Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Stone Hearted

In Exodus on March 4, 2012 at 11:59 am

You shall make a breastpiece of decision…

Set in it mounted stones, in four rows of stones…

They shall be engraved like seals, each with its name, for the twelve tribes.

Exodus 28.15,17,21

Parsha Tetzaveh

What does it mean that the breastplate is lined with semi-precious stones named for people?  Does it mean being stone-hearted towards our fellows?  Or does their placement over the heart mean to put others’ hearts before our own?  Does this mean to acquiesce to others’ desires, or to do what we know is best with others’ best interests in mind?  Is this informed by our perceptions, or theirs?  This brings us back to the question:  whose heart comes first?

Saul is unambiguously commanded by God to destroy Amalek and everything that belongs to him (1 Samuel 15.3).  Saul disobeys this command, sparing everything of worth (ibid. 15.9) and taking of the spoils (ibid. 15.15,21).  Why?  Saul admits his mistake, and says he yielded to the desire of the people (15.21) to offer sacrifices to God.  How does this strike you?

There are two possibilities here.  The first, the stated motive to sacrifice was the truth.  The second, the stated motive was a lie, the true motive being greed.  What is the difference between 1 Samuel 15.15 and 15.21?  How does it strike you?

What difference does this make in the big picture?  Samuel’s statement in verse 22:  Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to the Lord’s command?  Surely, obedience is better than sacrifice.  Does this refer to the body of Jewish Law (halacha) or the 613 commandments of Maimonides?  Or something else?

What is obedience?  According to the dictionary, obedience is the act or practice of obeying.  In other words, obedience involves doing for others.  In Joshua, chapter 7, Achan takes of the proscribed spoils from Jericho, and God lets Ai defeat the Israelites.  Joshua asks God, what will you do for Your great name? (Joshua 7.9)  Rashi teaches that God’s name is part of our own name, for our name, Yisrael, is comprised of the word sar (prince) and El (God).  This is the derash.  So, does this make God’s name also our name, or our name also God’s name?  Is Joshua calling out God to be obedient to God’s own name?  What does that mean?

This leaves us with two big questions to think on.  What does it mean to be obedient to our given names?  What does it mean to be obedient to our family name Yisrael?

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