How do we live long and happy lives on our land? By honoring our parents. What do our parents want for themselves and their children? Peace. How do you make peace? By honoring everybody.

Or:  how do we live long and happy lives on our land?  By honoring our neighbors.  When we bring honor to our neighbors, we bring honor on ourselves, and thereby honor our parents.

What’s the alternative?  Theft.  War.  Death.

“Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Leviticus 19.18)


6. Thou shalt not murder.

The plain meaning of the pesuk is as you’ve described. Consider this: slander is a form of murder.

God tired of sacrifice long, long ago.


7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

The Sages in the Talmud say that marriage was established in three ways: exchange of money, the signing of the contract, or sex. Sacred prostitution was all the rage in biblical times.

Another interpretation: let’s borrow from the Catholic understanding of the married couple as a new life. Is this murder?


8. Thou shalt not steal.

Not only don’t steal, but don’t think of stealing. Why do we think of stealing? To acquire what others have that we do not: money, power, things. More idols.

When we conceive the theft, and follow through, where does the theft occur?  In the word, or the deed?


9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Don’t make false oaths in your own name, or anyone else’s. Honor everybody.


10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife…nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Intention is everything. The Sages ask why the Torah demands fourfold or fivefold reparations are required for certain crimes of theft. Some interpret the number of steps in the act into the reason. Conceiving the crime is the first step.

We are already told not to steal.  What does the repetition teach?  That theft is a really, really bad idea?  How about, don’t tempt yourself?


I leave you with a midrashic interpretation.

Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife
bearing false witness to have him put away
so you can steal his money
and have sex with his wife
motivating you to murder him
and make your parents feel shame
because you don’t make peace
and lie
and chase idols
and don’t know what is good in life

Commmmmunication (Article)

In Exodus, ReBlogged on January 17, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Moses Sleeping, by bobbyfiend @ Flickr

Commmmmunication, by Rabbi Label Lam

An insightful article about the importance of communication and the art of listening. But, does Moses’ insistence at reminding God of his own limitations teach us the importance of listening without surrendering our interests?