Student Teaching in the New Millenium

The Consumption Question

In General on June 19, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I open the newspaper
And am forced to ask myself
What should I read today?
And more importantly
What should I believe today?

After the rebel ringleaders are “consumed” in earth and fire, God commands that their fire pans be hammered into a covering for the altar as a warning to the rebels.  Does this strike you as reward or punishment?  The people who wanted to be closer to God in authority, as they perceived Moses and Aaron, are dead.  Then they – or perhaps, more accurately, something of themselves – are brought closer to God as they wished. 

Is the warning to the rebels simply don’t rebel? Or is the statement being made a bit more subtler than that?

Consider the circumstances: the people involved in these rebellions were committed to their interests. They were willing to take risks in the name of those interests, like offering incense out of context despite the clear warning to the contrary in the case of Nadab and Abihu. These people didn’t scruple to hide themselves, being in plain sight throughout their narrative. These people did not hesitate to stand up and identify themselves as “one of us.”

Our history is rife with rebellion. Abraham rebelling against Terah. Israel rebelling against Egypt. The Maccabean Revolt and the uprisings against Rome. In all of these cases, the question is one of freedom.

So what is the question here?

Moses’ words to Korah are telling: do you seek the priesthood too? You are fighting against God. Who is Aaron that you should rail against him?

Dathan and Abiram’s are moreso: Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord it over us?

Did these people have legitimate grievances or were they consumed by lust for power? If the later, were they so consumed that they would say one thing while meaning something else, as the text implies?

What would these people have done if they’d gotten what they wanted?

Yet, if the warning was solely against being consumed, I think the text would have stopped with the rebels bring consumed, and a different warning used (e.g. heads on pikes). This raises the question: can the state of being consumed be a positive thing? Is this the message of the fire pans covering the altar which, by design, consumes sacrifices?

Who does the consuming here: God or Man?

  1. Maybe Moses sees the role of ‘leader’ consuming him?

    Is the issue “freedom”? I think, rather, “righteousness vs unrighteous power-over.” People don’t just “want freedom”; they want things to be the way they consider right. They see someone not merely restraining them, but restraining them from what they believe they have a right to have.

    I see the specific incidents as legendary, with the stories being told by priests, much later, reading them as justifications of their own role & privileges.

    And I mean “justifications” in two senses: not just defending their own position, but what they see as God’s interests. (ie See comments on )

    But can they trust everyone who might covet their role? — and might have the influence to gain that status, if the requirements were relaxed? An unworthy candidate would be dangerous either to himself or the nation; best if outsiders see it that way too.

    And what if they themselves should be unworthy? Anybody transcribing/writing/copying these texts is likely to be a responsible sort, who would feel that possibility as a weight. A role that, if they failed a sacred obligation, could consume them. (Am I being insufficiently cynical about priests?)

    • Excellent point! Moses certainly did, as in the previous parsha, when he asked God for help. And God took of the Spirit on Moses and gave it to the seventy elders. The 68 who went to the tent prophesied and stopped. The two who didn’t want to go and stayed home, continued to prophecy. Is the first prerequisite of a leader someone who doesn’t want to lead? Or were these people simply afraid of being zapped?

      Miriam and Aaron die in the same chapter, his co-leaders and his family,so leadership has consumed his loved ones as well. The Book of Numbers is also known as Bamidbar (in the wilderness) and, tongue in cheek, the wilderness that eats people. In more ways than one!

      I think what you consider righteousness versus unrighteousness power over is similar to what I see as freedom. If freedom wasn’t something “they believe they have a right to have,” would they know they’re being restrained?

      Justification: I think it depends on the book. Leviticus certainly justifies the Priests’ interests and what they see as God’s interests. Read “Rebecca’s Children” by Alan Segal. One of the first books my teacher had me read, and central to my approach. That being said, I think from the Priests’ perspective, the two are one and the same. From God’s perspective? If the Israelites were attempting to make their differences go up in smoke on the altar, perhaps. Did the divine barbeque inspire love of neighbor and lack of grudges? Nope!

      I would say you’re being sufficiently cynical, but all other considerations need to be taken in light of the previous question: were the Priests’ intent and God’s intent aligned? “Anybody transcribing/writing/copying these texts is likely to be a responsible sort”…I agree with that mostly. What about the original writers of the text? What makes an institution worthy? Would the unworthiness of an institution consume them and their successors?

  2. The prophets get very explicit about the priests’ interests and God’s being quite different. But the existence of those priests… evidently serves some function. Just as Moses believes he needs Aaron to speak for him, to add enough solemnity etc to public occasions that the people won’t just say: “Oh that Moses, there he goes again on one of those rants!”

    But when Aaron is left in charge, with no Moses to keep him in line… He’s just as happy, solemnly proclaiming: “These are your gods, oh Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.” (As far as I know, we find those words two places in the Bible… What do you make of that?)

    • So there are two main schools of thought on who “wrote” the Bible. Did God write it? Or did Man write it? Most theories fall under these two theories, or some combo, so far as I know. That’s another long and fun conversation, but for the present purpose, while much of Genesis was written by the “J(ehovah)” author, the very beginning of Genesis, the ordering of creation, is an epic work of “P(riest).” This explains why there are multiple creation stories (my teacher maintains three, but I only see two, more as that develops), but this is an amazing thing in itself: the ordering of our lives is tied up in the business of creation. With this in mind, should we do as they do but not as they say? Or do as they say but now as they do?

      Interesting side note, if you ever spend any time in Talmud, start with Berakhot. The first Mishnah (compilation of the Oral Law) is “At what time is it appropriate to recite the evening Shema?” The Sages of the Gemara (the commentary on the Mishnah) answer with a question of their own, incredulously: where does the Tanna get off starting with the evening Shema? Why not start with the morning Shema? And there was evening and morning. (So we learn that the ordering of our lives is tied up in the business of creation)

      That’s an interesting read of Moses’ need for Aaron. I’ll have to think about that. Because Moses is “slow of tongue,” the general interpretation is Moses the greatest leader of the people had a speech impediment. Gersonides, in fact, holds that it was Miriam (their sister who was interpreted as a prophetess), who helped keep the people and Moses in good decorum (so far as could be done), and it was she who kept Moses and Aaron from “doing anything stupid.” (Gersonides’ words, more or less. I have a thing for classic, feminist commentary).

      Aaron is complicated, because on the one hand he is considered a peaceful man, who was deemed righteous enough by God to merit the office of High Priest. Here’s a guy who, it is said, never lost his temper in his entire life. On the other hand, he’s comes off as a bit of a putz. But perhaps that’s not all his fault? The people had been out of Egypt for a month, and were accustomed to physical, visual objects of worship. This was just part of the times, people were accustomed to worship what they could see. To expect them to come out of Egypt and go “ok! we’re this way now” is a bit of a stretch. The Hebrew when the golden calf is created, before the phrase “this is your god…etc…etc” is, vayom’ru, “they said.” So they (the people) proclaimed the calf a god, not Aaron. However, the million dollar question then becomes “if Aaron is righteous enough to be High Priest, why didn’t he do anything to stop them?” His answer to this very question by Moses is “Don’t yell at me. You know who we’re dealing with. They’re shmucks.”

      • Anne (my wife: ) laughed, then said: “I didn’t know they spoke Yiddish back then.”

        So maybe it’s from Hebrew? Anyway, she’s a treasure!
        —- —- —- —-

        Did God write the Bible, or did people write it?

        — — — —

        So the only way out of my dilemma is to believe that you and I are identical?

        Not at all! This is only one way out. There are several others. For example, it may be that you are part of me, in which case you may be talking to that part of me which is you. Or I may be part of you, in which case you may be talking to that part of you which is me. Or again, you and I might partially overlap, in which case you may be talking to the intersection and hence talking both to you and to me. The only way your talking to yourself might seem to imply that you are not talking to me is if you and I were totally disjoint — and even then, you could conceivably be talking to both of us.

        So you claim you do exist.

        Not at all. Again you draw false conclusions! The question of my existence has not even come up. All I have said is that from the fact that you are talking to yourself one cannot possibly infer my nonexistence, let alone the weaker fact that you are not talking to me.

        All right, I’ll grant your point! But what I really want to know is do you exist?

        What a strange question!

        Why? Men have been asking it for countless millennia.

        I know that! The question itself is not strange; what I mean is that it is a most strange question to ask of me!

        [Raymond Smullyan, ‘Is God a Taoist?’

        —- —- —-

        If one creates a world… in which an anthology gets written by a motley group of people… and that book comes out with their fingerprints all over it… but the book implies that its creator embedded a message in itself, and in the lives that produced it… Who wrote the book?

  3. Yes!

    And: If a motley group of people creates a world…in which an anthology gets written by its Creator…and that book comes out with His fingerprints all over it…but the book implies that its Creator embedded a message in itself, and in the Creator that produced it…Who wrote the book?

    • Your wife sounds like a wonderful, witty, and especially sharp woman. Sounds a lot like my Katherine! I think its great that she’s published! Do you mind my asking how well the book’s done? I’m not up to speed on Quaker publishing.

      Is this the same Anne Curo quoted on

      Either way, the proof is in the poetry.

  4. Yes, I don’t know exactly where Anne’s quoted there but she does participate.

    Also in her music, & painting. So your Katherine is also a blessing; and we are truly blessed!

    [The pamphlet has not done particularly well; they were resuming the series after some interruptions. But I like it much better than she does.]

    “If a motley group of people…” That’s what happens in Fiddler’s Green, referred to in a link from our other conversation here.

    Aside from the fact that the story scared me… My mind is utterly boggled by the fact that anything whatsoever exists. I cannot conceive of anything existing, unless something was innately necessary, required to exist by its very nature. As in that clever & logically-fallacious “ontological argument.”

    One day in 1981 I was smoking a joint and reading a Scientific American article on “consciousness” — an article I knew couldn’t come close to what we all know ‘from inside.’ And while I was thinking about that, I suddenly “saw” it, saw its nature.

    Could I have simply been flipped at the time? I wondered afterwards… but the evidence of what I ‘knew’ is simply ‘there’. Always.

    Good night!

    • Ever read Aristotle or Maimonides? The Unmoved Mover of both is similar to what you’re describing, the God who exists because It can’t help but exist, to whom we are unnecessary, but to us utterly necessary.

      • Existing in manifestations is an integral aspect of its nature? (If this were not so, it’s difficult to see why anyone would be here wondering!) Aristotle was never that convincing: ‘Why shouldn’t it move, and be moved? (“Undignified? Tough!”) God in the Bible interacts with people; ‘no interaction’ == ‘dead’; and this One is very much alive!

        One explanation, according to a prophet I met awhile back: “God got lonely.” Again, not Aristotle’s model.

        What I was ‘seeing’ was the ‘Yin’, the screen this movie plays on… but the ‘Yang’ is implicit in the ordering of frames.

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